"It takes a lot of courage to stand for what you believe in": Meet VegLife Des Moines
In my last blog post you learned about my recent move from Maryland to the Midwest. Another amazing organization out this way is VegLife Des Moines. Thanks to them, my family has had the opportunity to attend (pre-Covid) potlucks, veg fest, and other fun veg-filled events. Take a look and learn a little more about this great group - if you don't have something similar in your neighborhood, maybe this will inspire you to start your own!
Many thanks to Amy Luebbert (VegLife Des Moines Board of Directors President), for this incredible, informative, and uplifting interview!
Amy, how does your work with VegLife Des Moines meet your personal mission?
When I think about my personal mission, I think about reparations and how I owe my time, energy, and finances to creating more equitable systems for humans and non-human animals. The circumstances I was born into have given me security, access, and an upper hand. I didn’t earn these, nor did my parents or their parents before. I am working to break the cycle in my family of standing by while systems and discrimination cause harm due to their oppressive nature.
Working with VegLife Des Moines allows me the opportunity to engage with folks about the harms that are caused by our current capitalistic systems. When we buy products there are human, non-human animal, and environmental impacts. Our mission is to inspire and educate people about the impact of our choices on animals, the environment, and people. If we can make choices that support the greater good, why wouldn’t we?
Fun at a VegLife event a few years back (pictured is my sister, Sara, who is part avocado)
What is your “pie in the sky” dream for VegLife DM?
What a fun question! We of course would love to see more people getting curious about their choices and choosing to go vegan! We want to reshape the way people think about veganism, that it isn’t just for some people but that it is for everyone. We want to foster an equitable community and provide support equitably to everyone. We’d like to see the majority of restaurants in Des Moines have vegan options that are successful on their menus. We would also like to see more vegan, anti-oppression organizations popping up in the city!
We have dreamed of having an all-vegan grocery store where the profits would be used to subsidize food costs for those who need it and support vegan farm sanctuaries in our state. We’ve dreamed of having our own kitchen and event space to host events and classes. We’ve dreamed of having an office space with a vegan coffee shop and a children’s play area built-in. At all of these locations, we’d like to have space for gardens so we can share with the community around us.
We’d also love to see farms in Iowa connect with Mercy For Animals Transfarmation program to switch from raising animals to growing plants. Wouldn’t it be great if our state started to make a trend in that direction and be a leader in the nation!
How has 2020 impacted VegLife DM - both positive and opportunities for growth?
This has been a very unique year for an organization that primarily hosts in-person events. We have limited in-person events to those outdoors and with lots of safety protocols. We hosted a Vegan Trunk or Treat in October with 65 children who enjoyed vegan candies and a chance to show off their best costumes. Before COVID, we hosted a monthly vegan potluck with around 80-100 people attending each month. We miss the connections, energy, and delicious food that happened at these events. We haven’t quite figured out how to recapture them virtually.
We have also transitioned into more of a support organization. For example, through our Vegans Helping Vegans program where we gave micro-grants to 35 people who needed them, totaling $2,500. We’ve also supported teachers with an ice cream giveaway, created an online bingo experience with prizes from local vegan businesses, supported Black-owned businesses financially, and dedicated many hours to a donation garden over the summer. Our leadership team showed up in solidarity with the Black Liberation Movement in Des Moines at protests throughout the summer.
In November we are partnered with PPA Coalition to provide vegan meal boxes to community members. This month we will provide a meal for Children & Family Urban Movement which will be our second this year. We know we need to do more as an organization towards the liberation of all and have a plan in place for 2021 to commit more energy, time, and resources to this.
What do you say for folks who are curious about a new way of eating/living but are worried about jumping in?
This is hard to answer as I like to know more about the person’s circumstances before offering support. Veganism looks different to different people, for example, a high school student who doesn’t have supportive parents, a person who shares a home with five other people and they are the only one who wants to be vegan, a person who can’t afford their own food most of the month.
People come to veganism for so many reasons and may or may not have access to the same resources/stores that I do. I never want to presume that one way is the right way.
One piece of advice seems to be the same regardless of circumstances if they live in Iowa. We live in a state where it is normal to eat dead animals, where it is normal to not consider food as part of your health, where it is normal for food workers to be marginalized and discriminated against, where our food system is destroying our environment. When you start shifting away from the norm you will receive feedback (requested or not) that can be hurtful.
