A peek behind scenes: The Montreal Vegan Festival, Saturday Sept. 26-27

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I have been super excited about this upcoming weekend for many months now. After nearly a year of planning, the Montreal Vegan Festival will be happening in downtown Montreal.

One of my best friends in the whole wide world, Nadia Mohabir, has played a big role in organizing it, and the really cool thing is that she was also there – back in 2009 – when we launched the very first Ottawa Veg Fest (which I co-founded).  We put on five highly successful Ottawa Veg Fests before skipping this year (totalling more than 15,000 visitors), so it’s perfect timing for Montreal’s big event.  We’ve always had a contingent of Montrealers come to Ottawa for ours, and I’m thrilled now to be attending theirs. (If you’d like to become involved with organizing Ottawa Veg Fest 2015, see here for more information.)

Montreal is only a couple of hours away, so there’s still time to make plans to go. Taking the bus is dirt cheap, the event is free, and the part with exhibitors and demos is happening this Saturday, Sept. 27 (a talk by Ottawa Veg Fest alumnus Dr. Michael Greger kicks things off on Friday, Sept. 26). I hope to see some of you there!  I’ve got some serious eating planned, and I can’t wait to celebrate with the Montreal team!

I asked Nadia – who has been vegan for nine years – to answer a few questions about the Montreal Vegan Festival.

PT:  How did the festival come about?

NM: The Montreal Vegetarian Association was founded in 2005. While membership gradually increased throughout the first few years after its inception, the last couple of years have brought about an exponential increase in membership and general public interest. The growing demand for a Festival resulted in the creation of an Organizing Committee for the first Montreal Vegan Festival. In October 2013, 15 core volunteers came together to initiate the project. The event will focus on the health, environmental and ethical reasons surrounding veganism via a series of conferences and panels, cooking demonstrations, exhibitor booths and community organizations.

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Nadia at the very first Ottawa Veg Fest in 2009.

PT: Tell us about your involvement with it.

NM: As a member of and volunteer for the National Capital Vegetarian Association in 2009, I was fortunate to participate in Ottawa’s first Veg Fest. Within a few years, momentum in the worldwide vegan movement brought about enough interest in Montreal to warrant a Festival, and this is when I became involved. As Director of the Montreal Vegan Festival, it is my pleasure to work with a talented group of volunteers who are dedicated to the cause, including:

  • Sameer Muldeen, President of the Montreal Vegetarian Association (MVA), former Director of Operations for a renowned vegan restaurant;
  • Anne-Marie Roy, Vice-President of the MVA, co-founder of the MVA, dietitian-nutritionist and founder of the 20 year-old vegan clinic La Clinique Renversante;
  • Alexandre Gagnon, Webmaster for the MVA, co-founder of the MVA; and
  • Elise Desaulniers, author of Je mange avec ma tête (2013) and Vache à lait (2011), speaker on food and ethics.

PT: What has inspired your participation? Why do you think this event is important?

NM: My own transition to vegetarianism (2002) and then veganism (2005) required a host of resources and information in three different cities: Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. As an individual, I found the challenges to being veg*n were education and accessibility.

When I joined the Vegetarian Associations in Ottawa and Montreal, I found the support that I needed and met many new friends and peers with the same values and interests as myself. The first Ottawa Veg Fest encouraged the normalization of veg*nism and discouraged the marginalization of individuals who choose to be veg*n for a panopoly of reasons. Inspired by my positive experience as a volunteer and participant in Ottawa, I hope to help bring these values to Montreal.

PT: What are some of the event highlights?

NM: I am personally very excited about so many elements of the Festival! Some of the incredible successes we have had began prior to the Festival, with the 21-Day Vegan Challenge (in French) which has been undertaken by nearly 2,000 individuals to date. We also held a sold-out screening of Cowspiracy (2014), followed by a Q&A period with the director Kip Andersen, as a fundraiser for the Festival. (Don’t worry if you missed it – a second screening will take place a the Festival! Admission is FREE!) So much more is yet to come!

The Festival opens on Sept. 26 with a talk by the American physician and nutrition expert Dr. Michael Greger. Every year, Dr. Greger, in collaboration with the Montreal Vegetarian Association, fills an auditorium of 700+ seats by presenting the year’s latest scientific research in nutrition in colloquial language. Empowering the general public with access to credible resources, Dr. Greger encourages everyone to make informed decisions about food choices. And his talks are always fun and engaging!
nm2On Sept. 27, Adrian Copeland of Sel Noir will be presenting Molecular Cooking on the Chef’s stage. Veganism and modern food techniques unite for those who are looking for a more advanced repertoire in the kitchen. All food demonstrations will be followed by tastings so come with an empty tummy!

Follow your tastebuds with what else but… more food! A quick snack from Vega, or a more elaborate experience at the exhibitor booths of some of the best restaurants in town will provide enough energy for you to enjoy the rest of the day. Invitation V and Sophie Sucrée will both be present so you can get your savoury and sweet fix!

Finally, for those who are more interested in the ethical implications of food choices, several panels and talks will take place throughout the 27th, including panels addressing animal advocacy and animal rights. More information on scheduling is provided at festivalveganedemontreal.com.

PT: What have you learned so far through your involvement with organizing the festival?

NM: I’ve learned that there are lot of people who care a lot about veganism in Montreal and elsewhere in the world, and that the strength of the community is greater than the strength of one. The volunteers in our organization have devoted more than a thousand hours to make this event happen. The work of these volunteers is a mark of dedication to the cause: they answer emails at midnight, take phone calls during their day jobs, and make many sacrifices because they are driven by a deep-rooted desire to help newcomers in the vegan community.

The gradual shift towards veg*nism is palpable in Montreal and elsewhere, and we continually receive messages from the public about their excitement for the Festival. This excitement and encouragement from vegans, vegetarians, foodies, environmentalists, the veg-friendly and the veg-curious alike keeps us forging ahead!

PT: Anything else?

NM: Admission to all Festival activities on the 27th, from 10am to 6pm is free for all. Join our Facebook page to keep up to date . Challenge yourself and get the chance to win some great prizes by joining our 21-Day Vegan Challenge.  Support the mission of the Montreal Vegan Festival by inviting your friends and family to attend the Festival with you.

PT: I am so proud of you NM! xo

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