With all that’s been going on in the world—violent conflict, political unrest, environmental turmoil—it’s hard to sit down and write an upbeat “year in review,” to sit with a straight face and write a piece that says “wasn’t 2023 just terrific?”

2023 was rough.

For a lot of people, in a lot of ways, 2023 was a year of pain and disappointment. Or, more accurately, another year of pain and disappointment. None of the last few have been easy, and it sometimes seems we keep digging that hole deeper and deeper.

I’m not immune to the anxiety, the dread that seems to be a part of the air we breathe.

It can be exhausting sometimes.

And yet, it’s hard to ignore the good stuff that happens around me every single day.

As a part of Vegan CNY, I’ve had the opportunity to witness first hand, and often take part in, amazing things on a pretty regular basis. Good people doing good stuff with no hope for reward, people sharing love and building community, people speaking out for the discounted and marginalized. Being around that really good stuff doesn’t make all the darkness go away, but it shines a bit of light within it. The world is far from perfect, but over this last year I’ve had the privilege of seeing some of it’s beauty.

So here’s a little bit of that goodness.

Food Share

Vegan CNY’s Food Share program started way back in 2018, when a handful of vegans got together under a bridge downtown with a few folding tables and crockpots and started serving hot food to anyone who happened by. We got together once per month, set up the tables, dished up the goods, packed up and went home, sometimes serving 50 or 60 people in about 20 minutes.

Eventually, we were told we could no longer use that space and had to move on. And then, in the process of moving on, COVID arrived, effectively shutting everything down for a while.

In March 2022, after receiving numerous questions from former volunteers who wanted to get out there and do something again, Food Share came back to life. We found an amazing partner in University United Methodist Church, who allows us to use their kitchen and serve food on their corner. They were kind enough to give a band of oddball vegans full access to their building, even built us a room to store all our supplies. In 2022, we served food twice per month, giving out food to 359 people. Over the course of the year, we had 33 different volunteers joining us.

In 2023, we were able to kick things up a notch and serve food weekly. Most of our visitors were regulars, showing up every single time we put up the table, and we figured people don’t need food only twice per month. We made the commitment to be there every Saturday and ended up serving 1232 people! I tried to keep count of the number of volunteers who helped out over the year, but lost track somewhere after 50.


Food Share has been our most regular, consistent activity.

While the focus is on doing “good” and serving others—we provide delicious, nutritious meals to anyone who could use it—Food Share is also about building a community. It’s “service,” but it’s also fun. We get together, cook big meals, catch up on each other’s lives, let the kids run a little wild (it’s always a kid-friendly event), and then we meet new people out on the street, people we might not otherwise get to know.

We’re lucky to receive support, not just from UUMC providing space for us, but from the strangers that pull over as they’re driving by, jump out and hand us $20 to buy supplies; from the people who see our Amazon wish list online and send us containers and warm hats; from the people who don’t have time to stay and serve but who stop by to drop off that vegan casserole they cooked or the cookies they baked.

We expect Food Share to grow in 2024, are exploring other possibilities, and are always looking for more volunteers. If you want to be a part of it, whether in person or through a donation or just to send along good wishes, email jtvegan93@gmail.com.

And of course, if you find yourself in need of a good meal on a Saturday afternoon, stop by, say hello, and take what you need.


Food Share wasn’t our only food outreach in 2023.

Over the course of the year, we teamed up with Eastern Farmworkers Association on several occasions.

EFWA is a grassroots group that works with and advocates for people in poverty on numerous issues. While they are not a vegan group, some members are vegan and as an organization they have worked to encourage their membership to go more plant-based, rightly recognizing that the Standard American Diet of meat and dairy does nothing to benefit the health and well-being of the most vulnerable people in our community.

In January 2023, several VCNY members got together to assist with EFWA’s annual tamale fundraiser. We put together big batches of vegan tamales for Superbowl Sunday and EFWA later reported that they sold more vegan tamales than they had in any previous years (because when you get vegans making tamales, you get vegans eating tamales… I think I downed three dozen myself!).

A few months later, about a half dozen VCNY volunteers cooked up a big plant-based brunch of hashbrowns, vegan sausage and various baked goods for EFWA’s spring party, a free meal for their membership.

In December, VCNY volunteers had their own “Christmas Party” at UUMC, where we used the kitchen to cook ahead for the EFWA holiday party scheduled the next day. We whipped up huge batches of lentil shepherd’s pie, green bean casserole, and cranberry chutney. A few volunteers working together earlier in the week provided cookies,pies, and cheesecakes, and we were able to ship off a fantastic plant-based feast!

Perhaps the strangest and most unexpected partnership came when Vegan CNY got a message from someone in Utica asking if we could possibly “rescue” roughly 1200 pints of gourmet vegan ice cream. After a few phone calls, we learned that Nutty Bunny ice cream, a vegan company based in the Northeast, was going out of business, and that they had a freezer full of ice cream that they needed to clear out in Utica. They offered us the ice cream for free if we could remove it, but the deadlines were tight as the lease on the freezer was about to run out.

It turns out that 1200 pints of ice cream is A LOT of ice cream, a lot more than we could fit in any of our vehicles or freezers. We reached out to EFWA, and a combined force of EFWA and VCNY volunteers drove out to Utica on a summer day, rescued the delicious desserts, and brought them back to Syracuse. We were able to serve up ice cream cones at Food Share for weeks, served ice cream at our parties, and reveled in the caramel and chocolate and toasted almond goodness all summer.


