Friday, November 9, 2007

Vegan Challenge '07


Originally published in The Oregonian on November 8, 2007. Photos and text by Jason Simms.

It's not every day you get to taste tempeh mashed yams, shop for faux leather or mingle in a crowd that includes a vegan body builder. But you could do that and more at last weekend's Vegan Holiday Festival.

The idea? To change minds - and menus.

For many, the holidays conjure up images of good company, good cheer and a nice ham or turkey on the table. Others have a decidedly darker take.

"It's a time of year when there's a lot of animal slaughter," says Emily Pepe, media coordinator for the second annual event, who has the glow of a recent convert. She went vegan "practically overnight" a year ago, she said, and is "evangelical about it."

The event - with a maze of vegan dog food, handbags made of recycled plastic bags, and even vegan bingo for the kids - transformed Benson High School into a mini vegan Portland. Population: about 1,000 through the day.

In one example of reduced veggie-ography, the Blue Moose Cafe, which offers vegetarian soups at Northeast 50th and Fremont, found itself next to the Pearl District's vegan Blossoming Lotus, which was serving Thanksgiving fare.

In the chefs' demo room, Julie Hasson, author of "Best Chocolate Recipes," dished up pumpkin desserts. The room also featured the tempeh mashed yams - make that fall cranberry baked tempeh mashed yams with sage gravy braised greens by chef Piper Dixon of St. Johns' Proper Eats.

Sure, tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. But in Dixon's hands, it was tasty. Divine even.

After enjoying the animal-free fare, it was time to hear vegan triathlete Brendan Brazier, the keynote speaker, talk about how a vegan diet can give you more energy. Seeing vegan body builder Robert Cheeke sprint through the festival shouting announcements left little doubt.

And, strangely, for a festival inspired by animal slaughter, it had a, well, festive atmosphere.

"I don't think most of these people think about being vegetarian that often," said Barry Gillette, who attended with his wife, Indrani, and their 3-year-old daughter. Indrani Gillette, born in India and raised as a vegetarian, found the celebration "encouraging."

Peter Spendelow, president of Northwest VEG, said with a laugh that people eat a wider variety of foods after going vegan because they have to get more creative. "Being vegetarian is not about deprivation."

The vegetarians in the crowd said they didn't feel slighted by the animal-free majority. But did any meat-eaters venture inside?

No one fessed up when Cheeke, at a reporter's request, asked over the microphone. A man leaned over and said, "Good luck trying to find someone willing to chew on a dead cow butt around here!"

But later, Jessica Naylor, 26, turned up. The meat-loving chef at Sun River Resort came to network and pick up tips on vegan cooking in part because her wife is a vegan.

"I'm wearing leather shoes, but I'm here supporting this lifestyle and trying to learn about it, and they're very supportive of that," she said. Plus, the prevailing attitude was she'll convert, sooner or later.

She says she doesn't plan to. But, she said: "How mean could they be? They're here because they care about animals."

This is the original blog post linking to the story before the OregonLive url expired.

Yesterday’s Oregonian featured a piece I wrote on the Vegan Holiday Festival last weekend.

I enjoyed this assignment, not only because I was able to pick up some nutrition tips and a new fake-leather belt, but because it was a real challenge. I had to take something that, in all honesty, is pretty boring to read about and make it interesting.

I did an okay job. Michelle Brence, my editor, helped me out with a great edit (that left in my coinage of veggie-ography!). But I realized I should have done something a lot crazier. I should have found one interesting person and followed him or her through the festival. Or come up with some other angle than the straightforward approach I went with.

I’ll try to do better next time.

Photo: An adorable child playing bingo with the word vegan. This photo appeared in the O, but the kid was cut because I didn’t get an ID for him. It was only third or fourth outing as a paid photog, so I didn’t really know how things work.

fake leather
A freaky dude I bought a fake-leather belt from. I got black. I almost got white.

1 comment:

  1. There are no adorable children. You call this journalism?!