Day Two at Vida Vegan Con: Community

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Thanks for such wonderful responses to my recap of day one and dinner at Portobello! I’m happy that you liked my on-screen presence, and most of all, I’m grateful for your celebratory thoughts on coming to terms with celebratory meals post-ED. Gracias!

It’s now day three of Vida Vegan Con, and day two actually feels like a week ago—not like yesterday! But I’m still having a fantastic time, and can’t wait to start recapping Saturday’s events for you. Most of you already got a sneak peek of my interviews from the conference yesterday, but if you haven’t—and if you’re curious to hear about the mistakes I made while going raw, my definition of health, and whether I get yearly bloodwork, check ‘em out here.

Day two at Vida Vegan began with a generous and crowd-pleasing spread of breakfast food, which included chia seed pudding, roast potatoes, tofu scramble, gluten free pancakes and apple cobbler, fat free biscuits, fruit salad, stumptown coffee, and tons of So Delicious creamer. Awesome! I must say, I’m so impressed with how hard the organizers of Vida Vegan have worked to accommodate the wide array of eating styles here at the conference: they’ve had tons of gluten free options, lots of low fat ones, and Janessaeven emailed me privately, weeks before the conference, for some feedback on raw options. I think that are sometimes left out at conferences—even vegan ones—so I was really touched. For breakfast, I ate some of the fruit, a banana I had brought (can’t start my day without one!) and the chia pudding.

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I wolfed this down as I watched my resident girl crush, Laura Beck, open the conference with some moving words about the meaning of vegan community. Laura spoke about her experience with Kris Carr’s CSD program, and even referenced mynutrient dense salad post! Most importantly, she talked about how, time and time again, the vegan blog community has inspired her, picked her up, calmed her down, and generally enriched her life. I couldn’t agree with that sentiment more.

My first panel of the day was a photography panel with Susan, Isa, and Hannah. Holy starstruck, Batman! These are three of the vegan bloggers who inspired me to go fully vegan when I was still in “I’m practically vegan but can’t stop eating Greek yogurt” mode. They also inspired me to blog myself. It was a fabulous and informative panel, even if I still can’t figure out the black/white balance on my camera.

Next was my very first panel as a panelist: a nutrition panel with Bryanna Clark Grogan, Ginny Messina, and Wendy Gabbe Day. Another starstruck moment here: I’ve admired Ginny’s work for ages now. If you haven’t read her blog, The Vegan RD, please do: I consider it required reading for vegans who want responsible, well-informed, and scientific responses to the many health questions we all invariably get. I don’t always agree with Ginny on everything, and certainly we have some dietary differences, but in spite of that we actually see eye to eye on nearly all major vegan nutrition questions.

Ginny’s main interest right now is to combat the tendency that many vegans have to become overly restrictive in what they eat: they go vegan, they give up gluten and soy, they go raw, they give up beans and grains, then they give up fats, nuts, and end up with a diet of kale, lemon, and fruit. Of course, if you do have food allergies or health conditions that demand such modifications, you should honor them, and I’m not suggesting that there’s anything inherently wrong with being selective; neither is Ginny. I think her point, which I agree with, is that there is no reason for a healthy vegan to feel pressured into winnowing down his or her diet to nothing but watery vegetables and juice. In fact, such patterns may create health problems, and turn that person against the lifestyle (and hurt the public perception of veganism).

Grant Butler, who moderated our panel, knew from the start that Ginny has sometimes expressed skepticism about raw foodism, but that she also does advocate a lot of raw fruits and vegetables. He also knew that, in spite of being a high raw foodists with tremendous belief in the power and fun of raw foods, I’m also strongly in favor of a well rounded vegan diet that includes some grains, legumes, and high quality soy foods. So I think he sensed that there would be discussion points on the panel, but a fundamentally unified point of view.

