Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Survivor’s Guide to Slasher Films

I was raised on horror movies. My mother didn’t like to see movies by herself so when I was growing up, if her friends Rose or Pearl weren’t available, I’d get to be her tag-along buddy at the old Old Orchard Theater, back when it was the bustling multiplex of its day. In the 1970s, there was very little concern or even awareness about keeping children out of “grown up” movies, so it was never an issue. I remember seeing a lot of disaster films and I’m pretty sure that I saw most of the famous ones: Airport, The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, Two-Minute Warning. Anything with the threat of lots of people being annihilated, we were there, eating popcorn from the most right-in-the-middle seats we could find. I don‘t think that these movies made me any more worried about being in airplanes or a tinder box-like high rise: as long as Charlton Heston wasn’t in sight, I knew that I was safe. (Very coincidentally given everything, Charlton Heston’s mother actually lived on my block.) In between Smoky and the Bandit and its sequels, we saw a lot of horror movies: Audrey Rose, The Exorcist, The Omen, the kind of films with images that wormed their way into your brain and are nestled in there for a lifetime. 

My teen years were when slasher films came into prominence, perfectly dovetailing with that time in my life when Seventeen magazine and my own hormones conspired to turn my thoughts to clandestine adventures with boys: Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Prom Night, Terror Train, the Halloween franchise. Slasher films are the specific classification of horror that is most true to my generation, and, in hindsight, it occurs to me that I learned a lot from these movies and the heroines who triumphed: how to be a successful survivor, how to avoid trouble, how to face it head-on if trouble comes your way. It would be an exaggeration (and a sad statement about my life) if I said everything I ever needed to learn in life, I learned from watching slasher films, but I still did learn a few very valuable lessons of what to do and what not to do in a slashtastic environment. Just in time for Halloween, I offer these examples for your consideration.

If you hear something crash, do not go exploring.

Just don’t. For God’s sake, who are you? Magellan? Don’t you see that it’s a little, well, foreboding out there? The lunatic has escaped the asylum, it’s the anniversary of a grisly event, the dogs are going crazy in the yard (though some of the wussier ones will just whimper and hide), the clouds are hanging dark and low, the local schizophrenic just said something disturbingly ominous and then cackled, it’s freaking Halloween! How many more signs do you need? You need one more? Okay, all the power suddenly went out in your home, just like that. Stop pressing on that stupid receiver button, has that ever worked? The phone is dead, too. Are you satisfied yet that something is askew? So something crashed upstairs or in the basement. Things happen. It was probably just some tacky glass figurine you hated anyway so I’m going to have to insist that you get out of the house NOW. You do not earn a merit badge for exploring: you get a pickaxe in your brain. MOVE. 

Also, do not leave your car. Ever.

So what’s a terrorized scream-queen to do? You get in your car – first check for psychos in the back seat, then immediately lock your dumb-ass 1970s-era car doors one-at-a-freaking-time and they’re all like five miles apart – and you drive. If some maniac jumps on the roof of your car, who freaking cares? You are encased in a motorized machine. Why would you get out? Why? Because some maniac jumped on your roof? So what? Take it up with Allstate when you’re safe and sound, reading Jane Austen and sipping cocoa by a fire. If you’re in a car and he’s outside of the car, you have a distinct advantage. See that little thing under your right foot?  It’s called an accelerator. Could you please, pretty please, just press your foot down really hard on this? I don’t care if you run out of gas – which, I can pretty much guarantee you, you will – stay in your car and blast your horn. If you get out of your car, you deserve what you will get. I’m not blaming the victim, but this whole chain of events could have been avoided if you didn’t go investigate in the first place.

Do not go to camp or anywhere out in the woods or in a boat on a body of water.

Stay in the city. If you’re not in a city, go to one and stay there. Despite the carjackings, muggings, and random, unprovoked harassment by strangers, you really will want to be in a city to stay safe and avoid the more misanthropic of sociopathic psychopaths. Disaster movies: they often happen in cities, psycho-killers, not so much. This only makes sense: if you hated humanity to the point where you terrorized and murdered any nubile teenager who crossed your path, where would you want to be? If I was the type who took deep breaths behind a hockey mask and mail-ordered scythes the whole month of October, who was consumed with an inexplicable-I-was-just-born-that-way enmity toward others, I would want to be around as few people as possible, just enough of a supply to satiate my appetite. I’d head for the camps, the woods and the lakes, that’s what I’d do, and I’d just wait for the drunk, slow teenagers to arrive. Even, as in Halloween, a sleepy, leafy suburb would do. Urban teens also have the advantage because they are much more street-smart and tough than your average voluptuous hayseed and her studly but slack-jawed suitor. City kids are not consumed with an ill-advised urge to “go explore” whenever they hear a crash inside the house. City kids have this little instinct called self-preservation coursing through their cynical veins and they know to run like hell. So stay in the city if you’re in one, go to the city if you’re not, and try not to let the horrifying bloodbath going on in the boonies bother you too much. Go check out the cool new restaurant around the corner instead, or maybe that indie boutique. You’re safe. Well, okay, not really. You're safe from from horror film lunatics.

Don’t have sex!

Listen, we get it. We’ve all been there. He’s really cute: you have hormones and then there’s peer pressure and even though you're totally not a slut, you think he’s really the one and all that, and maybe if you don’t have sex, there’s another whole back story about how you’re afraid you’ll lose him if you don’t. But listen to me: the ones who survive if a rampaging, madman is on the loose – the only ones – are the virginal ones. Your sexually active friends - P.J. Soles, I’m looking your way and, no, your gum-smacking and pigtails do not throw homicidal maniacs off your trail, these things infuriate them, apparently - and their lovers are impaled through mattresses time and again, and, no, that wasn’t a metaphor (at least by me). Crazed serial killers have a heightened morality in some regards and frown upon what they interpret as promiscuity. So don’t do it. Take a cold shower instead. Yes, by yourself. In a city, not in a podunk motel. And don’t check on any unexplained crashes. You should be safe to finally have sex when you’re in your mid-thirties.

Don’t be a Smart-Ass Buddy, either.

The Smart-Ass Buddy is the male counterpart to the sexually active female in a horror movie. Everyone knows that. So you think it’s funny to put on a mask and scare everyone for a brief moment before you start laughing like a hyena (I don’t know if hyenas really laugh, but work with me) and everyone is relieved for a moment because you are not actually a serial killer, you are a smart-ass buddy? Well, I’m sorry to tell you, but this kind of tomfoolery does not sit well with the guy in the mask lurking behind the window curtains so you’ve pretty much written your own autopsy at this point: death caused by beheading, a one-way pass through a woodchipper, tossed out of a stained glass window and then, after you limped off to the woods (no!), you were dismembered with a power saw. It’s your call, weisenheimer. Is it worth it to get a cheap laugh? No, not at all. The psychopath has a famously bad sense of humor about this sort of thing. He favors serious but not smug potential victims.

Think he's dead? Think again.

Okay, so somehow you - non-violent, virginal, serious you - have managed to dispatch the guy who naturally lives and breathes murder like bunnies were born to munch on grass. Never mind how. He had you cornered in a closet, he had all the weapons, the talent and the unstoppable drive to do it and all you had was a flimsy wire hanger, your screams, and a desire to not be eviscerated, but somehow you defeated every odd and not only survived but killed him. Or did you? First deaths do not count, have never counted, in slasher films. You have at least one, probably two or more deaths ahead of you and I’m not even going to mention the sequels. Time-wise, you are almost at the end but you’re not there yet. You don’t run 3/4 of a marathon and then stroll off to grab a coffee! When Jason or Freddie or Michael Myers appear to be lifeless and you have a clear path out, you do not lean against the wall and to sob and catch your breath. Now is not the time to reflect on your murdered boyfriend, your many friends who are now impaled on many camp beds. Now is the time for action. You wouldn’t break out your best stationary to start writing sympathy cards to all the parents who’ve lost their children to the guy you just killed, right? Nor do you even get on a damn rotary phone and start dialing! Listen, we’re proud of you, we really are. Should we ever be on the outs with a homicidal maniac, we’d want you on our team. The problem is that you are not safe until you are out of the house. Do you hear me? I thought we covered this in the first point. GET OUT, for cripes sake. Do you need a hand-written letter scrawled in blood and attached a rock that comes crashing through that big bay window? Will you understand then? You’ll get one soon enough if you don’t stop slacking. Leave already!

While we’re at it, stay away from windows, too.

Now why – why?! – if you’re being menaced by some furtive lunatic in the dark would you stand in front of a window and look out? He can see you, you can’t see him. When dealing with maniacs, you will want to level the playing field as much as possible. Standing in front of a window – one that was built to be crashed through – is just not using your noggin.

Babysitting is rife with occupational hazards.

Pity the poor babysitter. She’s not out on a date with some serial killer taunter: she’s earning money, she’s being responsible. She’s also just spent the night changing diapers, had Spaghetti-Os flung in her hair, stepped on countless Legos and read the same stupid book to the bratty three-year-old 17 times before he finally fell asleep for about $10.00 and now she has to deal with this annoying, whispering perv who keeps calling her. Calling her and asking her how the children are: has she checked the children? Of course, this is one of those houses with windows everywhere (see above) and it’s all really quite sucky. She ends up being harassed, threatened, tormented, and she hasn’t even been paid yet. Plus her clothes get torn. Here’s my recommendation: don’t go into babysitting. It’s totally not worth it. Get a job squeezing lemons at that one stand at the mall, fold shirts at the Gap, take up a paper route. Babysitting will kill you, no joke, and you’ll still have to change diapers before all that, and you don’t want to spend the last few hours of your young life with Cheerios in your bra because that seems totally unfair. Why walk into such an obvious trap? Get a job making lemon shake-ups at the mall instead. The worst you will risk is being embarrassed in front of your friends, an ugly uniform, a manager with bad breath leering at you and carpal tunnel. Comparatively, it’s a walk in the park.

So there you have it, my friends, a survivor’s guide to slasher films. Do not go exploring, don’t leave your car, stay in the city, don’t have sex, don’t be a smart ass, make sure they’re good ‘n dead, stay away from windows and don’t go into babysitting. You should be fine.


What was that noise?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

This imperfect world, full of juicy and poisoned apples...

When we are young, when we are nineteen and twenty, things are so much more wonderfully simple. What a dreamy, lovely time. Yes, it’s more complicated in many ways - by juggling school, work, infatuations and drink specials, by our ricocheting emotional state - but simpler in that we think that for the first time in our lives, we feel that we have “finally” Figured It All Out. What is it that makes us so steadfastly certain about life at that stage? Is it a certain hormone that’s set to be released after high school but before our first serious job? My guess is that it’s the lack of nuance that youth and inexperience foster inside us that creates such intoxicatingly unclouded convictions at nineteen and twenty.

When I was a twenty-year-old feminist, I was insufferable to all but a select few. That was okay because I was certain that everyone else was a selfish idiot. After that first heady blush of fiercely feral conviction I experienced during my feminist awakening in college (oh, how I tormented the menfolk), I had another wave of intense certainty again when I became vegan at 27. As before, I was insufferable to all but a select few. I was certain that people who didn’t believe what I knew to be true were selfish idiots. That was the only reasonable explanation. Years under the belt and more experience have worked in tandem to smooth over most of those harsh edges: I know now that people who eat meat are not consumed with violent, sadistic bloodlust. Most are simply following customs that are ingrained in them and supported by our culture. Many feel very attached to certain foods – through traditions in their home, associations they have, simply because it tastes good to them – and it is not as easy for some to adopt a new way of living than for others. I was fortunate in that it was a fairly quick process for me once I was ready, accelerated by seeing a film I simultaneously wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and also wish would be mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to continue to eat animal products. There are so many thoroughly unnecessary tragedies happening at once that it is paralyzing to contemplate. If there’s anything that I’ve learned, it’s that we live in a seriously messed up world created by some seriously messed up people with their seriously messed up ideas, and the idealists among us need to accept these simple truths and try to make the best of it. As vegans, we need to accept that some of the choices we have to make as the result of living in an imperfect world are also going to be imperfect.

Does this sound like cynicism, like giving up? I hope not, because I am not advocating either. It’s simply that there are always going to be compromises we accept that undermine our pure, Utopian beliefs, unless we want to close ourselves off to the rest of the world completely, that is. The thought of living in a non-violent, vegan, feminist paradise (one that manages to be artistic and fun-loving, too!) is deeply appealing but…it’s not here. The deeply idealistic 19-year-old in me wishes that I didn’t think that it could very well never be here. I could go off and live surrounded by those who live, think and feel like I do, but in my heart, I know that that’s not what I want. I am challenged by people who are not vegan all the time: my life is enriched and thoughts are broadened by those who come from different perspectives and experiences. Also, as someone who is cloistered and separate, how much could I really help to change attitudes with my isolation? Yes, I could be more of an unsullied visionary but I would be deluding myself if I thought I could bring positive change by living as a separatist.

So I choose to live in the real world, one that is very flawed. I’ve tried to carve out a place for myself here that works and I think that I’ve largely succeeded. Accepting my place in this temporal world, though, means acknowledging that it is flawed place and requires all kinds of compromises of those who live here. This sort of compromise means that the grocery store I shop at also sells meat. I support them with my money because I don’t know any other way, realistically, unless I were to live completely self-sufficiently. It means that I buy some vegan items from non-vegan companies. I also support them with my dollars because although I’d love to give my money to exclusively vegan companies, there aren’t enough around to have that luxury, and I think it is a very elite, or intentionally isolated, few who can be afforded that privilege. This also means countless other compromises, too many to list, that wear away at the sharply defined edges and reassert that I live in the real world, dwell among people who do not live, think or feel like I do.

I am not a separatist. If that’s what I wanted, and if I thought that was what would do the most positive, lasting effect on the world, that would be what I’d do. Frankly, at times it’d be an easier choice: cut off the stuff I dislike. It is easy to sit on a secluded mountaintop and issue condemnations of how others live, but it is hard to live honestly and engaged in this flawed world with that sense of personal purity intact. Life is messy. Once you put yourself out there – take in a disabled parent who loves to order bacon when she eats out (and more than twenty years of your comments have made no impression), for example, or adopt a cat who loves to eat moths, flies, mice, any creature that moves – you allow for some measure of compromise.  This doesn’t mean that you accept the violence of the world. It simply means that you accept the truth that violence exists. When you also have to make decisions that are imperfect because of how this flawed world operates, well, that is life, at least for now. I will do my best to change the things I can but I didn’t become a vegan so I could feel superior to everyone else. I became a vegan because it was consistent with my values and I wanted to do the most good possible. Sometimes the most good possible is still tinged with defects just as I am still tinged with defects.

Maintaining someone else’s standard of perfection is not my goal. My goal is to live a dynamic, compassionate, happy and challenging life. I want to live the hell out of this life I’ve got. Sitting on a metaphoric mountaintop so I can keep my hands clean and issue judgments with impunity? That’s not for me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wheat-free, vegan Pumpkin-Cream Cheese Brownies

I don't care how much my West Coast friends make their little cutting remarks to me in the deep, dark heart of January, stories about going to the beach and working up a sweat on their bike rides, I love where I live for many reasons, the dramatically changing seasons chief among them. If you poll your friends who live in the Chicago area, you'll probably find that a sizable percentage are like me and love autumn most. With the bright, bold leaves, the crisp air, the crunch under our shoes, that tantalizing, thrilling feeling that Halloween brings to our hearts, it is a sensuous, free-spirited time of year, a last hootenanny before the deep freeze of winter settles in. Also, after a hot summer, it's time for us to start those ovens again, filling our homes with the great, comforting smells we associate with the season: pumpkin, nutmeg, vanilla. The idea for these brownies seized my imagination for a day before I gave in and my test kitchen was open for business. Pumpkin, cream cheese, chocolate chips: a symphony of both mild and rich flavors, it was even better than I imagined. The morning after? They are insane.

These brownies are wheat-free and, unless you have Celiac disease, gluten-free. Oats are naturally gluten-free, but are cross-handled with gluten containing grains like wheat, barley and rye in mills and processing plants. For those who are like me, people who do not have not had a diagnosed allergy but have difficulty digesting gluten, oats are usually fine. (For those who need a more strict avoidance of gluten, there are oats, such as a variety sold by Bob's Red Mill, that are handled separately and are therefore gluten-free.) The flour I used here is made from oats, and it can be used from grinding quick rolled oats in the blender or buying already ground oat flour. This flour is substantial enough to give your brownies the structure they need without adding too much weight. (Feel free to substitute the kind of flour you prefer.) The pumpkin purée adds a rich texture and subtle flavor without any fat; the cream cheese-pumpkin topping adds a cheesecake-like finish to something that was already kind of amazing. As always with vegan baking, these babies are cholesterol-free. To heighten the seasonal flavor, you might want to try a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice blend (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice) in the cream cheese topping.

