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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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!

Farm Sanctuary Internship

During the semester break I had one of the best experiences of my life! I did an internship at Farm Sanctuary and spent my holidays helping out with the shelter operations. It was a ton of work, but it was also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. What a perfect way to spend Christmas! To spend that much time around rescued animals and to be directly working with them and their caregivers was an absolute privilege.

If you care about farmed animals (and why wouldn’t you?), you need to sign up to be an intern. For real. Do it!

I will be writing about my experiences as a shelter intern in a series of columns for Our Hen House in the coming weeks, so I won’t say too much here, but in the meantime here are some pictures of some of the incredible animals I met during my internship.

Maxie!
Maxie!
Baba Ganoush, the handsomest rooster on the planet.
Baba Ganoush, the handsomest rooster on the planet.
Hanging out with Thunder, the gentle giant.
Hanging out with Thunder, the gentle giant.
Dottie is a very curious goat!
Dottie is a very curious goat!
Ormsby
Ormsby
Aunt Bea
Aunt Bea
Dagwood and his stuffed bunny pal.
Dagwood and his stuffed bunny pal.
Sleeping Sebastian.
Sleeping Sebastian.

Blackfish

Blackfish opens today. This promises to be a powerful and important film dealing with whales in captivity. Films like this have an important role to play in shattering the myth that marine animal theme parks are in any way appropriate. People often defend the “educational value” of places like Sea World or Marineland. Want to be educated? Watch the horrifying and heart-breaking footage of these animals being rounded up and taken out of their natural habitats and separated from their families.

One of the best parts of our recent trip to California was that we saw so many marine animals in the “wild.”  One evening we walked down to the beach in Carmel to watch the sunset and noticed 6 dolphins swimming very close to shore. They swam back and forth along the beach, occasionally “jumping” out of the water. It was probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed. I didn’t get great photos of this moment, but it will forever be etched in my mind. Seeing these incredible creatures in this setting made me more convinced than ever that marine animal theme parks need to be shut down. How anyone could think that it is ok to confine these creatures in a cement tank is simply beyond me.

dolphins at Carmel

I recognize that not everyone is able to travel to places like Carmel to watch the dolphins, but I simply can not agree that a marine animal theme park is an appropriate substitution. Captivity kills. There is no justifiable excuse for confining creatures in a tank or a cage simply for the convenience of humans. It is possible to appreciate, learn about, and respect animals without having the chance to witness them firsthand. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to travel to Africa, yet I think giraffes are magnificent creatures! If you are so convinced that viewing marine animals up close is necessary, I urge you to take the money you would have spent at Sea World or Marineland (these are not cheap tickets!) and put it in a savings account for a trip to a coastal location like the Monterey Penninsula. It will be well worth the wait!

A Convivial Afternoon of Humane History & Merriment

Next month I will be taking part in a really fun event, an event billed as a “convivial afternoon of humane history and merriment.” This event is hosted by the fabulous National Museum of Animals & Society and will be taking place at the Velaslavasay Panorama in LA.

I will be speaking about the role of visual culture in humane education, with a specific focus on the late 19th- and early 20th- century. In addition to my talk there will be other activities taking place, including temporary exhibits, and crafts. I also hear there will be some yummy vegan snacks at this event.

If you are anywhere near LA I hope you are able to join us for a fun day at this amazing venue!

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Living With Animals Conference

Last month I travelled down to Richmond, Kentucky to participate in the “Living With Animals” conference at EKU. It was a fabulous conference and I was really glad to have been part of it. The only disappointing part was the weather–I had been hoping for a little warm weather and sunshine, but during the conference the weather in Kentucky was pretty much identical to the weather in Southern Ontario: chilly, windy, overcast. I even saw snowflakes in the air one day! The poor spring flowers and blooms seemed a bit shocked!

Weather aside, it was a fabulous trip and a fabulous conference. Huge congrats to the organizers, Robert Mitchell and Julia Schlosser, on the event!

There were so many great papers and keynote addresses that it would be impossible for me to write about them all here, but some that I found to be especially thought-provoking include:

  • Margo DeMello‘s keynote address on using videos and images in animal studies classes
  • Mary Shannon Johnstone‘s presentation on her photographic work, including her incredible project entitled “Landfill Dogs
  • Christina Colvin’s presentation on the practice of pet taxidermy
  • Monica Mattfeld’s presentation on the memorialization of “The Spanish Horse” in 18th century London
  • Brett Mizelle‘s presentation on the culture of butchers and slaughterhouses in the late-19th and early-20th centuries
  • L.A. Watson‘s discussion of the fabulous National Museum of Animals & Society as well as her own artwork which will be featured in an upcoming NMAS exhibition

I presented in the “Teaching With Animals” stream of the conference, and gave a presentation on my class, VISA 3P98: Picturing Animals.” I talked about some of the different themes we cover in this class, as well as the challenges and rewards of teaching “animal studies” in an art department. I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to talk with others who are teaching similar topics in their respective departments, centres, and schools. To that end, I was especially appreciative of the “break out” sessions that were scheduled around different issues to do with teaching. I will admit that the phrase “break out session” usually has me heading for the hills, but in this case it was a very interesting and valuable exchange of ideas and course outlines. I also found the panel discussion on “Teaching With Animals” (moderated by Brett Mizelle and featuring Margo DeMello, Robert Mitchell, Kenneth Shapiro, and Kari Weil) to be very enlightening, particularly around the issue of setting up programs in animal studies at the college and university level.

I have had enough of airports in recent months, so this was a road trip! What an interesting way to see the country. We broke the trip up in to two days, and the first night we stopped in Columbus, OH. We specifically planned our route so that we could check out Hal & Al’s, a fabulously quirky bar that has both an incredible selection of craft brews AND an all-vegan menu. Our plans for stopping there on the way back through were scuttled as we adjusted our travel to avoid Winter Storm Virgil. (since when do we name winter storms?) We did, however, stop in Detroit for a vegan brunch at PJ’s Lager House. It was another funky little bar with fabulous vegan food! We need more of these kinds of places in Canada! Once of the best parts about PJ’s was the resident dog, a beautiful pit-cross named Sugar. She was so friendly and gentle, just walking around saying hello to everyone having brunch. It makes me so angry that a beautiful dog like this would be “illegal” in Ontario.

 

sugar (detroit)

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!