The Seed

» August 13th, 2014

I attended The Seed—”two days of vegan exploration”—in New York City last weekend (I was there not as a speaker but as a talking head in a documentary filmed on the premises). There was a lot a to celebrate.

The line for the event stretched far down Mercer St., in Soho; the crowd was nominally more diverse than most Veg Fests I’ve been to, at least in the conventional measure of diversity; inside, the event had doubled in size from when I’d gone two years earlier; and the structure had improved as well: no more speakers trying to talk in the same room with all the vendors, a distraction for everyone as I recall. Finally, the mood was upbeat and a sense in a better future pervaded the event. All good.

One critical remark I’d make was that (with a couple of exceptions) The Seed did not offer enough for the thinking vegan—that is, the kind of person interested in the philosophical and ethical implications of eating—to sink her teeth into.  I make this remark having attended the event for only one day (huge caveat), but my overall impression was that the dominant themes (from the speakers) were about personal health and physical fitness. Cooking demos—which can be great (just witness JL Fields) and are critical for the vegan curious—were ubiquitous alongside talks about how vegans can have muscles. Really big muscles.

Again, I make this observation well-aware that there’s nothing inherently wrong with this choice, especially as the event is geared as an “exploration.” But it’s important to have balance, primarily because people explore for a variety of reasons, many of them headier than we know. If the curious are only exploring to discover new recipes and hopes for a better body and nicer skin, and all you give them are new recipes and a vegan prescription for a better body and nicer skin, then you have not established any sort of baseline for a life-long and permanent decision. At some point, you need to drive home the larger message with something deeper than salad recipes and rippled biceps in order for that to happen.

As I see it, our relationship with the animal world should come first—in fact, animals should come first, or at least ahead of our concerns over our LDL cholesterol levels—while all other factors should play necessary but supporting roles.

But what do I know?  As I had a late-afternoon coffee (why is there so much great coffee in New York?!) with a friend who is a vegan academic and teaches classes on animals and activism, I learned that his veganism may not have happened without the help of all the meat replacements and junk food that I had complained about as weighing down the vendors’ tables at the event. (Although I did eat a delicious grilled kale salad and some seed bread with guacamole.) So, as usual, I make my comments well aware that there are many ways for this seed to sprout.

Thing is, speaking for myself, I just left The Seed with my stomach fuller than my head.


13 Responses to The Seed

  1. Bonnie says:

    I first explored the vegan plant-strong lifestyle for health and fitness reasons and like your friend, used the meat substitutes at first. The Seed sounds like it was suited to the beginning vegan or those interesting in exploring the lifestyle. But you are right, once you become entrenched in the lifestyle, ethical issues become important.

    • Steven van Staden says:

      The ethical issues became a source of worry for me a number of years before I gave up meat but they are what got me started, and health issues or showy muscles and perhaps even environmental concerns might not have worked for me, so I agree that what needs to be pushed harder is the ethical consideration. Perhaps many will be won over by other concerns such as their own health, but by the same token they may be swayed back to the old ways unless the ethical foundation is established and entrenched quickly. I doubt that many could go back to eating meat if compassion is foremost.

  2. Omanisa says:

    I would have been bored too, and I’m a naturopath!

    For me, health is about so much more than my own body. Not only do I want my mind fed, I know that my health is inter-linked with the health of my family, my community and the planet I am a part of.

    I think what I’m realising is that a lot of people, especially at the moment with healthy food suddenly becoming so popular, begin eating a plant-based diet for health reasons. Some of these people switch back again after a few months because it ‘didn’t work’ (whatever that means!), but many others gradually transition into genuine veganism for ethical and environmental reasons. These people might never have been brave enough to start asking themselves hard questions about the reality of animal agriculture if they were still partaking.

  3. Jennifer Mora says:

    I went to a different vegan festival this past weekend that featured speakers Liqin Cao of United Poultry Concerns and Harold Brown of Farm Kind. There was also one table display by Fish Feel that I was really happy to see. The event was organized by Lee Hall of Friends of Animals. Notably, the name of the festival was changed from “Veggiefest” to “Vegan Festival”. There was plenty to think about and the speakers asked questions of the audience and encouraged them to ask questions of them. There were also tables set up for more local concerns such as deer hunting. The musician performing had set up a book on John Coltrane’s life next to him. Mr. Coltrane is said to have gone vegetarian after reading Sun Ra’s poetry and experienced a spiritual awakening. He influenced other performers around him as well, such as Miles Davis. Also, high school teacher and librarian Bill Lowenburg had set up a table to sell his novel “The Zorki Chronicles”.

    I think the difference between The Seed and the festival that I went to was scale. I think that The Seed had to democratically reach the most diverse audience members.

  4. Jenny Brown says:

    I spoke on Sunday to a standing room only audience (and received a standing ovation!) after my talk “Winning Compassion For Farmed Animals” that covered the philosophical arguments for why eating animals is unethical. There was zero about health and little about the environmental reasons. My focus was on the sentience of animals, the suffering they endure and why adopting a vegan lifestyle is a moral imperative. You just didn’t come on the right day! :)

    • James says:

      Fair enough. I’m sorry I missed you!

    • Steven van Staden says:

      Thank you very much indeed for that and I’m sure the standing ovation was well-deserved! I also hope that what you had to say has hit home and that the many people in denial will find themselves jolted out of it. I know so many who feel in their hearts that the suffering to which they are party is inexcusable and need some kind of jolt to make the change necessary to be true to their inner feelings.

  5. nuyoricanvegan says:

    Love your write ups. Yes I agree with this one. I was working with Evolve for Animals doing vegan education and was also talking to alot of the vendors. My purpose was getting non vegans to think about their choices and seeing what vegan promoting companies were even vegan. It was shocking to say the least in regards to the vendors. Sadly some were opposed to the lifestyle. I wont name any names but it was a reality. So we continue to educate. If you come next year to the Seed come visit our table and you will get what you were looking for. We will probably do a workshop to discuss the ethics of the vegan lifestyle if they are open to that. Remember there is no money in teaching ethics as opposed to cooking classes ;-)
    Keep up the great work.

  6. James, I totally agree with you that animals come first. Ending pain on this planet means that of human and animal. All the rest is secondary. Animals have no power. We must help them. It is not possible to have true, vibrant physical health or beauty when we are emotionally rotting on the inside from knowing but doing nothing. Eventually all comes full circle. Our bodies will pass away, but our souls go on. All will be crystal clear. How we have led our lives matters. Each has their own personal guidance system, our innate knowing within, unique to each individual. We ignore it at our great peril.

    • Mountain says:

      “Animals have no power.”

      I know what you mean, but the phrase bothers me. Animals have lots of power, but we strip them of the ability to exercise that power, we deprive them of the contexts in which their power. We treat them like commodities, or stuffed animals, or automatons, when they are none of those things.

      We need to fundamentally re-think our relationship with animals.

  7. Elaine Livesey-Fassel says:

    But what do I know? you ask!!! A magnificent amount!!! say your faithful and deeply grateful readers!!! THINK ON!!! and carry on REGARDLESSS !

  8. JL says:

    I was so happy to see you at The Seed, James! I confess that I didn’t go to any sessions for many of the reasons you mention (I’m a happy, joyful, chubby vegan and I want to hear about AR, not biceps and abs) but I did speak on Saturday about how one can take their passion for veganism and incorporate it into a career path. Not philosophical, but hopefully inspiration to work toward saving animals (and humans!).

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