And so there was. It was a great talk: I spoke about my objection to raw foodists turning the diet into religion. Bryanna spoke about how important it is to make healthful food delicious, so that no one is forced to sacrifice pleasure for well being. Wendy spoke about keeping one’s diet simple, avoiding packaged food, and shopping from bulk bins. And Ginny cautioned against excessive restriction. She also spoke openly about the no fat/no oil craze in the vegan world, with which she and I both take serious issue with (we both agree that heart disease has been reversed on extremely low fat diets, but we also agree that there’s compelling evidence to show that it’s saturated fat, not all fat, that’s the main factor in chronic disease prevention, and also that there’s evidence in favor of the health benefits of olive, flax, and hemp oils in moderation). I was relieved and impressed to have her response.

This was such a fun panel for me! And the audience questions were really intelligent, too.

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Yours truly, gesticulating wildly.

At the very end, Grant asked us all to list our favorite go to super foods. I think that our responses were fun, and they spoke to our personalities as eaters in a nice way:

Gena: Hemp

Wendy: Cooked, mixed whole grains (including her favorite, amaranth)

Bryanna: Quinoa cous cous mix

Ginny: Tofu scramble

Thanks to my fellow presenters for such a great panel!

After the panel, a special friend who’d come to watch me speak also treated me to lunch. The gorgeous Sarah, of Peas and Thank You fame!

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There she is, in an adorable sundress.

Our lunch spot of choice was Prasad, a vegan and raw joint nestled into a nearby yoga studio.

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I’d checked out the menu online and was super excited to eat there; I even knew what I wanted! I started with a green lemonade:

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I also ordered a large house salad with garlic tahini dressing, hoping the garlic wouldn’t be too strong. It was, but actually, it was so tasty I didn’t mind:

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I also ordered a raw collard wrap with pesto, raw hummus, sundried tomatoes, and veggies. The flavors were great, but I must say that, having just spent the morning exonerating oil, it was far too oily for me—dripping with oil, even. The outside was even covered, as you can probably see:

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Because the taste was good, I really wanted to enjoy the wrap, so I did something I never do, and I patted and wiped the oil off with a napkin. It’s a little impolite, I know, and I associate it with high school girls mopping the oil off slices of pizza, but it actually made the wrap edible. Good enough for me.

After lunch, it was time for my second panel: warm and fuzzy blogging. This was a panel featuring Janessa, me, Christa, and Leigh-Chantelle (such great ladies!!), and our goal was to talk about positivism in blogging. WhenI was asked to join this panel, I was a little surprised: I try to inspire and empower, but I often find my voice to be a little tough minded, even snarky. As we planned the panel, I realized that our true goal was to show our audience that positive doesn’t have to mean “saccharine sweet” or upbeat: there’s a way to tackle dark and serious content while also having a positive message:

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We got a ton of wonderful questions from audience members, ranging from “how do you talk about a bad day without complaining?” to “do you feel bad writing negative reviews of vegan products?” to “how can I write about animal rights and factory farming without turning my blog into a litany of despair?” (my paraphrasing). These were all so provocative; to that last question, Leigh-Chantelle made the excellent suggestion that one show positive footage of animal sanctuaries or rescues as well as footage of abuse and/or farming.

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Christa said that it’s a question of tone: write about things honestly, even when the topic is bleak, but do it with a gentle and hopeful tone:

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And then there were broader questions about blogging, such as “how do you handle negative comments?” My advice to any audience on this one is simple: unless a comment is downright cruel or outrageous (in which case I suggest you delete it), try to answer calmly, graciously, and in a way that allows you to keep from getting overly engaged.

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Janessa, who is ever a model of grace and optimism, said that she always tries to assume that others are coming from a positive place, and if they’re not, that they’re doing the best they can. I’m not always able to exude this kind of generosity, but I do love it in my friend, and think it’s great advice (particularly in the blog world):

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A really fun and interesting discussion!

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I was getting a little tired by the time we finished, but I did manage to make it to the mating and dating panel, which was moderated by Grant Butler, too, and featured Janessa, some of the minds behind SuperVegan, and others. I found it entertaining, though I did find it discouraging that the upshot seemed to be that it’s really tough for a vegan to date a non-vegan. That’s true, of course, because even when habits are constructed to be accommodating, a certain world view isn’t shared. That said, I do think it’s possible for such relationships to work, so long as there’s a lot of mutual respect in place.