Food outreach isn’t the only way we connect with the community. Sometimes, plain old “outreach outreach” is still needed. Good old-fashioned tabling.

Busy schedules meant that we were not able to do quite as much tabling as we did in the previous year. When all your volunteers are dishing up food at various events and planning big festivals, it’s hard to ask for even more, but we did get out and about when we could.

We were honored to be invited to the Lost Horizon in Syracuse to table Earth Crisis’s 30th anniversary show in April. Earth Crisis has inspired countless hardcore fans to go vegan over the years, and we were excited to set up at their show along with kindred spirits like Mockingbird Farm Sanctuary, Burning Books, Strong Hearts, Farm Sanctuary, and others. The music was great, the audience was friendly and supportive, and we even sold a few t-shirts.

In the fall, we once again made it out to the Westcott Cultural Fair. This was our third time working the event, and, as usual, it was busy. We were able to connect with numerous members of the community, promote events, and answer questions about veganism.

And for the first time (but hopefully not the last), we had a table at CNY Pride at the Inner Harbor. This is a terrific event with a huge crowd, and it was wonderful to be a part of it.


One of the most exciting new developments this year was building a connection to Briarwood Farm Sanctuary in Pennellville.




Briarwood is a small sanctuary that recently moved into the area. Lori Pinzer, the founder of the sanctuary, who was kind enough to let us come out for an interview and visit in the spring ended up hosting us for two events later in the year—a summer potluck and a Halloween party.  People have been asking about having a Halloween party for a long time now, so it was very cool to finally be able to put something together. Both events were attended to full capacity (due to parking space and in order not to overwhelm the animals, we kept the cap at 40) and involved lots and lots of good food as well as plenty of time with Franklin, Cocoa, Cora, Cappuccino, and all the other residents.

Happily, some of the people who attended the events developed an instant love of the sanctuary and connection to the residents and have returned to volunteer on their own, which is really what it’s all about.

We hope for many more visits to Briarwood, formal and less so, throughout 2024 and beyond.

The Vegan Living Program

The Vegan Living Program is not a program offered by Vegan CNY.  But it’s hard to talk about what Vegan CNY was up to in 2023 without mentioning the VLP, as both the leadership and the membership of the two organizations overlap in so many ways.

For those who aren’t familiar, the Vegan Living Program is a five week course offered free of charge to people who want to go vegan. Each person is connected to a “coach” or mentor to assist in making the transition, to answer tough questions, and to help build a sense of community.

2023’s program was held in a beautiful space at the University United Methodist Church on five Saturdays in the Spring (convenient for mentors who also help with Food Share!) and was filled to capacity. Activities included an environmental talk by Demo Maratos, presentations by Eric Lindstrom (The Skeptical Vegan) and Melissa Fadden, a health talk by Dr. Steven Duffy, three cooking demos, shopping trips, dinners on the town, a trip to Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, a potluck, and more.

This year’s attendees have remained a close knit group, have become active in the local vegan scene, and continue to meet up for various events and activities around town.

The Syracuse VLP is in the process of planning the 2024 program with some interesting twists and new features in store for the next round of pledges.

You can find more about the VLP at https://www.veganlivingprogram.org/syracuse.

Syracuse Vegfest

The single largest event of the Vegan CNY year is, of course, Syracuse Vegfest.

Vegan CNY’s Syracuse Vegfest first started in 2019, went on hiatus for a couple of years due to COVID, then returned in 2022.

In 2023, the event was held, for the first time, at The Inner Harbor.

By all accounts, it was a great success.

Vendors included Funk n’ Waffles, Strong Hearts, [TS1] [TS2] People for Animal Rights of CNY, Aurora’s Café, Legacy Clothing, Gritty Sisters, Grass Fed Vegan, Fat Cat Baking, Envious Vegan Handbags, Soulspressions, Quillan’s Crafts, Mockingbird Farm, Asempe Kitchen, Parlor City Vegan, Burning Books and many more.

Amanda Rogers and Ed Ordez each provided music, there were live cooking demos, and there was a fantastic panel discussion with local vegan community members moderated by the Compassion and Cucumbers podcast.

A great kids’ area with lots and lots of bubbles, nice weather, a friendly crowd, generous sponsors and hard working volunteers made the day enjoyable for everyone who attended and convinced the planning committee to aim for scheduling next year’s event at Inner Harbor again.

(You can find a complete list of 2023’s sponsors and vendors at https://vegancny.org/syracusevegfest/.)

And More…

Beyond the organized events, the meetings, the official programs, perhaps more important than any of it, is the sense of community that continues to build around the vegan community in Central NY.

For every scheduled potluck or exciting festival, there are countless hikes, family dinners, restaurant outings, cookie exchanges, friendly texts and calls, birthday parties and more, people with a shared vision—a desire to live in this world more compassionately—coming together.

That coming together, that sharing, matters. In a world full of disappointments and daily doses of Very Bad News, that coming together makes room for a little light, a little peace, a little hope. Maybe a whole lot of hope.

For Vegan CNY, 2023 was a good year.

But nothing compared to what 2024 is going to be.