Vida Vegan Con 2015

Two years ago, I wrote about Vida Vegan Con II, the vegan blogger conference I attended in Portland.

This past weekend was VVCIII, the third–and final–conference. Last time I learned so much and met so many great people, and I couldn’t wait to pick up where I left off.

I flew into Austin, Texas on Thursday and met up with friends at Counter Culture, a vegan diner. I loved walking onto a restaurant in a new city and seeing familiar faces. During our meal a few others from the last VVC said hello. The city was buzzing with vegans already!

counter culture meal

A burrito and potato salad to kick off the weekend

Friday, vegans from around the country–and world–convened on the Vegan Bazaar. We nibbled on vegan cheese from Miyoko’s Creamery (and got to meet the wonderful Miyoko herself). We heard Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, speak at a breakout session. And we got to shop!

I finally met Nikki, the owner of CykoChik Custom Handbags (and yes I bought a tote I’d been eyeing for a while).

cykochik

I also met Kat, creator of Kick Butt Boots–custom, handmade vegan cowboy boots. Everyone had their eye on a striking red pair. How cute would they be with jeans or a fun, flowy dress?

kick butt boots

We sampled food (The Vegan Nom and Cool Beans food trucks stole the show), bought clothing, jewelry and beauty products and then headed our separate ways. I ended up having drinks at a T.O.F.U Magazine-hosted album release party and then dancing the night away with friends at a bar playing 80s dance music.

Saturday was the first official day of the conference. We picked up our swag bags and we were all treated to a delicious breakfast buffet and coffee bar with so many creamer options: coconut, almond, hemp, soy–awesome!

I attended sessions on science, feminism, health, entrepreneurship, and activism. Lunch was also fantastic. We filled up on the most delicious foods. The day was so inspiring. I learned so much, met new people, and was motivated to do more with blogging and veganism in general.

That evening, we attended Capital City Bakery’s third-year anniversary. I’ve never seem so many people in line to buy cupcakes, and I’d never seen people so happy to be in a line!

capital city bakeryUpton’s Naturals was also on hand, serving up BBQ jackfruit sandwiches. I’ve never had pulled pork, and you’ll never need to, with this cruelty-free version.

Upton's BBQ Jackfruit sandwich

After eating sweet and savory goodness, a few of us bar-hopped until, one by one, we faded. Our crew got smaller as the night got later and eventually I also retreated to my apartment.

Sunday was another packed day of conference sessions, buffets, and socializing. The conference ended in an emotional goodbye and heartfelt thanks to the three founders who turned a dream into a reality and changed the lives of so many others. It was bittersweet to say the least. I’m sad to see VVC come to an end, but I’m excited for what’s next. There’s a new vegan economy springing up and I can sense a change for how people eat, how people think about animals, and the types of businesses that will grown out of this conference.

I loved seeing how bloggers had evolved and progressed. Several attendees had written cookbooks or started vegan businesses since I’d seen them last. VVC played a big part in that, I’m sure. It helped so many of us grow.

After a teary farewell, we ended on a high note. Burgers at Arlo’s! Austin, with its warm nights, knows how to do patios. Days were indoors at the conference but nights were for being out. Sunday evening was no different. We socialized, drank margaritas, and ate burgers and ice cream (from Sweet Ritual) on the patio of Cheer Up Charlie’s.

kale margarita

Monday, I squeezed in one last breakfast with a group from the conference and then hopped over (see what I did there?) to Rabbit Food Grocery to check out the vegan nibbles and wares (rumor has it I bought another bag, but you’ll have to check my fashion blog to see if that’s true).

vvc goodbye breakfast

The weekend was as fun as this post is long. But unlike a too-long post, I didn’t want the weekend to end. It might seem like us bloggers were food obsessed. Perhaps. But it’s because we are enjoying and promoting a world that could be. A world without animal exploitation. It’s a marvelous goal and it makes us passionate and keeps us motivated.

Special thanks to Janessa, Jess and Michelle, without whom none of this would be possible.

Wool-free carpets

When extending veganism beyond your diet, you might think about alternatives to leather shoes and bags. An often overlooked home décor product is carpeting.

Rugs are often made of wool (here’s why wool isn’t an ethical product). Sometimes, you’ll even see leather or leather-trimmed rugs. And sheepskin and cowhide rugs are not byproducts! Fortunately, it’s easy to find alternatives. Let’s look at some options for area rugs and broadloom:

Wall-to-wall

Wall-to-wall wool carpet is more cost-prohibitive that synthetic broadloom so isn’t as common. When shopping for carpet rolls, you’ll notice that most carpeting is synthetic.