And if not, there’s “dating as activisim,” to quote the witty panelists. I believe I used to call that (all in good jest) “date and convert.”

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After a long and informative and educative day, I was ready to unwind a bit. I didn’t have much time between the conference and dinner, but I did manage a quick change and the start of a blog post. Then, it was off to meet my lovely and vivacious local friend Ami for some dinner. Our spot of choice? The amazing Blossoming Lotus.


I’d been warned that I would fall in love with this place, and oh boy, did I ever. An amazing whole-foods vegan menu with abundant raw options and a juice menu? Oh yes.

I started with an all green juice (second of the day, but it was a long day):

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And I moved on to the amazing goddess bowl, which is a mix of steamed kale, raw greens, quinoa, roast garlic balsamic and smoked avocado dressings, and I topped mine with avocado slices. Simple and absolutely divine:

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Look how beautiful it is, all mushed up:

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Ami got the beet and curried cashew salad, along with a side of quinoa:

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I thought the food was really superb. Obviously, there’s something extraordinary about a fine dining experience like my dinner at Portobello the night before. But in some ways, it’s food like this that really makes my heart sing: simple, abundant, wholesome. Yum.

After some animated chatter, it was off to the Vida Vegan galorama for dancing and celebration. There was a vast array of food there:

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…and a spectacular build-your-own-sundae bar. But in truth, new to PDX as I am, I was glad to have explored a local restaurant.

Over the course of the evening, I got to hang out with my perennial girl crush, Ms. Laura:

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And I got to meet Jill and John, the lovely co-founders of Vegan Cuts. I had no idea that this invaluable website is run by only two savvy young businesspeople. Check it out, if you haven’t: what a team!

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I also spent some time with Lisa, who makes grace and kindness look easy. I’ve never met anyone who’s quite so generous, caring, and sincere—all without seeming the least bit sugary. Lisa, I’m in awe. Sorry our photo is blurry.

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There was a photo booth that takes 7 seconds of continual photo frames so that you can turn them into a flipbook. At some point, I’ll have to show you JL’s and mine, which is borderline scandalous. Instead, I’ll show you photos of JL tearing up the dance floor:

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It didn’t take me long to peter out: I’m still on NYC time, and I was pretty beat. But before I left, I checked out some of the awesome silent auction prizes. My favorite were t-shirts from Herbivore:

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Tomorrow or on Monday, I’ll say a bit more about what the vegan community has meant to me in terms of activism. Last night, as I was falling asleep, what I really couldn’t stop thinking about was what the vegan community has meant to be personally. I’ve been reading vegan blogs forever, and some of the women who write them are no longer blog personalities to me. When I need to vent about anything, I often turn to JL for some sass and some wisdom. When I need to be inspired, I look to people like Jasmin, who fights tirelessly for animals. When I want to dish about anything scientific, I email with Sayward. When I got dumped via text message last year, Laura was one of the first ladies I dished to. And when I need to look on the bright side, I always can count on Janessa.

I hope that many of my fellow bloggers feel that they can count on me for similar kinds of support. Blogging is an individual endeavor, of course, and it’s a business. But it’s also a chance to find community and shared vision. And that’s what Vida Vegan is all about.

From PDX, I wish you all a great night. Stay tuned for my wrap up posts in the coming days!


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  1. Hey Gena,

    Love your blog, your style and being on a panel with you! I’m contemplating going raw for a while and see how it goes. I’ll surely know where to turn for some great advice!

  2. I’m so glad that you made it to the photography workshop, and still got something out of it despite the seriously rushed pace! Hopefully next time, it can be a bit longer, or divided into two parts or something. It was great to finally meet you! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. This looks like a great time!

    I have gotten the “what, you don’t eat meat?!” question so many times since I stopped as a teen. How do you deal with this without sounding preachy?

