The vegan hype has hit Austria! With Veganmania the country celebrates vegan food, producers, animal protection and a more sustainable way of life. Here’s our personal experience of the Veganmania Summerfestival 2019 on the Vienna Danube Island.
What is Veganmania?
Veganmania in Austria is the biggest vegan summer festival in Europe, according to the organiser, the Vegan Society Austria. Veganmania has been held annually in Vienna since 1998, and by now has also reached other major Austrian cities. In the official facebook event page it says: ‘Veganmania stands for vegan summer festivals with many different stalls, delicious food, a colourful programme and, of course, good vibes.’
Besides food and drinks, stalls offer vegan lifestyle products and services, and information. Organisers, vendors and stall holders have one in common: the desire to create a more sustainable future without animal suffering.
Apart from the stalls, there is an ongoing programme of music and workshops. Make your own bath bomb, enjoy a movie about civil disobedience as activism while picnicking in the meadow, or get really active getting a training session in running. Have a free yoga session in the morning. If you get hot, a quick jump in the Danube will cool you down.
The two Veganmania events in Vienna attract 30,000 visitors annually. But it’s not only vegans that Veganmania is targeting. A lot of curious non-vegans come every year to get a better idea of Veganism, how to transition to it, what vegans eat… Some simply want to try one of the many vegan burgers that exist these days.
First coming up to the meadow on the Danube island where Veganmania was held, our first thought was that the area looked rather small – keeping in mind it’s the biggest vegan summer festival in Europe. Once inside, however, it was quite easy for us to lose each other amid the stalls and visitors. There was a good atmosphere, a lot of smiling faces. We were happy to see that there were eco toilets (compost loos) and that a lot of vendors offered recycled or recyclable cups and plates and compostable cutlery – although we had brought our own, to further reduce waste ;-). Also, dogs were very welcome and happily chilling in the meadow. The event homepage provided a lot of information on how to take care of your dog at the event.
After a first small roundtrip to gain an overview, it was time to dive right in! After all, the walk to the island had made us hungry…
Food stalls at Veganmania
As expected there were a lot of food stalls, and a great variety in types of food offered: Classic vegetable curries, ‘veganised’ traditional Austrian dishes, five different types of burgers, pizza,… Where would you expect to find really good vegan food, if not at a vegan fair?? What we found however was, all in all, mostly fast food and junk food. With a few exceptions. Vegan food isn’t always healthy…
A more healthy alternative was provided by raw veg & fruit food stalls. We were also excited to see two or three vendors of vegan cakes that looked absolutely amazing! Sadly, the three layered chocolate and cream cake sold out before we could get our hands on a piece. So we resorted to our favourite ice cream in the world: the fabulously successful Veganista, also one of the main sponsors of the Veganmania.
Of course there was more food than we could eat (although Paul definitely tried). Of the things we did have, here are our personal winners:
- Savoury: Jablonski’s Vegan Kitchen – their vegan versions of traditional Austrian filled dumplings were the best food we had at the Veganmania. Great to see that vegan cooking has reached the world of event catering in a tasty way!
- Sweet: Veganista – the Veganista sisters seem to never sleep, but constantly create new flavours of ice cream. Among them: orange-saffron-olive oil, wild blueberry-lavender, peanut butter-cookie. We hope they go international soon!
Apart from food stalls there were also some stalls selling food products to take home. Several of them are small start ups with big visions. They want to bring their products to consumers in high organic quality as well as in a more direct sustainable way. Our favourites:
- Dattelbär – the ‘date bear’ himself (I asked him) had us try ripe organic dates from a big wooden box, and we tried many. I never knew there were so different flavours to dates! The Dattelbär also sells date paste and the best dark caramelly syrup I have ever tried!
- Libuni – this new brand of organic rice drink is unique in one way: It is concentrated four times stronger than other rice drinks on the market. They told us, they tried to sell in glass bottles for two years, but failed because of regulations. Still, Libuni claims to cut down waste by about two thirds. And it tastes amazing! Order in bulk to score a bargain.
Veganmania also attracts producers and consumers of plant-based lifestyle products such as cosmetics, soaps, clothes and accessories made from plant alternatives to leather.
We also were intrigued by an ambitious startup, beeanco, setting up a sustainable online marketplace, making it easy and comfortable to shop sustainably online. They offer products in a vast range of categories, even including furniture, clothes, and even capital investment products. Still at an early stage (and planning to expand beyond Austria), they asked for input what stall visitors would value most. We emphasised our wish to see less plastic packaging delivery – a crucial step to more sustainable online shopping, in our opinion.
