This was the 7th Chicago VeganMania but my first time attending. It started at 10am but people start lining up as early as 9am in the hope of getting the highly coveted swag bag. We were not those people. They had arranged 6 awesome speakers, 7 panel discussions, and 6 cooking demos so it was easy to fill the 7 hours.
I enjoy attending the cooking demos because you get additional free food samples that are not available in the exhibitor area. This time it meant sampling Korean BBQ tacos and jackfruit tacos from Upton’s Naturals – yum! We also stuck around for the Native Foods Cafe demo but the pumpkin parfait wasn’t all that great. And in the end, I got the most out of the panel discussion Strategies For Effectively Communicating Your Vegan Message. While it didn’t get quite as in depth as I would have liked because time didn’t allow for it, they covered a lot of good questions.
This has since led to a couple discussions about why I’m interested in attending veg fests and what I’m looking to get out of them. In the rest of the post, I am not speaking for other vegans; I’m purely speaking for myself. And please know that I am not directing anything in particular at anyone, and it’s a challenge for me to share these thoughts. Being vegan is alienating, but it’s my strongest conviction and I walk a very fine line between comfortably expressing my true feelings and not feeling like I’m further distancing myself from people because of my views. Gee, this couldn’t be contributing to my depression and anxiety, right??
Why I’m vegan: I am vegan, first and foremost, for the animals. The people working in the animal agriculture industry mutilate, beat, starve, rape (the euphemism they use is “artificially inseminate”), and in many other ways grossly mistreat animals. It breaks my heart and I’ve shed many tears over it. I also understand how easy it is to ignore the horrific lives they lead because you rarely see it with your own eyes. If you can’t make it through the video below without closing your eyes, I would encourage you to think more about what you put in your mouth because it’s the norm.
I am also vegan for health and environmental reasons. Consuming meat and dairy contributes to the occurrence of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and the list goes on and on. The website Nutrition Facts has countless videos full of easy-to-digest scientific information, and they all have written transcripts if you’re not a video person. We’re also destroying the environment by depleting our water supply, the methane produced by cows is the greatest contributor to global warming, and we’re over-fishing the oceans. Current projections show that our oceans could be depleted by the year 2050. That’s a mere 34 years away which means we could live to see this happen. If you’re interested in more information, I recommend watching Cowspiracy (also available on Netflix).
On feeling isolated: Eating a vegan diet is easy. Actually being vegan is not. One of the first things I typically hear when I disclose that I’m vegan is, “Oh, I could never be vegan. I couldn’t give up bacon.” My current response is, “Actually, you could.” I get that people aren’t open to hearing what I have to say – I mean, it’s not like I’ve been vegan my whole life so I get it, and I don’t offer anything further unless people ask. But please know that it’s incredibly rude to respond this way.
I love eating out as it’s an easy way to socialize with friends, but I’m more and more hesitant to do so because honestly, it’s challenging participating in meals where people consume meat and dairy. Would I ever ask people to eat vegan with me? I actually have and it’s been awesome, but I’m not at that comfort level with most people. So I push my feelings aside for the hour or two and try to focus on the company. Or take food out of the equation and participate in a non-food related activity.
Eating out with omnivores also usually means that it’s up to me to pick the restaurant which can be a lot of pressure. If you have a vegan friend, please know that it’s a lot of responsibility to continually place on them. Consider occasionally looking at menus online to see if a restaurant marks their veg options, or take it upon yourself to contact a place and see what they offer. I promise it would mean a lot to your friend. Happy Cow is also a great resource.
This is one area where veg fests are great. You know you’re in a place with like-minded individuals. Not everyone who goes to them are vegan or vegetarian, but if they’re there, they’re at least veg-curious or are there to support a veg friend.
On trust: Finding vegan food is easy. Trusting that restaurants are serving you food that’s actually vegan is not. Many ethnic restaurants are at least vegetarian-friendly, but I’ve had to deal with the language barrier so often that sometimes you just have to cross your fingers and hope for the best. Once, at a local restaurant, I requested a dish vegan that is marked “vegan upon request,” only to have it come out with cheese on it. At another establishment, the server was telling me the vegan options and she mentioned egg noodles. I immediately questioned it and she backtracked to say rice noodles, but of course the trust was already lost. And there was no language barrier in either of these situations.
I try to cut myself and others a little slack, but this is stressful. Veg fests (as far as I know) require that vendors sell only vegan food and that exhibitors only bring vegan food samples. This is for sure the case at VeganMania, and Twin Cities Veg Fest. I love being able to relax and enjoy the environment without playing 20 questions regarding ingredients in the food. For other events, I’ve either had to go out of my way to contact the planner and/or make sure to eat beforehand because I can’t count on them having a vegan food option. Which is fine, believe me. I don’t expect people to cater to me (unless the event actually includes a full meal, anyway), but it’s just one more instance when I feel isolated from others.
Awhile back, I came across a quote that said, “Be the vegan you wanted to know when you weren’t vegan.” This is something I repeat to myself when I’m struggling to interact with others regarding my opinions. I know people don’t want to constantly see a barrage of graphic images, and I know expressing anger usually won’t do any good. This creates a lot of internal conflict because I want people to see what they’re paying for and I am angry sometimes.
For the vegans out there, how do you handle these kinds of things? I try and keep things light and have respectful conversations when prompted. And I hope that those who know me personally see me this way, too. And veg or not, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on the topic! I’ll include a few more thoughts on my Fargo/Moorhead Veg Fest post. Thanks for reading.