Conference Travel and Some Amazing Vegan Food

I can’t believe it is mid-April! The weeks have been flying by. I’ve been working away on the book manuscript, but I also have been doing some travelling.

First I went to the 2nd instalment of the “Living With Animals” conference at Eastern Kentucky University. I went to this conference two years ago, the first time it was held, and just loved it. It was such a great mix of people–a truly interdisciplinary gathering of people who shared common interests. The second version of the conference was just as good. I heard some excellent papers and especially enjoyed hearing Julia Schlosser’s keynote presentation about her artwork.

One of the things I really like about this conference is that there is a good amount of the program dedicated to teaching animal studies, so there were great presentations about pedagogy (I especially liked Jeannette Vaught’s presentation called “Animal Infiltrations: Teaching Animal Studies in Traditional Courses”) and a roundtable discussion focusing on ideas for setting up animal studies courses and programs (both Human-Animal Studies and Critical Animal Studies) at the post-secondary level. As was the case two years ago, we had some excellent discussions!

I also travelled down to Denton, Texas to attend the “Moral Cultures of Food” conference at the University of North Texas. When I saw the call for papers for this conference I knew it was one I wanted to go to. Not only did the topic appeal to me and relate to my current project, but I also knew that the University of North Texas was home to “Mean Greens,” the first all vegan dining hall. Ever since I first heard about Mean Greens I was trying to find an excuse to go to UNT, so this seemed like a conference I had to attend! The conference was great and, like the “Living With Animals” conference, it featured scholars from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds.

Both conferences had such a good, collegial atmosphere–when people asked questions you got the sense that they were genuinely curious and interested to know the answers. (sadly, not at all the norm at most academic conferences) I met some really interesting people and came home feeling enthusiastic and energetic about working in this area. The “Moral Cultures of Food” conference also included excellent keynote presentations by James McWilliams and Carol J. Adams. (sadly I had to miss David Kaplan‘s closing keynote presentation due to an early morning flight)

I had the honour of being Carol Adams’s houseguest while I was in Texas, and it was there I discovered the recipe for the world’s most delicious vegan mac and cheese recipe. Honestly. This stuff is out of this world. It is a recipe that Carol veganized from a cookbook that her family used. She promises to do a blog post with the recipe, so I don’t feel comfortable sharing it here, but keep an eye out for it on her site. [Update: here is the recipe!] It is so ridiculously good. I’ve made it twice since returning home. In fact, all the food she served was incredible–she even cooked up a full vegan version of a Texas barbecue.  Amazing!

And speaking of amazing food in Texas, “Mean Greens” at UNT absolutely exceeded my expectations. I was excited about the fact that there was such a thing as a vegan dining hall on a university campus. I hadn’t stopped to think much about what precisely that would mean, but figured it was the novelty of the experience, not necessarily the quality of the food that I was going for. Let me tell you, the food was incredible! And it was really affordable too! I went with a group of conference attendees at lunch and it was $7.50 for as much food as you wanted to eat. There was a breakfast bar, hot dishes, a salad bar, a dessert tray, and even a ice cream sundae bar. And the food was really, really good! I also loved the environment. It was bright and cheery, and had quotes about veganism and compassion for all species painted on the walls of the dining room. There was even a sign on the door declaring it an “meat free zone.” This was full on, unapologetic veganism gone mainstream, and the place was packed! We even got to talk to one of the chefs who told us how popular the initiative has been and how it is, in fact, saving UNT money when compared to other meal options. I hope to see more campuses following this lead!

Mean Greens was a "Meat Free Zone"
Mean Greens was a “Meat Free Zone”
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No animal products used in this kitchen!
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There was even a sundae bar!

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Time Machine

I’ve been spending some time in the library, working with old newspapers on microfilm. It has been many years since I’ve used a microfilm reader and it took me longer than I care to admit to get the thing up and running the first time. In my defence, there was a bit of a connectivity issue between the reader and the computer that scans and saves pdf versions of the pages. (I don’t recall this additional bit of technology from the last time I used a microfilm reader!) I was very grateful to the staff at the James A. Gibson library at Brock for helping me get this sorted.

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I love reading old newspapers. They are so interesting and so bizarre. I often get distracted by the ads and articles other than the ones I am trying to track down. In some ways it is kind of like I’m playing with a time machine!

Come for Congress, Stay for Niagara VegFest

Our campus is getting ready to host the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences later this month (May 24-30), and I am looking very forward to seeing colleagues who are coming to Niagara from across the country. I will be participating in a few panels, and will also be part of the group hosting the Social Justice Research Institute reception. There is so much going on during Congress!

For those of you traveling to Niagara for Congress, I invite you to consider staying on an extra few days to take in the Niagara VegFest weekend festivities.

Things get started on the 30th of May with the Niagara premiere of the award-winning documentary film, The Ghosts in Our Machine. We are delighted that the film’s Director, Liz Marshall, and the film’s human star, Jo-Anne McArthur, will be in attendance for the screening. They will be joined by Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan from Our Hen House for a Q&A after the film. You don’t want to miss this!