  4. Confession. I was that girl moping off oil from pizza way back when. Shows you how far I’ve come!

    I echo everyone who said they appreciate your thoughtful reflections on your experiences at Vida Vegan Con! Though I easily become cynical about blogging, it’s refreshing to know this kind of community truly does exist.

  5. I’ve never been to any blogger conference, but this one sounds phenomenal! PDX is one of my favorite cities – my aunt lives there, so I used to visit frequently. It’s been about 3 years, and I can’t wait to go back. I want to try some of the restaurants you mention, too!

  6. Food at Blossoming Lotus looks amazing! And looks like there was so much useful information said at the conference. I would have loved to be there to hear you and the others talk about being vegan and about blogging.

  7. Gena,
    I have admired you for years – savouring every post you ever published. I’m so glad we finally had the chance to meet in person. I have no doubt there will be many long chats over big bowls of kale salad in our future. xo

    p.s. Thanks Ricki, Marlie and Michelle for your kind words. I feel very lucky to have you all as my friends.

  8. It sounds like a really unique blogging conference! I have never been to a conference, but a lot of them sound sort of sugar-coated or artificial. This one sounds quite genuine! It’s always a great feeling to meet people who you feel like you understand without hardly having to say a word to one another. I’m really inspired by your ability to have such strong, healthy friendships that motivate you — it’s truly powerful to be able to smile just thinking about a friend.

  9. Thanks for allowing this vicarious experience! I wish I could have been there beside you.

    Funny: last time I was in Portland, I had the goddess bowl at Blossoming Lotus–and I wasn’t thrilled by it. But it might have been something to do with the people I was with, who included a teenager who was acting hard to impress–it’s more difficult to enjoy and feel positive about your food when people around you aren’t in the spirit.

    So awesome that you were on panels and got to share in a public and ‘out loud’ kind of way. It’s an aspect of ’roundedness’ that screams success with fun all over it at the same time.

  10. You were a wonderful voice to have on the nutrition panel, Gena. I love Ginny, but I’ll admit that I bristled when she said there’s no scientific evidence to support the benefits of eating raw food! Overall, though, everything was so excellently balanced that I don’t think a single person walked out of there not having learned something.

  11. Wow! What a packed post! I love the “date and convert” though, that is what I have done! I can imagine that you were pretty tiered at the end of your packed day, that is for sure. And my last thought is that I am totally envious of your two green juices in one day.

  12. I am LOVING these posts! I went to law school in Oregon and I am always on the hunt for new vegan blogs (though yours is my fave), so these posts have been so great for me. Did anyone in the panels converse about the fact that there are so many more women than men in the vegan/raw/veggie movement? I’d be curious about that…

  13. Wow, sounds like such a wonderful event. I need to go next year, but sounds like I’ll need to schedule a few days off around it to relax! ๐Ÿ™‚ Totally agree on your super food. ๐Ÿ™‚ So jealous of all the wonderful bloggers you got to spend time with. Just wow on this post, so much amazing coverage of the conference and amazing eats!

  14. How do you sustain on all greens? Do you ever eat calorically dense foods such as vegan sandwiches (whole thing), crackers and hummus, pasta, etc? Your meals look very diet- like.

    • Amanda,

      How long have you read my blog? I ask only because a great many of my recipes do include whole sandwiches, whole grains, denser raw entrees, on so on.

      But more important, note that I don’t show whole day’s worth of foods on this blog: this means when I post a recipe, it’s just a recipe (not necessarily my whole dinner plate or what I ate), and that I also never show my snacks. So on this day, I had two snacks (quite a bit of trail mix early in the day, and a sunflower oat bar in the afternoon; those are quite calorically dense). And while that dinner is quite green, it was also stuffed full of quinoa and avocado, for carbs and fat. So while it’s easy to see photos and make conclusions, always remember that I’m supplementing when I cannot make my restaurant or travel meals dense enough. My own meals at home always run at least 400-600 kcal each, but almost always closer to 600.


  15. Your posts on the con are much longer and more eloquent than mine! It was really nice to meet you, even if it was only for .3 seconds in between all the events going on.

