Vegetarian Summerfest 2012!

I’m back from a whirlwind week at Summerfest!  Right now I’m recalibrating, trying to figure out what time zone I’m in and what day it is!  (I owe many of you e-mails, I know, please bear with me.) But, it was a wonderful experience and so let’s hit some highlights!

Summerfest is run by the North American Vegetarian Society.  This year marked its 38th annual conference, with almost 800 attendees.  The conference is held in a small town in Pennsylvania – Johnstown – at the university campus.  Getting to the conference was a bit of a feat in and of itself!  I left on a red-eye last Tuesday, connected through Chicago to Pittsburgh, and then after those ten hours or so of travel, there was a 2-hour bus shuttle ride to the campus.

What made that travel bearable was knowing that I would be meeting my gorgeous and accomplished friend, Julieanna Hever.  We have become friends this past year and were beyond excited about finally meeting!  We were texting like highschool sweethearts through the night and morning, and when I saw her at the shuttle departure, we hugged the dickens out of each other.  Exhausted but giddy, we boarded the bus and chatted the full two hours until we reached the conference.

I had two presentations, a cooking demo (featuring my Mediterranean Bean Burgers, DJ’s Hummus Salad Dressing, and Cocoa Cookie Dough Balls) and a talk on “Eating Your Leafy Greens”.  Here is a pic Julieanna snapped during my cooking demo:

Julieanna had FIVE presentations, including a plenary talk.  She has been to Summerfest several times before and said “D!!, you HAVE to come this year with your new book just released“.  Here is Julieanna during a couple of her talks – she captivates the room:

The days are FULL at Summerfest.  There are activities before breakfast, then a plenary talk after breakfast, individual talks and presentations to lunch hour, another plenary after lunch, more individual talks and presentations leading to dinner, and then another plenary after dinner followed by some evening activities.  There is NO way you can take in all the talks, especially as a speaker.  Still, what you take in is valuable, and if you are new to the vegan diet… empowering and life-changing.

Gosh, I met so many other people and speakers!  Lisa Pitman was one of the first people I met, just after registration.  How could I mistake her?  She greets you with a warm, heartfelt smile and joyful blue eyes.

She looked at me and said “Dreena”… with a calm, kind voice and we gave each other a big hug.  I have only known LIsa online and through her work with the Toronto Vegetarian Association in past years.  She decided to volunteer at Summerfest this year, with the children’s activities.  EVERY time I saw Lisa, I felt she grounded me with her smile and calm hugs.  She has this serene yet joyful spirit, and I tried to soak in some of that energy every time we connected.  Yet, I neglected to get a photo of us together, and I almost kicked myself when I realized such – except that I know Lisa wouldn’t want me to have that grief or regret, so we will get a photo the next time we meet, dear LIsa. :)

I also met Heather Nauta for the very first time.  She arrived a little later in the conference, and by that time Julieanna and I were pretty much hanging by a thread after delivering our talks and still working through time zone exhaustion and the busy Summerfest schedule!  I saw her as I walked into one of Julieanna’s talks and gave her a hug straight away!  Heather is gentle and sweet – but has quite the adventurous side to her!  The more I talk to Heather, the more I learn that this lady has done (or will do) some things that you would never expect… like hang-gliding and get this – aerobatics!!!  Heather was compiling a video from some speakers at Summerfest, with their “top tip” for becoming vegan, so stay tuned for that!

I met Brenda Davis, who ironically lives in BC but apparently we need to travel to the east coast of the United States to connect and talk!  She is the wikipedia of vegan nutrition, and yet is entirely down-to-earth and warm and wonderful.  And, she HAS discovered the fountain of youth with a plant-based diet… her skin is radiant and smooth and she exudes glow and energy.

And, here is a photo of Julieanna and I with Dina Aronson (second to right) and Allison Rivers Samson (far right)!  What cool ladies, I enjoyed talking with them and getting to know them both, if even just a little. I also attended Allison’s cooking demo, which was excellent.  Allison’s Gourmet was the first vegan goodie shop on the block, she pioneered online vegan confections.

Here is a photo of the vegan RD’s at Summerfest, including Jill Nussinow, “The Veggie Queen” (in the purple tank).  She is dynamic and passionate and you can just sit and have a real good chat with Jill!

Another vegan icon I was excited to meet was Fran Costigan.  I sat in on one of her talks, and she delivers her vast experience and knowledge with ease and an approachability and ‘realness’ that I really value.

I met and chatted briefly with Rae Sikora.  She is warm and embracing and beautifully radiant.

