Did you know that Pittsburgh has a plethora of vegan events throughout the year? The vegan community runs strongly throughout the ‘Burgh, and one of the biggest ones is coming up next week! July 8th and 9th will provide two days of vegan food, art, musical performances, and information about organizations around Pittsburgh, including Humane Action Pittsburgh, all working to make the world a better place for animals.
Amy Marie Cottrill, owner and founder of pittsburghvegan.com and the organizer of the Pittsburgh Vegan Expo took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for me.
Q: How and when did you start hosting vegan events?
I began hosting vegan events when I was in high school, in the mid-90s, when I started my school’s environmental club and began hosting vegan luncheons for the club members and staff. Around that time, I also began hosting animal rights fundraiser events. In 1997, I hosted the first Multi-Culture Fest, outside of school, which changed names as it grew over the years, into what is today’s Original Pittsburgh Vegan Festival & Expo.
Multi-Culture Fest introduced people in a closed-minded area of the city where I lived then, to vegan food, dance, music, and arts from various countries and cultures, to help open their minds through the fun of food and performances. The first event went so well, I started moving it to other parts of the city, to expand the audiences we were reaching, to include everyone, and to help the event grow. I also ran various other vegan events, including wellness events (I used to be a massage therapist), and the RE-Model Gala, an event where local artists are each paired up with a belly dancer (I’m also a professional belly dancer and master instructor) to create a costume for the dancer to model and perform in, during an eco-fashion show and art contest. The pieces are created using all reused, recycled, recyclable, compostable, or otherwise eco-friendly materials. All vegan food is served at the Gala. As all of my small events grew, I started to combine them. I combined Multi-Culture Fest with RE-Model Gala, to create Vegan Bazaar, which grew until the name changed to Pittsburgh Vegan Festival, as we had been outgrowing each venue and there was a need to make it a big festival, due to size, and since our city did not have one yet.
Q: How many events do you do in a year and how do they differ?
I currently host two to five vegan events per month, some small events, and some big festivals. Still, that number is growing, too, as they are all over Pittsburgh and Greater Pittsburgh, and each event differs in location, attraction, and audience. Each event supports small business vendors, offering vegan-friendly items and food, with a wide variety of themes for different events, such as Metaphysical, Horror Art, Holiday Gifts, Pets, Fashion, Environmental, and much more. Some events include entertainment, which varies per event, but includes anything from yoga, to cultural dance and live music of various genres, to beatboxing and breakdance, or Pagan Sabbat crafting (such as guests creating fresh flower crowns for Beltane). This year, we have three major vegan festivals:
- July 8-9, The Original Pittsburgh Vegan Expo & Arts Festival at Monroeville Convention Center, and Lolev Beer in Lawrenceville
- Sept. 16, VOktoberfest Pittsburgh, a Vegan Oktoberfest at Velum Fermentation in South Side, with Bavarian dancers, German beer, Pretzels, food, vendors, skeeball, poetry, and live music, and more and
- Oct. 21, Pittsburgh (Vegan) Halloween Festival at Allegheny River Trail Park in Aspinwall, with a haunted trail, free kayaking, vendors, entertainment, and even a doggy trick-or-treat and Halloween costume contest (and for kids)!
I recently expanded to do so many events that I was looking for some people to partner with, for some new events, in addition to keeping my events going and growing. I am so lucky to have found Kimmy Addison, Personal Trainer, as she is a breeze to work with, and we began a whole new co-organized series of vegan pop-up events at breweries all over the city, often with fun themes such as Horror Art. Those events are very different from the events I already had established! I will also be working on new, separate events with others. After spending my entire adult life so far, working solo on planning these events, it has been fun to co-organize some new events as well. Most of my/our events are in some way a fundraiser for animals.
Q: How has veganism in Pittsburgh developed over the years? What trends are you noticing?
When I hosted my first event in the 90s, almost nobody in my area of the city knew the word “vegan” before they met me. They thought vegetarian meant I only ate lettuce, or that I ate lettuce with a hamburger! I had become vegetarian, then later vegan, at a young age, so most of my childhood I knew there was no food for me anywhere except my own home, where my mom would cook for me. Most restaurant visits were hard, as most servers also did not know the word, nor did they serve vegan options other than a basic salad of lettuce, a piece of tomato, and maybe some shredded carrot, if you were lucky (unless you knew to go to an Indian or Mediterranean restaurant).
