I recently returned from Vegan Campout Australia 2023 and it was everything I could have hoped for and more. This was the first year Australia hosted the festival, which originated in the UK by founder Jordan Martin, and it was held over 3 days (November 24-26, 2023) in the lush depths of Glenworth Valley.
In this post I am going to share my first Vegan Campout Australia experience and recap some of the keynote speakers I had the pleasure of watching.
Friday 24th November 2023
I attended the campout solo and was lucky enough to have a friend live nearby so I didn't actually camp at the festival and decided to drive to and from each day. In hindsight this may have been a blessing in disguise because the weather over the weekend was not great but I definitely don't feel like I missed out on the experience by not camping.
On arrival the organisers and volunteers checked my ticket and I parked to one side and made my way over to the festival grounds. The camping and glamping was positioned on either side of the festival so if you did camp or park it wasn't far to walk and get in.
While you could start arriving at the grounds from 12pm the talks didn't kick off until the afternoon so there was a bit of time to explore before settling in.
The first thing I was greeted by was the lineup of delicious food trucks and I loved that all weekend I could eat whatever food I wanted without wondering if it was vegan or if they had vegan options, hallelujah! Some of the vegan food vendors included I Should Be Souvlaki, Funky Pies, Future Swirl, Between The Buns and Sugar Baby Vegan Cakes. I decided to kick off my VCO experience with the Funky Chunky Pie from Funky Pies which was SO good and would turn out to be my go-to pretty much all weekend! This pie contains Shiitake Mushroom Chunks and Mashed Potatoes in Rich Gravy and it was cooked to perfection, especially the pastry, and it was such feel-good food, especially given the rainy weather.
There was also some specialty stalls from vegan based businesses, animal sanctuary stands and organisations like Sea Shepherd and the Animal Justice Party Australia which I would visit in the coming days.
The lineup was released prior to the festival and there were two giant tents where the magic happened. The Main Stage, which is where the majority of the speakers were and live music, and the Education, Mind & Body tent which held other talks, yoga, breathwork sessions and an art installation.
The MC for the campout was Rhubi Rae Winter who brought such great energy to the event and kept everything running like clockwork.
The first speaker was Pam Ahern from Edgar's Mission, so I took my pie and made myself comfortable. I loved learning more about her beloved Edgar Alan Pig, who the sanctuary was named after, and how she would take him and her dog for walks in the park and people would gather to marvel at his unique brand of pigginess. With his deep guttural belly grunts, Edgar quickly endeared himself to everyone he met. But there was still a disconnect between an animal with paws versus hoofs and how dogs were seen as pets and pigs were seen as food. Pigs are highly intelligent creatures, and are actually smarter than dogs, so after seeing the profound effect Edgar had on people, Pam realised the best ambassadors for changing the way people think about farmed animals are the animals themselves. Edgar’s Mission would become a sanctuary for the animals who could be rescued, and a much-needed voice for those who could not.
Her talk ended with the quote “If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others, why wouldn’t we?” and I honestly ask myself this everyday. She also opened the floor up to Q&A and someone asked if she hung out with people who weren't vegan. Her response was that she doesn't ask and she doesn't want to impart judgement on someone which may discourage them from being open to the idea of becoming vegan. I really respected her answer and her kind and considered approach to non-vegans.
After Pam, Ellatronix took the stage for her Tropical House DJ set which was accompanied by her environmental music videos that educated and inspired people about our relationship with the earth and animals. It was really beautiful to watch the stories unfold as Ella performed and her feel-good beats were really catchy.
Australian Body Positive Model and Animal Rights Activist Stefania Ferrario took to the stage next to talk about her career and the activism work she has done. She is such a beautiful woman so when dressed in sexy lingerie and protesting it is no wonder she turns heads. But it hasn't all been positive and she has also lost a lot of work (with Myer and was banned from working with the lingerie brands they stock) for standing up for what she believes in. But this has not deterred Stefania as she continues to fight for animals and their rights. The key message from her talk was to be intentional with the words and language you use when speaking up for animals but she also made a great point: Veganism is not a cult. A cult is eating the carcass of an animal and everyone sitting around a table smiling at it and each other. I had never thought about it like that and it was like a penny dropped as soon as she said it. What a disturbing thing to do, happily feast on a dead corpse. It actually makes me sick thinking about it. Stefania also talked about making the Vegan Liberation Pledge which is a pledge to live vegan and refuse to sit where animal bodies are being served or eaten. I had never heard of this before and like she said, it isn't easy to do but it makes a powerful statement and starts a conversation.
We were then treated to a Beach Trashion Show by activist and artist Marina DeBris who created incredible fashion designs made completely out of garbage found on Sydney beaches. From plastic bags to nets, fishing line, kites, flags, toys and face masks, these intricate, showstopping styles really brought awareness to how much litter and pollution ends up on our beaches, oceans and in our waterways.
I then decided to make my way over to the other tent to hear Scott Wallace talk about Aligned Advocacy. This was such a valuable talk and he shared ways we can take care of ourselves and regulate our nervous systems while also fighting for the causes we believe in. When you take part in activism it can feel like we are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. So by implementing holistic practices such as meditation and breathwork, which is Scott's forte, we can become more powerful allies while taking care of ourselves in the process. He ended with a short breathwork session which was a really nice way to round off his talk.