Information and organisations
After stuffing ourselves in a failed attempt to find more good vegan food here, we wandered around through the info stands. These basically came in two categories: Animal welfare and animal rights.
The Vegane Gesellschaft Österreich (Vegan Society Austria) mainly informs and educates about animals in food production, animal cruelty and animals as conscious sentient beings. They also provide reasons why and guidance on how to transition into vegan diet and lifestyle.
Other organisations focus more on activism. Most prominently in Austria, the Verein Gegen Tierfabriken (VGT / Association against animal factories), several members of which were charged with – but in the end found innocent – of being part of a criminal organisation in 2009, an exemplary case closely followed by the public and the media. The trial, however, has almost destroyed their lives. Martin Balluch (pictured below left), VGT chairman and co-founder of Vegan Society Austria, is now a candidate for parliament in the upcoming Austrian national elections.
We’d also like to point out Anonymous For The Voiceless, who are active around the globe. In street activism, using a so-called cube of truth, they confront the public with videos of animal cruelty in food production, then talk about it with bypassers. Their mission is not to shock, but simply to make people aware of the truth, of the methods commonly used to produce meat. A lot of meat eaters seem to ignorantly imagine that the animals they eat were once running freely on wide sunny meadows. Do they really think that 90% of people only eat organically farmed meat, when 90% of animals for meat production never even see daylight in their whole life?
That brings us to a more happy scenario. We were happy to meet our friends from RinderWahnSinn, a sanctuary farm for pigs and cows that were spared from the walk to the slaughterhouse by the efforts of Hubert and Steffi and the donations of individuals. Similarly, the association Greyhound Forever save racing dogs from Ireland from their sadly all-too-common fate when they are too old or not fit for race anymore – Thousands are killed or ‘go missing’ in Ireland every year. After rescue and re-socialisation, Greyhound Forever then try to find new homes for these dogs, where they can live happily with a human family for the rest of their life.
The efforts of both organisations might be a drop in the ocean, but every bit of difference they make meaningfully changes the life of an intelligent, sentient being.
Disappointments at Veganmania
We were not all happy with our experience at Veganmania. Here our personal disappointments:
- A lot of junk food. Of course, we expected a lot of fast food, but the quality of some of the food was under our expectation. Every other stall seemed to be a burger stand. We’d like to see more inspired, and diverse food options that show that vegan food can be both tasty and satisfying while being better for your body and the environment. Flavourless TVP meat substitutes dripping with oil won’t convince anyone to go vegan. Fortunately, there were some very positive exceptions. But does Veganmania really need a stand that just sells potato fries?
- Hit the road, jackfruit. Paul was excited and intrigued to try his first Jackfruit burger, praised for its texture. Even more so, as the person behind him in the queue claimed it felt and tasted convincingly like a meat burger or pulled pork. Well, it didn’t.
- Smoked tofu, plastic free. Not. We thought we had finally found smoked tofu, marketed as ‘vegan bacon’, that was not packed in plastic, but in paper. We also thought it was homemade. Until we asked. The vendor simply marinated smoked tofu he bought at the organic supermarket. wrapped in plastic.
Summary – Or: How Veganmania could take itself to the next level
While we are happy to see a popular vegan festival taking place in Austria, we think that the Veganmania Summer Festival 2019 on the Danube Island did not live up to its full potential. We were slightly disappointed to see that Veganmania seems to have settled a bit in a comfort zone of commerce. We acknowledge that commerce is a vital part of any fair. But at a time when vegan food and lifestyle is entering the mainstream, we’d love to see more.
A more engaging programme, including talks and more hands-on workshops or show-cooking. More inspired vegan food that shows off how amazingly tasty and versatile a plant-based diet can be. Less junk food that’s a sorry excuse for a meat-free meal. Paul, as a former meat eater, can’t imagine any person converting to veganism because of the food that was served. We are convinced that with a bit of curation, Veganmania could transform from being little more than a gathering point for vegans to a true growing ground for veganism.
Read this next: “Vegans Throw the Best Parties” – and find out what happened when we spent three days at a Sommerfest in Austria. SPOILER alert: mooooooooOOOO!
Did you go to Veganmania? What did you think?