Interview responses by Josh LaBure
The members of Denver’s Plants & Animals have their work cut out for them. As a vegan advocacy group a thousand or so miles from the nearest coast (where plant-based diets seem to thrive), it’s not exactly a piece of—dairy-free—cake convincing meat eaters to give up the flesh. But just as there are liberals in Utah, there are vegans in Denver—no matter how out-of-place they may feel at times. As such, they might as well do what comes naturally to any advocacy group: organize and, well, advocate. That’s the impetuous behind the group’s most successful endeavor, Chomp, a monthly, community-based vegan dinner that’s open to anyone who might be curious about the animal-free diet they’ve been hearing about. Of course, the group also organizes benefits, actions, and other cruelty-free events, all of which Plants & Animals member Josh LaBure spoke with us about.
Are you surprised with how successful Chomp has become?
Yes, sometimes. Whenever I see all the people in line, it’s just crazy. When it started off the first time, there were like 25 people and I thought that was huge. We didn’t even have enough food. We were surprised that even that many people came. When we started doing them at Yellow Feather, we started having 70 or 80 people. Then we had to move spaces. When we started at Green Spaces, we had 120 people at the first one. It blows me away every time I see it. It makes me really proud to be a part of it. I’m really stoked that this event even happens.
How does Chomp fit into your vegan activism?
Chomp fits into my activism because it shows people how delicious vegan food can be, and to make it accessible to people is very important for the sustainability of anybody’s veganism. One of the biggest reasons people don’t go vegan is because lack of choices or it just seems like a difficult decision. So if you make it accessible and make it delicious, it just makes it easier.
Do you do a lot of promotion or is the success all word of mouth?
I just talk a lot. We did a lot of Facebook stuff and I tell everyone I meet about it. I was working at Whole Food full-time and any time I saw anyone buying vegan food, I’d be like, ‘Oh, come to Chomp,’ and give them a flier. And I think the first few with the food being so good from our chefs, that probably got people talking about it. It has become more of a community event.
It is a really great atmosphere. That’s probably a lot of the reason people come back.
I agree. I think that’s the biggest thing: people come, we try to make people feel comfortable, and we just want to make really good fucking food.
What’s the difference between Chomp and Plants & Animals? Or is there one?
We always wanted to keep Chomp separate from what Plants & Animals is doing, but the money from Chomp goes to fund Plants & Animals. And we have the [P&A] table there always, so that’s a big part of it. But Chomp has its own thing going. It doesn’t really feel much like an activist event as much as a community event, which is what we wanted. We didn’t want to come off as preachy vegans at Chomp. We just wanted it to be a comfortable place for people to come and just make it accessible for everyone. I think we’ve been successful in keeping the two vibes different.
What are you able to fund through Chomp?
We got to do some movie screenings. We had an anti-Bluefin Tuna campaign, which went pretty well. We’ve done bake sales, which raise money for other organizations. We also brought Gene Bauer from Animal Sanctuary.
Didn’t you want Chomp to become a vegan grocery store eventually?
Chomp came out of doing potlucks and stuff and ten people would come. At the same time I wanted to open a vegan grocery store and I wanted to call that Chomp. And I wasn’t 100% sure that there was much of a vegan community here, so people suggested that I should create a community event to see. And then I had the idea from the potlucks that maybe we should just do a dinner. Mark and I started doing Plants & Animals stuff and then we were like, ‘Okay, let’s make this a community dinner every month.’ So we just made it donation-based because we thought more people would come. Ever since then I realized there really is a strong vegan community in Denver and that maybe there is a need for something like that. So my eventual goal is to take the momentum gained from the community dinners and open up some kind of grocery store or café or something like that to bring the community together on a regular basis. And I really like this idea of more than one business running a space to keep rent cheap and to keep it more community centered. I really hope to make that happen one day.
Like a vegan mecca?
Exactly. If a few vegan business idea people got together and open up three or four businesses in one spot, I think it would be super accessible to people, keep prices low, and actually open up those businesses.
There’s not a lot of vegan stuff in Denver.
No, I think Denver has a lot of potential that is untapped. I think it’s just now starting to bubble up and something’s happening. You got the Vegan Van opening up. We’re starting Denver Seitan, so hopefully we’ll get that out. I keep hearing about vegan cafes that are opening up, but we’ll see. Hopefully more stuff’s going on.
Tell me about Denver Seitan.
My friend Tim makes seitan and it’s really fucking good. And my friend Mark said, ‘We should sell this.’ And then they brought me on because I know a lot of people in the vegan community and they’re hoping all three of us together with our different abilities will get that off the ground. We’ll see what happens.
Go plantsanimals.org. We have a lot of events coming up.