Looking for natural alternatives? Wall-to-wall sisal is available at places like sisalcarpet.com, Sustainable Lifestyles, and Fibreworks. It’s available is a range of prices, but seems to be more expensive than synthetic wall-to-wall.

Area rugs

Wool is a common ingredient in area rugs. A simple swap would be to buy a synthetic version. If you see ingredients like nylon, latex, polyester and polypropylene, you’ll know the rug is synthetic.

If petrochemicals are a concern, there’s a host of animal-free natural fibers to choose from too. Cotton, hemp, jute, seagrass, sisal, bamboo, and linen rugs are great options. Some will look more rustic and, well, natural, but you can find a style and color to suit your décor.

Flor carpets

I’m a fan of Flor, a system of carpet squares that you can use to create rugs in any size or shape you’d like. Most are nylon (some are wool, so check the specs). They’re made with recycled backing and meet or exceed VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions standards. If pets, kids, or sloppy guests make a mess, you can replace a tile, not the entire rug. They come in a myriad of styles and colors—from solid, to stripes, and even animal prints. If you crave sophistication, their Better than Wool collection will impress.

Overstock.com has a huge selection of area rugs that you can sort by size, color and material (including synthetic versions of Persian/Oriental styles). Home Decorators has sections for natural and synthetic rugs too. You can even check out Target and Ikea’s sites for ideas.

Wall-to-wall

Wall-to-wall wool is more cost-prohibitive, and isn’t as common, but it’s considered the gold standard. Most wall-to-wall carpeting is synthetic.

Looking for natural alternatives? Wall-to-wall sisal is available at places like sisalcarpet.com, Sustainable Lifestyles, and Fibreworks. It’s available is a range of prices, but seems to be more expensive than synthetic wall-to-wall.

Premarin: A cruel way to fight menopause

Many women, upon reaching menopause, reach for prescriptions to treat their change-of-life symptoms.

Premarin is one of the drugs women are often prescribed as a hormone replacement therapy. It stands for PREgnant MARe unINe and it’s a cruel industry. Estrogen-rich pregnant horses’ urine is harvested from horses who are forcibly impregnated, confined to tiny stalls, and forced to wear painful urine collection bags. Horses’ water consumption is restricted so their urine is more concentrate.

horsesWhen foals are born, they’re often slaughtered, but sometimes replace their poor mothers on the urine collection line.

And did I mention it’s horse piss?

Most urine is collected at farms in Canada and North Dakota, but the industry is growing overseas too. Premarin is one of the most popular drugs prescribed today. Pfizer makes billions from it.

Premarin isn’t the only name to look out for. Avoid Prempro, Premphase, and Duavee as well. They’re also made with horses’ urine. If your menopausal prescription includes “conjugated equine estrogen” or PMU (Pregnant Mare Urine) just say no.

Controlling the symptoms of menopause

I get it. No one wants hot flashes, trouble sleeping, low energy, and all the other issues that goes along with a change of life. Lifestyle changes can help control symptoms: Go vegan and get exercise. Simple, yet effective. No urine ingestion needed.

If you really need medication, ask your doctor for a plant-based (phytoestrogens) or a synthetic alternative. Alternatives carry fewer risks too (Premarin increases the risk of breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes in women).

Resources

Humane Society article

Last Chance for Animals campaign

Havehest blog

Peta factsheet

No New Animal Lab

This past Saturday, I joined several hundred demonstrators at the University of Washington for the March on UW. We were protesting a proposed animal testing facility that, if built, would see a 30% increase in the number of animals tortured and killed at the university.

marching with banner

No New Animal Lab is a slogan, a campaign, and a movement to prevent thousands of animals from suffering. Their current target is Skanska, the construction company who has been awarded the project.

A recent exposé on a local news channel has sickening information about some of what goes on at the university. It’s inhumane, and it needs to stop. I’ve written before about how animal testing is never justified, and the examples at UW are exactly why.

There are psychopaths in our midst. They are researchers at the UW and they live off federal grant money, despite a history of abuse and fines by the USDA.

At a time when other schools are moving to more modern, accurate testing methods, the UW chooses to invest more money in animal testing and refuses to recognize that animal testing models are outdated.

We marched through campus, to the site of the proposed lab, and up University Avenue. After the march, a smaller–but substantial–group protested outside of the home of one of the UW Regents, a man who is pushing the lab plans through despite public opposition.

