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Food Activism: Third Annual WVBS and an Interview with Gary Loewenthal

March 9, 2011

A few years ago when Gary first mentioned a Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale, I admit I was skeptical. Maybe I was just in an extra-cynical funk at that time. Maybe I had temporarily forgotten that people will eagerly rally around a bake sale in a way they won’t when you’re asking them to write difficult letters about difficult issues.

I didn’t fully grasp the potential of these bake sales until after I attended my first one. I’d wanted to help somehow and Gary asked me to take pictures. “I’ll pay you in baked goods,” he promised, just to sweeten the deal.

The bake sale is as much about the conversation as it is about the baked goods and the fundraising. Pamphlets and cookbooks are available, and the volunteers working the event are likely to spend as much time fielding questions as they are boxing up baked goods.

The customers included many people who were not vegan. People on their way to or from the farmers market set up a couple hundred feet away, and who were by turns suspicious of and interested in these vegan baked goods. One woman was thrilled to realize that her young daughter, allergic to almost everything in the average baked good, could actually eat a gluten-free vegan muffin. I captured an image of her daughter blissing out as she bit into that rare-for-her treat.

A long-ago friend once stated that the worst time to talk to someone about animal exploitation was while they were engaging in it, and that the best time was while they were enjoying vegan food. This is the essence of food activism, and it’s easy to see it in action when you’re at a vegan bake sale.

Even in it’s first year, the WVBS grew beyond what Gary and his co-conspirators imagined. Last year there was a CNN article about the phenomenon! Now in it’s third year and going stronger than ever, it will be interesting to see what happens next. Can a CNN feature be topped?

Interview with Gary:

1. What led up to the start of the WVBS?
When Compassion for Animals started in late 2008, we were thinking of activities to do. Someone said “How about a bake sale?” I loved the idea and probably would have never thought of it myself. Since I knew nothing about bake sales other than how to buy stuff at one, I went online and researched bake sales, and came across The Great American Bake Sale, which is a nationwide year-round network of bake sales, sponsored by Domino Sugar and a couple of other companies, that donates proceeds to anti-hunger efforts. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a nationwide network of vegan bake sales? That might generate positive publicity for veganism – at least the food part – in a fun way.” I wondered if we could pull it off. I decided that if participating groups could use their proceeds however they wanted to, that would make it easier to manage and might be an attractive feature. As I pondered the idea, it grew into a North American vegan bake sale, and when I discussed the idea with my colleagues a day or two later, we decided it should be worldwide. I built a roughhewn web site and started emailing invitations.

2. What were your expectations for the first year?

Low. I would have been elated to have fifteen groups sign up. But a few things happened almost immediately that gave me hope that the event might exceed my expectations. One of the first groups I emailed was the Toronto Vegetarian Association. A couple days later I got an email from them saying that they mentioned the WVBS in their latest podcast. When I posted about the WVBS on the Post Punk Kitchen forum, several people replied right away that they were interested, and a couple of actual signups followed shortly thereafter, including one from New Zealand. In no time at all the event was worldwide.

As it turned out, the TVA not only publicized the WVBS but participated and also interviewed me on a later podcast, and PPK forum collaborations resulted in many WVBS bake sales. The first year, ninety groups participated, and in 2010 we had 140 groups.

3. What surprised/excited you the most about the participation?

Lots of things. One was the awesome help of so many groups and individuals. I’ll never be able to thank them enough or fully articulate the contributions they made toward the success of the WVBS. In addition to the groups mentioned above…

- Farm Sanctuary held three bake sales in 2009 and two last year.

- Other farm sanctuaries participated. As you and I – especially you – know, running a farm sanctuary is time-consuming. Where is there time to organize and hold a bake sale??

- An LA City Council member participated the first year, complete with an official press release and a statement about the bake sale on the local news.

- Compassion Over Killing, one of the first groups that signed on in 2009, participated in three different cities last year, and the mayor of DC came to one of their bake sales.

