For the past few months I have been planning an event with a wonderful local charity. I did all the usual event planning pieces: booked the room and the speakers, did the promotion, built the webpage, created a buzz in social media, and I recruited event volunteers to help make the evening go smoothly. It worked, the response last night was amazing, every last chair in the room was filled, the local TV station was there filming and the guests were treated to a power packed evening of information and empowerment.
Although much of my work in the world centers around the promotion of a vegan lifestyle, this was an exception. This charity is not about vegan living, but they do have an important mission and I enjoy contributing my skills where I can to help them grow.
One of the things I knew that would make the event a success was to have a great refreshment table for the break so that people could refuel and enjoy each other’s company while snacking. My first task was to find a bakery that could create some nice vegan goodies for the event. Everyone loves great baked goods and I often find vegan baking appeals more than conventional baking to most crowds. Sadly there is only one bakery where I live that offers any vegan baking. It is called The Bakery and because they offer a vegan breakfast cookie, I knew this was a good starting place. When I spoke to the owner she seemed interested and said she needed to speak to her bakers to see what they could do. When she got back to me, she said she could take on the challenge and thanked me for pushing her “outside the box”. She brilliantly met the challenge creating some of the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever tasted and a chocolate and peanut butter oat bar that had people raving.
With the baked goods covered, my next challenge was what to use with tea and coffee. This was a tough one for me because not only was this not a vegan event, the crowd would be mostly seniors and they would be expecting cow’s milk and cow’s cream. I had already gone out of my way to make sure the baked goods were dairy and egg free, how could I give people what they needed for their coffee without conforming to the status quo model of producing “milk” that mercilessly violates cows, their babies, the planet and our bodies.
I went back and forth in my mind about what normal meant to me. Although it was normal for me to choose plant-based milks for my tea, it would be normal for this crowd to choose animal milks for their tea and coffee. I wondered if I was imposing my values on these event guests or if I was tapping into a bigger issue. I sat with it for a couple of days, stayed curious and open and then it occured to me that if I didn’t offer a new “normal” to them for consideration, who would? After a discussion with my wise and deeply authentic partner I made a decision. Not only would I serve plant-based milks and creamers, I would provide a buffet of options so people had an opportunity to taste and try new and interesting choices.
I will be honest, I had to push away the little voice in my head that worried about being judged and ridiculed as the “crazy vegan” and stay true to my values of compassion, authenticity & aliveness. I have to do that right now in fact as I write this, push that little voice away that says – “now you are really setting yourself up, you are putting it in writing, they could read this”.
I am putting it in writing because this morning when I looked at my email I saw a newsletter from my friend Liz Marshall, the incredible filmmaker and Director of The Ghosts in our Machine. She’d sent a music video called “A Hymn” by a Canadian duo Revolution Harmony. In Liz’s words the video is an audible lament to animals everywhere. Their video has scenes from a typical dairy operation – very hard scenes to watch – scenes that depict the violence against cows for their milk that I spoke of earlier.
When I watched this beautiful and haunting video I burst into tears as I recalled the spoiler moment from last nights “almost vegan” event. One of the volunteers rushed up to me at the start of the break and said,“I am going out to get milk and cream because people are avoiding the coffee because they don’t recognize the way that stuff looks in it”.
That “stuff” was the beautiful buffet of almond creamer and creamy cashew, rice and almond milks. I don’t fault her in particular, how can I when she is just doing what the majority of people in North American would do. We would rather stay with what we know – even if it is destroying animals, our planet and our own bodies. We would rather “recognize” the way the milk looks in our coffee than look deeply at ourselves and recognize our own deep values of love, compassion and fairness.
I did not stop her from going to the store. That was not my place. I had done what I needed to do – I had followed not just my own heart, but the sad, worn down hearts of the planet and the animals who have had enough of us using them for our comfort.
AND NOW FOR THE AMAZING ENDING: After I finished writing this today I got an email from Victoria, the owner of The Bakery. She thanked me for sending her positive feeback about the vegan goodies she’d created for the event and said she was grateful for the nudge to try different things. Then she said she was in the process of making signage for the two new vegan items she’d created for the event and they would be available in her shop as early as next week. If Sechelt is somewhere you ever find yourself, let’s meet at The Bakery for a tea or coffee and let’s celebrate this happy ending over a vegan chocolate chip cookie!