Ever since I started going to blogging conferences, I have come to realize that it isn’t exactly easy to express the complexity of the experience to you, my readers. Part of the issue is that I kind of feel like this is one of those let-me-invite-you-over-to-view-my-family-vacation-slideshow where it may not be nearly as interesting to you as it is to me. That said, I think that I’d be remiss in not giving you some highlights, as well as my thoughts, on the very first Vida Vegan Con, a conference for vegan bloggers. So let me share with you what I experienced this past weekend in Portland, surrounded by a bunch of vegans and vegetarians.
It meant different things to different people.
What I found so fascinating from the start, and perhaps even before I went, is that this wasn’t exclusively a conference for food bloggers. For many, this was a chance to learn more about how to improve their activism efforts in the fight for animal rights, but for people like me it was a chance to learn some new things about vegan cooking, baking and diet. Of course, I think all of us wanted to network, and network we did.
I was very excited to finally meet Susan Voisin of FatFree Vegan Kitchen, who is as kind and gracious in person as she is on her blog. I also met others like Marika Collins from Madcap Cupcake, who is sweet and humble, and Elaine Vigneault of Vegan Soapbox, who is passionate about the vegan lifestyle and lives her spoken ethics. I had a chance to converse with Allysia from Happy Vegan, who is probably one of the friendliest and happiest people I’ve met in a while. I chatted with Kate Echle of Le Chou Sauvage, a photographer who takes some pretty amazing photos with any photographic device she’s holding. And so many others, full of creativity, fun, kindness and compassion.
Vegan meringue is totally possible (and that means macarons are, too).
I attended three different cooking demos just a few MAX stops away at Whole Foods: one on chocolate, presented by Fran Costigan, another on Indian-inspired food by Kelly Peloza and Joni Marie Newman, and finally Hannah Kaminski‘s amazing meringue.
I learned some interesting things like when making chocolate ganache, the color and texture of the chocolate can be different just because of what non-dairy milk you use and that olive oil has a place in truffles. I discovered that the technique you use to measure flour, as well as the measuring instruments, really do matter and can make a recipe vary greatly. I found out that vegan meringue is quite possible, and that the possibilities for meringue are endless.
Food allergies are really serious.
When I went to my first food blogging conference last year, I was made aware of how important it is to make sure that gluten-free diets are respected. Celiac disease is not something to be toyed with, and I have made an effort to categorize which recipes on my blog are gluten-free. But I haven’t really made an effort when it comes to other food allergies. As someone who is probably more sensitive to certain foods rather than allergic (i.e. dairy and some fruits), you’d think that I would make an effort to recognize others, but I haven’t.
I learned that if someone is allergic to tree nuts, that includes coconut. This isn’t something I really knew before – but I am glad I know now. I also was reminded that it is important to try and accommodate people who do have food allergies if you have a party or potluck. It makes them feel welcome and like you really do care, and that they could safely dine with you again.
As a result, I plan on adding at least two new categories that will include dishes that do not contain nuts or soy, or that can have those items substituted. I already have those kinds of recipes on here, but have never labeled them as such – this is my opportunity.
Overall, I am really glad that I went. When I first learned about the conference last year I was so excited that I would have a chance to meet people who I have considered to be my mentors in the vegan diet. While I no longer eat a 100% vegan diet, I still have immense respect and appreciation for these people, and I still refer to their websites for recipes and inspiration. After all, I am most comfortable and at ease when I am making vegan foods. I also was grateful to finally go to a conference where I didn’t have to worry about there being any meat in anything. Some of these other conferences I have been to have been more challenging food-wise (and I was actually hungry most of the time I went to one in particular – I won’t mention which one), so it was a great relief to know everything would be vegan.
But I will admit that I felt out of place at Vida Vegan Con. I did not come to the vegan diet because I am concerned about animal rights – I came to it because I had physical pain that impacted my life in really negative ways, so I found myself not identifying with the experience of most of the people I did encounter. Before I say anything else, I want to be clear that I met people with a wide variety of experience and perspective – some would consider themselves activists, yet others choose to live their love of animals in their own personal life without putting their beliefs on others, and still others were more like me who came to it for health reasons. “Vegan” was expressed in very diverse ways at this conference.
I sat in on a talk by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, a fairly well-known author and speaker in the vegan world. It was incredible, and I was very impressed by her – but I sat there feeling like it felt oddly familiar, oddly evangelical. It felt more like I was sitting in church, not like I was at a conference for bloggers. I will share that I am not a religious person, but I did grow up in a religion where I heard similar talks, sermons, speeches, and advice. Replace “vegan” with any sort of religious word that pops into your head, and you’ve got a sermon on how to not do this or be that.
I want to say, though, that I understand the passion of vegans who are adamant about animal rights, even if I do not identify with their philosophy. I, myself, am extremely passionate about how the food industry is taking advantage of everyone, how GMO issues affect the health of people and ultimately the planet, and ways that we can improve our food system like using permaculture methods. I would love to convince people to make better choices when they go to the grocery store, or when they go out to eat or plan on planting a garden.
Ultimately, I think that the vegans who are outspoken about the plight of animals and I are on the same page, if not a few paragraphs apart. We can all agree that our food system is corrupt, that animals are caught up in the greed of big corporations, and that waste is rampant. These particular vegans fill a very important role by honing in on the horrors of meat, dairy, egg and fish production. I think, too, that people like me also fill a very important role by focusing on the horrors of plant agriculture. And there are still others who focus on the safety of water, air quality and oil issues. It is through each of our passions that I hope we can all come together to create a world that is safer for everyone, where food is not wasted, and where we can trust that we are doing the best for our health.
Will I go to the next one? I honestly don’t know. I am grateful I went, and I am so glad I met the people I did. I made some friends that I hope to keep, and I will probably be talking about this conference for a while. If I go again, I hope to dig a little deeper into some of the issues I do care about – or at least see if some other vegan desserts and dishes are possible through the imagination and efforts of the chefs who work to make the vegan diet a delicious one.