Every year I look forward to Vegetarian Summerfest. It’s like band camp or science camp where kids can be with other kids where their talents are admired, not teased. Only, it’s (mostly) for grown-ups, and you don’t have to have any special talent. If you’re already vegan or just curious about becoming vegetarian, you fit right in! A lot of vegans feel alienated and alone in their normal environments and revel in the camaraderie and community of Summerfest. This year’s visit lived up to my hopes and expectations, and I am so excited about next year that I want to be sure to put it on everyone’s radar early.
Each day starts with some kind of exercise – you can choose from yoga, tai chi, boot camp, or a simple nature walk. Certainly you can opt to sleep in and do some simple morning stretches in your dorm room and call it yoga. Guilty. You’ll nourish yourself with a hearty all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. Do I have to even point out that everything is vegan? I mean, it’s Heaven. There’s a salad bar at every meal (and yes, that’s usually what I had as the bulk of my breakfast). There’s also an oil-free section, a gluten-free section, and an all raw section. The food is prepared under the direction of Mark Reinfeld, of Vegan Fusion. Dressings weren’t necessarily SOS free, so I was glad I had brought my own flavored vinegars to use as salad dressing. They’re like a security blanket for me any time I eat outside of my own home.
A new and exciting facet of this year’s Summerfest was the opportunity to meet and mingle with fellow members of Chef AJ and John Pierre’s Ultimate Weight Loss Program (UWL). We had plans to put up a sign identifying our table but quickly realized that wasn’t necessary. All you needed to do was find someone with a massive amount of veggies on their tray and follow them right to our table! We found each other in a hurry this way. Even among a giant group of vegans, the unprocessed or SOS Free crowd is small (but mighty and growing!) so it was especially nice to feel right at home and downright normal eating with a group of people that eat exactly like we do. We even had the opportunity to eat a few meals with Chef AJ and John Pierre when they weren’t busy prepping for their many presentations. The other way to spot UWL folks is to look around the perimeter of the room and look for people standing, doing wall sits, or squatting on the floor. As JP has taught us, sitting is the next smoking! Try not to get hooked.
As much as I would love to give you a real recap of all of the information, it’s just impossible. Instead, I’d like to share some resources so you can investigate further on your own about the things you’re personally interested in. Among my favorite Summerfest presenters were:
Victoria Moran (Main Street Vegan) who talks about exuding the joys of veganism in everyday life and aging in slow motion. She has an informative and entertaining podcast, several books, and even an in-person program in
Dr. Michael Greger (Nutrition Facts) who has a knack for making facts about nutrition wildly entertaining and impactful. Tune in for daily video clips about the latest in nutrition research, or search the archives to clear up any confusion you have.
T. Colin Campbell (The China Study, Nutrition Studies, Forks Over Knives) whose decades of research work has been so influential and was finally shared in Forks over Knives in addition to his own books The China Study and Whole. His son is behind Plant Pure Nation which is screening nationally as we speak. His website is a wealth of information and resources focusing on all things nutrition, but with an emphasis on cancer.
Jeff Cohan (Jewish Vegetarian Society of North America) who shares a unique perspective on the ethics of veganism with respect to theology. His organization’s mission is to “encourage and help Jews to embrace plant-based diets as an expression of the Jewish values of compassion for animals, concern for health, and care for the environment.”
Rebecca Gilbert (Yummy Plants and It’s Easy to Start Eating Vegan) whose inspirational personal experience with plant based eating has led to a passion for making it easy for others to see benefits in their own lives.
Amie Hamlin (New York Coalition for Healthy School Food) who pioneered the very first all vegetarian public school in the US, in a place near and dear to my heart – Ithaca, NY. Her organization, linked above, has created resources for others to use to make positive changes in their own schools and communities.
Rae Sikora (Plant Peace Daily) who has arguably touched more lives than perhaps anyone in the vegan movement. She continues to reach the masses with the resources she has provided on her website and with the non-profit Veg Fund which helps support grassroots activism. Her creativity in sharing compassion is surpassed only by the warmth of her personality.
There’s not enough time here to discuss the details of the work of each of these people, but I encourage you to visit the links to learn more about them. There’s such a broad scope of expertise. It’s humbling to be in the presence of these people who are rock stars in the vegetarian and vegan movement. If I can help you tune in to even one more person that speaks to you, I have succeeded!
Thanks to all of the above, I am once more invigorated and inspired to continue making this world a more compassionate place.