Chicago VeganMania

 

I marked my calendar several months ago for Chicago VeganMania and have been counting down the days ever since.  Sadly I missed VeggieFest this summer due to out of town visitors, so this was my first ever Veggie festival.  I had very high expectations for the event, and it did not dissapoint!

It was held at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, near the Division Blue-Line stop.  The Fieldhouse was built in 1914 and the building had a lot of character and a number of different rooms that helped to break up the event nicely into its various sections, including: 2 exhibit halls, a demonstration area, a speaker/workshop hall, a huge food court, and a coffee lounge.

I started out my day in the West Gym Exhibit Hall which contained a mixture of organizations and retailers. Cookbooks, Jewelry, and handmade soaps were for sale in abundance and it was a great opportunity to learn about organizations like Vegan Outreach, Action for Animals, and Mercy for Animals

My favorites from this exhibit hall included:

  • The Vegetarian Resource Group’s booth: In addition to selling cookbooks, they were also giving out free back-issues of Vegetarian Journal (I subscribe to Vegetarian Times and VegNews, but this publication was new to me) and free coloring books (I picked one up for my niece, Charlotte).

TIP: Vegetarian Journal posts all of its content – including plenty of recipes – online for free!

  • Koru Street: This company makes eco-friendly gifts including note-cards, jewelry, and purses. I was fascinated by their Poo Paper.  This hand-made paper is recycled in the most natural of ways -this paper’s pulp was recaptured from fibrous elephant dung in India.  Seriously.  But don’t worry, it’s been thoroughly boiled. 

            

  •  Herbivore Clothing Company: I was intensely ogling their goods including a “Cow Hugger” tote and an “Only Kale Can Save Us Now” tee.  While I didn’t purchase them on this trip, they are now officially on my Christmas wish-list.

Next, I went to attend a cooking demo.  The one I saw was hosted by The Chicago Diner, one of the city’s most popular vegetarian restaurants.  The Chicago Diner is especially known for it’s desserts.  My favorite are their vegan milkshakes.  Their vegan cookies and cakes are so popular that they are sold at some Whole Foods Markets in Chicago. 

The recipes demonstrated were vegan chocolate chip cookies and vegan sugar cookies. To make the perfect vegan cookie, they use Earth Balance and make sure it is very cold when they cream it with the sugar (unlike when baking with butter, which should be at room temperature).  She also noted that the firmer variations of Earth Balance are best for baking, not the spreads.  The highlight of the demo?  Mini cookies for all of the audience members.
After the demo, I was ready for lunch so I headed over to the Food Court, which was packed with hungry vegans and had a number of familiar vendors including The Chicago Diner, Urban Vegan, The Vegan Food Truck, Drew’s Eatery, Arya Bhavan, and Soul Vegetarian (which had the longest line).
 
I decided to order a sandwich from the Upton’s Natural’s booth, since they don’t have a freestanding restaurant in the city.  Normally I find their yummy seitan products in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.  Getting to enjoy their product without having to cook it myself was a rare treat.  This sandwich had Italian-Beef style Seitan and giardiniera on a crusty baguette.  Yum!

The Food Court also had a large stage, so I enjoyed some performances while I ate.  I caught the tail-end of an acoustic guitar set then stuck around for a bit of the performance by KIDZ in the Mix.  KIDZ in the Mix sounds like a really neat program.  These kids did an awesome hip-hop performance, but more than that, the KIDZ in the Mix program also teaches them yoga, and exposes them to new ideas – which their instructor explained as the reason she brought them to perform at VeganMania.

 (and I love how unique the venue is – check out the mural above the stage)

After lunch, it was time to head over to the East Gym Exhibit Hall, which contained all of the food product exhibitors. I knew better than to shop on an empty stomach, but I still wound up buying quite a bit!

  • Tiny But Mighty Popcorn: I also bought some of this popcorn to make at home.  With the nation’s monoculture of GMO corn and Monsanto’s monopoly, it was so refreshing to see popcorn made from an heirloom variety of corn.  This popcorn comes from ears of corn that are just about 3 to 4 inches long.  Each kernel is about half the size of a standard kernel – and has about twice as much flavor.

  • Tomato Mountain Farm: A regular vendor at Chicago’s Green City Market, they always offer samples of their addictive (and organic!) jams and salsas.  My favorite is their Sungold Tomato spread for its uniqueness.  These tomatoes are so sweet, you can eat this spread for breakfast. 

TIP: Notice the sign that says “Yes! The Sugar is Vegan!”  Isn’t all sugar vegan?  I only recently learned that the sugar refining process uses animal products (typically bone char) to filter the sugar.  There are no animal products IN the sugar, but if you don’t like the idea of it as part of the process, instead look for unrefined cane sugar, evaporated cane juice,  turbinado or raw sugar when shopping.


After a busy afternoon, my last stop was upstairs at the “Culture Cafe” – the festival’s version of a Coffee Shop.  The cafe featured Counter Culture Coffee – with several variations of vegan milks – and baked goods from Delicious Cafe.  There were also a few art and jewelry vendors, and a stage with some very talented musical acts.

  

I was truly impressed by my fun day at Chicago VeganMania.  Even more impressive is the event’s commitment to the environment.  Last year, their “Green Team” recovered more than 90% of the waste.  Judging by their efforts, I’d expect a similar result this year.  

The event’s marketing let festival goers know in advance that bottled water would not be sold at the event and encouraged us to bring our own reusable bottles or cups.  Water stations were setup throughout the event to fill up at.  Additionally, bins around the site were clearly marked as “Recycling”, “Compost”, and “Landfill”.  Exhibitors also limited their waste – I loved these Eco-Tensils (folded paper spoons) that Wayfare was using to dish up samples of their Vegan Puddings.

 

This was such a wonderful event, and I can’t wait until next year’s VeganMania!

I’d love to hear from you!

Have you ever been to a foodie festival?