Peter Shand takes a look at the V-Men — and Women who will be among the speakers and presenters at the Whangārei Vegan Festival.
The joke is, how do you spot a vegan? The punchline is, don't worry, they'll tell you soon enough.
Veganism has been in the news a lot lately. Regardless of animal-rights protesters disrupting shoppers in supermarkets, or celebrities making very public declarations, the vegan juggernaut seems to keep gathering momentum.
The Economist has just declared 2019 the Year of the Vegan, identifying millennials as the driving force behind a 1 to 6 per cent jump in vegans in America from 2014-17.
The organisers of Whangarei's Vegan Festival aren't surprised by the huge leap in vegan numbers but, back in 2016, when they were putting on the first one, they would have been.
They thought they were trying to drag a fringe, practically taboo, subject kicking and screaming onto centre stage.
So, when 800 people turned up, they were astonished, as were the inaugural stall-holders who, facing an unexpected rush, had to come up with contingency plans to restock their wares.
• Premium - Going green: why you've been hearing more about veganism
• Study finds veganism may harm young children
• New Zealand ranks third in the world for veganism
• Dr Jacqueline Rowarth: If veganism is the answer, what was the question?
Veganism might not yet be mainstream, but longtime vegans Cathy and Ian Duffield, of Ruakaka, who have been part of the organising team since the outset, are hopeful it has at least shrugged off its fringe status.
Now the festival is in its fourth year and the Duffields expect the 2019 version to be roughly double the size of the somewhat tentative first effort but, given the recent surge of publicity, they're braced for a record crowd. "It could be closer to 2000 people," suggests Cathy Duffield.
They say the Whangārei festival offers locals a chance to peek behind the hype and learn a bit about plant-based eating.
"It's not that people are turning into vegans on a whim overnight but they are seeing how a plant-based diet can help them achieve personal goals, whether it's for their own health, to protect animals from harm, or reduce their environmental footprint," says Cathy.
"By holding the festival, we hope to motivate them, show them that it is actually quite easy and fun, and help them take steps towards achieving these worthwhile goals."
To this end, the expo boasts four cooking demos, including two from Northland cafes - Whangarei's Wholesome Palate Collective and Dargaville's Taste and See NZ; and is staging Ask a Vegan and Ask a Doctor stalls, where punters can lob all sorts of awkward questions.
"There will be over 60 stalls showcasing a diverse array of vegan food, drinks, and products," says Ian. "Businesses like the Vegetarian Butcher and Angelfood [which makes vegan dairy products] will show attendees that there are vegan versions of almost all animal-based foods."
But what the Duffields are really fizzing about is the sheer calibre of speakers and presenters at this year's festival. The line-up reads like a kind of X-Men of the vegan world - let's just call them the V-Men (and Women) and list their superpowers:
Jacques Laventure, America's Naked Chef (superpower — producing irrestistable Caribbean cuisine with only an apron covering his buff body):
TV celebrity chef and author of cookbooks such as 14 Minute Snacks and Bon Appetit Vegan, Laventure is leading the cooking demos at the festival and also doing a presentation called Eating Sustainably.
Believing a plant-based diet is the best way to save the planet, Laventure has developed a start-up called Get Fit Eat Well, which teaches families to cook and eat healthily, with three main focuses: sustainability, zero food wastage and family bonding time.
Chris Huriwai (superpower — world champion uni-cyclist):
The Kaikohe-born activist is delivering an afternoon speech — What's wrong with dairy. He's concerned about issues surrounding animal agriculture in New Zealand, was instrumental in breaking a recent news story about starving cattle crossing on a Cook Strait ferry in full view of tourists; and is against what he calls "animalism", the act of loving some animals while killing and eating others.
Dr Neal Barnard (superpower — groundbreaking research and founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine):
The eminent US physician's research into diet and its effects on diabetes and chronic pain contributed to the acceptance of plant-based diets in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Barnard grew up on a cattle ranch in North Dakota but had a rather gruesome epiphany while doing medical training at a hospital morgue, when he was helping a pathologist determine the cause of death of those who had died within the hospital. The pathologist cut a big section of ribs to expose the coronary artery of a heart-attack victim. Barnard felt the rock-hard plaque lining the artery. "That's your bacon and eggs," the pathologist announced. When Barnard went to lunch afterwards, the cafeteria was serving ribs for the day. "I just couldn't eat it ... it smelled and looked like human ribs."
Later his research would show that heart disease could disappear when people pursued completely vegan diets. Other health gains included weight loss, reversal of diabetes, reduction of cholesterol levels, and a boost in energy levels.
Barnard will be the first presenter at the expo, speaking via Skype in the Bougainville Theatre.
Amanda Sorenson (superpower — vegan parenting): The national co-ordinator for the Vegan Society of Aotearoa will speak about the rewards and challenges of raising a child vegan with, you know, all those awkward social situations and resistance from extended family.
Benjamin Eitelberg (superpower — international endurance athlete):
The Aucklander who has represented New Zealand and South Africa in a wide of mega-endurance events, including seven-day mountainbiking races, 100km ultramarathons and triathlons will talk on Why Plant-based is the Optimum Nutrition for Sport. His business Fitness Locker teaches athletes how to train and eat properly for the big challenges.
Dr Mark Craig (superpower — doctor): Craig hails from the True South clinic in Auckland and will emphasise the link between diet and health in his talk, Prevention and Cure of Illnesses with a Plant-based Lifestyle. He is adamant that most of the best treatments for common medical conditions are not expensive, harmful, invasive or complicated.
Grant Dixon (superpower — heart attack survivor):
The West Aucklander will talk about what he learned from making the documentary The Big Fat Lie, which was shown at last year's expo. He claims that organisations charged with keeping us healthy are actually suppressing important information about the effects of animal products on the human body.
Kip Andersen (superpower — asking awkward questions): Anderson himself won't be appearing but the documentary he made, Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret, will be screening. The film follows Anderson's sometimes humorous journey to find solutions to the world's environmental problems. There are no sacred cows as far as humans are concerned. Anderson asks tough questions of both industry bodies and environmental groups such as Greenpeace. What he finds out has twists and turns of X-Men proportions.
Raniera Rewiri (superpower — new-age warrior whose talks draw big crowds): Rewiri, aka the Plant-based Māori, has been called back from Whakatāne because his talk at last year's festival drew such a large audience. Alarmed at how Māori seem to feature in poor health and crime statistics, he is leading by example by going alcohol-free and adopting a vegan diet.
Yolanda Soryl (superpower — a death-defying three decades without meat, dairy or eggs): A butcher's daughter, Soryl's topic is 30 Years a Vegan. She has raised four children as vegans from birth and is founder and president of the Christchurch Vegan Society. An entertaining speaker, she will share tips, a history of veganism, and stories from what was the dietary fringe.
Nellie Lyon (superpower — saving lives): Lyon, who has been working with animal-rights group SAFE for five years, will about how to eat with care, one meal at a time. "As an individual, cutting animals out of your diet can save around 100 lives per year," she says. "Being a vegan is also a powerful way to protect the environment, and a fantastic recipe for a long, happy, healthy life."
What: The Whangarei Vegan Festival
Where: Forum North, Whangarei
When: Sunday, November 3, 10am-4pm
More info: veganexpo.co.nz