The official festival kick-off party takes place on Saturday, May 31st at Mahtay Cafe. The party will be hosted by Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House. There will be live jazz (The Shea D Duo), delicious snacks, and beer and wine from Niagara College.

Then, on Sunday, June 1st, the 3rd annual Niagara VegFest takes over Market Square in downtown St. Catharines. There will be over 70 vendors/exhibitors, food trucks, speakers, workshops, live music, a “family zone,” as well as beer and wine from Niagara College. Admission is free and all are welcome!

Introduction to Visual Culture

I’m about to step back in to the large first year class that I was originally hired to develop, “Introduction to Visual Culture.” For a number of years this was my class, but I eventually cycled out of it. This Winter marks the first time I’ve taught it in a while and I’m quite excited about it. I really love the material and the opportunity to introduce students from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines to thinking critically about images.

To everyone back teaching today – have a wonderful term!

Upcoming talk in Guelph

I am really honoured to have been invited by Dr. Sally Hickson to speak at the University of Guelph later this month as part of their art history speaker series. The event takes place on Tuesday, November 19th at 5:30. More details below.

If you are in the Guelph area, please drop by and say hi!

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A Busy Spring So Far!

Spring has been a bit of a whirlwind here so far! The last little while has been one of the most hectic times in recent memory.

I took an quick trip out to Edmonton for the Cross-Pollination workshop at the end of March. This was probably the best professional gathering I’ve ever attended – it was a small, invited group of people which allowed for really good discussions. There were no concurrent sessions and we all were asked to workshop our papers, which had been circulated ahead of time. There were so many interesting topics discussed and it was just amazing to have the opportunity to really think deeply about how “environmental thought and activism” (to borrow from the event sub-title) can emerge from the arts and the humanities. So many excellent papers and so many exciting ideas exchanged. I think I thoroughly enjoyed the entire event, but if I had to pick a highlight I think it would be Lyndal Osborne‘s discussion of her work. Absolutely incredible stuff! (and to think I used to be both a student and a sessional instructor in the same department as Lyndal but did not actually meet her until this workshop. How odd!)

While I was in Edmonton I got to have a quick whirlwind visit with my parents, which was lovely! We went for a celebratory dinner at Padmanadi, one of the most delicious vegan restaurants I’ve ever been to! The food is Chinese food-style, but made with analog meats instead of the “real deal.” Loads of yummy fresh veg too! What a treat it is to be able order anything from the menu!


I also got to spend a fabulous evening with Fiona, a good friend who I haven’t seen in ages because she has been living in places like New Zealand, the UK and Alaska. The stars aligned and we were actually in the same city for the first time in about 5 years! We went to the Hotel MacDonald for old time’s sake (we used to go there for drinks and to restore our sanity when we both lived in Edmonton) and had a blast ordering a ridiculous amount of ridiculously expensive appetizers ($10 popcorn anyone? But it was tossed in truffle oil, so…) We were too busy yakking to take any photos, but it was such a great night!

The week after I got back from Edmonton was the “Thinking About Animals” conference at Brock. It was so amazing to see such a great turn-out for this event. I don’t know the exact count, but people came from all over to discuss, debate and think critically about relationships between species. It was fabulous and I was sorry that I had to miss so many sessions due to teaching and other commitments. (the perils of attending a conference at one’s home institution, I guess)

The 2011 Niagara Social Justice Forum came on the heels of the “Thinking About Animals” conference. I was part of the organizing committee for the NSJF this year, so it was an especially intense time. We had a great day for the forum – beautiful sunny skies, perfect for the nature walks along the escarpment that were booked for mid-day. There were 18 workshops on a wide range of topics (everything from youth homelessness to water access and social media to the rates of diabetes in Aboriginal communities), an “art space” (featuring an exhibition of images to raise money and awareness for Toronto Pig Save, a children’s art competition and a craft table where participants could paint messages of social justice on a banner and make their very own compostable plant pot and then plant an heirloom tomato seed donated to the event by Tree & Twig), a performance by WomEnchant, and a screening of NFB’s Reel Injun. A long, wonderful, rich and rewarding day!


I thoroughly enjoyed all of these events, but I’m glad that the pace is going to slow down a bit now. Classes have ended and it is time to turn my mind to summer research/writing + gardening. I’m looking forward to some new adventures on both of these fronts!

We’re Moving Downtown!

This morning the Provincial Government of Ontario announced $26.2 million for Brock University’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts. This money will allow the School to move to the historic Canada Haircloth Building in downtown St. Catharines. This is wonderful news for the university and for the community!

A huge congrats to all who made this possible — especially Marilyn Walker for her most generous donation and Dean Rosemary Hale who has long fought for this to become a reality.

Dean Hale and a number of students from the MIWSFPA celebrate today's announcement.

I can’t wait to see the space transform over the coming months and am looking very forward to being a part of this exciting change for Brock and for Niagara. So excited, in fact, that I’m jumping for joy!

So Much Going On!