  16. Seriously drooling. How interesting. It is true that veggie people now are so compelled to take it so much further with gluten free & raw. I eat GF and a lot raw just because I come from a family of Chron’s, celiac, etc….But that’s the only reason. It’s also a very different conversation from the “real world” or meat & dairy eaters. While I do think that getting fats from avocados and nuts beats oil anyday, if you are on a plant based diet it probably isn’t going to hurt. But I think that people like Esselstyn, who are taking people who are having life or death issues, and saying “No Oil” is still a good thing. In these cases, the people don’t have much “play room” with their diet. Also, since MOST Americans over overweight, and not a healthy plant based overweight, it is easier for them to lose weight by having a handful of nuts instead of using oil all the time. Of course we don’t want anyone to have eating disorders, but then I think that the Vegan World is really not subject to getting unhealthy fat (in general) and if you follow a plant based vegan diet, you shouldn’t think about your weight. I don’t have an issue with telling the majority of Americans, who don’t call the company to see if natural flavors means natural, that they need to eat low fat unprocessed plant foods. So many raw people go wrong in a way, because pounds of nuts and coconut butter are used in so many dishes. The Raw thing is awesome, but I think it is hard to do in a truly healthful way. Nuts are awesome, but is one pound a day healthy? Very cool to hang with such a fun group-and so interesting the topics. Even though lots of vegans are into health, it is still much easier for us, as a whole, to transition to more healthful foods because we are so damn used to reading every single little ingredient!!

  17. Great write-up! I’m impressed at how fast you got all this info up. Enjoyed meeting you and all the other lovely vegans this weekend.

  18. Lovely to meet you in person Gena! Love your philosophy on eating and special diets, pretty much on par with mine. It was such an amazing weekend but flew by way too fast!

    Prasad is one of my fave places in Portland! Hope I get to go to Blossoming Lotus before I leave town. See you when I’m in New York hopefully next year!

    • Fabulous to meet you, too, Christy, especially given how often we’ve corresponded. Congrats on your successful publication. I can’t wait to post my review of BLISSFUL BITES. And I read in your acknowledgments that you felt that you grew into your own as a writer during the course of the book. I’m sure that’s true, but I’ve always thought you were a great writer ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Thanks so much for the thoughtful and detailed posts about Vida Vegan Con. I was disappointed that I could not attend, but your wonderful posts made me feel like I was there! I love the fact that you tackle so many topics and issues in your posts – something for everyone!

  20. I have to say, the conference sounds amazing, and all the panels sound super relevant and interesting. As someone who is a (mostly) oil free vegan, I agree with you that healthy oils (hemp, flax, olive, etc), used in moderation, are not serious health risks. However, eating the foods the oils are made from gives you all the same health benefits, but with other added nutrients (like fiber). I (and this is the sense I get from other oil free vegan blogs) just feel that oils are “empty calories” (although I don’t count calories), and people who are watching their weight or who struggle to maintain a healthy body weight can benefit from reducing the amount of oil they use in their every day lives, or in some cases, eliminating it from their own cooking.

    On a different note, I too, find it discouraging when vegans seem to think that dating non-vegans really isn’t possible. I’ve never dated a vegan, and I’ve always had the attitude that if he doesn’t try to change the way I eat, I won’t try to change the way he eats. Granted, I’ve never lived with a boyfriend, and I imagine that it’s much more difficult to live with someone who isn’t a vegan, but as you said, I would imagine that if you both come from places of mutual respect, it can be done. I became a vegan while living with my parents, neither of whom are vegan, and none of my previous or current roommates are vegan, and it’s never been a problem. I think this discussion maybe needs tips from the previous panel on positivism!

    • Agree, it has a place in weight loss, but I think that it’s often implied in these dialogs that oil itself is poison. I’d be much more comfortable with people saying, “I don’t eat oil because it’s a lot of empty calories by my own estimation, and I’m trying to lose weight.” And I don’t always think those calories are empty: oil can do a lot of great stuff in terms of flavor and texture!

  21. I’m so excited about these recaps – I’ve just recently decided I want to go full-fledged vegan, and your blog and other vegan blogs are definitely making me excited about all the possibilities of the lifestyle!