The final speaker of the day, who I didn't get to hear completely, was the Seaspiracy Director Ali Tabrizi. He shared some really interesting stats about Jehovah's Witnesses and despite all their door knocking efforts and having a magazine that prints more copies than National Geographic, they only recruit around 0.04% new people. The point to this stat was to demonstrate the comparison of getting people to switch to veganism and how perhaps we have gone about it all wrong and he proposed we should consider a top down system change starting with the protection of animal rights, followed by protection of habitats and then ending animal agriculture. It was a really interesting way to think about it and one I am definitely going to give more consideration.
Day 1 was done and I left on a high excited for tomorrow.
Saturday 25th November 2023
Day 2 here we go! I got to the grounds early because it was a back to back day of speakers who I didn't want to miss!
The day started with a Cancel Culture talk by VCO founder Jordan Martin and he shared how he started vegan campout but also the disgusting hate, racism and death threats he has received since the campout has gained momentum and growth. It was so sad to hear but equally inspiring as it shows his resilience and how he was not going to back down from what was truly important to him.
Dominion Assistant Producer Matthew Lynch then continued the Cancel Culture conversation and made some great points about creating more unity within the vegan community. He said that if we were all kinder and showed more compassion within then that would filter outwards. It is so true because if non-vegans already have a poor perception of the vegan community bickering amongst ourselves then where is the incentive or inspiration for them to even consider switching to a vegan lifestyle if they don't feel like they will be supported? It made a lot of sense. He also opened the floor for others to come up and share their ideas and I really liked that he created a safe space for people to do this.
Next up was someone I was really excited to hear from, Tash Peterson. I have seen some of her activism work in the past which was quite loud and disruptive and I always wondered why she took that approach. Well today I learnt why and I have a new found respect for her and the work that she does. Tash explained that she deliberately puts herself out there in a loud way to create controversy and get attention while using very intentional language that holds more weight and creates impact. For example saying murder instead of slaughter, rape instead of impregnate. She shared her TV appearances, interviews and the millions of views she has racked up since using her voice and sadly she would not have received that same level of exposure with a kind and compassionate approach. She shared how she ran onto a Perth football field at an AFL game with the flag 'Right to Rescue' to protest the right for activists to rescue animals from farms and also the time she protested at Fyre Restaurant after the owner and celebrity chef John Mountain banned all vegans from his restaurant. Tash is not here to sit back and keep quiet while innocent animals are subject to abuse and harm and seeing her tear up as she talked about her love for animals demonstrated what a big heart she has. She is truly an incredible woman and I fully support the work she does and hope one day I have the guts to put myself out there like she does.
The mood was a little lighter when Sarah from Plantbaes took the stage and talked to us about plant based nutrition. I have followed her on Instagram and am always so inspired by her recipes and creations so it was really great to hear her talk. It was also a reminder I need to have more lentils, beans and seeds in my diet so I bought some lentil mixes from Simply Lentils as some quick and easy meals I can make when I am short on time.
I then headed back to Funky Pies to grab another Funky Chunky Pie for lunch while I watched Emma Hurst, the MP for the Animal Justice Party, share the huge wins she has had and the bills she has passed in parliament. I follow Emma on Instagram and she is a powerhouse and fights hard for animals and their rights. Afterwards I visited the AJP tent and became a member so I could join her in making a difference and hopefully I can get more involved in my local area.
Musician, singer, songwriter, plant-based chef and author (woah, is there anything this incredible woman can't do!?) Katie White then came on to perform 'Songs for the Animals' and I didn't look around as I hid my tears but I guarantee there wouldn't have been a dry eye in the house. As Katie sang she had a music video showing a baby calf being taken from its mother and you could tell how emotional it was making her and that filtered right through me. I was trying to cover my face and stealthily wipe away my tears but anyone who saw me would have seen me ugly crying haha. It was such a beautiful, moving and powerful performance and I really look forward to listening to more of her music and also attending one of her vegan cooking classes one day.
Animal Rights Advocate Seb Alex then gave a really inspiring talk about the importance of being an active animal rights advocate and the philosophy which will make us better advocates. He shared his personal story and how he was called out by a friend for calling himself an animal lover because he had a cat yet he continued to eat meat. He then became vegetarian but after visiting Armenia and watching a 62 year old man preparing for a hike he approached him and discovered he was vegan. Naturally Seb asked him where he got his protein from, which had the whole crowd laughing because it is such a common question asked by non-vegans. The man then sent Seb an email 2 months later at the peak of the mountain after successfully completing the hike. After watching Earthlings and some other documentaries, Seb decided to go vegan. He then shared some of the strongest ways we can defend our stance on animal rights by defining what rights are and how they protect us. He went on to discuss how animal rights are an extension of human rights and should not be treated separately. He compared traits (eg. someone not being as smart as you) and how different traits should not mean that people or animals are treated differently - there is no single trait that could justify harming any other living being. Animals rights are a direct extension of human rights and he made a great point - if we cannot agree on human rights how are we going to agree on animal rights? Our stance should be clear, consistent and loud when it comes to all types of injustice. As animal activists we are fighting against the biggest industry in the world, the food industry, and we would be naive to think this will be easy. There isn't one perfect way to advocate but there is a best way for each of us which we can do as we continue to learn and do our best to do what is right.
