When I moved from Brooklyn Heights to Long Island last summer with my husband, infant son and dog, I had my share of What did I do? moments when it came to finding some decent vegan food and community. There are foodie gems and lovely peeps out here for sure, but it’s few and far between. Imagine my excitement when I saw that the Island would be having it’s first Animal Rights and VegFest, so there it sat firmly bracketed off on my calendar for the day to arrive yesterday.
I pulled up to the venue, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington, at around 12:30pm and was immediately redirected to a school parking lot down the street since on-site parking was filled. The exhibitor area was outside on the church grounds, and shortly after arriving, the skies opened up and those of us without umbrellas took refuge under tents. Some exhibitors without tents grew discouraged by their ruined literature and left for the day, but those who were sheltered stuck around. Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary co-founder Jenny Brown’s interrupted presentation was quickly moved inside into the church, and volunteers made their rounds to let attendees know. Marilyn Chiarello, a certified raw vegan chef, educator and healthy lifestyle coach manning her Taste of Light table, kindly lent me her umbrella as I connected with friends and visited tables. The rain cleared up shortly afterward prompting some attendees who milled around with their dogs looking for paper towels to clean muddy paws.
Some of the tables were to be expected such as Sea Shepherd, Mercy for Animals, Arbonne, and the Vegan Long Island! Meetup, plus but also some new faces and regional Long Island organizations, including Bobbi and the Strays shelter, and Long Island Orchestrating for Nature: LION, which organizes Cole Brothers Circus protests. Michelle Leon was there to sell her jewelry and belts, and Kristin Lajeunesse, blogger at Will Travel for Vegan Food, was there to let folks know about her end of trip benefit party. I made my way inside to where Jay Astafa and was on site to sell Three Brothers Cafe Farmingdale’s dishes from the church kitchen. When they were ready to open up the counter for orders, a throng of people lined up, some of which waited an hour-plus for food. Not one to deal with that kind of exercise in patience, I was one of the lucky ones to snag a place near the front of the line, which still took a little while. Pastry chef Dani McGrath worked the counter with a nearby table of her delicious confections, cupcakes and cookies, which she considerately sold to me with an IOU since I was shortsightedly low on cash. By the time I got my food and sat down to eat it, I headed outside for some more sweets, but to my dismay both the Sweet to Lick and La Pirata Kitchen tables had presumably sold out and were no longer there. Worth noting is that Sweet To Lick will shortly be opening up a storefront in Williston Park, which is safe to say will be the first vegan bakery in Long Island.
I then sat in on a scarcely-attended presentation by Demosthenes Maratos, Communications Director at the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College. He gave a spirited talk on the environmental impact of animal agriculture, and was by far the most engaging speaker I’d seen on that topic, and I learned a few things such as the toll the grass-fed and shrimping industries take on the environment. He wrapped it up bringing the topic full-circle saying that the environmental benefits of going vegan are “incidental to the grave moral wrong of breeding and killing animals for our purpose.”
At 5pm, Jay Astafa and crew looked positively stunned by the close to two hundred people they had served in under three hours, with only hot dogs left to sell. It was then time for Jennifer Greene’s presentation, who I had never seen speak before. Jennifer, who is also the organizer of the Vegan Long Island! Meetup, focused her talk on the work she is doing with Carnism Action & Awareness Network, Dr. Melanie Joy’s organization focused on raising awareness of the term carnism, which Dr. Joy has defined in her doctoral work as the belief system that conditions people to eat only certain animals. Jennifer is an excellent speaker, and it was an informative presentation, though none of it was new to me personally, since I’ve both seen Dr. Joy speak and I’ve read her book Why Do We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows. It’s also a presentation geared for a carnist audience, but I viewed the talk as helping vegan attendees understand the hostility that their lifestyles can erupt, as well as giving counter-points to handle criticism.
After the presentation, the Fest was wrapping up for the day. I was the winning bidder on a piece of artwork and set about tracking down someone to give me the green light to take it home. I found Erica Settino, event organizer and founder of Karuna for Animals: Compassion in Action, who let me head out with my painting with a promise to mail a check. I also spoke with some exhibitors, who said it had been worth their while to spend their time there, either with getting out awareness or with product sales. Despite the rain, mud and long line for food, the attendees also seemed satisfied with their time there. Jenny Brown, who after her talk had been signing copies of her book, The Lucky Ones, said she was happy to have participated and gushed about Erica’s work for the animals. Erica too was smiling broadly about how the how the day had unfolded and talked excitedly about next year. I headed out very happy to stuff my face with Dani’s nutella cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies.