The Summer of Reading

It is the last week of the semester and I’m turning my thoughts to my spring/summer work plan. Like many academics, I normally start off this “research season” with very long “to do” lists and lofty plans. “This year will be different,” I say to myself, “this year I WILL DO ALL THE THINGS between April and September.”

Yeah right…

One thing I am normally doing at this time of year is finalizing my spring/summer travel plans – ’tis the season for for research trips and conferences! However, this year I plan to spend most of my spring/summer here at home in Niagara. There are many reasons for this – we are getting some much-needed major renovations done to our home. Also, we live in a pretty excellent part of the country for kayaking adventures, and I certainly hope to be doing a lot of paddling in the coming months.

Kayaking in Jordan Harbour, Niagara. (Summer 2017)
Kayaking in Jordan Harbour, Niagara. (Summer 2017)

I also have been dealing with some rather mysterious health issues lately. It has been incredibly frustrating and stressful, and we are still trying to get to the bottom of all of it. I feel like it is important to stay close to home right now as we are working this out.

In terms of my research and writing, the book I have been working on for the past decade will be out later this month. (Yay!) This project has been such a big part of my life for so long, and it feels a bit weird to not be actively working on it any more. I still have tons of material that didn’t make it in to the book – my archival explorations turned up much more information than I’d ever imagined I would find about how animal advocacy groups in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used art and visual culture. I certainly have more writing to do on this front, but I’m also thinking about new avenues and directions for my research – related avenues, but they would be spin-off projects that require me to dig in and do some reading.

I have, therefore, decided that my research focus this summer will simply be reading. I know I will feel like I need to be doing more than reading, but I’m going to try to quiet that part of my brain. Sure, sitting on my front porch reading a pile of books isn’t quite as exciting as being at the British Library, but it is what I need to be doing right now. I’m looking forward to it!

I’m surprised at how many people have asked me what my next book will be about — my latest isn’t even out yet! I’m going to draw on the wisdom of my colleague Dr. Barbara Seeber who, along with Dr. Maggie Berg, wrote the wonderful book, The Slow Professor. One of the main points they make in this book is that the scholarly work we do requires time – we need to spend time reading carefully, thinking, making notes, etc. I am not going to give in to the pressure to get the prospectus for my next book project whipped together in record time. I really feel that right now I need to immerse myself in the literature related to some of these new avenues I want to be exploring. I need to slow down, to read, to think, to figure out the next steps.

I’m excited about the #summerofreading – I think it is just what I need right now.

Some of the books I want to read this summer.
Some of the books I want to read this summer.

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!

Niagara VegFest News

Great news on the Niagara VegFest front! We have received funding from the City of St. Catharines. This will help us continue to build and promote the festival for 2013. A huge thanks to the City’s Cultural Investment Program for this grant.

It may be a cold and gloomy day in Niagara today (apparently it is Blue Monday), but before we know it, Niagara VegFest will be upon us! We are working away getting things ready–much excitement here at Niagara VegFest headquarters! Registrations are starting to come in, the list of speakers is nearly finalized, and we are busy working on other plans for the festival. Stay tuned!

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Happy Birthday, Rise Above!

Rise Above, Niagara’s only fully vegan restaurant, is now two years old! For two years Kyle Paton and his staff have been serving up vegan goodness in downtown St. Catharines. Rise Above started off selling vegan doughnuts out of a small location on Summer Street, but quickly expanded to a full-service restaurant over at 120 St. Paul Street. (don’t worry, you can still get the famous vegan doughnuts that put this place on the map!)

Kyle and the Rise Above team have become a fixture in downtown St. Catharines, participating in everything from a fund-raising Chili cook off to our very own Niagara VegFest. Rise Above’s presence in downtown St. Catharines has had a ripple effect, with several other restaurants, bars, and cafes in the neighbourhood now boasting vegan options.

One of my favourite things about Rise Above are the “tasting menu” evenings, special events where diners are treated to a 5 course meal comprised of dishes not found on the regular menu. These are gourmet courses, edible works of art. These dinners sell out within hours and are among the hottest tickets in town. Keep an eye on Rise Above’s Facebook and Twitter feeds to catch wind of when the next one is happening. (I hear there are 3 slated for early December)

The regular menu at Rise Above is pretty spectacular too. I’m particularly partial to the gnocchi (served with a cashew cream sauce that will blow your mind). And have I mentioned brunch? The brunch menu changes regularly, but is always incredible. With options like banana bread french toast (pictured below), you won’t be disappointed!

Congrats on this anniversary, Kyle, and thank you for making downtown St. Catharines such a great place to be a vegan! May there be plenty more Rise Above goodness in the years to come!

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Niagara’s First VegFest

Saturday June 2nd marked the first ever VegFest in the Niagara Region. I was part of the organizing committee for this event and while we were hoping the day would be a success we simply could not have anticipated the overwhelming response to the festival. Doors opened at 10 am and by about 10:30 we realized that we were going to be seeing some pretty large crowds during the day. The final attendance tally was 1250! This completely exceeded our expectations and at times things got a little crowded. However, everyone was in good spirits and took it in stride. As one of my colleagues remarked, “yeah, it was a little crowded, but it was exciting! It made you feel like you were really part of something.”

We had 30 fabulous exhibitors and vendors who ended up selling out of most everything by the end of the day. We had 4 generous sponsors who stepped up and took a chance on a new festival–a huge thanks to Kindfood, Sestres Coffee Shop, The Naked Sprout, & Bamboo Natural Food Market for their help in making the Niagara VegFest a reality. Thanks also goes out to VegFund for awarding us a grant to help put on the festival. We also were incredibly grateful for the assistance of Niagara Action for Animals and all our fabulous volunteers. What a day! I think more than anything what I took away from Niagara VegFest is just what an amazing community we have here.

I was also so impressed with all of our speakers. Marni Wasserman kicked off the day with a session on green smoothies, and even made enough to give samples to the audience. After that we had Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan from Our Hen House speak on the subject of food activism (one of my favourite topics!). Our third speaker was Chef Douglas McNish who talked about the path that he took to become a vegan chef and cookbook author. (note: Doug sold out of books at the festival–they are a huge hit! Make sure you order one!) Our fourth speaker was local athlete Jennifer Hintenberger, who just happens to hold some world records in kettle bell and who also happens to be vegan. She talked about how she overcame numerous illnesses because of her plant-based diet and I love how people like Jennifer help to shatter the myth that vegans are weak–she is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met! (for more on Jennifer’s story, check out her appearance on this week’s Our Hen House podcast). All of these speakers were so compelling and talked about the many benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. They were funny, engaging, and informative, and I was so honoured that they all so enthusiastically agreed to be part of Niagara’s first VegFest!

We closed the day with a screening of Vegucated, a fabulous film that is getting great reviews all over the world. We had a great audience for the screening and many people have since asked me where they can get a copy of the film for their own collection. It is a must see!

A huge thank you to everyone who came out to the festival and helped make it the success it was. Plans are already under way for the 2013 Niagara VegFest. Stay tuned!

Update: check out Our Hen House’s episode featuring Niagara VegFest!

Niagara VegFest

So, I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. Life is busy.

One of the things that is keeping me busy is planning (with my awesome VegFest planning team!) the first-ever VegFest in Niagara.

Mark your calendars for June 2nd and come celebrate the many wonderful things about a plant-based lifestyle at the Niagara VegFest. There will be delicious food, workshops, vendors, exhibitors, prizes, a film screening, and some absolutely amazing speakers!

Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House were recently named “Indie Powerhouse of the Year” by VegNews, and you can catch them at the Niagara VegFest!

photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

We are also so excited to welcome Douglas McNish to the festival. In addition to speaking about his role as a vegan chef at places like the Windsor Arms, Douglas McNish will also be doing a signing of his new book, Eat Raw, Eat Well.

Douglas McNish

We will also be joined by the ever-amazing Marni Wasserman. You don’t want to miss her healthy living, plant-based demo.

Marni Wasserman

pARTners for change

Last evening was “pARTners for change,” a fund-raiser in downtown St. Catharines. The event was a joint initiative between the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts and OPIRG-Brock, and money raised goes to support student scholarships and community programming through OPIRG’s downtown InfoShop.

We are still tallying everything up, but I certainly felt that the evening was a success. So many wonderful pieces of art in the show/sale (thank you to all the artists who generously donated work), and so many wonderful folks who showed up to enjoy the evening.

Good food, good drink, good company, good deals, good art, and two good causes!

We hosted the event in two spaces – at Pan and at the OPIRG InfoShop. The two locations are just a couple of minutes apart on foot and our lovely antler-wearing student volunteers did a great job of making sure everyone knew where they were going.

Our organizing committee needs to meet and take stock of how things went, but I sincerely hope that this will become a regular event.