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Vegandale Chicago 2021

September 21, 2021

On Sept. 11, the popular vegan festival known as Vegandale returned to Chicago for the third time in four years. Although Vegandale originates from Toronto, Canada, the festival has made its way into the United States in recent years, and this year, thousands gathered from across the country to try some of the most exquisite and unique vegan food, clothing and other tangibles that the country has to offer. Whether it was waffles and ice cream from New York, jewelry made from real organic produce from Colorado or palm oil-free soap from Wisconsin, there was undoubtedly something for everyone at Vegandale.

After COVID-19 stymied Vegandale’s presence in 2020, Chicago, which is one of only five locations in all of North America to hold the festival, once again welcomed Vegandale and its wide variety of vendors. From the minute the festival began at 11 a.m., attendees flooded Grant Park to not only soak up this enlightening experience, but to support small businesses and to advocate for animal rights and against animal exploitation as well.

Vegandale attendees could not have picked a better time to go, as this year’s festival in Chicago featured over 100 different vendors, nearly half of which were from out of town. Furthermore, those who attended the event and are non-vegan had plenty of options to choose from.

Maryann Choy, 22, noted that the atmosphere at this year’s festival felt quite different from that of the one Vegandale festival she attended pre-pandemic. 

“Me and my family have been looking forward to this all year,” Choy said. “It was cool to see so many people who were looking forward to this event too … the lines were long, but the waits were definitely worth it and the experience as a whole is something that I will never forget.”

Choy, who also mentioned that she is not yet vegan but has been considering committing to this lifestyle in the near future, detailed how incredible the food at Vegandale was and how everyone should give vegan options a chance.

“I tried a bunch of different foods like hot desserts, cold drinks, vegan burgers, things like that,” Choy said. “My favorite, though, was the hot and honey chicken tenders from the Lettuce Feast stand from California. I couldn’t even tell that it wasn’t chicken, and it definitely opened my eyes to how good vegan food can be.”

Likely a sentiment that is shared among the hundreds, if not thousands, of Vegandale’s non-vegan attendees, Choy’s experience at the festivalonce againcertainly exceeded her expectations. But one can not help but wonder how someone who’s not very fond of vegan foods or delicacies thought of the festival.

Chicago resident Joshua Thomas attended Vegandale for the first time this year and admitted that he’s never been very big on vegan dishes. As a result, he did not have very high expectations for the festival.

“Coming into today’s festival, I wasn’t sure what to expect or what kinds of foods I would even find interesting, but that all changed after my friends introduced me to a bunch of vegan meals and desserts,” Thomas said. “Everything that I’ve tried has been really good, but the best thing I tried was definitely the spicy veggie Singapore noodles from Milwokee Asian Street Food from Wisconsin. I’m going to try to eat more vegan foods after this and I’ll tell everyone I know to try it too.”

Echoing a sentiment similar to Choy, Thomas lacked hesitation in showing his newfound interest in vegan foods, and regardless of one’s view toward veganism, the fact that so many people can come together for one day of the year to share and support a lifestyle that advocates for the wellbeing of animals is certainly worth recognizing. 

However, there appeared to be a bit of an uproar at this year’s Vegandale festival, as attendees and even vendors were upset, and in some cases even refused to attend the event, over the fact that the festival’s organizers did not require proof of vaccination nor proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) student Ryland Pietras, who worked a stand at the Vegandale gathering, offered his two cents on the situation and what he noticed throughout the 8-hour long festival.

On the topic of attendees and vendorsspecifically the latterbacking out of the event due to the lack of COVID-19 protocols, Pietras said, “One of the women that I worked with had a friend that was supposed to have a shop there [at Vegandale] but she opted to not go because the organizers decided not to make vaccines mandatory … .”

While it’s worth noting that the festival had a number of sanitation stations set up around the festival grounds, if a vendor and/or its workers are willing to miss out on such a breathtaking experience because of the organizers’ lackluster COVID-19 protocols, Vegandale has to, put simply, do better going forward, especially if the festival is trying to warrant the attention of non-vegans. 

Staying on the notion of COVID-19’s impact at Vegandale, Pietras also noted that he spotted very few people wearing masks at the festival, whether it be at his stand or anywhere else at Grant Park.

“That [proof of vaccinations and a negative COVID-19 test not being required] made me think about the crowd and how many people were wearing masks and I would say that a majority, probably like three-quarters of them, were not masked,” Pietras said. “Something that I was thinking about before the event was how much vegans value animal rights and advocacy whereas how much are they going to support something like a mandatory vaccination … .”

However, when it was all said and done, the festival was certainly a success and, as expressed by Choy and Thomas, it was an eye-opening experience that non-vegans will continue to cherish. As it is more than likely that the festival will take place again next year, Vegandale deserves the praise and attention that it brings to each of the cities it visits. The fact that such a venue exists and acts as a safe space for this microculture is a gift that North America will never stop taking for granted.

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