VeganMania, the annual Chicago vegan fest, took place in Pulaski Park in Chicago from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9. North by Northwestern sent two writers to the event, one a vegetarian, the other a meat-eater.
The Herbivore: Sandra Song
I can’t even begin to imagine what one would possibly eat as a vegan.
Because, even as a lacto-ovo vegetarian, it’s extremely difficult to find anything to eat. Everything has some form of animal in it. From celebrity chefs sauteing racks of lamb, trendy desserts with meat garnishes, to hipsters with tattoos of bacon on their forearms: Meat is everywhere. It’s why I mostly subsist on a diet of butter-filled croissants and greek yogurt honey parfaits from Norbucks.
But vegans are a completely different story. Vegans are like vegetarians 2.0. They use absolutely no animal products, which means even goods like honey and leather. But even just as a vegetarian, I’m occasionally forced to go hungry, which is why I was so excited to catch the train down to Pulaski Park Fieldhouse for VeganMania, a festival celebrating all aspects of vegan culture. Even though I had to wake up at an obscene hour on a Saturday morning, at least I’d be fed free samples, right?
It was all worth it though when I was immediately greeted at the door by a cheery woman in a cupcake fairy costume and a swag bag filled with everything from vegan crackers and chocolate to soap, shampoo and even stationary made from recycled magazines.
In addition to an incredible array of samples, VeganMania also had speakers and cooking demonstrations, featuring everything from activists like Nathan Runkle, the founder of the Mercy for Animals organization, to chefs like Kim Gracen of the Chicago Diner, a well-regarded vegetarian restaurant.
There was also a stage for musical performances, which included a hoedown-inspiring Americana band called The Giving Tree Band, belly-dancing troupe Read My Hips and the spoken word poet Phenom.
I was more focused on the free samples though, noshing on everything from Chocolate Inspirations’ Cinnamon Toast toffee to Tomato Mountain’s tomatillo salsa to Dandies vegan marshmallows.
The culinary highlight of my visit though had to be the surprisingly delicious soy cheeze (yes, with a “z”) pizza with seitan sausage from Upton’s Naturals, who sweetened the deal even further by including a free moustache and temporary tattoo. It was crisp with a generous amount of toppings, and for $3, it was on par with a normal slice, surprising for vegan food which is usually ridiculously expensive.
Overall, the festival was a wonderful place to munch and graze on various soy and wheat-based goodies, and to feel good about helping animals and the environment at the same time. The entertainment was also wonderful, though my favorite demonstration was the one with a free vegan cupcake at the end. Because seriously, nothing beats unlimited vegan food, especially when it’s free.
The Omnivore: Hilary Sharp
I take pride in the fact that I am an avid meat-eater — in my opinion, there is nothing better than a nice, juicy steak. So when I arrived at Chicago VeganMania at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, I expected the festival to be as bland as the tofu that vegans hold so dear.
The festival featured numerous musical acts, food vendors, retailers and artists, all promoting veganism.
The Giving Tree Band — a folk rock band from Yorkville, Illinois — opened the festival, creating a lively and comfortable atmosphere. I’m not a huge fan of folk music, but I found it very enjoyable to listen to under the circumstances.
At first, I felt very out of place, like everyone could tell that I regularly enjoyed indulging in eating copious amount of meat and dairy, but after talking to numerous vegans, I discovered they are very willing to speak about their lifestyle to those of us who do not understand. Jill Ovnik, the founder of the Vegan Gal program, spoke to me about her mission to help others discover the benefits of veganism.
The food was a bit expensive, so I did not buy an entire vegan meal. But I was able to try a cacao ganache tart, which was so rich and delicious I couldn’t believe it had no dairy products in it. Equally impressive were the fishless fish nuggets, which tasted exactly like breaded fish. The peanut butter cookies were a bit disappointing though, as they were very dry and mild in taste.
What I most enjoyed about the festival were the retail booths, selling 100% cotton t-shirts, jewelry from recycled bottle caps, and stylish bags made from recycled plastic bags, vegetable fibers, vinyl and inner tubes. One of these retailers, Koru Street, makes cute and colorful bags and stationary from recycled materials to not only help the environment, but also provide sustainable employment as well. I could definitely see myself sporting a messenger bag made out of an old plastic banner, and I certainly plan on ordering one online. So now I can be environmentally and socially conscious while looking fashionable.
Through this adventure, I have become less of a skeptic about alternative dieting lifestyles. Whether you are a health nut, environmentally conscious, or an animal rights activist, there seems to be no downside to going vegan. While I can’t afford to try veganism now as a poor college student, I have certainly been inspired to hang up my grilling apron and give it a try in the future.