In the eleven years that I’ve been vegan I’ve witnessed an explosion in the range of vegetarian options, both in shops and restaurants. Off the top of my head, craft beer is the only industry I can think of that has probably outpaced veggie cuisine (though to be honest, I’m not really trying too hard to come up with others so save your comments).
When I made the decision to give up animal product I was lucky if I could get a dry, crumbly veggie burger to go with my Amsterdam Nut Brown (by far the preferred savior for brown, fake meat in 2003). Now, of course, I can go to dozens of restaurants with a generous selection of menu options that fit my chosen lifestyle.
Craft beer joints, meanwhile, are multiplying faster than the rabbits I don’t eat. It’s a pretty good time to be me.
What does suck however, is craft beer pubs generally have almost no decent vegan options and most vegetarian restaurants care little about beer.
When the Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) accepted my “Beer As Part of a Healthy Vegetarian Lifestyle” workshop proposal, I was thrilled. The Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival is the largest of its kind in North America. Just being given a time slot was a feather in my cap (metaphorically speaking… no birds were harmed in the awarding of presentations). I viewed this as a first step to helping other plant-based-diet advocates understand why an industry as dynamic and positive as beer largely ignores them. If more veg-heads appreciated beer and started demanding better options, maybe pubs and breweries would be more inclusive in their planning. Perhaps restaurants would stock more styles of beer.
Then Wednesday (four days before my workshop) I got an email from the Harbourfront Centre informing me Labatt has exclusivity on their premises. Other breweries’ beers are forbidden. “Perhaps Alexander Keiths beers could be used?”
Here’s the thing: it’s a food festival. It’s about flavour. It’s about options.
Cameron’s, when they learned I was participating, leaped at the chance to be part of it. When I wasn’t sure about the logistics (licensing, ID checking, etc), the Oakvillians were quick to assure me they were ready whenever I found out. And what styles would I like to serve? And do I need anything else? They tweeted the event, added it to their blog and Facebook page… generally made me feel like the success of my workshop was important to them as well. I wouldn’t cancel on such an enthusiastic sponsor days before the event, even if Labatt shipped cases of Goose Island to my door (which they’re welcome to try).
Forcing a festival presenter to pull stock from one brewery, whatever brewery, is ridiculous. It’s like telling a coyote he can only use ACME brand when he’s intent on nabbing a roadrunner.
I don’t begrudge Labatt gaining certain marketing considerations in exchange for shuffling funds into the Harbourfront Centre, but I do question the value of their sponsorship when they insist on painting an otherwise colourful venue beige.
I’ve already spoken to the TVA about doing a beer-focused event in the not-too-distant future. Stay tuned…