Veg Fest Report

» July 8th, 2013

I knew it was coming. I could actually feel my anxiety level rise as I sat in the back row and listened to Nathan Runkle open his talk at Veg Fest Colorado. My discomfort had nothing to do with Nathan himself, the boyish-looking, natty leader of Mercy for Animals. Instead, it was because I knew he’d show a clip from MFA’s invaluable underground work, the footage of brutality that characterizes life on factory farms, the horrific “data of experience” (my phrase) that we have, as Runkle explained, an obligation to “bear witness” to.  I knew it was coming. And it did. It came. And it was awful, more awful than I’d imagined.

It’s worth looking around the room when a video is playing of animals being terrorized. Some people walk out. Others hang their heads, more in shame than out of a wish to avoid the hard imagery.  People cry. Veg Fests have as many, if not more, “veg curious” attendees than they do vegans or vegetarians. So these images, horrific as they are, were critical for people to see.  I commend Runkle for bringing utter darkness into a talk that many expect to be all sunshine and light. That takes guts.

The other highlight from the festival, aside from the irony of it being located on rodeo grounds, was the cooking demo by JL Fields (of the blog JL Goes Vegan). I will confess to once being slightly dismissive of cooking demos. I would think: “is this why we’re here?”

Watching JL, I realize that, for hundreds of attendees, the answer is in fact yes: that really is why we’re here. JL, whose new book Vegan for Her (co-authored with Virginia Messina) is hot off the press, gets this. She provides home cooks with a wealth of fast and accessible ways to eat healthy vegan food. She’s not doctrinaire, she trusts her well-honed instincts when it comes to sensing what people need culinarily, and, perhaps best of all, she is a natural in front of a crowd—funny, self-deprecating, at ease, and full of genuine personality. Get this woman a TV show!  She could be the Julia Child of vegan cooking.  No joke.

Other highlights worth noting: a gorgeous trail run at Red Rocks, led by a new friend; a quick but rewarding visit to Nooch Vegan Market in Denver, and solid vegan meals at City O’ City and Watercourse Foods. And don’t even get me started on the beer. IPA heaven in the mile high city.









9 Responses to Veg Fest Report

  1. markgil says:

    i would have to disagree about our obligation to bear witness if we are already vegan ourselves. although i have run and helped run about a dozen PPV’s of MFA’s Farm to Fridge, i have never watched a minute of it myself. many people, myself being one of them, get extremely traumatized watching these atrocities and viewing them would i cause me to be unable to function or think about anything else and walk out if they are played at a presentation.

    i believe Melanie Joy often states the opinion that it is the people who are contributing to the torture who need to watch it, not the people who are already aware and trying to educate others.

    • I think James’ point about watching the watchers is interesting. I have watched films where the camera is fixed on the viewer not the horror. Their reactions are often very visceral. I’d love to do a survey six months out to see if they have made any changes in their lives. As to the watching ourselves, we each have to make that decision, but I’m with Markgil on this one. Whether vivisection, wildlife poaching, companion animal, or farmed animal, I have seen enough and heard enough for several lifetimes of nightmares. I’m done. But the consumers of cruelty-laden products need to see the truth about what they are supporting with their consumer dollars. ~Linda

  2. Gena says:

    I’m proud to call JL my friend, mentor, soul sister, and (occasionally) fellow troublemaker. As you note, she’s warm, funny, and welcoming, yet she doesn’t avoid talking about the facts. That’s the kind of spirit and personality we need on the frontlines of vegan activism. Delighted you got to see her – and jealous, too.

  3. Boe Devi says:

    Dear Prof. McWilliams,

    I’m glad to see you’re still writing. No need to hang up your pen for some incorrect ideas about you. Your daughter will always know who you are – you needn’t worry about that, JMO.

    I can talk about this a little. I host a free hot meal every Thursday where I feed people and I show Earthlings. After seeing Earthlings more than 60 times, I always see something I hadn’t seen before in part because it’s so hard to look at and in part because I’m busy feeding people.

    But I try to make it a point to look at how people are responding at the pig and the kosher slaughterhouse part of the movie. It’s amazing to see that it hurts everyone to see these things. They look down. They try to focus on their plates. Men will be blinking. Many women look straight on and just cry quietly. Many people get up and walk out. They tell me they feel ill.

    During the dog in the trash truck scene, men and women yell out loud “no, no”. During the fur-skinning scene most of the men yell out at the person doing the “work”.

    Because this is a free hot meal, I have several repeat visitors who’ve become the animals’ advocates by saying out loud “I wonder how those men treat their women?” Others say at the fur-skinning part “And she’s alive.” These remarks happen every time I have a decent crowd (for me that’s 10 people or more).

    These images haunt and upset me too. But I do believe in the saying “We must not refuse with our eyes what they must endure with their bodies.” I also believe the it’s a constant reminder of the holocaust we are trying to end.

    In the end, I feel very good for being able to bear witness and educate knowing that I myself was one of the people who contributed to this horror some years ago. I’m always looking for a way to find forgiveness. It does not come.

    One more note, several people have come back to me to tell me they don’t eat meat any longer. So I do have confirmation that what I do makes a difference. So as long as I know that these free hot meals make a difference, I’ll continue to do it, one viewer at a time.


  4. Boe Devi says:

    A correction for the above post: I’ve seen Earthlings about 30 times, not 60.

    • Ellen K says:

      Just looked at your website, and your “macho men” photos made my whole morning. Good for you for your work.

  5. I watched the video from MFA for the first time on Sunday at the Chicago Vegan Pledge program (I’m a mentor and volunteer). I had an uneasy feeling before, like oh god. I had to look away, close my eyes, I don’t need to see it to know it happens.

    I watched all of it, turned away when I had to, but watched mostly emotionless. I think to become desensitized to these images. I’ve seen people look right at it and say ‘so what?’

  6. Just saw this about, which turned up first in online vegan communities. I admit that I didn’t get it at first. What does everyone else think about this method of exposing people to slaughterhouses?

  7. Gina says:

    I think you maybe meant “trail run” in the last paragraph?

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