2 Major Reasons Why I Can’t Give the Auckland Vegan Food Festival a Perfect Score and the 1 That Saved the Day

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So a vegan walks into a vegan food festival…start of a joke only vegans would enjoy.  Everyone else will probably roll their eyes.

Picture this, I drive up to the Auckland Vegan Food Festival, find a parking spot about halfway down the row of cars – off to a good start, get out of the car, start waltzing in the festival entry with my $10 ticket like it cost a million dollars, and the dancing starts.

Dancing like a little kid at their first theme park, my excitement starts to build.

I’m walking with a skip in my step, clapping my hands like a seal, and jumping up and down by the time I’m all the way inside.

“EVERYTHING HERE IS VEGAN!!!!” I’m screaming in my head and kind of out loud, too. 

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Finally, a safe space to not have to ask what’s in a certain dish or if there are any vegan options available.  I didn’t have to go into creative menu mode and put three sides together to make a full meal.  I didn’t have to clarify that, “No, I don’t eat eggs.”

 I. Could. Eat. Anything.

HALLELUJAH!

 When you’re constantly asked questions about your lifestyle, being challenged on your views, or even put down or made fun of for your beliefs…it gets really tiring. 

If you’re vegan and you’re reading this, my guess is you can probably relate.

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If you’re not vegan and you’re reading this, imagine you have to wear a uniform to work – a statement of your employment – and customers are constantly challenging you on why you’re wearing it. 

You’ve obviously chosen to work at this place because you need the work, you believe in the work, the job is yours…part of your identity.

The uniform you wear is a representation of part of your life subscriptions.  Being made fun of for a uniform you need to wear will feel a bit unfair, won’t it?

I know there are elements of liking/disliking your job and it’s not the perfect comparison, but hopefully you’re picking up what I’m throwing down.

 Now, you get to step into the crew/staff room where no one is being made fun of for their uniform or being questioned about it. You get to have a sigh of relief that you’re amongst your own.

People who have also subscribed to the same job, people who get what you’ve been through because they’ve been through it too.

And they all share the same desire to just walk into that room, take a deep breath, and breathe out knowing they’re safe from the criticism out there.

Okay, back to the festival.

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 My eyes couldn’t soak in the scene fast enough.

Not only were there epic looking food stalls & food trucks, but there were yoga classes, workshops, an organic soap stall, a kombucha hut, a yoga & well being tent, a smoothie stop, a compost table, a vegan food box information stall, and everything else that makes up a vegan’s wet dreams.

I went with my friend, Alex, and obviously we arrived hungry.

We started our menu shopping by roaming up and down the line of food carts at least twice before we decided what we wanted.

As I’m thinking, do I want Mexican, Filipino, Vietnamese...something stopped me dead in my tracks.

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“Free range meats & eggs” displayed on the tent of the Judge Bao stall.  I hadn’t noticed it the first time, but the second time it stuck out to me like you know what color flag.

RED.

Wa-whaaaaat? 

I literally stopped in my tracks and looked around.  Had I been at a different festival and I just convinced myself it was a vegan thing?  Did it say somewhere not 100% vegan, just some of it?

I was confused.

Like a typical American, I stood in that line until I got to the register just to ask her: “I’m sorry, but am I reading your sign correctly that it says, ‘Free range meats & eggs?’”

“Yeah, our whole menu today is vegan, that’s part of our regular menu.”

It took literally every single fiber of my being to kindly say, “I appreciate that you have a vegan meal today, but would you consider at least covering that up next time?”  She looked at me like, lady…this ain’t my call.  And she shrugged it off saying, “Sure.”

And that was the end of that.

I honestly felt paralyzed with anger, but focused on the fact that their menu was vegan and remembered, yet again, that this is not a vegan world.

Auckland Vegan Food Festival FAIL #1.

We carried on to other stalls and got a bit of this, a bit of that.  Honestly I would’ve eaten more if I could have fit it into my stomach.

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Our plates, spoons, forks, knives, bowls and napkins were all compostable or recyclable, which was cool.

 In fact, the only bins available were recycling and compost bins, so that made me happy and helped chill me out a bit. 

After we ate, Alex and I wanted to get a coffee at the coffee cart parked up in the corner of the festival.

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There was a long ass line so it must’ve been good java.  Plus, we were in no rush, so we waited.