    On that note, just out of curiosity – how did you tell family and friends that you were going vegan? I’ve been vegetarian for a year and a half, dabbled briefly in veganism last summer and am now looking to return to it fully. I feel like if I state that I’m doing it again, it’ll seem like another “phase” of mine (or that I’ll revert after a few months and it really will be a phase!) How would you go about letting others know about my choice, that I really am fully invested in it and that I’d like their support (even if in the long term, veganism and I don’t work out?)

    • I think that’s got to be the topic of a post, Faith! It was easy with most friends/family, and rougher with others, but the main thing is to be super confident and strong.

  22. Loved this! It’s so great to be able to feel as if I shared in this experience–albeit vicariously–through your recaps of it. It really does sound like an experience of a lifetime. And how lucky are you to have met all those wonderful ladies in person! Having met JL and Lisa both, I can attest to your accuracy in describing them–both powerhouses and lovable in their unique ways. ๐Ÿ™‚ And the food. . . .ah, the food! I’m already saving my pennies for next time. ๐Ÿ˜€

  23. Man I don’t have a clue how you have the time to whip up these long and beautiful posts, Gena. I’m glad you are having a wonderful time, and I am sure all your readers, including me, appreciate you sharing your experience with us.

  24. Just wanted to alert you to the fact that it has been proven that saturated fat is actually the healthiest of all fats- our brain is composed of 70% saturated fat, and it is very necessary for proper brain function among other bodily functions. The generic health industry/media has demonized saturated fats in order to promote and encourage the use of cheap polyunsaturated vegetables oils which are the actual cause of disease. All polyunsaturated oils are high in omega-6 which is problematic for our omega-3 deficient country. Being a vegan and standing strongly for what you believe, I know you don’t recognize the fact that eating the right animal products (wild fish, pastured eggs, organic grass-fed meats, pastured poultry, grass-fed dairy, etc) are actually health-promoting and do not cause disease, especially when eaten alongside plenty of vegetables and greens. It is the preponderance of refined, processed foods, starches, and sugars, and unhealthy refined fats (polyunsaturated vegetable, hydrogenated, etc.) that are the true catalysts for health issues, not saturated fats.

  25. Lovely posts Gena – what an amazing conference!! I’m so amazed at our current social media climate, and find it amazing that blogging has become such an important and integral form of communication.

    Also, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and spend time with Lisa on many an occassion, and completely agree – such a kind, sweet soul! ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. I remember the dumping via text situation VERY well. Feels like a lifetime ago in many ways but just the blink of an eye ago in others.

    “a vegan and raw joint nestled into a nearby yoga studio. “– that sounds like heaven on earth. Til I read about the Exxon wrap, i.e. the oil slick situation. And the h.s. girls dabbing off their pizza with napkins….food in the caf was historically super oily, I am guilty of that as charged. Oh the memories you just jogged. I am laughing as I remember pinning the ankles of my jeans, passing notes, and dabbing off pizza. That was jr high and h.s.

    Glad for this “itโ€™s food like this that really makes my heart sing: simple, abundant, wholesome. Yum.”– yay for the SIMPLE things in life. That’s what makes my heart sing too ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. How sad we didn’t get a photo together, and even sadder we didn’t cross paths today. ๐Ÿ™ <—most authentic use of frowny face ever.

    I'm so happy you enjoyed Blo Lo and Portland and now I just want to know when you are coming back.

  28. First of all – thank you so much for the mention in your post about honoring food allergies. Also about being in a relationship with an omni as long as their is mutual respect. That is my life – and has been for more than a decade. I’m fortunate to be supported, loved, and respected for my decision, even if it isn’t the right one for him. I stand by that. And finally – it was amazing getting to meet you. I hope the next time in DC, you’re free for a juice and chat.

    • I’ve had a lot of vegan/omni relationships. They all worked, though I can’t say any involved cohabitation. I do think it’s possible, though open minds and fundamental respect are so, so crucial. I loved meeting you, Crissie!