Police presence was heavy, but both events were peaceful.

The events generated a lot of media coverage, including TV, newspaper and radio. Momentum is gaining and more and more people are becoming aware.

Please visit the No New Animal Lab FB page to see how you can help.

march

hundreds of people march – image c/o Wendy

Fashion revolution: Who made your clothes?

Today is one of those days where I think I should combine my fashion blog and my vegan blog. The topic on both is the same. See, it’s Fashion Revolution Day today. This day marks the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed over eleven hundred people and injured thousands more. Spotting vegan clothing is easy. No animal products? Check. But look behind the scenes and the human and environmental ramifications are big too.

I’m joining others as we ask, “Who made my clothes?” Check out Instagram hashtags for #fashrev, #whomademyclothes, #fashionrevolutionday, and #whomadeyourclothes for lots of inspiring photos. You might see photos of people wearing their clothes inside out to show the labels–transparency in fashion!

who made my clothes?

I know who made my clothes!

Lois Eastlund label

Lois Eastlund made my dress. It looks fantastic (even inside out) because it’s handmade and she paid a lot of attention to detail. She’s a NY-based vegan fashion designer and one of the founders of La Fashionista Compassionista–an awesome (and free) online magazine that you should get your hands on!

Lois Eastlund dress

Moses made my boots. They’re handmade in a factory in LA. The all-vegan company, Nicora Johns, is helping to keep the US shoemaking industry alive. When I bought my boots, I got a photo of Moses in the shop where he made these. No animals or humans harmed!

Nicora Johns boots

Crystalyn Kae made my purse. It’s glazed fabric. Another great leather alternative. I met Crystalyn when she was located in Seattle. She’s based in NYC now, but you can find her amazing bags in stores nationwide and on her website.

Crystalyn Kae purse

Roque from Get Hell Bent made my cuff. It’s made from recycled bicycle tires. I have three of her cuffs. They’re so edgy and tough!

accessories

I made my earrings! It’s fun to create. My simple drop-chain earrings were easy to make and have become my go-to pair. They match everything!

I don’t know who made my tights. So it’s not a perfect outfit. But thinking about where my clothing comes from has opened my eyes. I heard 1 in 6 people is employed in fashion. But who are they? What are their working conditions like? How environmentally friendly is the factory? Animal skins require so many chemicals to turn them into leather and not decompose. And leather is an inherently cruel industry.

Fashion isn’t perfect, but I love knowing where my clothes came from and who made them. My goal is to buy exclusively from sustainable, ethical companies. Sometimes that means things cost more. But do I really need thirty $8 tank tops? What if I had eight $30 tanks? They’d last longer, and I’d be putting my dollars where my values are.

Let’s start a revolution!

Finding a missing pet

In February, I saw a shocking Instagram post from a person I follow. Her dog walker lost her dog. Sugar is still missing, and not a day goes by when I don’t think about her. If you know anything or see her, go to her Facebook page.

More recently, a friend pointed me to a story with a happy ending. A couple who tracks lost dogs learned of a dog who needed help. He’d been spotted for months in a remote park near Mount Rainier. He was starving and afraid. No one could catch him. When Amanda and Dylan, the trackers, couldn’t lure him with food, they devised a new plan.

Amanda lied down on the ground. Amazingly, the dog approached. She whimpered. He lied down next to her. She gained his trust my making herself vulnerable. He helped her!

Amanda got a leash around the dog and he’s now in a foster home. But the story isn’t over. Baby Bear, as they’re calling him, was likely lost, not abandoned. If he has a family, they need to be reunited. To help, go to Amanda and Dylan’s site, Lost and Found Pets Washington State or their Facebook page.

In the weeks between when Sugar went missing in NYC and Baby Bear was found in the remote forest, I’ve seen other lost pet announcements–from Facebook to telephone poles. I realize that, tragically, a lot of people lose their beloved cats and dogs. Whether urban or rural, there is hope.

I thought I’d put together a bit of info to help prevent such a situation and devise a plan if the unthinkable happens.

