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To veg out is in: Activists organize Milwaukee Veg Expo

The moment for Pete Woodward of Milwaukee came when he read the bumper sticker, “Eat plants for the planet.” Something clicked, said the 29-year-old mechanic, and he began the cycle to following a vegetarian diet.

For Molly Risser of Madison, the commitment came after an afternoon in a dog park.

The 34-year-old office assistant recalled, “A friend was trying to get me to go vegetarian and she said, ‘Just imagine those people are chickens instead of dogs.’ I did. I know it sounds absurd, but your mind bends when you picture people playing in the park with a bunch of chickens.”

Both relatively new converts to the vegetarian lifestyle, Woodward and Risser are looking forward to a new event on Milwaukee’s calendar — the Veg Expo, which takes place at Hart Park in Wauwatosa 10 a.m.-6 p.m. May 7.

An announcement for the event invited people to “come veg with us!” and by that the organizers mean come learn from experts about the varied benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle for animals, people and the planet.

Behind the expo

A primary organization behind the expo is Citizens United for Animals or CUFA, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting, defending and respecting “the inherent rights of all nonhuman animals to live lives free from suffering, abuse and exploitation.”

Members of the organizing committee also represent other groups, including the Madison-based Alliance for Animals and the Environment.

Those who attend the expo can expect to learn about animal cruelty, including abuses in the factory farming of animals. Attendees also will learn about animal rescue campaigns and efforts to re-home dogs and cats and other animals in southeastern Wisconsin.

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Tim Swartz, a volunteer with the Alliance for Animals and the Environment and member of the expo organizing committee, became involved in promoting veg culture about a year ago after reading The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them, a book by Wayne Pacelle, the president of The Humane Society of the United States.

“It was my first exposure to just the problem of factory farming, to how animals are treated on factory farms,” Swartz said. “I was appalled.”

Swartz knew he wanted to make personal changes in his life: “That caused me to decide that I didn’t want to support what was going on any more and to pursue a vegan diet. … It took me a little time to fully get there.”

He also knew he wanted to get involved in a greater cause. “I wanted to make an effort to educate other people,” he said. “And when I learned about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture, well, that compelled me even more.”

Consider these environmental benefits of a plant-based diet versus the impact of animal agriculture:

  • A plant-based diet free of meat, dairy and eggs can save more carbon emissions than driving a Toyota Prius — about 50 percent more, according to ChooseVeg.com and Mercy for Animals.
  • Raising animals for food uses about 30 percent of the Earth’s land mass.
  • About 70 percent of the grain grown in the United States is used to feed farmed animals.
  • About 80 percent of the land deforested in the Amazon is used to pasture cattle.
  • To produce a pound of animal protein compared with a pound of soy protein, it takes 12 times as much land, 13 times as much fossil fuel and 15 times as much water.

The expo, first and foremost, is an educational forum.

The lineup of speakers includes:

  • Robert Grillo of Free From Harm. He’s at work on a book about how pop culture uses a variety of fictions to influence our food choices.
  • Carol D’Anca of Food Not Meds. She’s a nutritionist and author of “Food not Meds.”
  • Dr. Kevin Fullin, chief of staff of the United Hospital System in Kenosha. He’s given more than 100 talks on plant-based nutrition and is chef who specializes in plant-based cooking.
  • Anne Temple of Moms Across America. She’s led the March Against Monsanto in Milwaukee and also lobbied Congress for food-labeling legislation.
  • Dr. Terry Mason of the Cook County Department of Public Health in Illinois. He was featured in the film Forks over Knives and has delivered many presentations on health and nutrition.

At the expo

Swartz hopes those who attend will listen to the experts, browse a marketplace, meet advocates and activists and sample vegan dishes served by restaurant vendors.

“Lots of education is going to be going on,” he said. “That’s our main goal. For one thing, people should know there are delicious vegan foods that are out there and you don’t have to sacrifice enjoyment and taste. We’re really focusing on the food.”

“It’s just going to be great to network with the people who are there,” said Rachel Golusinski of Milwaukee, an expo organizer and CUFA member who switched to a vegan diet about six years ago — just before Thanksgiving. “There are great opportunities.”

Woodward said he plans to attend the expo with a consumer’s eye. “I am vegetarian. I don’t need convincing. I’m cool with that and a lot healthier. What I want to know about is the best vegetarian restaurants and food.”

Risser said she wants to connect with activists. Notice of participation by PETA and Mercy for Animals caught her attention.

“I really, really respect what they do,” said Risser. “But I’ve never meant anyone with the groups. So I’m like really looking forward to talking with people and finding out how I can help.”

Risser said she’s eager to get more involved in a veg community.

“This is a true story. My mom had an easier time when I came out as gay than when I told her I was vegetarian. And then vegan,” Risser said. “So I hope to meet some people, making make some friends. Maybe I’ll even bring my mom — or not.”

Organizers hope to see 1,000 people attend the expo.

“It’s not meant to be a fundraiser,” said Swartz. “It’s a free event. We’re really just investing and educating the city about environmental, ethical and health issues.”

Golusinski said organizers also are looking to the 2017 expo.

“We already have so many things planned for next year,” she said of event, observing that most weekends there’s a veg fest taking place somewhere in the United States.

Golusinski attended five such events since becoming a vegan, a conversion that came after viewing a video about the factory farming of animals.

“I just said, ‘I’m not going to pay people to do this anymore,” Golusinski remembered.

She recalled a slight learning curve, especially when selecting a restaurant to dine out. Events such as Veg Expo take out the curve.

SAVE THE DATES

Milwaukee’s first Veg Expo takes place 10 a.m.–6 p.m. on May 7 in Hart Park, 7300 W. Chestnut St., Wauwatosa. There is no cost to attend the event, though some vendors will be selling food and beverages. For more, go to mkevegexpo.com.

Also of interest:

• World Day for Laboratory Animals, April 23. In Dane County, activists will gather at
1 p.m. at Hawthorne Library and carpool to a protest site.

• Mad City Vegan Fest, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. on June 18,
Alliant Energy Center Exhibition Hall. The festival features vendors offering vegan food, as well as information about the vegetarian lifestyle, animal welfare, animal rescue and more.

PRODUCE PATCH

The Dane County Farmers’ Market, a Madison tradition since 1972 and the largest producer-only farmers market in the United States, opened its outdoor season April 16 and continues on Saturdays at the Capitol Square into early November.

The county’s Wednesday Market, located in the 200 block of MLK Jr. Boulevard between the Capitol and Monona Terrace, opened April 20.

Both markets take place rain or shine.

For more, go to dcfm.org.

— Lisa Neff

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