Pumpkin-Cream Cheese Brownies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8 X 8-inch baking pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the following ingredients:

1/3 cup + 2 Tb. pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie purée)
1/3 cup + 1 T. maple syrup
1/4 cup oil (olive or safflower is ideal)
1 tablespoon vanilla

In a larger bowl, stir together the following:

1 cup oat flour
2/3 cup natural, unbleached sugar
1/2 cup chocolate chips (add 1/4 cup for the topping!)

Then, sift in the following:

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Stir together, and add the wet pumpkin mixture from above. Stir until everything is well combined and then add it to the prepared pan. 

Pumpkin-Cream Cheese Topping

1 8-ounce container room temperature vegan cream cheese (I like the Follow Your Heart brand)
1/3 cup natural, unbleached sugar
3 tablespoons pumpkin purée
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1 tablespoon oat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice blend

In a mixer or using electric beaters, mix together the cream cheese, sugar and pumpkin purée until it is smooth. Then add the rest of the ingredients, processing until smooth.

Smooth this over the brownie batter, and sprinkle 1/4 cup of chocolate chips over the top. Bake for twenty minutes at 350 degrees, rotate a half turn, and lower the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for twelve more minutes, until the cream cheese is a little tan around the edges. Let it cool, preferably on a wire rack.

Now go take a walk. Seriously, this is part of the recipe. Enjoy the beautiful maple trees, peeking with color. Throw a stick for your dog or borrow your neighbor's dog for this purpose. Don't come back for at least 30 minutes. You have to let your brownies cool for at least that long before cutting and enjoying, otherwise they'll fall apart. These are best cool, stored in the fridge.

Happy autumn, everyone!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

After the Mania...

For the second year now, we worked and planned and laughed and made scowling faces over the details for months before it happened, and then it blew through town like a tornado. It's sort of like a wedding where every aspect of it has been pushed and pulled and fussed over for months, and then, before you know it, you're standing there in your tulle and the janitor is slowly sweeping up the last of the sparkly confetti. It's a little melancholic, naturally, but that's how it has to be.

Chicago VeganMania is a little beastly, to be honest, a friendly gorilla, but a gorilla nonetheless, and it's often pretty overwhelming to try to manage. It has a life of its own and it marches to its own beat: we can try to control it, we can try to coax it with bananas and belly rubs, but we really can't. The best we can hope for is to plan for what we would like and hope that it is amenable to our ideas.

What happens behind the scenes is always rich material for those of us who find comedy in the absurd. There were quite a few last minute cancellations of speakers and food vendors. There was scrambling to find volunteers, to find a place worthy of receiving all that waste that'd been so meticulously sorted (only four bags of actual trash, go Green Team!), searching for rides to and from the airport. There are only about ten of us who work on making Chicago VeganMania happen and it feels like scaling a mountain sometimes and we don't have any fancy equipment from Erehwon, we just have what we happen to have on us. As a perfectionist, it almost caused me physical pain when some balls (or teaspoons and bowls) were dropped. Oh, and there were occasional equipment failures. It was too loud, it was too hot. There were also moments of sheer panic. We weathered it together as a team, and we did so with everyone working hard but with grace. Again, there's the mountain climbing metaphor because sometimes when you have something this huge in front of you, all you have is what is on your body: foot, hand, foot, hand, breathe...

I am inclined to browbeat myself over what went wrong but when I have some perspective, I can see that most people were happy. Very happy. They were ensconced in a little vegan paradise for a day, a place where ingredient labels didn't need to be scrutinized, where they were surrounded by businesses, non-profits and people they love, where they were the norm for the day. Most of the vegans I know are on the rebellious side and truly embrace going against the grain. We are different and we wouldn't have it any other way. There can be something so reassuring, though, to just be around others who relate to our experiences, share many of our convictions, our joys and sorrows. You can relax in this sort of company: your guard can be relieved from his or her post. What I saw on Saturday was so many happy, radiant, animated faces taking it all in. This was a day for us a day to celebrate our unique, creative and ever-evolving culture. What's not to love?

Yes, things can be improved upon. We need way more volunteers than we have. (Ideally, some of those volunteers should be more pragmatic and detail-oriented as we seem to be imbalanced toward favoring the visionary/impractical people.) We need to run a much tighter, better organized ship. It I could take a time machine and a big eraser to fix the day and one major thing, it'd be to improve the cooking demo area. The spirit, the energy and creativity were all there, though, and I think people responded really well to it. In describing our event the other day I came up with the idea that it is a big vegan house party. That's what it is: it is not an expo.  It is not primarily focused on converting or even educating people. It is a celebration. As simple as that sounds, the idea of a vegan celebration is still a pretty radical idea considering the expectations people have.