I decided to take a break from the talks and headed to the Mind/Body tent for the Vibrational Tunings workshop which was a sound based meditation that was really relaxing.
Then it was back to Funky Pies but this time for their apple pie. I have never had such a delicious apple pie with coconut custard in my whole life and if you ever get the chance I highly recommend trying one!
It was late in the afternoon at this point and I knew the main stage tent would start to get busy as people took their seats in preparation for Earthling Ed. It was already quite busy inside so I found a spot towards the middle and got comfortable. There were some vacant seats beside me and slowly people started to filter back inside ready for the next talk. A couple came and sat in the seats next to me and after a few minutes the guy turned to me and said 'Are you Marisa?' I was like 'yeahhh' not expecting to meet anyone I know because there was zero reception and I had no way to contact anyone. It turns out it was Ed from Let's Go Vegan and his partner Rachel! It was so lovely to put a face to a name and get to know them both and share this experience with them.
We continued to chat before Nimai Delgado, who is a vegan fitness coach and bodybuilder, took the stage. Nimai has been vegetarian since birth due to his religious upbringing which means he has never consumed meat and is living proof that you don't need to eat meat to be strong and healthy! In 2015 he went completely vegan and cut dairy out of his diet wanting to live the healthiest lifestyle possible and basing his diet on unprocessed, plant-based foods. He has trained and inspired thousands of people to do the same so they can become the best versions of themselves. He also wanted to take a stand against the violence, suffering and death of innocent living beings and is helping people understand and learn that it is possible to push your body to its physical peak and compete against elite athletes while living a vegan lifestyle.
Revolutionary soul group The Seeding then performed for us and they had really cool, retro vibes which was a lot of fun.
Then the man of the hour was up and the person we had all been waiting for - Earthling Ed. He is such a funny and charismatic guy and while he is also a disruptor he is also so humble and honest, sharing his own imperfect journey to becoming vegan. He discussed how we should consider that the way that we live originated at the start of our lives and that our views, beliefs, conditions and behaviours were given to us from the moment we were born. He then took us through some of the people he has interviewed over the years and the arguments they put up for eating animals. There were certainly some characters but Ed didn't come at them from a judgemental angle. He took each conversation as an opportunity and learnt that people have these beliefs because this is how they have been raised and they are living in alignment with how they think they are supposed to live. Understanding peoples views allows us to make progress and if we don't take the time to understand why people act in the ways that they do and behave in the ways that they do, then how can we ever help to change their mindsets? Ed went on to share personal experiences such as his family fishing trips and how he was brought up being taught that catching, killing and eating fish was acceptable. It is fascinating when you start to consider peoples conditioning and how that has shaped their beliefs and views. Peoples views are based on the information they have been given and they often take it as gospel without thinking deeply about it. But challenging that information has allowed them to view their actions differently and recognise there is no substantiated reason for how they feel the way they feel or believe the things that they believe. We can create doubt in these people and allow that seed of doubt to germinate so people will start to think for themselves and encourage them to become more critical thinkers. Not to tell them how we feel but to encourage them to reflect on how they feel so that they themselves can do the work on their own. Each and every vegan made that change because we decided to. We may have received encouragement or inspiration from others to make the change but ultimately it was our choice. We have to empower others to do the same and share the compelling evidence to change and acknowledge the flaws in the ways people currently live.
Ed concluded by sharing a quote from civil rights activist James Baldwin "The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter even by a millimetre the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”
Changing the world doesn't have to be this huge event but can be broken down by tiny changes, millimetre by millimetre. How every conversation we have with someone, every interaction and every opportunity that presents itself to us is the opportunity to make a change millimetre by millimetre.
Each of us plays an important part in this change. Working collectively as a movement we can shift the world millimetre by millimetre and one day we will be able to look back and see how far we have come.
Ed received a much deserved standing ovation.
I then decided to make my way back to the car and head home, and at this point the car park was turning into a mud bath and peoples tyres were spinning out. Thankfully I got out without any problems but I know not everyone was so lucky. I left another day feeling so inspired and motivated by all the speakers and being surrounded by like-minded people. I thought going to the campout alone would be a lonely experience but I have never felt so part of a caring community who are all as passionate about animals as I am. I felt like I had found my people.
Sunday 26th November 2023
I had plans to return to the campout this morning to watch a few final speakers but given how bad the weather was last night I decided to give it a miss and go and visit my furry and feathered friends at Moo to Ewe Animal Sanctuary instead.
This isn't my first visit to the sanctuary but I love how interactive it is and after feeling so inspired by everyone at the campout I just had to spend some time with these beautiful animals.
I would like to thank the organisers and all the volunteers who made the first Australian Vegan Campout a huge success. I left feeling so inspired and motivated to do more for the animals and I cannot wait for next year.