The last little while has felt like a whirlwind compared to the hermit-like state I’ve been in for most of my sabbatical thus far. Some highlights:

1)Last Friday I attended the Medieval Documents Symposium at Brock. This event was to celebrate the recent discoveries of some medieval documents in our Special Collections as well as some donations of documents to the university. My own area of research is the late 19th C/early 20th C, so it was a real treat to learn about an era so far removed from the one I spend all my time studying. This was a truly fascinating event. First of all, I’m always a little in awe when in the presence of material objects that have survived this long. It kinds of blows my mind! Secondly, the presentations made last Friday really embodied a spirit of interdisciplinary inquiry that I find especially engaging. For example, we heard from some of the folks involved in the DEEDS project at U of T. As I understand it, this is a piece of software that can calculate the approximate age of an undated Medieval charter based on the patterns of language that appear in that document. Very, very cool!

2)The 2010 Niagara Social Justice Forum took place last Saturday. I look forward to this event each year as it brings together faculty, students, staff, community members, activists, etc. for discussions, workshops and a chance to exchange ideas. The food that Strega provided was knock-your-socks-off delicious and it was pretty fantastic to have all that vegan/vegetarian food on campus. I just wish we had these kinds of eats at Brock all the time. Le sigh…

3)This week we had Erika Ritter come to campus to talk about her book, The Dog by the Cradle, The Serpent Beneath: Some Paradoxes of Human-Animal Relationships. This is an amazing book that really delves into the many complexities of human relationships with nonhuman animals, both in our current era and in the past. The event on Tuesday included a lecture but also a discussion where most people in the room had an opportunity to ask questions or offer comments about the multitude of paradoxes that seem to define human-nonhuman relationships. It was a wonderful event, and I left campus that day feeling very energized and couldn’t wait to get back to work on my new research, a topic which is very much related to the themes explored in this book.

4)Tomorrow evening brings another animal-themed event, this time a book launch and fund-raiser. The book being launched is John Sorenson’s book, Ape (from the Reaktion series, Animal), and the funds are being raised for the Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary.

All this *AND* talk of a cross-lake ferry service between Toronto and St. Catharines makes it a pretty exciting week to be living in Niagara!

A Piece of History, A Piece of the Future

This week I had the good fortune of participating in a tour of the Canada Hair Cloth Building in downtown St. Catharines. This was a working factory until 2007 and will (hopefully!) be home to the new Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock.

This is an absolutely exquisite building and I look forward to seeing this space transformed over the coming months.

A Very BIG Deal!

Big news at Brock today! Here’s the official scoop from the Brock website. I now am part of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts. 🙂

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Marilyn I. Walker donates $15 million to Brock University

Nov. 5, 2008

Brock University’s School of Fine and Performing Arts renamed after celebrated artist and philanthropist.

Renowned Canadian fibre artist Marilyn Walker has donated $15 million to Brock University’s School of Fine and Performing Arts — the largest donation the University has ever received. The gift is particularly remarkable as it is made in a climate marked by economic uncertainty and waning support for the arts.

Marilyn Walker is an award-winning fibre artist, author, teacher and philanthropist; she is also an active supporter of the arts and arts education across Canada, and at Brock University in particular. In tribute to the artist, Brock will rename its Arts School the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts.

The entire $15 million will be endowed in perpetuity to support building the school’s programs, enhancing its facilities and positioning it to be one of the best in North America, if not the world. The school is committed to top-quality learning and research — and toward the creation of a world-class arts facility.

“Marilyn Walker has been instrumental in the cultural revitalization of the Niagara region,” said Jack N. Lightstone, President, Brock University. “Her commitment to improve the quality of life at the school, in the community and across the region is inspiring. The Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts will attract the very best to Brock, create positive economic impact for St. Catharines and Niagara and serve as a tribute to a great Canadian artist and arts advocate. We are deeply appreciative of her support and thoughtful consideration.”

Rosemary Hale, Dean, Faculty of Humanities, explained “With this transformational donation, Brock will strengthen its commitment to artistic education and research and engage the community at large by transforming its School of Fine and Performing Arts into a world-class arts centre. Students in theatre, music, movement, fine art, and multimedia across Canada will have a home here that ranks among the best in the world. This gift will allow the School of Fine and Performing Arts, in the Faculty of Humanities, to build intellectual capacity in a permanent home.”

Marilyn Walker is among Canada’s most generous philanthropists. She has dedicated time and resources toward improving the quality of life for the residents of Niagara, most notably in the areas of education, art and health. Marilyn Walker is a recognized authority on Canadian quilts and has lectured widely on the artistic, historic and cultural significance of quilts across Canada and the United States.

Marilyn herself states, “In quilting and in life, people should be allowed freedom of speech and freedom of art.”

Marilyn Walker’s generous gift, made at a time when overall economic health and support for the arts is weakening, demonstrates her life-long commitment to art, education and community, and will encourage both students and faculty to push the boundaries of academic convention at Brock University.

For more information, please contact:

* Jeffrey Sinibaldi, Media Relations Officer, Brock University, 905-688-5550, ext. 4687; jsinibaldi@brocku.ca

* Liz Armstrong, FLIP PUBLICITY, 416-533-7710, ext. 237; liz@flip-publicity.com