It's strange to work so hard for something and then to have it disappear. I think about those monks creating their intricate sand mandalas over days or even weeks, only to have them naturally whisked away by the wind. They were beautiful while they lasted, though. It's an exercise in non-attachment, of appreciating the moment, of creating beauty for its own sake. Maybe this will be my final metaphor: Chicago VeganMania is kind of like a sand mandala (a big, loud one). We put it out there with the best expectations and hope that it is received as we intend for it to be. Its evanescence and the subjective nature of the experience is part of what makes it feel so magical. It is a short-lived gift to the community we love so much.

We'll be back next year, better than before.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pushing the wave (Chicago VeganMania)...

Back when I started with this business of being vegan, back in the Mesozoic era of the mid-1990s when terrifying winged beasts beat their wings in circles above us and all the milk in local coffee shops came from udders, life ticked along at a distinctly different syncopation. In Chicago, there were usually between twenty and thirty of us who were consistently active, and we met monthly in church basements or spare rooms at the library. Photos from the time were, to put it bluntly, strange: fervent activists in their twenties working side-by-side with sad-eyed animal lovers in their sixties, with few ages represented in between. Back in the day, we got loopy from marker vapors together when we made our protest signs, we looked through an endless stack of boxes in a volunteer's basement to find the musty old chicken costume and played rock-paper-scissors to determine who would almost faint while wearing it at the World Vegetarian Day leafletting, we licked envelopes, people, and lugged all the newsletters to the post office downtown four times a year. We passed our favorite catalogue around the table at Mandy's house and put in group orders together for t-shirts, buttons, stickers. I still have one of those shirts, worn in and cozy like a favorite baby blanket, a black ink Rorsharch splotch on a sleeve from one of our marathon sign-making sessions. It's in the drawer of t-shirts designated only as sleep wear these days. It just has words on it: No, I don't eat meat. Yes, I get enough protein. No, my shoes aren't leather. Yes, I have a life. This shirt encapsulated the experience of a vegan animal advocate, and that particular time in my life, perfectly. Every time I pull it out, it's like I'm transformed back to the day, and I'm standing outside of a circus again or I'm in front of the McDonald's in River North, standing with my friends, rolling our eyes at the dirty looks, making our far superior snide comments about the idiotic snide comments. It's a t-shirt, and a time, that always makes me smile in recollection. 

Although I am nostalgic for the sienna-toned quaintness of that time, for the passionate connection that face-to-face hands-on work creates, I am very grateful to be able to enjoy this particular time right now perhaps because i remember what it was like before veganism had gained a little foothold in our popular culture. We are still very small in actual numbers, but somehow, we've become a force to be reckoned with over the past decade, and the ripple effect of our influence is keenly felt. Recently, for example, I went with my son to an apple festival in the city. Back when I lived in that very same neighborhood of Lincoln Square, it was all about the German delis. (At the Brauhaus on a date, I asked the server if they had anything vegetarian and she recommended hasenpfeffer, rabbit stew, but thankfully I had seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon where the king angrily - and with imperious sibilance -  demanded it so I was nobody's fool. Who says cartoons have no value?) In other words, Lincoln Square was pretty much the opposite of a vegan mecca. Today, the German food and culture remains, but shuffled between everything is more than a little hint at the change that's happening. At the apple festival, I could walk into pretty much any café with a boy Who Suddenly Could Not Wait Even A Second Longer to use the restroom, and know that I could pick up something in the treats-for-bathroom barter system. Later, when we picked up soy- and fruit-based gelato it occurred to me once again, as my friend told to the guy behind the counter that they should carry more soy options, what a radically different culture my son is growing up in, thank goodness. Back in the 1990s, my friends and I would launch into spontaneous cartwheels and shout from the rooftops if one coffee shop offered a dry, tasteless vegan cookie or we spotted the v-word on a menu, elusive and magical like a purple unicorn, but today, my son and his little herbivorous urban peers take it for granted that there will be high quality vegan treats for them. Not only that, but they actually have a choice now because just chocolate or vanilla is soooo pre-school: pumpkin, cinnamon swirl, lemon poppyseed, blueberry-freaking-cream cheese. Yes, they're a generation of entitled little brats who will never have to walk three miles barefoot in the snow for mushy veggie burgers, but I can't describe the sense of happiness I feel when I go somewhere and we can just be like everyone else. (But cooler!)

