I have to say everyone, with a couple of weird exceptions, at DC Veg Fest was in high spirits. The weather held and stayed overcast so the sun didn’t make things unbearable. There are some great reviews of the festival on Brightest Young Things blog ( I am in one cupcake contest photo looking perplexed because she said, “The entire plate must be gone.”) and Living on Macros blog.
The website they had set up prior to the festival gave some great parking ideas, travels alerts and even set folks up with text reminders and alerts as the day went on. It was hip and helpful and made me feel like I was getting the most out of our visit.DC is where I was born so it’s always cool to return. This time representing our Pennsyltucky region, I was happy to run into other locals from Harrisburg’s Green Street Vegetarian Club and some from the nebulous region of Juniata Valley. We ran into them a few times throughout the day and each time Marshall and Susie greeted us like old friends even though we had just met the week prior. They are dear folks with good hearts and made the time to introduce us to the friendly president of the Vegetarian Society of DC, Saurabh Dalal.
The vendors at DC Veg Fest were many and varied. Not all of them were just local groups or organizations but many were. There were a lot of regional and some nationally known vendors like Tofurky, Earth Balance and Whole Foods. The national groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Farm Sanctuary and House Rabbit Society had tables and tents set up too.The House Rabbit Society is a wonderful source of information about companion rabbits and helped so much when our dear black & tan Patchouli lived in the house. Getting inside the rabbit brain is a real challenge and learning about her sense of humor was just the best.
The main stage hosted talks and demos through out the festival. We sat in for a raw foods cooking demo that was not all that informative. It was just before the Sticky Fingers Cupcake Eating contest in which I was one of 10 participants. They wisely set this event up outside of the tent. Although none of the other central PA folks came to cheer me in this spectacle, folks whom I had met that morning showed up and it was crazy to hear so many people shouting out my name. Frosting up my nose and cheeks filled with cake, I kept going and made a really decent dent in the pile of 5 pretty cupcakes because of their enthusiasm.
Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats was only one of the many vegan baked good vendors represented. The Bethlehem based Vegan Treats always had a line, if the beauty of their baked good at all reflects the quality of them, they must be delicious. Marshall attests that he gets one of every kind of doughnut they had. He hustled them back to his car to take home, or at least part of the way home – ha!To have so many food vendors to choose from made it difficult to decide what to select. I was full up on cupcakes so I did not sample anything from the esteemed Vegan Treats but the Amsterdam Falafelshop sucked us in more than once. There was a fellow constantly making fresh falafel. It was amazing to watch him standing over the hot oil and quickly dropping the dense chickpea batter balls into it. Deep fried was not what drew us to this food stand however, it was the long salad bar style toppings and veggies that you were allowed to load up on your falafels in the clam shell of pita bread. Baba ghanoush, hummus, tzatziki sauce, at least 2 differently seasoned cucumbers, beets, red cabbage, kimchi, garlic & parsley salad – the bins of colorful veggies seemed endless. They made for a flavor packed sandwich.
It was crowded and not all food vendors set up on time so I may have overlooked a few but it seemed the mainstay of most were dense deep-fried foods. Indian curry and rice, samosas & pakoras, heavy burritos, vegan mac & cheese. Even the veggie adorned nachos smothered in thick vegan cheese & beans we make at home frequently so it was hard to find something that looked fresh and appetising. There was a stand serving coconuts to drink out of but nowhere did I see anything like a salad, steamed veggies or bowl of fruit. I can’t imagine what anyone who was on a raw diet was finding to eat.
Even the samples that most of the booths like Tofurky of Field Roast was giving out were fried. As I was starving for some real food, after quickly ingesting so much cupcake, and there was a fellow with a platter of soy chicken samples. I happily snatched up a toothpick with a sample the way the rest of the swarming crowd was doing. They were acting like the soy chicken was crack so I popped it into my mouth. It had been breaded, deep-fried and glazed in a sweet sauce – UGH! It was no longer warm from cooking and I spit it into the garbage nearby. At that point I would have given anything for a pile of leafy greens – thus my return to the good Amsterdam Falafelshop.