As we were getting closer to the counter, we saw a little sign that said, “Soy & Almond Milk available,” which I thought was strange.

Why do you need to advertise that soy & coconut milk was available?  It’s a vegan festival, isn’t that kind of a given?

Once we were next in line and there was more room to see the bustling of the coffee crew inside the truck, I saw in plain view…

COW’S MILK AND HONEY.

Deep breath.

One, two, three. 

In…….out…..

ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME!?!? Safe space officially broken.

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Goodbye vegans-get-to-finally-have-this-non-judgmental-place festival.

Stop dancing, feet; it’s over.

Auckland Vegan Food Festival FAIL #2.

My heart had broken into a million pieces and made me sick, absolutely sick.

I know I shouldn’t focus on the two negatives when there were thousands of positives about the festival, but it’s just devastating how for just three sweet hours we vegans were hoping to have a place to go to breathe and we couldn’t even have that.

Before I get too upset again, I’ll tell you the thing that turned my whole day around.

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In fact, it was one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve had since becoming vegan.

I decided to go live on Instagram and talk about the festival: the good, the bad, the ugly, and show my followers what I was experiencing there.  We walked around and eventually into the organic soap & straws stall where the guys were oh-so nice and terribly funny.

They showed off their spread of soap, shampoo, and body wash bars that have no plastic, no nasty chemicals, and are 100% vegan & cruelty free. And some super cool metal straws that we definitely had to buy.

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As we stepped out of that stall, a very enthusiastic guy from the yoga tent waved us over.  He greeted us with the biggest smile and enthusiasm, so I ended the video to hear what he and his fellow yogis had to say.

They asked us where we were from, if we were enjoying the festival and conversation just started to flow. 

I was pretty blunt with them.  I said, “I was having an incredible time until that one stall had ‘free range meat & eggs’ written on it and the damn coffee truck had cow’s milk & honey right there for people to see when they were ordering.  That’s some bullshit!”

The woman sitting next to the chipper man perked up and instantly started sharing her thoughts.  Not only did she agree with me, but she also unleashed her truth in the most eloquent, captivating, honest, and raw way.

“Fuck yes, I can breathe again,” I thought to myself.

In the overwhelming ocean of anger that washed over me, there was Nicole.  She threw me a life ring and pulled me on board.

Not only did she get it, but she was just as fired up as I was.

And it wasn’t even all about the festival.  Nicole and I went back and forth just validating each other and reflecting on how crazy it is people still don’t get it.  It was like a game of pitch and catch and we were totally on the same wavelength of trying to stay positive amongst it all, but also remembering that it’s okay to get angry when we stand for justice for animals.

Everyone else in the tent just watched this happen sort of giggling.  It was like we had been friends for years and finally got to check in on what we’d been up against since we last saw each other.

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As we were winding down our conversation (I think we just realized that no one else around us had spoken for a few moments) we just had to embrace each other.

We gave each other one of the biggest, warmest hugs I’ve ever given or received.

My heart felt hugged in a time of crisis.  She was there for me and hopefully I was there for her, too.

It was incredible.

Nicole is a yoga instructor in Auckland with her husband and they run an incredible yoga studio called Raw Yoga. After she told me about her yoga teacher trainings, yoga studio, and compassionate approach to it all (aka highlighting to new yogis that the first rule or Yama of yoga is “Do no harm.”), she gave me a t-shirt that says, “Raw Love” on it.

All of my anger washed away completely and I felt like the vegan community got stronger that day, but it reminded me that there is hope and there are people always fighting for what’s right.

Auckland Vegan Food Festival WIN #1 to infinity.

For every single animal out there dying for the enjoyment, entertainment, or use for humans, I’m sorry with all of my heart.

You have to die because some of us are too blind to make the connection, but one by one we’re connecting the dots and it’s starting to make sense.

The sense is spreading.

And while it does, every angry vegan is allowed to feel angry.

Every compassionate vegan is allowed to feel fire.

Every single vegan and animal deserves to live in a cruelty-free world.

That is first and foremost what the animals deserve.

It’s what our planet is begging for.

And it’s what human kind is capable of.

Thank you, Nicole, for reminding me that even though it’s an uphill battle, I’m not alone in the fight.

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Kelsey PowellComment