Veg*n. Veg. Veggie.
I’ve never figured out what any of those terms mean. Some friends say they mean this thing or that thing; but that’s the thing: people use them in various ways.
Then there’s plant-based diet, the term preferred by the T. Colin Campbell Foundation. And there’s former firefighter and triathlete Rip Esselstyn, with the plant-strong recipes of The Engine 2 Diet. These concepts have helped some change their eating habits. Once people have made such lifestyle changes, it is then up to them whether to also become part of a social movement.
Because a movement involves more than a diet. To advance a movement, people invest energy in an ideal.
How does this ideal go further than food? That’s where vegan comes in.
In addition to making a case for sticking with the word vegan in this post, I’ve got a few thoughts on two vegan festivals to be held here in Pennsylvania: the North American Vegetarian Society’s massive, week-long Summerfest in Johnstown in early July, and our local offering in Chester County on Saturday 9 August.
A principle is a principle
The word vegan reflects a dedication to live as a conscientious objector to humanity’s dominion over other animals. It takes into account the importance of fair food distribution, our personal physical and mental health, and the health of communities, including the entire bio-community in which we move.
The first people calling themselves vegan did so in 1944. The word itself was thought up by Dorothy (Morgan) Watson, then adopted by a group of about two dozen like-minded people who noted it contained the first and last letters of the word vegetarian. The founders of The Vegan Society essentially declared their commitment to the Alpha and the Omega of the vegetarian movement, which was historically ethics-based, and, when taken to its logical conclusion, frees all animals, the finned and feathered, the egg-laying, lactating, and honey-making animals, from the yoke of our dominion.
As a result of peaceful and effective direct action, the word is now in every leading dictionary of the English language and a few other languages as well. The word reflects the integrity and strength of the people who offered it to us as they imagined the ideal, and set out to bring it about. As Gandhi said, `A principle is a principle and in no case can it be watered down because of our incapacity to live it in practice. We have to strive to achieve it, and the striving should be conscious, deliberate and hard.`
The beginning of this work involves having a term that represents the principle, and communicating clearly.
With hundreds of attendees, all prepared to live in dorm rooms for three to five days, the North American Vegetarian Society’s Summerfest is a highly popular all-vegan festival. It lasts from a Wednesday lunch-time through the following Sunday afternoon (this year, the dates are 2-6 July). Many participants take Amtrak to the University of Pittsburgh’s Johnstown campus from points west (including Cleveland and Pittsburgh) or east (New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC); others join carpools across the United States and Canada.
Rae Sikora at Summerfest
Some stay for the full five days; some for just the weekend (though given Amtrak’s current timetable with the early departure on Sundays, experiencing the event’s offerings into two days is not really feasible). It is, perhaps, the most significant North American opportunity to share ideas and optimism with vegan-organic consultants, vegan cookbook authors, sanctuary operators, and animal-rights advocates. The event culminates in Saturday night’s plenary “Hall of Fame” presentation. I’m not keen on halls of fame. Halls, yes. Fame, not so much. But now and then, such events transcend pomp and pageantry and become a form of well-deserved thanks. For example, last year’s Vegetarian Hall of Fame acknowledged the public activism of Rae Sikora—a kind and faithful proponent of veganism, social justice and ecological awareness. The “vegan” shirt I’m wearing here comes from Rae’s booth at Summerfest. (If you can’t make it to Summerfest, you can get one here.)
Whereas the word plant-based indicates a vegetarian diet that takes no firm position on animals and ethics, and the word veggie falls into the cute category but again appears to avoid the ethic carried by vegan, it’s good to see and hear vegan often at Summerfest. The word’s call to principles represents the best Summerfest has to offer people who like to eat their vegetables, and take their vegetarianism seriously.
The North American Vegetarian Society has a policy for the event that speakers are expected not to laud any given method or equipment used in animal husbandry as better than another. Thus, as the national (and indeed global) egg industry makes plans ready to switch to a new standard layer cage, and is calling that new cage enriched, Summerfest has evolved as a zone of celebration for the ethics, health education, and social-movement principles of veganism. This includes arranging five days of exquisite meals facilitated by Chef Mark Reinhold of Vegan Fusion. Not a single egg—“enriched” or otherwise—is used in the making of those meals.
The Chester County Vegan Festival
I’m the VP of a local group in Chester County, Pennsylvania known as CARE. For many years, CARE hosted the sole “veg fest” in the Philadelphia area. One of the big highlights is the food we offer, including the famous Chester County mushrooms, local corn and other late summer delights from Pete’s Produce, and many samples from small vegan companies and local restaurants including SuTao vegan cafe, where CARE volunteers hold our regular meetings.
The real cage-free deal: The food at CARE’s Vegan Festival is local, beautiful, and delicious.
Back to the vocabulary thing.
This year, another group announced the creation of an event called the Philly VegFest. The advent of another “veg fest” so close to our event could become confusing. The idea of asking the other group not to use that name popped up in our board’s discussion, but I’m happy to say that such a request was never made, as the CARE board voted instead to hold our event in a different month and change its name to the Chester County Vegan Festival. To avoid conflict, we changed—and, I think, for the better. CARE’s festival has always been completely vegan, and now we’ve named it accordingly. Will the new, bold name mean fewer people will attend? That question came up when we voted. I hope and expect we’ll do just fine as the Vegan Festival. If any of readers are around the area, join us on Saturday 9 August at Hoopes Park in West Chester from noon until 4 pm. Let me know if you’d like to have an exhibit for your group, vegan business, or animal-advocacy project.
The Chester County Vegan Festival.
Because this is a local event, there will be plenty of time and space to just hang out with the presenters and exhibitors. Confirmed speakers at this year’s annual (and newly named) Chester County Vegan Festival are Liqin Cao of United Poultry Concerns and former beef and dairy farmer Harold Brown, returning after two years by popular demand.
Click here for Liqin Cao’s view of the trouble with the backyard chicken trend. And here is Harold Brown on peaceful transformation—both within the individual mind, and in our society as a whole—to vegan agriculture.
Much respect to both of these activists, who have been in the movement for decades and provide us with excellent models or vegan integrity, consistency and kindness. I look forward to enjoying the Chester County Vegan Festival with them—and you, if you can make it.
Love and liberation,
|Dictionary image source: Ning.com files. Spotted via ARZone.