Category Archives: vegan

Vegan Summerfest

I’ve wanted to go to Vegan Summerfest in Johnstown, PA ever since I found out about it three years ago.

But it’s expensive. Summerfest itself is not inexpensive, to stay in the dorms, to have your meals there, for the full five days. Plus, there is airfare. And I wanted to get in the door on the day it started (Wednesday) at 10am, which meant I had to go the day before and get a hotel room for a night.

VeganSummerfest2019

Man, was it worth it.

Vegan Summerfest is held on the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown campus every year. (Note to organizers: How about alternating coasts?)  It begins on the first Wednesday of July. You can come for the whole Wednesday-through-Sunday conference, or you can be a weekender, starting at 5pm on Friday. I highly recommend the whole shebang. Stay on campus, eat at the vegan cafeteria (more about that in a minute), walk through the afternoon thundershowers to various talks in various campus buildings. Be there. Be present. Soak it all in.

There were over 60 presenters, including some of the heavy hitters in the medical community like Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, and Dr. Michael Greger, author of How Not to Die, and moving force behind www.nutritionfacts.org and the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, as well as Dr. Ted Barnett, of Rochester Lifestyle Medicine. Doctors, nutritionists, chefs (check out Chef G.W. Chew’s YouTube videos! He gave fantastic, hilarious food demos!), lots of people who run vegan associations and giant VegFests to give tips on how to get started and how to keep the momentum up.

 

How Not to Die

 

There were talks about the Biblical imperative of veganism, the Philosophy of Food (one of my favorite talks by Dr. Mylan Engel), talks about diet and cancer, diet and diabetes, diet and ethics, vegan athletes, even a naturalist who talked about how bats are integral to the food system.

There were products to buy, of course, t-shirts and hats, magazines, and a huge bookstore.

The days began with nature walks around campus, and/or yoga. Then breakfast (more on the food in a minute). Then 45-minute classes with 15-minute breaks to get to the next one, likely in a different building, all the way to lunch. After lunch, more classes, until dinner. After dinner, there were plenary sessions, entertainment, and then parties and sky watching with telescopes for those who were up late and still eager for more. The last night, after the plenary session where Dr. Greger debuted his new talk on How Not to Diet (also the title of his forthcoming book), and he was inducted into the Vegan Hall of Fame (his name to reside alongside Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Klaper and other vegan lifestyle luminaries), there was dancing until the wee hours with a great DJ.

T.ColinCampgell

T. Colin Campbell, PhD, author of The China Study. Still going strong at 85 years old

But let me tell you about the food.

When you walk into the cafeteria, you’ll see a giant semi-circle serving bar. For breakfast, for example, there might be roasted potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, vegan sausages, a tofu scramble, muesli, and oatmeal. All of this would be at three different stations, and in between would be condiments: nutritional yeast, raisins, flax seed, etc. Beyond that semi-circular station is a fruit bar, with all kinds of fruit. Beyond that is the SOS (salt, oil, sugar free) bar, with exactly the same breakfast food, only SOS free. Next to that is the gluten-free bar, with exactly the same breakfast food, only gluten free. On the other side is a gigantic soup and salad bar, three times a day. At lunch and dinner there is a pizza oven, with nonstop pizzas coming out that were thin-crusted and delicious. And in the adjacent room, there is the raw bar, with amazing frozen desserts. Wonderful desserts every day. And all of this is prepared by university staff under the direction of celebrity vegan chef Mark Reinfeld. This was gourmet food. Outrageously good. Al is currently enjoying all the new culinary tricks I discovered.

GWChew

Me fan-girling on Chef GW Chew. Photo by Chuck Phillips

The lodging was in dorm rooms. Two twin beds, two desks, two dressers. I stayed in a room by myself, but two rooms shared a bathroom. My through-the-bathroom roommate was Diane, with whom, I was delighted to discover, I had a lot more in common than just our vegan lifestyle.  That was another thing, it was kind of like summer camp. Diane and I hung out together, and the first day we met Chuck, and then it was the three of us, sharing notes and handouts at meals after our various sessions. We made fast friends for life.

Liz,Chuck,Diane

Me, with Chuck and Diane, after dancing on Saturday night

Yes, campus-wide wifi. And free shuttle to the Johnstown airport.

The programming was remarkable, with something for everyone. It was hard to choose which sessions to attend, as few were repeated, and there were at least five going on simultaneously. But we did our best.

All of this was made possible for me by the generosity of my good friend Dianna Rodgers. Dianna was a passionate vegetarian, and she died last year, leaving me some money in her will. What a sweet and unexpected gesture. That money, and another surprise windfall came at just the right time and it was just exactly the right amount for tuition, lodging, and airfare. I know Dianna would be pleased at how I used her generous gift.

Dianna

Dianna Rodgers. I so miss you, my friend. 

The whole experience was inspirational to say the least, and I am already scheming on the budget to find my way back to Summerfest next year.

Here’s to your health!

eattherainbow

Eat the Rainbow

 

 

 

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5 Years Vegan

I thought it was time for an update. This has been an interesting journey.  Previous blog posts have charted it.

Last June, I had blood work done. I was vegan four and a half years, but I was eating a lot of vegan junk food, and my weight had crept up. To my horror, my cholesterol was again high, and so was my blood pressure. I am testing my doctors’ patience about taking a statin.

So I had a harsh conversation with myself. I am 66 years old. No longer young. If I am going to take care of myself, now is the time.

How Not to Die

So I tuned up my diet. What I mean by that is that I went for the Whole Food, Plant Based way of eating. No more vegan junk food. Along with that, I ditched salt AND oil. No more oil.

We are now mid-September. I’ve been WFPB 3 months. I have lost the 20 pounds that sneaked up on me over the past few years. My blood pressure is nice and low and I am off the medication I’d been taking for five years. My cholesterol is also back down. All my numbers are good. I have great energy.

But I want to say a word about oil.  I can eat almost a POUND of potatoes for the calories in one tablespoon of olive oil.  What I discovered by cutting out oil is that eating it is completely unnecessary. I substitute applesauce when I bake (even yeast breads), and I saute veg in a couple tablespoons of water.  We enjoy any one of a zillion oil-free salad dressings (Google is your friend). So trust me when I say you will never miss butter, or the vegan equivalent, or olive oil, or anything else greasy.

I feel better than ever. And of course, there are more interesting videos and movies to see. The answers to almost any food issue, backed by actual science (not studies commissioned by the Egg Board, or the Dairy Industry, or Big Pharma) can be found at www.nutritionfacts.org. This is Dr. Greger’s labor of love, with no ads, no sponsors, is run by volunteers, and supported entirely by donations from readers.

I’ve also watched Cowspiracy and What the Health, both extremely important (albeit not without flaws) movies, currently available on Netflix. I continue to refer to, and give away copies of Dr. Greger’s amazing book How Not to Die.

I’m sorry I have come to this way of life so late. But better late than never.

I wish you the best of health.

P.S. Edited to add: I’m not perfect, my eating is not perfect. For example, as soon as I posted this, I ate a garden-fresh tomato from my own organic garden (I don’t buy tomatoes at the store because I can taste the chemicals), on a piece of whole grain bread, with a tablespoon of Veganaise (thinly-disguised oil) and salt and pepper. Life is too short to be so restricted as to miss an exquisite in-season tomato sandwich. Eating out or at friends’ houses can be a challenge, too. I try to stick to my principles without being obnoxious about it.

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