I went to Summerfest for the first time last year ( 2004 ). Below is a copy of a review of my trip that I wrote the newsletter for the Vegetarian Society
Of The District Of Columbia ( http://www.vsdc.org )
What I did on my Summer Vacation: My trip to Summerfest 2004
Every summer for the past 30 years, the North American Vegetarian Society
(NAVS at http://www.navs-online.org/ ) has held a live-in conference of hundreds of vegetarians. This annual gathering is called "Summerfest" ( http://vegetariansummerfest.org/ ).
I attended Summerfest for the first time this past July.
Summerfest 2004 took place from July 21 to July 25 at the University of Pittsburgh on the Johnstown, Pennsylvania campus, and next year's event is scheduled from June 29 to July 3. Participants can attend the full conference from Wednesday to Sunday, or just Friday to Sunday. The campus is easily reached by car within four hours from the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Be prepared for a lot of beautiful rural scenery.
The Johnstown campus is beautiful, with no shortage of greenery or pleasantly fresh air. There are nice trails suitable for running, walking, or hiking. A pool and exercise facilities are made available to Summerfest attendees, in addition to the exercise classes hosted by NAVS.
Registration was accompanied by an array of tasty vegan snacks and friendly volunteers from NAVS to greet weary travelers.
The rooms in the air-conditioned dorm were nice, well kept, and located close to all of the activities. I didn't try the dorms without air conditioning (This year the evenings were cool, but that isn't always the case).
The meals were excellent. The food was prepared under the supervision of professional chef Ken Bergeron, author of "Professional Vegetarian Cooking." All the food was vegan and was served cafeteria style to hundreds of vegetarians in a friendly and social atmosphere.
An area for vendors was set up in the student union, which included a special vegetarian bookstore set up by NAVS. There were several scheduled book signings, and proceeds from the sales of the books supported NAVS.
Summerfest consisted of a mix of fascinating talks on vegetarianism and practical food preparation demonstrations, several of which were given by professional vegetarian cooks. During each class period everyone had a choice of at least 4 to 6 lectures to attend. The topics covered were nutrition, exercise, ethical aspects of vegetarianism, environmental concerns, and some interesting miscellaneous classes. I did not have a single bad class. In fact, my only disappointment with Summerfest was that I couldn't possibly go to all of the lectures.
There also were daily plenary talks designed for all attendees and scheduled so that they would not compete with other activities. The plenary talks consisted of a mixture of topics on all aspects of vegetarianism, giving attendees who might have otherwise focused on just one aspect exposure to different facets of vegetarianism. I was one of those people, and I came away feeling enriched.
One of the messages that NAVS and the speakers strove hardest to expose everyone to through the plenary talks was that of an incipient health crisis in the vegetarian and vegan community
. In a nutshell, vegetarians ( and vegans ) need to regularly use a reliable source of vitamin B-12, increase their calcium intake, increase their intake of fresh green vegetables, increase their intake of fresh yellow/orange vegetables, secure a source of iodine, secure a source of essential fatty acids, reduce their consumption of sweets, minimize their use of refined flour products (pasta, breads, bagels, etc.), and get more exercise. This is not a new message, but the experts at Summerfest emphasized -- with a palpable sense of caring and urgency -- that many vegetarians and vegans are simply not following this advice, to their great detriment.
I do not have the space to cover all the fascinating information given about these issues. I highly recommend that vegetarians and vegans (both diets are well covered) read the new edition of "Becoming Vegetarian
" by Summerfest speaker Brenda Davis, RD.
My overall impression of Summerfest started on the first day, while I was waiting for the orientation class to begin. I struck up a conversation with a retired gentleman, John, who was spending his retirement years driving his truck between vegetarian festivals and sporting events around the country.
John asked if this was my first time at Summerfest. When I answered "yes" he seemed genuinely pleased. Several other people asked me this question over the course of Summerfest and seemed equally pleased by my answer.
I quickly discovered that many people at Summerfest had attended many times before. Many people had formed long-lasting friendships and remembered people they had met in previous years. I was impressed by how many people remembered the details of each other's lives and asked questions with genuine interest, even though they had not seen these people since their last visit to Summerfest.
Everyone at Summerfest seemed happy to be there, happy to be friendly to people they had never met, ready to have fun, and enjoying themselves.
If I had to sum up my experience I would say that Summerfest was about warm, caring people getting together from all parts of the country to relax, have fun, and learn in a positive atmosphere.