There are plenty of great summaries now online of this historical conference (after all, we’re talking about bloggers here!), but to me, the greatest summary is one of hope and inspiration, that there are people out there who care. In fact, it could be said that almost any vegan blog is automatically an advocacy blog, as the vegan lifestyle is one that, right now at least, is not quite mainstream, not always “cool,” and often completely misrepresented. Even the darkly satirical Suicide Food helps promote the fact that, hey, people are portraying these animals as friendly little creatures, and slaughtering them mercilessly behind our backs.
I learned a lot at Vida Vegan Con. I learned that Portland is as vegan-friendly as it’s made out to be, and quite “green” as well. Bike transit is booming, and vegan options abound everywhere. From the vegan mini-mall to Vege Thai (where we ate our last meal of the weekend), the awkward ask of “do you have anything vegan?” is a non-issue in Portland. It’s completely standard. This was well represented when we walked into the completely-packed Sweet Hereafter, an all-vegan bar where I watched throngs of people eat and drink without a care in the world as to whether or not the food was good or vegan. They just enjoyed themselves. In Louisville, vegans either eat with delight (“oh my god, this place has tofu!”) or non-vegans* steer clear of joints like Zen Garden and Morels Food Truck (“eww…vegan”). Portland has brought them all together.
I learned that, indeed, most vegans are compassionate. I can’t think of a single vegan I met over the weekend who wasn’t pleasant when I introduced myself, and most were more than delighted to talk to me about my blog, where I was from, or obsess over all the great food we had available to us. As Isa said, “this is what it’s like in my head all the time!” Surrounded by wonderful, intelligent vegans who get it. If we as a society are worried about more compassion, I sure don’t see why.
I don’t want to paint it as some exclusive club – in fact I don’t think being vegan was a requirement to attend at all – but imagine being around 200+ people who all share the same mindset you do about one of the most important beliefs in your life. For many, that’s church, or some spiritual business. For me, that’s veganism, and it’s veganism more-so than my passion for freethought or a drug-free lifestyle because vegans typically care. They care about why they’re vegan, they care about advocacy, they care about being healthy (though you’ll have to excuse how much Coconut Bliss we ate over the three day period). I’m not sure I can say that about most other causes I’ve been involved in except for a subset of the environmentalists I’ve met.
I also learned about a flurry of current and new websites popping up, a lot of them claiming to be the source for vegan information on a variety of sub-topics (restaurants, jobs, services, social networking, etc.). Initially, this is a great thing, right? But consider this scenario: you search for “vegan restaurants” on Google and find a website listing a few in your area. At the same time, there’s another site listing the same ones, but two more really awesome vegan restaurants that you didn’t find the first time around. That’s a bummer, right?
My skepticism of the thousands of vegan sites (not specifically blogs) results from the tech guru inside me that cautions against creating new websites just because it’s a cool idea. Has someone else already done it? If so, is it decent? HappyCow is a good example here, because throughout the weekend they were mentioned as the source for vegan restaurant info among attendees. Yet a slew of new veggie/vegan-restaurant listing sites do exist, with moderately good listings. HappyCow suffers from a weak GUI and site design, but its content is comprehensive. New sites can’t say that, and I don’t see the point in patronizing them unless there’s something there that’s truly unique. Almost anything vegan is good, but let’s not divide and conquer unless the topic to conquer requires it**.
So, I hope my healthy dose of skepticism doesn’t damper my elation about the conference. All-in-all the weekend was absolutely incredible, Portland was rad, and I can’t thank the organizers, speakers, and volunteers enough for helping out. “Let’s be honest, what kind of looks did you get when you said you were going to a vegan bloggers conference?” said Isa. I agree, it’s a niche subject! But one that is truly alive and thriving (and not just because of the raw blogs…vegan puns!), and one that I feel so fortunate to be a part of.
Below are some is a short “best of” list from the weekend:
- Best new blog I discovered: Suicide Food, mentioned above. But everyone’s was great!
- Best Portland Food: Homegrown Smoker (I only got to try a few while there, but this one was jaw-dropping!)
- Best Company: Vegan Cuts. After meeting the two-person team who work full time just to make this thing happen, it’s got my vote!
- Best Twitter name: @epic_self. Seriously, who doesn’t want to be epic? Amber is very positive, too.
- Best Vida Vegan Con Speaker: Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Her talk was so inspiring, and she really, really lives the ideals of compassionate lifestyle. See the full text of her speech here.
- Best Product featured: Earth Balance’s Organic Coconut Spread. This is stuff is absolutely delicious, full of healthy saturated fats, and soy-free! Awesome.
See you in 2013!
* Not all of you! I’ve met a few open-minded meat-eaters who will enjoy the vegan delights :)
** To be clear, the topic of promoting compassion and ending animal suffering does require all of us totes “divide” and lead by example, then come together with a vegan lifestyle. However, I don’t think this necessitates 50 websites that claim to have a “listing of veg-friendly restaurants around the country.”