In a lot of ways, 2019 was rough.
Kids in cages. Toxic tweets. The lowest of low-brow politics. Shootings. The Amazon on fire. Everything else on fire. Resurgent anti-Semitism. Bigotry and misogyny on full display. A growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots.
In 2019, Western Civilization was not exactly wearing its Sunday best.
But there was some good stuff, too.
Lots of it, really.
Some of that good stuff was happening right here, with Vegan CNY.
As we close out the year, let’s look at some of the highlights…
Community Food Share
Vegan CNY is dedicated to the idea of “compassion for all beings.” We take that seriously, and believe that it applies not just to farmed animals but to everybody. In an effort to provide support to and build community with people who are often ignored and pushed to the margins, Vegan CNY offers a “Community Food Share” at least once per month.
In 2019, we served food on 13 occasions to homeless/food insecure individuals in Syracuse, serving up roughly 475 meals over the course of the year. Most of those meals were served downtown– volunteers showed up rain or shine, in the heat or in the snow, set up tables, and served up absolutely delicious vegan meals to anyone who wanted to partake. In December, we began a partnership with Cafe Sankofa, and offered what we hope will be the first of many meals at their location on South Salina Street.
Community Food Share has benefited from having a dedicated core of great cooks who have brought everything from BBQ Jackfruit sandwiches to soups and stews to apple crisp and sugar cookies to share. We’ve also received donations of clothing (socks and underwear are always a hit!), rain ponchos, packaged foods, dry goods and more from dozens of people who want to help but can’t always be there.
The response to the food share has been wonderful. We’ve had the chance to meet individuals whose stories are different from our own, who can take us outside of ourselves a bit. We’ve met plenty of vegetarians in the line, debunking the theory that that those who are going through hard times don’t have an interest in eating healthy or ethically.
On a related note, Vegan CNY was able to respond to the call for healthy vegan meals to help feed protesters at Syracuse University this fall. When student occupied a building on campus Vegan CNY received an email, put out the word for volunteers, and had an overwhelming response. Carload after carload of hot meals were delivered.
Vegan After Work
Vegan After Work started with the birth of Vegan CNY in 2018 and continued to grow in 2019. Over the course of the year, we hosted 9 After Work Events with a total attendance of about 280 people. The most popular was our first night at Stout Beard in the Westcott Neighborhood– almost 80 people showed up for delicious vegan food, drinks, and conversation. Other hosts have included Funk N Waffles, Hops Spot, Mello Velo, Prison City (Auburn), Angry Garlic (Baldwinsville) and Chipotle.
Vegan After Work is open to all who want to attend. It’s a chance for vegans or those interested in veganism to come together on a roughly monthly basis, to hang out in a casual environment, get to know like-minded individuals, and build a real community.
Clearly our biggest event of 2019 was Syracuse Vegfest. With more than 60 vendors including headlining sponsor, Strong Hearts Cafe, multiple speakers, and roughly 3000 people through the door, the event exceeded our wildest expectations. The turnout was humbling, and we look forward to bringing the fest back in 2020.
Vegfest featured a fantastic variety of vendors, including restaurants, bakeries, coffee companies, animal sanctuaries, local farmers, t-shirt companies, book sellers, a Kidz Zone, and more.
Spreading the Message
In an effort to get the word out about veganism, animal rights, and what we do, Vegan CNY tabled a number of events this year. We were invited to an evening at Strides, a plant-based gym. We had what seemed like a never-ending line at the Westcott Cultural Fair. And we made our first appearance on the local hardcore scene (a scene that went hand in hand with veganism in days gone by).
Look for us at local events in the future as we continue to get the word out, including at the upcoming Syracuse New Year’s hardcore show on the first.
Vegan In The Park
While a lot of members (myself included) love hanging out in a vegan-friendly bar after work, some of (myself included again) also want to be included in kid-friendly events.
For all the vegan parents out there, or for the non-parents out there who just like a relaxing day in the park, Vegan CNY hosted three events in Syracuse and Cortland. People brought snacks or meals, vegan kids ran wild together.
In December, we organized our first winterized version of fun in the park, with several families meeting for vegan treats at Sweet Praxis then walking over to Clinton Square for ice skating.
In the Media
One of the coolest things about being part of Vegan CNY this past year has been the amount of attention we’ve gotten from the local media. Vegan CNY members were interviewed several times for the Post-Standard and for various local college papers. Theresa Stowell (Vegan CNY’s President) appeared on the WSYR’s “Bridge Street,” a popular morning TV show, to talk about Vegfest and to present a cooking demo with the guys from Vegan Zombie. Theresa and I also had the opportunity to appear on WAER’s “The 315” podcast to talk about veganism in 2019. As a huge NPR nerd, the chance to sit in an NPR studio and talk about veganism just about made my head explode.
The Vegan Living Program
If you haven’t heard of it already, Vegan Living Program is a project started by Open the Cages Alliance that puts aspiring vegans together with vegan “coaches” to help people make the transition into an ethical, plant-based diet and lifestyle. The five week course includes a trip to a local farm sanctuary, presentations by doctors and environmentalists, food demos and more. It has been offered in Baltimore, Long Island, Pasadena, Rochester, and Chico (CA).
For the second year in a row, Vegan Living Program partnered with Vegan CNY’s Shelly Bornemann to offer the program here in Syracuse. Once again, it was a terrific success.
Throughout the year, Vegan CNY continued to keep up a presence through social media and through the vegancny.org website. Vegan CNY shares info about vegan-friendly events in the area, vegan news, and gives people a way to connect with other vegans through Facebook. This year the website offered reviews on Mom’s Diner, Stout Beard Brewery, Skewed Brewing, Peppino’s, Gretchen’s Confections, Nostalgia Chocolates, Habibas Ethiopian Kitchen, Earth Mix, Waffle Frolic, and Ten Forward Cafe. The site also featured stores on the Amazon fires, horseracing, the Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act, vegan athletes, backyard chickens, and navigating Easter as a vegan.
We’re always looking for people to contribute to the site, so if you’ve got a topic you’ve been itching to write about, or if you’ve been wishing you could tell the world about that great new vegan-friendly restaurant you discovered, let us know!
Building a Community
Just as important as any particular project that we offered this year– more important, maybe– is the sense of community that has been growing around the vegan movement.
For me, this is the big thing, what keeps me coming back. Over the past year, whether it be through Food Share or Vegan After Work or Vegfest or the rest, I’ve gotten to know a diverse mix of fantastic people, all dedicated to living with compassion. I’ve had the fun of watching our kids play together, hanging out at fundraising garage sales, talking over drinks, working together to make Vegfest a success.
“Community” is what keeps us going, what makes us strong. Seeing so many people come together and connect has been inspiring.
To all who helped make 2019 something to be proud of, thank you!
Can’t wait to see what 2020 brings…