Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Vegan Mania Chicago 2011...
As I briefly mentioned a couple days ago, Saturday, November 5th saw Chicago’s third annual Vegan Mania take place. More then 2,500 people flooded Pulaski Park Fieldhouse on West Blackhawk for the one day extravaganza. It was a big, exciting day for Chicago’s growing vegan and vegetarian community. A one of a kind celebration of everything vegan from nutrition, food and fashion, to compassion, community and commerce. The weather was beautiful, and the fieldhouse was overflowing with animal welfare organizations, vegan-outreach and support groups, vegan merchandise kiosk’s, booths providing health, nutritional, and spiritual information, and of course the many delicious food vendors who were offering up amazing vegan eats all day long. In addition to that there was a host of wonderful speakers, some fun food demonstrations, a children’s activity corner, live music in the food court, and a ‘café’ upstairs complete with poetry readings.
In all honesty I’d been looking forward to the event all year. That may sound like an exaggeration but I assure you it’s not. You see, it was only last year that I became aware of the event known as Vegan Mania but it wasn’t until after the fact that I heard about it. I’d missed last years vegan mania by only a couple of days and since then I’d been determined to attend this year. Rain or shine, hell or highwater I was going! So big was my excitement and anticipation that by the time Friday rolled around I could barely concentrate on anything else. I had no idea what to expect from the event but I’m happy to report now that Vegan Mania did not disappoint!
For me one of the best parts of any event like this is getting to meet and talk to other vegans. I know very few, so to have so many like minded people gathered in one place is amazing. I got the change to talk to a lot of really interesting people, particularly while waiting in line for things. Some were volunteers, some were from out of town, some were vegans, some were Raw Food practitioners, one was a Fruititarian, and surprisingly a couple were curious omnivores. Regardless of background and lifestyle everyone was really friendly and joyfully open to conversation. There’s nothing better then being with people you can relate to, sharing your experiences, offering your and receiving other’s opinions, trading information, and sharing a good laugh at some of the sillier things we’ve endured. I think it’s easy for us to feel isolated in this world, vegans are a minority after all, especially in this country, so it’s always a tremendous feeling to know that you are not alone.
But by now I’m sure you’re probably wondering "But what about the food?!!" Well it was fantastic of course! I went to Vegan Mania hungry. I purposefully did not eat a breakfast because I knew I would want to be stuffing my face all day. You see the other thing I love about events like this is that the food is stuff I typically do not eat. Rarely do I eat vegan meat, rarely do I eat vegan cheese, rarely do I eat anything greasy or fried or in some other way bad for me (aside from the occasional homemade baked good), and rarer still do I eat these things in abundance. When it comes to vegan and vegetarian festivals however I allow myself the pleasure of going a little overboard.
Upon first entering the food court I was so overwhelmed by the choices that I didn’t know where to start. My husband and I did decide though that we’d try to get a bit of everything and share it between us that way we could eat as many different kinds of food from as many places as possible. The Chicago Diner was the first table I saw, (a really great restaurant by the way, a must eat when in Chicago) and I recall having heard someone in the merch room say that the Reuben Slider was really good. I thought that’s as good a place to start as any right? Now, I should say that I honestly don’t get sliders. I don’t get why people make a big deal out of them and I never have. Why eat 2 or 3 tiny burgers when you can just have one? It just doesn’t make sense. However since this was a day of ‘sampling’ and ‘snacking’ rather then full on meal eating the Slider’s small size didn’t annoy me. Interestingly I think this may have been the first slider I’ve ever eaten, and it was pretty good. Considering I’ve never liked Sauerkraut (I know, strange right? Me being half German and all.) My husband neither, this was pretty good. Thin slices of seitan, a pile of sauerkraut and some mayo I believe. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the bun. It had way to much caraway in it for my taste.