It takes a lot of courage to stand for what you believe in and commit to your convictions. When you have these encounters, know that you are not alone, and there is a community of people that you can lean on for support.
Having other people in your life that understand why you are making certain choices is big - VegLife DM is here to support you on your way.
This cute cashier (my sweet niece) at a VegLife event
How does VegLife DM support the vegan community? What has been the biggest challenge in the community - given the industries in the area?
Prior to COVID-19, one event that really helped have a lasting change to the community was our Vegan Restaurant Tour (2018 + 2019). This event focused on helping highlight and encourage restaurants to offer more vegan options. We want restaurants in Des Moines to know that vegans are here and we want yummy options when we go out to eat. We’ve seen over the course of our time as an organization (three years), an increase in vegan offerings in Des Moines.
Our monthly vegan potlucks were a great way for people to take their relationships from the virtual space (like Instagram and Facebook) to in-person (pre-COVID-19 of course). Building a community that is welcoming and inclusive has proven to be quite unique when we hear about vegan communities in other midwest cities.
Another way we’ve supported the community is through an annual event called Peace Not Pork, which we host on the same day as BaconFest in Des Moines. Our event is a compassionate alternative and we like holding space to celebrate and honor pigs.
Within Des Moines, there is a slaughterhouse that kills 2,000 pigs per day. Our friends at Des Moines Animal Allies host vigils outside of this space (pre-COVID). Having a reminder so close to home of the atrocities that non-human animals face is hard.
Favorite cookbook or website for food?
I asked a few of my fellow VegLife DM board members to chime in with their fav’s!
Jamie’s fav: I don’t currently have a favorite cookbook or website, but I was gifted a couple books that I am excited to dig into - time to start!! I usually just google as I go and save recipes that look tasty from folks I follow on Instagram!! ☺️
Jewel’s fav: My favorite cookbook would be Sweet Potato Soul, I love how she uses whole food ingredients to make the comforting foods I miss the most from my family, such as vegan southern collard greens and vegan chicken and waffles.
I really appreciate how VegLife DM is set up as a non-profit - can you discuss that a bit, sort of the how and why VegLife DM began?
VegLife Des Moines grew out of a series called Food Still Matters at the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines. In 2016/2017 Food Still Matters hosted monthly potlucks with films or panel discussions about food. In February 2017 we decided to host a mini VeganFest on the same day as BaconFest and over 700 people showed up! We were blown away by how many people were excited to try vegan food, talk to vendors, and listen to speakers. We knew that we needed to get more organized so we could support this amazing, growing, and at the time, hidden community. We became a 501(c)3 non-profit in October 2017.
What resources are your favorites either on social media or in print - a favorite book, author, etc.
I’ve been enjoying a series of essays called the #EncompassEssays, which are written by farmed animal protection advocates who are committed to exploring and prioritizing racial diversity, equity, and inclusion as they work to create a more just animal protection movement.
I asked a few of my fellow VegLife DM board members to chime in with their fav’s!
Jamie’s fav: One of my favorite authors and Instagram accounts to follow is Alex Elle - she just came out with a book this year “After the Rain - Gentle Reminders for Healing, Courage, and Self-love”. I stumbled upon her poetry and daily reminders on Instagram early on in my sobriety a few years ago and her words have really helped me through my recovery and personal healing.
Jewel’s fav: My favorite spaces on the internet right now are Rachel Cargle, the creator of the Great Unlearn on Instagram because it is healing for me to see her educating people on racial injustices, inequality, and helps me be able to be more educated in my own responses to people. Also, BadassVegan, who created the documentary “They Are Killing Us”, a documentary about food/social justice through the lens of urban culture.
All the yummy food at a VegFest potluck
And finally, how can someone get more involved, learn more, or support VegLife Des Moines?
We publish a once a month newsletter with lots of vegan goodies happening in Des Moines and featuring a Vegan of the Month. Folks can sign up for the newsletter here. We also are on Facebook and Instagram @veglifedesmoines - so make sure to follow us there!
We are an all-volunteer lead group, so we are always looking for volunteers to step into leadership roles or support us in various ways. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved. All of the work we do is supported by community members’ generosity, if you’re feeling generous you can donate to us here.