Chicago VeganMania 2014
 Yesterday was one of my favorite days of the year:
 

Chicago VeganMania!

 
The festival is now in it’s 6th year and has gotten bigger and better each of the 4 years I’ve gone.  
 
This year, Mike and I arrived at 10am on the dot – right when the festival doors opened.  The line to get in was so long that it was another 20 minutes before we made it in the door!  I’m normally pretty impatient when it comes to long waits, but here, I considered the wait to be a very great thing – It’s so cool to see so many people excited about and interested in Veganism!
 

 

The festival truly did seem bigger and better this year.  It was held at the same Edgewater location as last year, but used a new floor-plan.  They utilized a newly renovated kitchen space upstairs for the chef demos, leaving more space on the main level for shopping & eating.

Additionally, the lineup of speakers, chefs, and panel discussions included experts coming from afar, including presenters travelling in from California, New York, and Florida.

 
There were several speakers we wanted to see starting at noon, so we used our first hour and a half at the festival to check out the vendors and grab some food.

The Vendors

There were over 90 booths this year!  Some of my favorites included:

Compassion Co & North Coast Organics at Chicago VeganMania

  • Sant – I’d recently been exchanging emails with Kim, the founder of Sant, so I was pleasantly surprised to run into her, sampling at the event.  She was so genuinely warm & friendly, and I’m excited to be sharing more about her pure & simple fruit tea on this blog very soon!

Sant beverage, and it’s lovely founder Kim

  • Tofurky – Mike and I got to sample Tofurky’s newish Artisan Vegan sausages and both wanted more of their Spinach Pesto sausages.  They really nailed the Pesto flavor!
  • Amour de la Terre –  The Chicago area’s first Vegan Shoe Store was at the fest selling some of their eco-friendly faux-leather purses & accessories.  I’m so bummed that I moved out of Oak Park just days before their store opened it’s doors there!
  • Zema’s Mad House Foods – Based out of Highland Park, Il, Zema’s makes ancient-grain based baking mixes that are free of dairy, soy, rice, sesame, yeast, tree nuts, peanuts, sulfites, additives, trans fats, preservatives and refined sugar.  Their Peruvian Sweet Potato Pancake & Waffle Mix had me intrigued.
 
After quite a bit of shopping (see picture above – and yes, that’s another cat toy taco!), we went to relax in the “Culture Cafe”, the most peaceful place at the festival.  Mike & I took turns getting chair massages and enjoying the live music.  

Robinlee Garber singing her thoughtful folk songs

 
One thing I just learned about VeganMania is that the Culture Cafe section of the festival also houses start-up businesses.  
 
Folks were raving about the Vegan Mozzarella Sticks & Deep Dish Pizza from the family run “Chicago-Style Vegan” table, so Mike got himself a slice.  Not only was it delicious, but this was the first time I have ever had Deep Dish Pizza that tasted wholesome.  It was not oily at all and was topped with generous amounts of chunky tomato sauce and just the right amount of non-dairy cheese. Yum!
 
 
Lastly before heading up to the speakers, we grabbed some BBQ – an annual VeganMania tradition for us.
 
One problem: There were two companies selling BBQ – Mac – Collard combo plates, and both companies have very similar names – Soul Vegan and Original Soul Vegetarian.  We couldn’t remember which one we always get!
 
We went with Original Soul Vegetarian this year and it hit the spot, though it turns out we actually ordered from Soul Vegan last year and I think I like their mac just a teeny bit more.
 
 

The Speakers

David Robinson Simon – Author of MEATONOMIC$

One of the “Must-See” presentations I had flagged for us to see was MEATONOMIC$: The Bizarre Economics of Meat & Dairy.  

Why? Because my husband, though not a vegetarian is an Economics geek.  This was another blatant attempt of mine to inspire him to re-think what he puts on his fork, this time using his favorite kind of logic.

 
David’s statistics about the externalized costs of US animal food production really did get Mike riled up.
 
Did you know that for every $1.00 of US animal foods sold at retail price, another $1.70 is lost in the economy, mostly in healthcare expenses? – Tweet That!
 
Costs of animal products are so artificially low, that using that basic formula, a $4 Big Mac really costs society nearly $11. 
 
 
As a result of these artificially low costs, animal product consumption has increased in direct correlation to the falling prices.  
 
Americans in every age demographic are now consuming more meat, eggs, and seafood than the USDA recommends. 
 
 
…And as we all know, the Animal Production Industry has been lobbying hard and influencing countless laws to keep things this way:
 
 
 
All of these frightening facts inspired Mike to purchase a copy of the book, and hopefully many others will read David’s important message too.

Jasmin Singer & Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House

For about a year and a half now, I’ve made it a habit to listen to the Our Hen House Podcast every weekend while doing my weekly food prep.  I can honestly say that I have been eagerly anticipating their presentation at VeganMania for months!

Their talk “Dear Diary, I’m Thinking of Going Vegan But…” was as informative and hilarious as they always are, and I was so happy Mike got to see why I love their podcast so much. 

They cleverly addressed common fears about going Vegan by sharing their two-cents between reading excerpts of a “Diary” they “found in the bathroom” before their presentation.
 
“Dear Diary, 
I’m thinking of going vegan but I’m concerned about protein intake, social stigmas, looking too “radical”, and whether it means I have to smell like Patchouli…”
 
 
After hearing all about the powerful meat & dairy industry in David’s talk, Jasmin & Mariann brought the message full circle with their presentation and these (paraphrased) words:
  • In a world where we don’t have a lot of choice… we do get to choose what we put on our fork and how we spend our money. – Tweet This! 
  • Do you know how to spell Boycott?   —  V-E-G-A-N. – Tweet This! –

Chef AJ – Author of Unprocessed

Lastly, I could never go to a food festival without seeing at least one Chef Demo!

I first learned of Chef AJ when I reviewed The China Study All-Stars Book, which she contributed to.  As a huge fan of whole-food, plant-based China Study-style recipes, I was excited to see what she had to share. 

Not only was Chef AJ incredibly informative, this was easily the funniest cooking demo I have ever seen.  She even sang us two Weird Al Yankovich style songs of her own – a gone-Vegan version of “I Will Survive”, and “Whole Foods Will Keep Us Together”.  Further proof of the amount of energy her unprocessed diet gives her- she did a handstand on the wall in the middle of one of the songs.
 
 
 In addition to being oil-free, salt-free and unprocessed, Chef AJ’s recipes also steer away from even the most minimally processed sugar including Maple Syrup, Molasses, and Coconut Sugar.  As Chef AJ says, for sweetening, she only uses:
“The Fruit, the Whole Fruit, and Nothing but the Fruit”. 
 
Date Syrup is one of her go-to sweeteners, since the whole fruit goes into it and it has a relatively neutral flavor.  She also suggests experimenting with syrups from other dried fruits (think: Apricot Syrup!).
 
She made 3 recipes for us:
 
After Chef AJ’s fantastic demo, it was time for Mike and I to head home happy, with our minds, bellies, and shopping bags full.  VeganMania 2015 can’t come soon enough!
 
 
 I’d love to hear from you!

If you were at VeganMania – what were your highlights from the event?

What Products or Guests would be at the Veg Fest of your dreams?

 

*Disclaimer: I am a member of the VeganCuts Affiliate Program.  All opinions are my own.