Posts Tagged ‘Veg Fest Colorado

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.









The Data of Experience

» July 7th, 2013

I have honed what must the be the most inefficient method of preparing for public talks ever devised. I begin by reviewing the text of the last talk I gave, with the intention of making a tweak here or there. But, during that procedure, I determine that the whole talk pretty much sucks, erase it, and start the deal from scratch.  Then, after giving that talk, I go through the whole angst-ridden process all over again, driven by the nagging sense that it still isn’t up to par and, as long as I can see the words in front of me, never will be.

Well, I am happy to report that the talk I gave yesterday to Veg Fest Colorado may have ended this painful but necessary cycle of doubt, self-flaggelation, and trashed talks. Instead of writing this talk down, I tried something different: I just let it come together in my head in a way that it would stay together in my head, my logic being if one point held to the next without effort it should stay there. Then I sort of pinned the connected ideas down with Power Point slides of text and images to help guide me through the talk and offer some visual stimulation along the way. I was partially motivated in this direction by my reading of Dave Eggers’ novel Hologram for the King, which I am now reading. In it, the plot twists and turns seem to build upon each other in the most sensible and intuitive fashion. In any case, this new approach, I think, worked. I say this not based so much on feedback (which was fine) but rather on how I felt afterwards, which was good. Reaching this point has only taken three years. The beauty, of course, is that there’s now no text to erase.

But it wasn’t only my process that changed. The content of my talk underwent a transformation as well. Driven in large part by the recent controversy that exploded within the confines of this blog, and leaked into social-media-sphere la-la-crazy land, I spent a great deal of time re-thinking the best strategies to encourage people to stop eating animals here in the real world. As I contemplated the content of my talk with this goal in mind, I was hit with the idea that humans are beautiful creatures who, for better or worse, do not internalize moral purity and behave according to its imperatives. Instead, we take those imperatives, place them on the distant periphery of our lives, and, even on our best days, barely inch toward them. What inches us along, moreover, is not an innate desire to attain moral purity—how arrogant and boring is that?— but what I called in my talk “the data of experience”—that is, information that feeds into the machinery of common sense and, over time, a lot of time, begins to shift human behavior in a positive direction.

This is not to even remotely say that we do not need people articulating the nature of moral purity—say, a world without “isms” or a world free of all animal exploitation or a world of peace—but it’s just to say that the recent “discourse” surrounding my overly-openly shared thought about a silly PETA contest has convinced me personally that I’m better off—and, dare I say, you are too— gathering and presenting the data of experience (say, examples of pig farmers castrating without anesthesia) than I am articulating utopias or delivering sermons from the mount.

As this blog comes back together (in whatever format I’m still not sure), you can count on this important transition being manifest in the content you’ll find here. We humans might think in black and white, and we certainly speak in black and white, but the entirety of our existence, whether we know it or not, is lived in the murkiest of gray areas. That’s what makes life interesting, and tragic, and thrilling. It’s also what will drive my future activism.  As always, stay tuned.

Meantime, a funny piece I have in today’s NY Times Book Review. I hope it makes you smile.