Last weekend we took the train to Chitown to see our friends Katherine and Todd and attend Chicago Vegan Mania. I thought it would be fun, especially for the kids to go to a big event which was all about veganism. We have lots of friends who are vegan friendly, adults who are vegan, and few vegetarian friends, but sadly we don't know any vegan kids in our town anymore. I heard about Chicago Vegan Mania on a Vegetarian Resource Group parenting email list so I knew there would be some families. I guess we've lived in a small college town too long because I was blown away by the line at the door when we arrived at the event last Saturday. It was so nice to see a line of vegans winding its way down two streets waiting for the doors to open on a cold Chicago morning.
Although it was only a little past ten in the morning, we went straight for the food. We were given some tickets at the door and then bought more so we could use them on food. I don't have a good feeling for how expensive the food ended up being because we bought the sample sizes. I also think we were given the free tickets based on a family not per adult or per person, but I have to admit I'm not sure. I think next year (they hope to make this an annual event!) they should do free tickets per person (children included) if they want to draw families to the event. I understand they have to pay for the event though.
Our first food stop was Soul Vegetarian. We've eaten there before, but it has been waaaayyyyy too long. As I remember, the restaurant is fairly small, but the service was excellent and the food even better. I love my health food, but sometimes it can leave you cold wanting more. I admit my heart has a special spot for a cuisine which usually comes with a "big mess o' greens". Soul Vegetarian does wholesome like a warm snugly hand-knit afghan. They are the place to go for quality vegan comfort food that satisfies, the likes of which I've never found anywhere else. We bought the sample platters and Dema devoured the bbq seitan, Parker mmmm'ed his way through the mac and cheese, and Rob and I savored the sauteed collards. It was all great and I wanted to go back to buy the large plate, but there were more good eats to be had. I have to add that Soul Vegetarian is a class act and they know how to cater an event. Other vendors ran out of food pretty quickly (this can be a problem at vegan events...people want to eat the food!), but SV made a reported three trips back to their restaurant (not a short jaunt) to keep all our vegan bellies filled.
Rob grabbed some wraps from what I believe was an Upton's Naturals booth. They were scrumptious! He had to go back for more. I was hoping it was a restaurant, but maybe this is better because I can talk to my local co-op (Jacqueline, are you out there?) to stock Upton's Naturals products. We usually make our own seitan, but their products are worth spending money on. There was live entertainment on the stage in the room with the food. It was nice, but a little loud so it was hard to talk and get to know people.After eating, we checked out the other booths. Here is a picture of the boys chatting it up with a woman at a chiropractor booth (Dema has another Upton's Naturals wrap in his hand). It was so funny how long they talked with her. There were lots of vendors and non-profits there. From water purifiers to Mercy for Animals to Ethical Planet (with a great sale on vegan shoes, I almost bought a pair of high heels...a little bit of my pregan shopping personality coming out, I was a little bit of a shoe hoarder in my time, but that is a story for a different post) to art. It was all there. Here is Parker getting the last sample of vegan chocolate from an unknown vendor (sorry!) for Josie who was about ready to grab the plate. The kids spent a while at the crafts table making pictures and musical instruments. We met a few other families, but didn't get a chance for the kids to chat much. I was a tad disappointed that there wasn't more for kids. I'll have to think of some things they could do next year and maybe offer to help out.
Our friend Todd (a pescetarian) was quite a sport about attending with us. He and his wife, Katherine, were leaving for NJ the next day yet he spent the day hanging out with us manic vegans. The event was in the Wicker Park area of Chicago and Katherine's toy store is not far away so later in the afternoon Todd and Rob took the kids to Building Blocks (to Dema Chicago is all about the toy store, but he showed great restraint and was happy with a small Lego set). I stayed to catch a couple of the speakers (I think Parker would have enjoyed the speakers too, but Josie needed a nap and Dema was getting antsy...it would have been great if they had "speakers" or organized activities for the kids during the talks, but I totally understand that would be harder to do). The first speaker, I was able to catch was Will Tuttle, PhD. We bought a few of his music CDs over the years and the kids really enjoy the animal sounds with the piano, but I don't think I've ever heard him speak. Dr. Tuttle has kind of a new-agey, yoga instructor feel about him and pretty much exudes peace. I enjoyed his talk so much that I immediately went downstairs to buy the audio version of his book, The World Peace Diet, but no one was at him booth (he was still talking with people upstairs). I didn't want to miss one of my favorite speakers, Dr. Greger, MD so after waiting a while, I ran back upstairs for Greger's talk, but I came back after to buy Dr. Tuttle's audio book and a CD of his talk.Dr. Greger was in a hurry to get to the airport, but full of energy, fun (I really wish Parker could have been there for this one), and informative. Dr. Greger sifts through the studies with his trained eye and comes out with an annual DVD of what he has learned. He separates the wheat from the chaff so to speak and does so with a cute, geeky sense of humor. He ran his session in a game show fashion. We all stood up and he would ask questions about nutrition (e.g. Are mushrooms better for you raw or cooked?) and we raised our hands sort to "vote" for the answer we thought was correct and sat down when we got a question wrong. Vegans tend to be more interested in nutrition than your "average" citizen and many of us keep up on the latest nutrition news. So it was lots of fun to hear the gasps of disbelief when people would get an answer incorrect. It was especially fun to see large groups of people sit down after one particularly "tricky" question. The person left standing at the end, was give a free CD (one you can't even buy if you beg him). Then everyone stood up again for the next list of questions. Exercise and quality nutrition information, it doesn't get better than that. Loads of fun! I have to say, humbly, that I was the last person standing once and came very close a couple more times. A nine year old girl was the last one standing for the first round of questions, very impressive! Oh and you should always eat your mushrooms...cooked. Sorry raw foodists, there are apparently toxins on mushrooms that are harmful to you, but cooking the mushrooms gets rid of the toxins and allows you to reap the many health benefits without the poison. Or so the studies (per Dr. Greger) say. More on his 2009 version of Latest in Clinical Nutrition in a later post.We had to catch the early train Sunday so I could be back for the radio show. The kids love riding the train, but they were a tad tired and ready to be home. We read the rest of the seventh (and last) book in the Harry Potter series and snacked on dried figs. When we arrived back in our little college town, we stopped at a local bar/restaurant for a black bean burger (pretty much the only thing we could find on a Sunday morning) and then walked the mile home. Josie enjoyed wheeling "her" luggage part of the way home and she loved her borrowed boots (thanks Amara and Indigo!).We always love visiting our friends in Chicago (and sadly never have enough time to see everyone or go to all the great veg/veg-friendly restaurants) and were glad we could make the Chicago Vegan Mania as well. We look forward to next year!