How many times have I mentioned the words “warm” and “kind” when describing people from Summerfest?  There were so many lovely, good-hearted people there.

Have I talked about the food yet?  We had full vegan meals, all coordinated under the direction of Chef Mark Reinfeld. Mark contributed a back cover quote for LTEV, but I had never met him.  When I did, I couldn’t believe how someone so mellow, warm, and sweet could take charge of putting out full vegan meals (with gluten-free, raw, and oil-free options) for almost 800 people, three times a day for a week.  I didn’t get a photo with Mark (darn!), but here he is with one of the attendees, Monica Vereau Trzaska (who kindly allowed me to many of her photos here):

photo credit: Monica Vereau Trzaska

 During the conference, I did a couple of book signings.  Julieanna and I coordinated our signing times, which was great fun!  Here we are with Monica (from above photo) and Jeff:

photo credit: Monica Vereau Trzaska

Julieanna and I were joined by Jonathan Balcombe for our book signings:

photo credit: Monica Vereau Trzaska

He delivered a plenary talk the second night, “The Mental Lives of Fishes”.  I felt this was such a valuable talk, because we tend to be very dissociated from fish, not seeing them as sentient animals.  He dispelled that myth during his talk.  When we met at the book signing, I picked up a copy of his new book, The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure for our girls.  Jonathan was great fun to sign with, lots of good humor at our table!

Then, we get to the plenary talks.  Julieanna gave a talk called “Breaking Bread”, which she first debuted at TEDxCONEJO and you can view her exceptional talk right here.

Another highlight was Dr. Neal Barnard, with his talk “Memory: How Foods and Lifestyle Choices Can Strengthen the Brain and Protect Against Everyday Memory Lapses, “Senior Moments”, And Even Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and Stroke”.  Dr. Barnard is not only effective at communicating the important nutritional and medical facts, but he delivers laughs along the way.

photo credit: Monica Vereau Trzaska

Dr. Melanie Joy, author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows delivered a thought-provoking talk “Vegan Empowerment: How to Live an Inspired, Fulfilling, and Empowering Life in a Non-Vegan World” that captured every person in that auditorium:

Here is a photo of Melanie with Julieanna, they are good friends:

Another of my favorite talks was by Jenny Brown.  You may not know her name, but if you listened to her talk, “Voices for the Voiceless: If We are to Progress as a Peaceful, Moral Society and as a Sustainable Planet, We Need to Take a Serious Look at Animal Farming”, you would never forget her.  She has a book coming out in August, The Lucky Ones.

photo credit: Monica Vereau Trzaska

She spoke from the heart, unscripted, with passionate yet genuine intent.  Her last line she quoted from another “we must not refuse to see with our eyes what they endure with their bodies“.  Truth.

And, one of the crowd favorites… Dr. Michael Greger with his talk, “The Latest in Nutrition 2012″.  As dry and dull as you might imagine that talk to be from the title, Dr. Greger made it fascinating, engaging, and hilarious!

photo credit: Monica Vereau Trzaska

I met him briefly as well outside of the talks.  He endears you with his excitement and humor, and most of the day you would find him talking with attendees at his booth, one-to-one, about their health.

Here is another photo of Julieanna and I.  Even with ALL the dynamic, informative, inspiring speakers… sharing time with Julieanna was THE best, and I will cherish the laughs, stresses, and all the experiences we had together.

Once I dried my tears from saying goodbye to Julieanna, I was excited to return home to my wee girls and hubby.  Here is a note our middle girl wrote the night before I arrived home:

27 Responses to Vegetarian Summerfest 2012!

  1. Rebekah says:

    What an incredible experience that must have been! I just love all the photos of you and Julieanna…so sweet!

    And oh my, I can definitely relate to how hard it must have been to be away from the kiddos! Your daughter’s letter to you is so poignant. I’m sure your girls are very happy to have their mom home!

  2. Dreena, it was SO fantastic to finally meet you in person :) Even if you were tired and jet-lagged, you were so much fun to talk with, get to know, and help me get video with Dr. Greger ;) You’re so warm and open, and just such a treat to spend time with. I can definitely see why your girls missed you so much!! xox heather

  3. Dreena, such a pleasure to meet and sign books with you! Your blog and pix are great. I’m already missing being at the event and can’t wait for next year! Hugs, Jonathan.

    • Dreena says:

      Hey Jonathan! How nice to hear from you! The feeling is mutual, and I don’t think our second signing would have been the same without you crashing it. ;) Our girls are loving your book, btw!