A couple of things to make clear: a culturally diverse, large city, and all the bounty within, is in easy access. I understand that this effortlessness is not available everywhere and I am so appreciative of what we have here. Second, I don't mistake a proliferation of vegan cupcakes as evidence that the revolution is at hand. The revolution will not be found in a bag of powdered sugar. The shift is happening, though, and it is seismic and it is real, born of natural cultural change, smart outreach, talented animal advocates and people waking up to the inescapable reality that our dietary habits cannot continue if we are to continue. It has not translated into fewer animals being consumed or abused yet - these institutions are nothing if not entrenched - but I have no doubt that this will happen as the wave continues. What we are witnessing is this slow untangling in real time so we may not always see it in an obvious way, but make no mistake that it is happening. Imagine the evolution of the vegan lifestyle as it settles into our larger culture like stop-action photography, from 1995 until the present. The dust is still very much unsettled and I believe that the boomerang we tossed out is really in its infancy of its journey back, but progress is certainly happening. I have no doubt about that.

This all a very longwinded way to explain what I am up to these days. My husband and I, along with some of the very best kind of people you could know, are putting together an event called Chicago VeganMania, and it's happening October 9 at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, 1419 W. Blackhawk in Chicago from 10:00 - 6:00. This is our second year. The driving force behind our event, the thing that gets us excited to send out press releases and answer questions about parking (okay, this last thing is an exaggeration) in addition to all the other work we're doing, is the idea of third and fourth wave activism. If you think back on the historic arc of social justice movements, which the animal advocacy movement is part of, you'll see that the first wave is usually confrontation. It's people not getting to the back of the bus, it is Stonewall. This is what propels us at the beginning, what gives us momentum and the passion. Education is next: this is the outreach, the written materials that make the case, the more recognizable advocacy work. Understandably, the vegan movement has largely centered around these first two waves of activism. What we are trying to do with Chicago VeganMania is to be a part of ushering in the next two waves: celebration, which is the sort of thing witnessed in cultural pride festivals, and integration, where the "whys" of veganism rarely come into play, and it is simply accepted as a normal and natural way of life. The first two waves are still vitally important and they work in tandem with what follows: it's not as though they dissolve when the next waves begin. It is an organic and fluid back-and-forth motion, as waves naturally will be, with different current systems throughout. We need the third and fourth waves, though, for the veganism to take root on a mass scale and become more than a fringe movement. This doesn't mean that we're adapting veganism for mainstream tastes: quite the opposite. By taking proud ownership and putting it out there in our unique and diverse ways with our unique and diverse gifts, we are ensuring that that this movement that flows outward whether we like it or not, will have our particular stamp on it. And our stamp is fabulous so Chicago VeganMania will be fabulous!

We will have speakers, all lovely and passionate and talented with their distinctive voices. There's Nathan Runkle, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Dr. Milton Mills, Dr. Michael Greger, and Zarakyah Ben Sar Ahmadiel. We will also have cooking demos this year, with Isa Chandra Moskowitz again, Kim Gracen (from The Chicago Diner), Fran Costigan, Kelly Peloza, Linda Szarkowski and chefs from Soul Vegetarian. We will have entertainment: The Giving Tree Band, The Exponential, Read My Hips (belly dance troupe), The Rust Belt Ramblers, Phenom and Nikki Lynette. (The schedule and bios can here found here.)

There will be so much else: a children's play area. A DJ'd Luxury Lounge where people can relax and connect, Dozens of cruelty-free, independent vendors. Great food. Gift bags for the first one hundred in line age sixteen and older. A vegan rock star photo booth. Even a Vegan Cupcake Fairy! It's going to be amazing and it's all going to be part of that vibrant collective creative vision that is a small part of what is ushering in the third and fourth waves of the vegan movement.

So get excited and come to see us if you can at Chicago VeganMania. If you can't join us, keep adding your distinctive talents and unique, compassionate voice to the mix. When people perceive veganism as something more than a dietary fad, as something different than an exclusive club you need to know the secret handshake to gain entry to, we will effect incredible change. Chicago VeganMania is part of the galvanizing entrenchment of the movement. We have so much at our fingertips, we really do. Keep your eyes on the prize, and keep moving forward!

See you there...