Next up was the BBQ ‘Chicken’ Pita sandwich from The Vegan Food Truck/Ste Martaen (Great vegan cheese by the way!!) And it was absolutely phenomenal! I’m talking melt in your mouth, orgasmicly delicious good! I literally could not get enough and I was Mm-Mming through every bite. When all we had left was the wrapper I was half tempted to go back for a second one, but I thought better of it. After all I was really interested in trying their ‘Cheesesteak’ unfortunately when I went back later that afternoon for it, it was sold out.
Next up was a ‘Chorizo’ Tamale from Upton’s Naturals (A great Chicago based seitan company) I had a really hard time deciding between this and the nachos but eventually I went with this because I love the flavor of Chorizo and haven’t really found a super amazing vegan version yet. I also like tamale’s but am way to lazy to make them myself. I should have got this with some salsa verde or queso but it was pretty damn good all on it’s own too. The chorizo flavor was uncanny, and I loved the texture, it also didn’t have that weird gluten taste that I find most seitan has.
Then we got a seitan gyro from Soul Vegan which was fan-flipping-tastic! Seriously the flavor was mind-blowing, the texture was great, no gluten aftertaste just scrumptious. Again I was half tempted to go over and grab another one. Props to my husband for finding this little gem when I unknowingly walked right past it. This is probably one of the best gyro’s I’ve had, ever, vegan or not.
Then my friend J grabbed us a couple of samosas with mint chutney and tamarind chutney from Arya Bhavan. I’ve really been craving a samosa lately so this was a nice surprise, and extremely delicious too but a little on the mild side for my liking. J also gave me a bite of her mac and cheese from Soul Vegan which I thought was okay, but not as good as they usually make. J also gave me the Thai iced tea she bought and didn’t like from Urban vegan. I admit it was very sweet, but not to bad. At the time I really needed a drink and pretty much anything would have done.
Finally I wrapped up my food eating with a couple of bites of J’s Chana Masala from Arya Bhavan, and a Papaya salad from Urban vegan. I really liked the Papaya salad, it was a little sweet, but mostly sour, yet not so sour that it was off putting. Although I did think it was a little salty but oh well. I would have loved to eat more, there were so many things I wanted to try and didn’t have the stomach room for. Especially after getting so many free samples from Loving Hut, Teese, Vegan Hot Pockets, Native Foods, Wayfair, and a few other little food kiosks that were selling their products in the food demo room.
Speaking of food demo’s by the way I watched The Chicago Diner food demo, in which they demonstrated how to bake and decorate vegan cookies. It was interesting, but being a pretty accomplished baker myself I didn’t learn anything new. I’d been hoping that they were going to demo something a bit more involved but for a novice vegan or baker I’m sure this would have been a really great and worthwhile demonstration.
After the demo I headed up to the speakers room, where I was fortunate enough to hear Robert Cheeke (The famous Vegan Body Builder/athlete) talk, along with a panel of three other vegan body builder/athletes, Amanda Reister, Nicole Sopko and Brian Duda. Even though I have no interest in becoming a professional athlete myself or in spending countless hours working out at the gym I found their talk interesting and inspiring. It’s great to hear people that work in that industry talk about their veganism because everyday just by doing what they do they’re myth busting. They’re living proof that you don’t need to eat meat, or dairy to be big, strong, healthy or fast. This is a really important message, one that by now with all the available information out there should be common knowledge, but stereotypes are powerful, and the spread of misinformation is strong. So it’s great to have these kind of lectures available for people. I know both my husband and I really enjoyed it.
As far as the merch tables went I didn’t buy too much. I got way less then I did when I went to the Naperville Vegetarian Festival in August. Aside from food the only item I bought was a t-shirt from the Herbivore Clothing Company (To add to my growing collection) that has a picture of a chicken on it, and says "Wings are for Flying not Frying" it’s super cute, funny, and a great in your face message. My husband bought about six bumper stickers to adorn are VW Golf with. Some of them very in your face, a little too in your face to be driving around Chicago with maybe but I’ll hope for the best. Though that was all we bought we were fortunate enough to be among the first 100 people in line and so we were given a free ‘grab bag’ of stuff upon entering. I was also given a free copy of the book "World Peace Diet" but Will Tuttle Ph.D. From a couple of very nice ladies representing Loving Hut, plus a lot of other free pamphlets, brochures and such from PETA, the Chicago based Mercy for Animals, Millions Against Monsanto, Vegan-Outreach, Vegan Meetup, Dog Rescue and others. All in all it was a pretty eventful, informative and fun day.
