What do several hundred vegetarians and vegans do for fun every summer? They travel to Johnstown, PA for Vegetarian Summerfest! The conference is sponsored by the North American Vegetarian Society and takes place each July, bringing medical professionals, motivational speakers, and activists of all kinds together for what I heard was going to be a “Love Fest”—and it was!
There are two different packages for Summerfest—the full, 5-day package, and the shortened 3-day package. We chose the 3-day, so we headed out to Johnstown in Lydia’s Prius on Thursday morning. There were a lot of things packed into those three days, so here are some highlights:
- The drive out. It started off as a nice summer day, and turned into a dark, windy, rainy mess as we approached Johnstown. Luckily, Lydia keeps a cool head despite people driving with their hazard lights flashing and we arrived safely ahead of schedule. The drive back was also eventful, as Mauro pulled a turtle off the road in the middle of PA.
- The Plenary sessions. I really enjoyed these because there were multiple speakers and even some musical interludes thrown in for good measure. Dr. Neal Barnard (he’s really funny), Dr. Michael Greger, Jenny Brown (and her green animals), and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau were my personal favorites.
- The diversity. Young kids and older kids shared meals, people from New York chatted with folks from Kansas. In addition to the attendees, there were a whole host of different speakers—physicians, chefs, motivational speakers, animal rights activists, authors, dieticians, animal sanctuary founders, health coaches. We were hoping there would be some discussion about blogging, but I guess those people are going to the Vida Vegan conference (we hope to be there next year).
- The laughter. There were a few incidents of rudeness (that lady who cut in front of Lydia at dinner should have been ashamed of herself!), but for the most part we were laughing quite a bit over the course of those three days. I really liked the positive messages and the whole vibe was warm.
- The information. Wow! I felt like I was in college all over again. Not so much because we stayed in a dorm (okay, that brought back some memories) but because going to lectures and presentations and cramming your head with information is exhausting. I won’t soon forget Dr. Greger’s quiz show on eggs and brains, Victoria Moran’s tip to try the “Yes, and…” approach when discussing veganism with meat eaters, Dr. Milton Mill’s descriptions of the carnivore vs. omnivore bodies, and Sharon Greenspan’s information on sugar processing in the body. These people know their stuff. Plus, they had a great bookstore, we ran into our favorite chef, Fran Costigan, and found some resources to keep our blog and other activities going.
- The chocolate chip cookies. I want that recipe! Some of the best I’ve ever tasted (and that says ALOT).
- The message. For me, the thing I liked most about this experience was the sense of community that was created. I’ve been on Farm Sanctuary walks, Veggie Pride Parade, and we have a supper club—but nowhere else have I felt as included in the big scheme of things as at Summerfest. Animal rights and the health benefits of living a plant-based diet are of chief importance to everyone who attended, and it was a pleasure to share in the mutual enjoyment of healthy living.