Vegetarian Summerfest 2015! A Recap of the Vegan Madness

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For years I kept putting off going to Vegetarian Summerfest (put on by the North American Vegetarian Society) because of how much it costs. Granted, you get a ton of stuff for the price of admission: room and board, more classes and lectures than you can possibly attend, the chance to rub elbows with rock stars of the vegan world and of course an amazing buffet full of vegan food.

Last year I finally decided to go and had so much fun that, of course, I had to go back this year!

Just like last time, the program was so jam-packed with sessions that I had difficulty picking out which ones I wanted to go to. There’s hardly a moment to spare between lectures, meals and group plenary sessions. It’s a whirlwind from the moment you get up (when there are usually exercise classes, or you can hit the fitness room) to the time you go to bed (after the nightly party). I could be here until next year’s Summerfest trying to recap it all, so I’ll just give you a few highlights.

Rich Roll gave a surprisingly funny presentation at one of the evening plenary sessions, warning of the dangers of the “window diet” (drive-thru, anyone?) and illustrating the point that, when you treat your body well, you can truly transform. And then go on to do crazy stuff like run ultra marathons.

rich roll transition
I had the pleasure of seeing Hans Diehl present at one of the plenaries as well. Having never heard him speak before, I was impressed by how smooth his presentation was, and I enjoyed his sense of humor. Lo and behold, that along with his work in regards to spreading health through plant-based diets got him inducted into the NAVS Vegetarian Hall of Fame.

hans diehl hall of fame

Photo by Janet Morrone

I was also able to catch one of Julienna Hever‘s lectures this year. She’s so bubbly and enthusiastic! The information just pours out of her and it can be hard to keep up, but she has a lot of good things to share. Seeing her present there makes me want to spend more time poking around her website and watching her videos! As a side note, I learned that we’re similar in a lot of ways, both in our presentation styles (we get super-excited about sharing plant-based info) and how we approach exercise and diet (hit the gym, then eat like crazy!).

julienna hever lecture
Saturday night is reserved for Dr. Greger’s yearly lecture in which he condenses the best, oddest and most interesting plant-based nutrition news from the past year into a one-hour presentation. I must admit I was so tired by that time that I didn’t retain as much of it as I would have liked, but it was interesting and entertaining nonetheless. But before Dr. Greger took the stage, T. Colin Campbell gave a short talk on using plant-based diets to combat not only cancer as shown in The China Study but also a host of other common diseases.

t colin campbell summerfest dr greger summerfest

On top of everything else, there was a Saturday afternoon screening of PlantPure Nation, a morning boot camp with none other than Christy Morgan, Sunday morning yoga, a bookstore to browse and spend too much money in and table after table of amazing vendors. With all this going on, you’d think there wouldn’t be a lot of time for socializing–but the social aspect is one of the best parts of Summerfest! Now that I have an iPhone, I made sure I took some time to accost ask people for selfies.

I would have been remiss had I not made one of my first shots a selfie with Dr. Greger. He’s always up for pictures, apparently. If you ask him if you can get a picture with him at some point, he inevitably says, “How about right now??”

greger selfie

I was also able to snag pictures with Julienna Hever, Rich Roll and Julie Piatt.

julienna hever selfie rich roll selfie julie piatt selfie

It was great to see some of the other amazing people I met last year, like Christy Morgan, Jill Nussinow and Chef AJ.

christy morgan selfie jill nussinow selfie chef aj selfie

(Did you know that Christy also heads up a great magazine for vegan ladies who lift weights? It’s called Definition, and it’s well worth checking out. None of the protein-foisting pseudoscience that you find in a lot of fitness magazines–just great articles, workouts and recipes!)

I also got to know Mark Rifkin better–if you haven’t seen his stuff, I recommend checking it out. He has some great handouts and hosts regular webinars that address important facts and issues in plant-based nutrition. His lectures at Summerfest are usually interactive, which is a lot of fun because he has a very dry sense of humor.

mark rifkin selfie
And, ladies and gentlemen, the man responsible for the ridiculous amount of overeating that I and just about everyone else engaged in over the course of Summerfest, Mark Reinfeld! He not only writes amazing cookbooks but also oversees one of the best spreads of vegan food that I’ve ever seen. I kind of wish I could take him around places with me so that I could always have tasty oil-free options even in the middle of the most meat-and-potatoes cities.

mark reinfeld selfie
I’ll admit that the food is just as big a part of Summerfest for me as the lectures and entertainment. One of the things I go there to do is eat–and eat I did. Way, way more than I should have. You can see most of what I chowed down on in my Instagram feed, but these were my two favorite meals of the whole conference:

tempeh reuben day

Tempeh Reuben with Sesame Spinach

enormous pancake breakfast

Blueberry pancakes, tempeh bacon, roasted potatoes and breakfast beans. And more.

Note that completely pigging out isn’t something I advocate. I regretted it more than once while I was there, sometimes to the point of not being able to pay attention as well as I would have liked to the sessions I was attending. Given that there’s food, raw food, gluten-free food, oil-free food, pizza, fruit and a salad bar at EVERY MEAL–it can be a little difficult to exercise restraint. And I’m not going to say that I didn’t enjoy every minute of it–just that I have to be a bit more careful next year! Consider yourself warned.

Overall, I didn’t feel like the presentations were as strong this year as last year, although there were still plenty of stellar lectures and plenary sessions. It’s so hard to choose what to see and do that you inevitably wind up in a lecture or two that isn’t what you expected. Then you head to the next one and are completely blown away by the information or the presentation style. Even the lectures that were an overview of things I was already familiar with has new takeaways for me. You never go away empty-handed at Summerfest!

The best part, in my opinion, is meeting people, and not only the famous faces but also the group of amazing vegetarians and vegans that attends every year. Some even come as omnivores and leave as vegans! I’ve made several new friends these past couple of years and know that I’ll make many more when I attend future Summerfests.

Have you ever gone to Vegetarian Summerfest? What did you think?

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About The Author

Sam has been a vegan since summer of 2009 and has spent the subsequent years experimenting with all manner of vegan food. She holds a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and is a graduate of the Bauman College Nutrition Consultant Program. She is a member of Toastmasters International and currently serves as part of the Capital View Toastmasters club. When she's not blogging or cooking, Sam likes to read, play silly card games and knit socks.

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