  4. Eve says:

    Thanks for the great write-up. I would LOVE to attend a conference like that and meet all the nice people and absorb all the great info. I think I’m going to make that a future goal!

    • Dreena says:

      Eve, it’s really a great way to get more connected with the community – but also is SO valuable in how the experience refuels our spirits and strengthens our beliefs and values – as tired as I am I feel very inspired to try and teach and inform!!

  5. Sandy Pluss says:

    My dream is to meet Neal Barnard! :-)
    Looks like you had an awesome time

  6. Teresa says:

    Dreena, Lisa’s mom here. I can tell you that she was very excited about finally getting to meet you in person! And I agree that she is pretty special. She makes me happy every time I see her or talk to her or just remember that she’s my daughter.

    • Dreena says:

      Teresa, that is so lovely! You are blessed to have one another. Lisa talked about you and how much she admired your lifestyle transformation and I could see the love in her eyes and all over her face. I only hope to have the same respectful, loving, relationships with my own girls when they are grown. <3

  7. Thanks for including me in this Dreena. It was a pleasure to meet you in person. You are a very special person and mom. It was great to have a chance to chat.

    I love that photo of Lisa Pitman. You can see both her inner and outer beauty.

    I applaud you for taking the time to write the post. I hope that we’ll meet again sometime soon, and now we’ll stay in touch.

    Maybe we’ll be at Summerfest again next year, if we are lucky. I hope that JL will be there because I really want to meet her, too.

  8. Ricki says:

    That sounds like such an excellent experience–so glad you had a fantastic time and spent time with Julieanna and so many other amazing vegans there! I loved that note from your daughter, especially “please come home immediately”–hee hee! I bet it was nice to travel, but equally nice to get home to the family! :)

    • Dreena says:

      Thanks Ricki! It’s fine time we meet too, right? Must talk to you about what events you have planned – and YES, it was very good to return home and think it was good for the whole family to have that experience of some time apart, as challenging as it was! xo

  9. veganlisa says:

    Meeting you was a highlight for me. You are exactly as I imagined – warm, generous and full of energy. I loved listening to you share your passion during your demo, watching you graciously greet everyone you met and seeing your smiling each and every day.

    Lots of love my friend – there will be plenty of time for photos when I come to babysit. xo

    • Dreena says:

      ohhhhh Lisa, you are so gentle and kind and yet strong. I want to see you every day, just to absorb that calm, joyful demeanour you naturally embody. Thank you for those sweet words. The girls are looking forward to meeting you. ;) xoxoxo

  10. Marsha says:

    Dreena, that sounds like such a lovely trip! I’m so new to the scene but must get my butt in gear and attend some conferences! Not only would I get to meet you but all the people that inspire you so much. Thank you for sharing your experience!

    The note was great!! I love it!


    • Dreena says:

      Marsha, I hope you get to some as well, it really is inspiring and ‘recharges the vegan batteries’! It was so, so good to get back to my wee ones and hubby though. :)

  11. urbanvegan says:

    Looks like a great time. Wish I could have gone. Hope to meet you soon, lady! Looking gorgeous and radiant as ever.


  12. Wow! What a fabulous event! And how exciting to be able to meet in person those who you have connected with online. And the food?! How fantastic to have so many choices! Sounds like a fabulous time and sounds like your girls missed their mama. So sweet. :)

  13. What an amazing experience! I really must make Summerfest 2013 a priority!

    I am so happy to hear that you find Jenny Brown as admirable as I do. I serve on the board of directors for the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and her fierce leadership is in awe-inspiring!

    Thanks for giving us a glimpse into the festival!

    • Dreena says:

      JL! You would have LOVED Summerfest, and I know the attendees would appreciate hearing you speak. This was my first time meeting Jenny, and I got goosebumps listening to her speak. Awe-inspiring fierce leadership is an excellent description.

  14. Dreena, I’m doing everything in my power to not be super sad I couldn’t go to this, this year. What a trip! So happy that you got to go & show your fantastic skills with everyone. Thanks for taking the time to share with us whom you met & what you learned.

    Love that little note from your daughter–what an amazing treat after being away from your family.

    • Dreena says:

      Janae, I would have so loved to meet you, I think we would have hit it off gangbusters! You know, it was VERY hard to leave with the girls being younger. I’m sure you relate, especially with having an even wee-er one. And, it was a very long trip. Maybe when the kiddos are a little bigger and older you can make the trip… Summerfest isn’t stopping anytime soon! :)

  15. Tina says:

    I went to Vegetarian Summerfest a few years ago & learned so much-I hope to go back again soon! Glad you had a great time!

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