In Los Angeles, a Vegan Music and Food Festival Inspires

IMG_0912 While Los Angeles boasts some of the most iconic vegan restaurants in the world, it’s also home to another emerging trend: vegan festivals. Lots and lots of vegan festivals. If it seems like you can’t throw a lentil in Tinseltown without hitting a major vegan food event—you’d be right. There’s the iconic Vegan Street Fair (and Vegan Street Fair Nights), Eat Drink Vegan (formerly the Vegan Beer and Food Festival), Vegfest, Vegan Oktoberfest, the CA Veg Food Fest, just to name a few. Adding its name to the list is Circle V, the emergent vegan music and food festival fundraiser held last month for animal rights organization Mercy for Animals.

“Music has the power to inspire, inform, and unify,” says Nathan Runkle, founder and president of Mercy for Animals and co-founder of Circle V, which takes its name from the universally accepted symbol for veganism (a “V” with a circle around it).

The event embraces the word “Vegan,” which is to “plant-based” perhaps most like what “global warming” is to the less alarming “climate change.” At a time when “plant-based” is the hottest buzzword in the food industry (event partner Beyond Meat recently secured a round of funding from Tyson Foods, the largest producer of meat, poultry, and pork products in the world), Circle V makes no apologies for focusing on its predecessor. As Runkle says, “it’s a movement.”

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Runkle’s vision, along with event partners Goldenvoice (Coachella, Desert Trip), musician, author, and restaurateur Moby, and Tony Kanal (No Doubt), is to bring together not only musicians and performers with a pro-animal and pro-vegan message, but also anyone who believes in animal protection or the benefits of a plant-based diet.

“We want the spirit of the festival to be inclusive,” says Runkle.

The inaugural event took place on a hazy late October Sunday at the Fonda theater in Hollywood. The all-day event featured a traditional music scene indoors with performances by Moby, Blaqk Audio, Cold Cave, The Gaslamp Killer, and Valida. Outside, the venue parking lot was transformed into a hub for everything vegan—from amazing vegan food and sweet treats to makeovers by Kat Von D’s makeup crew, vendors selling, t-shirts, art, and even handmade deodorant (which is completely amazing, btw).

The speakers’ tent though was Circle V’s nucleus, at least during the daylight hours. It was packed, standing-room-only, as LA’s vegan and vegan-curious crowd stood rapt, intently listening over the Hollywood Boulevard noise to the movement’s leading experts including Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder and President of PETA; Gene Baur, President of Farm Sanctuary; Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine; best-selling author and nutrition expert, Kathy Freston; former NBA player and vegan advocate, John Salley; Miyoko Schinner, founder of the hot vegan cheese upstart, Miyoko’s Kitchen; Ethan Brown, CEO and founder of another hot plant-based startup, Beyond Meat; tattoo artist, model, and musician, Kat Von D; and MFA’s own Nathan Runkle, among others.

“Circle V is just the launching point,” says Runkle. “Our vision is a much larger event—30,000 to 40,000 people.” A stadium full of vegans might scare the steak sauce off the meat industry, but it’s a reality not going away anytime soon, particularly in a city like Los Angeles where events like Vegan Street Fair and Eat Drink Vegan easily draw more than 10,000 attendees, many of whom aren’t vegan.

“We heard from many non-vegans who came to Circle V to hear the music, or came with friends to check it out,” says Runkle.

Flexitarians—those who still eat animal products but who focus more and more on plant-based options—are driving the booming growth in all plant-based categories. And events like Circle V are critical for this audience to not only taste the many vegan options out there, but to connect in non-threatening ways with peers and experts on the many benefits of adding more plant-based foods to the diet.

And much like consumer interest in veganism is growing, there is no shortage of musicians and performers who support the cause as well, willing to donate their time to the event.

Moby, who rarely performs live these days, told Forbes that an event like Circle V could get him to perform more frequently. “That’s about the only thing that could get me to think of going on the road again, if it was in service of a cause that I cared about,” he says.

Runkle says future Circle V events could potentially include Morrissey, Miley Cyrus, or even Sir Paul McCartney—all committed vegans. McCartney, who recently headlined Goldenvoice’s Desert Trip, made certain PETA had a booth at the event (with a VR headset that let you experience being a factory-raised chicken); the event also featured some droolworthy vegan food booths.

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Nic Adler, who curates food for Goldenvoice’s flagship events Coachella, and now, Desert Trip, as well as the Eat Drink Vegan festival, is a vegan himself. He brought in the ten food vendors at Circle V, which included LA mainstays Sage Vegan Bistro, Donut Friend, Moby’s Little Pine restaurant, and a newcomer, Ramen Hood, a vegan ramen spot located in Grand Central Market downtown that makes its own vegan eggs from nutritional yeast, black salt, soymilk, and agar (it works a lot like gelatin). “It’s just amazing,” Runkle told me.

The event raised more than $80,000 for Mercy for Animals—a sizable contribution to its work in preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies (check out the organization’s ChooseVeg website for recipes and info). And while diet is indeed the most critical place where people can make a difference for animals, the environment, and their own health, veganism extends beyond the plate to personal care products, fashion, and entertainment choices—all of which Circle V speakers, performers, or booths, touched on.

“[We] wanted beautiful food, we wanted beautiful clothes and music and great bands,” Moby told Forbes. “We’re not showing video tape of baby chickens being slaughtered,” he says. “Everyone knows that exists, everyone has seen that. If that was an effective tool to use, we would use it. Let people find that on their own, I feel like this is a little more attraction than promotion.”

And with so much success and demand for vegan festivals in LA, it certainly seems like a time to celebrate the beauty of the lifestyle.

“By spotlighting vegan food, speakers, and artists,” says Runkle, “we hope this event inspires and empowers people to take action to make the world a kinder place for animals.”

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images: Jill Ettinger | all rights reserved

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.