Mad City Vegan Fest aims to promote inclusivity across the dietary spectrum

A banner on the bridge above South Park St. invites Madisonians to the 6th annual Mad City Vegan Fest this Saturday. (Trina La Susa/Madison Commons)A banner on the bridge above South Park St. invites Madisonians to the 6th annual Mad City Vegan Fest this Saturday. (Trina La Susa/Madison Commons)


For the sixth year, Madison will host an event where anyone can enjoy delicious vegan food and learn more about the various impacts of a vegan lifestyle free of animal products.

The Mad City Vegan Fest will be held this Saturday, June 18, at the Alliant Energy Center Exhibition Hall from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. This free event will showcase speakers, vegan-minded exhibitors, an area for children and a new large vegan food court.

According to Aaron Yarmel, a member of the marketing team, the event first started in 2010 when the founder attended the Portland, Oregon, Veg Fest and became inspired. After observing some similarities between Madison and Portland, the founder drew up a proposal for a Madison fest and obtained sponsorship from Wisconsin’s oldest animal rights organization, Alliance for Animals and the Environment.

“Hannah West, our founder, has always been committed to making the Mad City Vegan Fest as inclusive as possible, and this continues to shape our identity today. The Mad City Vegan Fest is open to everyone, regardless of where you are on the dietary spectrum,” Yarmel said.

One of the main goals of Mad City Vegan Fest is to show how veganism can be accessible and enjoyable for everyone. In cooperation with this mission, all of the talks this year will feature a sign language interpreter.

The event will host a variety of speakers who will talk about vegan cooking, plant-powered protein for athletes, and the health benefits of vegan nutrition. There will even be a vegan panel with five vegans from different walks of life who will share their perspectives and open the floor for questions from the audience.

“Dr. Michael Greger is going to be there at 3 p.m. and he’s probably one of my favorite human beings currently alive,” Yarmel said. 

Greger has a website where he takes recently published studies on veganism and interprets the take home message into something that is easy to understand. He is also a published author. 

Matthew Ball, the Director of Engagement and Outreach for the Animal Sanctuary, will be flying in from Arizona to talk about how personal choices can realistically make a difference. He plans to keep his prepared remarks short so that the majority of his time can be used for open discussion and questions.

Ball said he has been familiar with the vegetarian and vegan community in Madison since the best man at his wedding was from Madison.

“There're basically two main points that I want to make,” Ball said. “One is that our personal food choices can make a big difference for animals, especially when we don’t eat bird because they are killed in the largest numbers to provide food for people. Beyond just our food choices we can have a much bigger impact in the world through our examples and our advocacy and our donations.”

Another new addition to the event is an entirely vegan food court that will serve snacks, pastries, ice cream and savory meals without any animal products.

Jennie Capellaro, the owner of the Green Owl Cafe, has been vending at the Mad City Vegan Fest since it started. The Green Owl Cafe is the only all-vegetarian restaurant in Madison. 

Capellaro said the Green Owl Cafe will serve their classic Sloppy Owl Sandwich with Chips, a house-made seitan spiced and ground up into the style of a meatless sloppy joe. They will bring back a few popular menu items, in addition to some new choices such as vegan chili mac and cheese.

In general, Capellaro thinks people in the Madison community have been more open-minded of the about meatless and animal product free foods.

“I think there are a lot of the people who come who are curious about what vegan food is. This is a great opportunity because there are a lot of vendors and many different dishes to try,” Capellaro said.

Mikey Stewart, a member of the green team, also emphasized an effort to reduce waste that goes to landfills by introducing new composting and recycling initiatives at the event. All attendees are encouraged to bring their own shopping bags.

“This year we asked all food vendors and exhibitors to serve food and samples in compostable containers,” said Stewart. 

Exhibit tables around the event will also showcase local and national vegan-minded companies and organizations such as Nessalla Kombucha, Willy Street Co-Op, vomFASS and PETA.

Mikael Nielsen, the volunteer manager of Mercy For Animals (MFA), will have an exhibit table that will be educating people about where their food comes from, how the animals are treated and help people get started on making food choices.

Nielsen oversees grassroots outreach and volunteer coordination for MFA in North America, Latin America, Brazil, India, and China and has been active in animal protection since 2002.

“Mercy For Animals is an international non-profit animal protection organization, dedicated to the prevention of cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies,” Nielsen said. “We do this in a number of ways, including undercover investigations into factory farms and slaughterhouses, advertising campaigns, we work with lawmakers and corporations to enact more animal friendly laws and policies, and we do a ton of grassroots outreach all over the world.” 

Over the first five years, Yarmel said there has been a tremendous growth in attendance and expects another large turn out this year. 

“We had over 1300 guests at our first event and last year over 4000 people showed up. Our biggest criticism last year was that we couldn’t fit everyone in the location last year so that’s why we moved from the Goodman Community Center to the Alliant Energy Center,” Yarmel said.

More information and free prize wheel ticket giveaways are available at Mad City Vegan Fest's Facebook Page and the official Mad City Vegan Fest website.