One of the best parts though happened to me right as I was getting ready to leave. I had just paid for my shirt when my friend L came running up to me. "There’s a lady out front that wants to interview a strict vegan come on." I laughed and told him I wasn’t interested. "Come on!" he insisted. "She wants to interview strict vegans, that’s you! You have to, I said I’d bring you." he tugged on my sleeve but I continued to resist. You see I’m a very shy person, and though I’ve become more outgoing in the past 4-5 years I can still be quite shy. This sort of situation especially is not something that would ever appeal to me. I get a little frazzled when put on the spot, and though I may know the answers to a question, or be knowledgeable on a subject when put on the spot I’m just no good, I don’t have the confidence it takes to come off sounding as intelligent and concise as I should. In fact I always say I’m a much better writer then I am a speaker for exactly that reason. Writing affords one the luxury of re-reading what you wrote and correcting your ‘fumbles’ so to speak. L however wasn’t having any of it, and then both J and my husband jumped on the band wagon and were encouraging me to do it. So I asked L "Is it on camera?" "No." "Is it live?" "I don’t think so" "Okay." I agreed. I figured it would be some lady jotting things down on a notepad to do an article for a local paper later. That I could deal with. That was easy enough.
When I got there though I realized she was recording these interviews and that they would be airing on radio. I got a little nervous, but she’d seen me by that point and was wrapping up her interview with the Fruititarian. As much as I thought about ditching the whole thing I swallowed hard, took a deep breath and prepared myself for her questions. She was friendly enough, and her questions were easy, plus I had L by my side, and my husband and J off to the side for moral support. The Fruititarian was also near by and in that circle of people I felt relatively at ease, and comfortable. I hardly even noticed the little microphone in my face, and the whole experience felt very much like explaining my veganism to my extended family whom I only see maybe once or twice a year. Polite and informative, with a bit of humor but not an overwhelming amount of depth. No graphic accounts, or gruesome stories. The other big surprise was that I had an answer ready to go for each of her questions, they just rolled off of my tongue and I seemed to have an endless amount of things to say.
After the interview I was pretty energized. Amped up, and excited. I’d never done anything like that before. I’d never been interviewed by anyone about anything and it was an interesting experience. I felt accomplished afterwards, like I’d just done something really good. I was one more vegan voice speaking my truth into the great abyss, talking compassionately and passionately about the choices I’ve made and how they not only benefit me, but the animals and our planet as well. I felt as though I’d truly done something worthy.
That evening after we’d left J and L’s house we got back into the car, turned on the radio to FM 101 which Is the station the journalist who interviewed me was from, and we were just in time to catch my interview! Spliced together were a few vegan voices talking about why they chose to be vegan, amongst them my own. They didn’t air my entire interview all at once, but right then they played a nice chunk of it, and hearing my words played back to me like that I realized that despite how I’d felt in the moment I’d given the interview I sounded extremely confident. I was intelligent, positive, and coherent all the things I’m afraid I never am in person. It was such a good feeling, it was also quite a trip to hear myself speaking on the radio. Throughout the evening the station played bits and pieces of the interviews, but just that one moment. Just that one moment between my husband, myself and the car radio was enough to keep me smiling all night and well into the next day. It’s definitely one of life’s unforgettable moments.
So that about sums up my experience at Vegan Mania this year, and I can’t wait until next year. Hopefully it’ll be at a bigger venue with even more merch booths, book stalls and vegan food options, as the Chicagoland Vegan community seems to be growing every year. Honestly I think it’s pretty awesome to have 2,500 vegan or veganish people congregating in the city formerly known as the meat capital of the world. Go vegan power!