At the beginning of the day we had gotten a nice canvas bag filled with info, swag and veggie samples. The bag was great for picking up literature from the vendors we were interested in. I did buy a few stickers for my bike from Action for Animals, the fellow representing them was really friendly and humorous.
One of the two exceptions to pleasant and welcoming individuals was at the Mercy for Animals booth. I really liked their clean logo and wanted to know a little more. I asked the one woman who was representing them what they were about and she automatically handed me a flier. I thanked her and something in the back of my mind-set off an alarm just as I started to open their literature. I asked her, “Are there disturbing images in this flier?”
She gave me an almost maniacal defiant look and said, “It’s education, it’s disturbing but you need to know it.”
I replied, “But your preaching to the choir here. I am already pretty aware of the atrocities that we face and more than overly sensitive to images that sometimes need to shock those who are unaware. Actually, most of the thousands who are here today are more like you and me than whom this flier is geared for. Don’t you have anything for folks like us to take away?”We went back and forth a bit and she finally stated that the flier was geared for people who were unaware of some animal cruelties and snapped that I could, “take anything I like.” I know it fell on stubborn deaf ears when I reminded her that I didn’t take it but she gave it to me. That is my biggest complaint about so many animal welfare groups, they forget that they don’t need to shock and disturb those who are already sensitive and ready to lend a hand. Fliers are almost always a real waste of educational materials – outreach in other forms may require more of a commitment in personal connection but, in my heartfelt opinion, thousands of times more effective than the disturbing fliers that end up in landfills. Been there, done that, have the Animal Liberation Front t-shirt from the eighties to prove it.
Thank the deities the next table was one that I had been so excited to visit, No Meat Athlete! I didn’t realize when I read that they would be attending that their organization was the same as advertised on a tech shirt I saw when I ran the NYRR Women’s Mini in 2010. I flashed back to when I was about half way through the race and chugging up one of the many hills in Central Park when I was about to pass a woman ahead of me. I always feel a little guilty about passing anyone in a race and always try to say something friendly and take the competitive edge off of it. As I gained on her I saw the back of her shirt said, “Runs on Plants™” and the Web address for No Meat Athlete below that.
“I LOVE your shirt!” I blurted out enthusiastically as I carefully passed her. Glancing over my right shoulder she gave me a huge grin and a breathless, “Thanks!” and I vowed to remember the name and the logo of the running carrot I saw on the front.
There it was at the booth of the organization and they were selling running shirts in my favorite A4 Tek brand – SCORE! I wasn’t planning on spending so much on anything but realizing the impact that it had made on me over a year ago I had to get it. I try to live by example and hope my actions will touch and inspire those who are open to it. With my plantar fasciitis on the mend, I will be wearing my new shirt in future races to motivate and inform. That beats fliers that end up in a dumpster any day.
Soon after leaving No Meat Athlete, I heard my name called and it was Susie! She, Marshall, Gary & BC of Juniata Valley were coming away from Dr. Michael Greger’s talk. Marshall enthusiastically shared that they had just heard the good doctor speak earlier in the month at the Veg Fest in Toronto but they always liked hearing him speak. While he was telling us about it, their friends were walking into the crush of the crowd without a word to any of us and I was afraid they were getting split up. We agreed that we would be fortunate enough to run into each other before the end of the day and parted ways.
It was soon after that I realized I had reached my people limit and didn’t want to be rude by staying longer and being socially awkward while I was over-tired. I was sad to miss the author I had come to hear and to say farewell to Marshall & Susie but it was time to navigate home and explore the booty in my canvas goodie bag.
DC Veg Fest was well-organized in such a small space and was geared to many different vegetarian interests. They used social medias well and the information shared was helpful and accurate while being presented in a friendly way. If I had any suggestions to make it would be to have fresh and raw food vendors or have a way to seek them out for those who care. All the baked goods are amazing to look at but for those who want fresh food, it was a bit of a push. Also, and this goes for probably ANY festival of this sort, encourage groups to stop trying to convert the already converted with shocking images. For that matter avoid having vendors and organizations who use festivals and community events as a way to debate and argue – it’s a FESTIVAL! Groups should attend to offer what they know in the spirit of the day. They will make a better impact, have more influence, achieve their goal in a more peaceable manner and everyone will still have a good time.