For many, many years, Zenith was the only vegetarian restaurant in the city, and a lot of mainstream people didn’t know it was there. They are still standing! I hosted some of my first vegan/animal rights events at Zenith in the 90s – fundraiser dinners to benefit organizations against vivisection, back when the previous owner and her dog owned the place! There were vegan events in Pittsburgh here and there, hosted by others (friends/activists), but they weren’t consistent/long-running, nor very large. Over the years, as my events grew, so did Pittsburgh, and the number of vegans here! So, over the many years, I’ve watched it develop – we went from a city where restaurants would bring me lettuce, to a city where it’s very easy to find vegan options at restaurants all over! It’s an amazing thing to have witnessed over many years.
One huge change I loved seeing, is the vegan cheese situation! During my whole childhood, and some of my adulthood, I had to order pizza with no cheese, and hear comments from everyone in the room, about how weird I am! In the late 90s, one store had a “vegan cheese” made of tofu…but, they may as well have just called it “flavorless, retextured tofu”. It was not cheese-like at all. Years later, Daiya shocked the vegan world, and at first, a small number of pizza places started using it, including in Pittsburgh. It didn’t take long for many companies to jump in the vegan cheese money war, each company trying to outdo the others with the best, new vegan cheese! Suddenly, quickly, Pittsburgh had so many pizza places offering vegan cheese, and various brands, which do not all taste alike, so each person could find one they like. I made a list of all the pizza places in Pittsburgh with vegan cheese options, and was shocked at how long the list has become!
Q: What is your favorite part of hosting all these vegan events?
I love that my daughter gets to experience the result, rather than the struggle. She is 11, vegan since birth, and is now learning to plan her vegan events! I take her to all my events, so it makes my events even more fun for me, knowing my daughter will never have to struggle with finding food or being understood as a vegan, the way I did as a child. Another favorite part of hosting these events is, I love to support more and more small businesses, performers, and artists, as that has always been an important part of all of this, from the start. It is especially important to me, after such a long shut-down, to not only bounce back, but to do it full force, and bring everyone else with me. It’s so great to see businesses thriving again. Equally as important, from the start, is introducing more and more people, in more and more areas, to vegan food and the arts, so fewer animals are harmed, more people become aware, and more artists can thrive.
Q: If you had one chance to convince someone to go vegan, what would you say?
We are only here a short while, but the earth has been here much longer, and we need to preserve, rather than destroy it. Just as we don’t want to be hurt, or die, neither do the other animals. Eating them not only kills them and the earth, but it kills the human eating them, slowly. Eating the pain and fear preserved in their bodies during their murder is not good for us, nor is the cholesterol, hormones, toxins, etc. On a lighter note, I’d also say, vegan food rocks.
Q: What can attendees expect at this year’s Vegan Expo on July 8th and 9th?
July 8 at Monroeville Convention Center will have more than 130 vendors, food and dessert booths and trucks, juiceries, artists, products, wellness, metaphysical booths, and much more. It will feature a harp concert, dance classes (hip hop and poppin’), belly dancers, a yoga class, live painters, kids’ activities, a caricature artist, a henna artist, and more. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Humane Action Pittsburgh and the little rescue dogs of Among the Wildflowers Sanctuary.
July 9 at Lolev Beer in Lawrenceville, is a much smaller, more intimate event, with a couple of food trucks, and around 10 artists and vendors. It will be entertainment-based, featuring 4X N. American Beatbox Champion (Villain), PyurTek of Get Down Gang (Poppin’ Dance Performance), and the Pittsburgh-famous child BGirl SupaRare (breakdancer). DJ TJ Harris will DJ a dance party with hip-hop, funk, house music, and more. All are welcome to both events, all ages (with parents), vegans and non-vegans.
Thanks again to Amy for taking the time to answer my questions. I encourage anyone reading this to come on out to the Monroeville Convention Center on July 8th and see what Pittsburgh’s vegan scene has to offer. Tickets are $5.00 and go toward supporting the artists and the sponsors of the event, including HAP! For more information, please visit the event site on Facebook.