Inaugural Madison Vegan Fest slated for September 8

The new event aims to fill the void left by Mad City Vegan Fest, and will set its sights on students and intersectionality.

The new event aims to fill the void left by Mad City Vegan Fest, and will set its sights on students and intersectionality.

By early summer, Madison’s festival season is in full swing. Mad City Vegan Fest, which launched in 2011 and usually took place in June at the Alliant Energy Center or the Goodman Center, had become a staple of the season, and a breeding ground for progressive values and vitalizing community activism. But Mad City Vegan Fest’s organizers announced in January that the event had been losing money and wouldn’t return in 2018. This fall, the new Madison Vegan Fest will attempt to fill the void.

To better reach out to a younger student population, the 2018 fest, announced in early May, has not only been rescheduled to align with the beginning of the fall semester on Saturday, September 8 (running from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), but also moved to a more fitting venue at Madison Area Technical College’s Truax Campus on the North Side (1701 Wright St.). In this new space, the festival’s organizers plan to continue a tradition of providing a conscientious atmosphere for not only arguing the healthy advantages of a plant-based diet but more broadly assessing ethics, raising awareness of animal welfare, compassionate living, as well as veganism’s powerful environmental impact, says new lead organizer Mollie Stolbov.

Considering the overwhelming enthusiasm former volunteers expressed on social media to see a vegan-centered festival recommence, Stolbov, a former leader of the Business Volunteer Network through United Way of Dane County, sought out new fiscal partner Center for Community Stewardship in order to continue the free volunteer-run event. Stolbov teamed with fellow organizers, including Bethany Mehta, who’s also involved with a local Meetup group for vegetarian and vegan families.

Stolbov’s participation in prior fests have taught her how vital and valuable a resource they can be to help others learn about veganism and protection of animals in the local community and beyond. Madison Vegan Fest’s mission statement—to “bring people together to enjoy delicious vegan food, hear from engaging speakers, and explore ways to live more compassionately”—carries on the spirit of those Meetups by also including the next generation of vegans. A specially designated space will allow kids to read, play games, and participate in an arts and crafts workshop imparting kindness towards animals and, of course, the benefits of eating your veggies.

This togetherness also extends to the fest’s efforts to appeal beyond the city’s borders, highlighting how Wisconsin links to a broader network of ethically minded movements like Midwest Vegan Fest, which is held at Glendale’s Nicolet High School in April. Challenging as it can be to champion veganism in America’s Dairyland, Stolbov has seen a growing interest in the vegan lifestyle in Dane County based on her past experiences with Mad City Vegan Fest and local restaurant accommodations. In fact, Stolbov anticipates more than 3,000 attendees for this first year of Madison Vegan Fest.  A few guest speakers and vendors are still being finalized at the time of writing, but the thematic focus will lean more heavily on intersectionality than in past fests with a confirmed presentation topic of “Why a Feminist Ethic Supports a Vegan Practice.” Another presentation will touch upon necessary vegan nutrition, and a panel discussion will consider vegan culture from various life perspectives; both will accompanied by further education on the adverse realities of factory farming and candid views on global sustainability.

Festival attendees can expect considerable emphasis on that last point, given the growing body of research that explicates how modern meat-eating societies strain the planet and contribute to resource inequity and climate change. On a more immediate level, conversation will also be tailored to focus on how aspiring vegans can harness everyday, pre-existing practices of self-care and support, with food demonstrations on healthy desserts and simplifying cooking with air frying and pressure cooking.

While attending Madison Vegan Fest may serve as as an approachable introduction to environmental issues, it’s also a surprisingly effective way to get acquainted or rediscover the vegan-friendly options available in Madison. A variety of local businesses will be on the premises to showcase their vegan menu and inventory. Those currently booked for the fest include college favorite spot, Ian’s Pizza, cruelty-free handmade bath and beauty items from Perennial Soaps, and jewelry and crafts from Envision Positive, with more to be unveiled in the coming weeks.

Vegan food options, or at least meatless ones, do seem to be expanding in Madison. Other businesses that are most visible include Mother Fool’s with its exclusively vegan baked goods, The Green Owl and an all-vegetarian/partially vegan menu, and the Willy Street Co-op’s new and assorted Macro Vegetarian boxes. Meatless options are also popping up at restaurants including Graze, Salvatore’s, and Sofra Family Bistro. The Monk’s Bar and Grill chain, including its Middleton location, has experimented with the “Impossible Burger,” a mock meat that’s nearly indiscernible from a beef patty and made with wheat and potato proteins, coconut oil, and secret iron-rich ingredient, heme, extracted from soybean roots; and its popularity has encouraged Banzo to adopt it recently as well.

“Sometimes I find myself with too many choices when going to the store or out to eat,” says Stolbov, adding that she has discovered more vegan-friendly options here in the past five years when shopping at Willy St Co-op, and dining out out at Monty’s Blue Plate, Ha Long Bay, or the recently opened Fuegos (also a platinum sponsor of the revamped, upcoming festival). These alternative solutions to animal consumption, Stolbov says, “help set a positive tone as the backdrop for Madison Vegan Fest.”

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