- All kinds of advocacy groups, bloggers, podcasters, and others helped to promote the WVBS. Even if they couldn’t participate, they spread the word. VegFund.org offered to fund “bake-ins” that were part of the WVBS.

- We had no idea that bake sale volunteers would make these amazing creative posters. Some highlights are at http://www.veganbakesale.org/veganbakesale/vbs-2009-posters.html and http://www.veganbakesale.org/veganbakesale/vbs-2010-posters.html

- Winning VegNews Magazine’s “Veg Event of the Year” award was a total shock.

- The participation of Loving Hut restaurants around the world helped the WVBS grow to 6 continents in 2010.

- Herbivore designed a WVBS tee shirt in 2010 – is that not the coolest thing?

- The pre-WVBS video by Our Hen House and Kind Green Planet was awesome: http://www.vimeo.com/10914418. Other groups made wonderful videos also.

- Getting an email from a CNN.com editor who wanted to do a story on the WVBS was an exciting surprise.

- Noted vegan cookbook authors Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Sarah Kramer participated last year, as did a chef from the Sea Shepherd.

- It’s impossible to pick a favorite aspect of the WVBS. But right up there would be the palpable sense of community from all the groups and individuals holding bake sales across the globe, including those in areas that are not vegan-friendly and that have little or no vegan support network.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. I could go on for another two pages about memorable and praiseworthy efforts by participants and supporters of the WVBS. It’s really been heartwarming, impressive, and encouraging.

4. You’ve been interviewed by CNN for this event – did you see any impact from that interview, did the interest in the bakesales increase?

The CNN.com story — http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/04/30/vegan.bake.sale/ — had a big impact, not so much due to the interview, I think, but because of the wonderful photo-essay in the story. The article came out after the first of the two main weekends of the WVBS. Participants who held bake sales that first weekend emailed pictures to the author, which conveyed the breadth and the energy of the event. The story went viral on twitter and generated a surge of last-minute signups.

5. Have you had the chance to see something come of the seeds planted during these events? Do people contact you afterward, or have you heard from other bakesale organizers of concrete impacts?

We encourage participants to let us know how their bake sales went, and the feedback is fantastic. There are so many accounts of customers expressing that they had no idea that vegan baked goods could be so delicious. There are many reports of productive conversations with the public about vegan food and ethics. Several groups that had their first bake sale as part of the WVBS now hold them regularly because they really like that form of outreach. Close to home, I’ve found out that some of the businesses that donated baked goods had customers who said that they found out about the business – or at least about the business’ vegan products – at our bake sales.

6. Anything else you’d like to say?

Think about joining. More than anything, the power and global camaraderie of the WVBS depends on the number of bake sales. Holding a vegan bake sale may be easier than you think. A vegan bake sale doesn’t have to be a big affair; it can be one table with six types of items. You can hold it in your office lobby or cafeteria if that’s allowed. Many colleges let groups reserve kiosks for free; that may be a perfect location for a bake sale. We have tons of tips on every aspect of vegan bake sales at http://www.veganbakesale.org/veganbakesale/vbs-links-bake-sale-tips.html. If you’re not up to organizing your own bake sale, check our ever-expanding list of groups that have signed up so far — http://www.veganbakesale.org/veganbakesale/vbs-where.html – they can always use more bakers. If baking’s not your thing, there is one more very important – in fact, essential – contribution you can make. Find out the location and time of the nearest vegan bake sale and support your local, talented, hard-working bakers who put their hearts and creativity into a delicious and fun way to change the world.

Details about the WWVBS:

Dates: April 23 through May 1 (two weekends and the weekdays in between)
Links:

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2011 9:20 pm

    Thank you Gary Lowenthal for imagining and creating this very positive event of World Vegan Baking! I agree totally that feeding people delicious cupcakes, cookies and other sweet goodies is a great way to get them focused on to other issues too. No “doing without” – Just delicious alternatives. It’s all smiles! Thanks! :)

  2. March 10, 2011 7:18 am

    Gary you are so awesome!!!

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