This past Friday, November 15, my mother, my cousin and a close family friend headed up to Albany for Albany Vegan Network’s VegFest 2013. We made it to Albany in just 4 hours and we were thrilled to be headed to the speaker’s recognition dinner that night which would honor the 20 or so speakers and demonstrators that would be a huge part of the festival the next day. What better way to kick off the awesome weekend, raise money for the organization and get the word out about vegan living than sharing a delicious dinner in a beautiful venue (The Century House, Latham, NY) with friends and like-minded strangers–who, of course, quickly became friends? It was a blast. We sat at a big round table and immediately started chatting with our seat mates about the organization, vegan living and the menu that we all had been so eagerly awaiting–I mean crispy kale with sweet potatoes and Daiya cheese, who wouldn’t be dying to get a taste of that?! When they called the tables to the buffet we were the third table (out of about 15) to be called and I knew our weekend was off to a fantastic start! We enjoyed grilled polenta, crispy tofu, crimson lentil soup and the infamous crispy kale dish of which we may have eaten seconds…. After dinner we were treated to dessert and coffee or tea. Let me just say that we were happy (and full) vegans by the time the speaker was introduced. I ate a gluten-free strawberry sorbet that was a strong rival to my seat mates’ caramel “cheese”cake.
The speaker for the night was Colleen Patrick-Goudreau of the 30 Day Vegan Challenge and several books such as The Vegan Table, The Joy of Vegan Baking and Color Me Vegan. My sister Kelli is a huge fan of her’s and we were sitting with an even bigger Colleen fan, our new friend Amy. By the time we left we were all transformed into Goudreau-aholics. We could not get enough of her. She is witty, brilliant, so kind and so incredibly passionate about the things she believes in. She makes me proud to be part of this strong vegan team! She signed my copy of The Joy of Vegan Baking with the following signature: “May these recipes bring you joy.” So simple and so moving. They will in fact bring me joy because I know that when I create these dishes I will be part of a movement for compassion, not a part of the violent machine that is factory farming. Colleen shared a prayer with us that is not directed at any greater being in particular but is meant as more of a wish for all animal-kind. It moved us to tears and I believe that every person should read it and wish this for the world as well. During the Q&A portion of her speech at the VegFest the next day Colleen was asked how she deals with the “why” questions. She answered simply that each answer is so individual so if you answer from your heart, from your true reasons of why you are vegan, no one can argue. It is impossible to argue someone’s core beliefs. For me, my answer is similar to Colleen’s: I want to be a part of the positive change that is happening all over the world for animals today, I want to fly my animal-lover flag proudly in all aspects of my life. For if we love our dogs and kitties so, why is it that some of us cannot feel that way for kind (and honestly just as snuggly) farm animals?
The next morning we rose bright and early to be some of the first people awaiting the opening of VegFest Albany 2013 at the Polish Community Center. We happened to arrive a bit early and were lucky enough to be some of the first to receive absolutely amazing goody bags filled with awesome samples, products, coupons and flyers from the incredible organizations and companies that came out for VegFest. Upon entering the concourse we were overwhelmed by the amount of people already filling the table area. To look around and realize that we were surrounded by not only people who felt the same about the same issues, but who were there and ready to make a difference was incredible. The tables ranged from Compassion Co. from whom I bought an awesome t-shirt proclaiming “Anything you can eat I can eat vegan” to Vegan Treats, the awesome bakery out of Bethlehem, Pa. that I discuss often on my blog, to Sea Shepherd, the brave organization fighting for the rights of our sea animals that are often forgotten when we speak about the Earth’s creatures. We were also able to meet crystal healers, aroma therapy healers and awesome artisans who create vegan goodies from jewelry to belts. There were candle dealers and homemade craft peanut butter tables. We ate lunch and goodies like rice and beans, falafels and vegan baklava from local restaurants, and later chowed down on some vegan pizza with Daiya cheese. There is no better feeling for a hungry vegan than to not have to question whether or not the food is laced with animal products. We were in vegan heaven!
Although the tables were incredible we were most wowed by the speakers. I am a huge Jenny Brown fan. She is the co-founder (and vegan goddess!) of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. I had never heard her speak prior to Saturday and her words were just as eloquent, just as moving and just as to the point as they were in her incredible book The Lucky Ones that describes her journey from Louisville, Kentucky as a young child to her current days living the life of every vegan’s dreams on her sanctuary in upstate New York. I think she may have turned a few non-vegans in the audience and she definitely reinforced everything I believe in. Jenny spoke alongside Kathy Stevens, founder of Catskills Animal Sanctuary who spoke mostly about farm animals as “whos” not “whats” and why it is so important to remember that they are “whos”: they have families, instincts, emotions, compassion and intelligence equal to (or in my opinion sometimes greater than) humans. I believe that this is the secret to changing the way the world thinks about animals as food: if we make that connection and start treating them as “whos,” that is when we can all truly be at peace.
We were also enthralled by a speech from the spunky and beautiful ladies of Our Hen House whose talk was titled “Fed Up.” They were funny and charming and knew exactly which buttons to hit to affect their audience. If you want to hear this New York City based duo speak, listen to their podcasts.
The message I took away from the entire festival can be summarized in one quote:
The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different.- Hippocrates.
Even if you’re vegan, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of why you started this journey in the first place. VegFest was a chance for me to feel the excitement and be inspired, all over again.
Photo: Kate Coffey