Before your animal gets lost

  • Microchip your animals. This drastically increases the likelihood of a reunion.
  • Spay or neuter your animals. This decreases their desire to escape the house and wander away. It also means when you find your animal, she won’t come home pregnant.
  • Add your contact info to your animal’s collar. Consider a GPS collar. Both of these work only if the animal still has his collar on. The microchip will be your backup. Harder to read (only a vet, groomer, shelter, or other facility with a reader can), but impossible to lose.
  • Make your cats indoor cats and invest in a catio if they want to experience the outdoors in safety.
  • Check your fencing and make sure gates latch properly. Did the meter reader leave the gate open? Check.
  • Put your animals in a safe, quiet room during storms or fireworks, times when they might get startled and bolt.
  • Have pictures handy in case the unthinkable happens.

If your animal is lost

  • Start looking immediately! A big dog could run for miles, but a scared cat is likely close by and hiding. Chart your area based on your animal’s characteristics.
  • Make big posters and post them in high-traffic areas. Make indoor signs for vet’s offices, libraries, and grocery stores.
  • Check shelters, animal control, and vet’s offices. PAWS has a great checklist.
  • Tell your neighbors, use social media and spread the word.
  • Make sure your animal’s microchip info is up-to-date so if she is found, someone calls the correct number.
  • Consider humane trapping your cat. Cats don’t usually wander far and won’t often come when called if they are afraid.
  • Work with Missing Pet partnership, Lost Pet Professionals, or another organization that can help you find your animal.
  • Don’t give up.

If you find a stray animal*

  • Don’t chase the animal or call to him. He’s likely afraid.
  • Sit or lie down and let the animal’s curiously kick in.
  • Use a potato chip bag or treats container to make noise that the animal associates with food.
  • Drop food on the ground and use a looped leash to gently snare a dog.
  • An unwilling cat or dog may need to be trapped humanely.

*If the animal in question isn’t yours, exercise extreme caution. Call animal control if you think you’re placing yourself in danger. If you recognize the animal from a Lost sign, call someone who knows the animal.

More resources

How to find a lost dog, Huffington Post article
How to find your lost dog, a Petfinder article
Recovery tips, from Missing Pet Partnership
How to find a lost cat, from about.com
Must-do tips for finding a cat, a Petfinder article
How to find other animals (ferrets, tortoises, birds), from Missing Pet Partnership
Sign tips, from Missing Pet Partnership
Sign tips and downloadable template, from Lost Pets USA

* I should note that I prefer the terms companion animal and animal guardian, not pet and owner. However, when searching for resources or looking for a lost animal, the common terms are pet and owner.

Vegan profile #7: Jennifer Hillman

Name: Jennifer Hillman
Age: 51
Occupation: Director of Strategic Advocacy and Campaigns, The Humane Society of the United States

How long have you been vegan? 20 years this year!

Jennifer and friend

Jennifer and Little Lord Fauntleroy in his cat enclosure

Why did you choose to be vegan? It was purely out of a love for animals. Once I learned about the horrors of factory farming and put two and two together about the animals we love and the animals we eat, I just couldn’t do it anymore. There was no question about it.

Biggest challenge: When I first went vegan, literally within the first few months, the biggest challenge was remembering to read ingredients! Once I started doing that, it was really remarkably easy. Even twenty years ago before the plethora of alternative meats, cheeses, ice creams, etc, it was still such a decision from the heart, that I really didn’t find it that challenging at all. I literally had those animals and their gentle souls in my mind every time I bought food. Plant-based foods are amazing and creative and delicious and they always have been. The nutrition aspect was not challenging at all either. I immediately lost weight and gained energy especially as soon as I gave up dairy products. After that, I felt healthier than I’d ever been. As a vegan, I’ve run four marathons and have never once felt at a lack for animal products as being an “essential” part of my diet.

Best reward: Eating an amazing diet that goes directly, every day, every bite, toward saving animals from suffering, protecting our precious environment and sustaining a healthy life for myself.

Are you involved in AR, vegan outreach, etc.? I work for an animal welfare organization so I feel lucky that I get to advocate for animals for a living, but I do my own type of outreach on my own as well. I enjoy cooking vegan meals for family and friends. I feel like I’ve matured as an activist over the years. I really do enjoy conversations that I have with people who aren’t vegan – and my favorite question is “what do you eat?” I love telling them that I eat a lot of the same foods that they eat and that it is easier than ever to make our eating habits help reduce animal suffering.

Advice for new vegans: Don’t think about what you can’t eat, think about what you CAN eat – the possibilities for delicious, nutritious and compassionate food choices is endless!

Parting words: Becoming vegan and advocating for a vegan diet is one of the things that I’m most proud of.

~

Congrats on twenty cruelty-free years, Jennifer!

To contribute to this feature, check out the profile intro page and drop me a line.