The 14th International Vegan Festival (IVF) was held in the Bulgarian seaside capital of Varna from 1 - 8 June 2014. Since the first International Vegan Festival in 1981, the Festival has been held in several locations throughout Europe, and has also made it to the United States, Australia, India, and Brazil. This year's Festival was organised by Lubomir Stoyanov and the found of the IVF, Kirsten Jungsberg. Veg Travel Guide caught up with one of the lucky attendees, Julie Rosenfield, after the festival to hear about her experiences in Varna. I had the pleasure of meeting Julie at vegan festivals in 2012 while travelling around the United States. As you will see from our interview, Julie is a seasoned vegan traveller, and if there's anyone who appreciates a good vegan festival, it's her!
VGT: Hi Julie! You recently attended the 14th International Vegan Festival in Varna, Bulgaria. How did you find out about the Festival and was it your first International Vegan Festival?
Julie: I found out about the Festival through one of the organisers, my good friend Kirsten Jungsberg, who incidentally organised the very first International Vegan Festival in Denmark back in 1981.
I have had the pleasure of attending a number of International Vegan Festivals over the years including in 1993 Tossa de Mar, Spain; 1995 San Diego, California; 2006 Skagen, Denmark and 2011 Malaga, Spain.
I have also attended festivals organised by the International Vegetarian Union and European Vegetarian Union including 1994 The Hague, Netherlands; 1997, Bussolengo, Italy; 1999: Widnau, Switzerland; 2000 Toronto, Canada; 2002 Edinburgh, Scotland, 2007 Vienna, Austria; 2008 Dresden, Germany; 2012 San Francisco and Los Angeles and 2013 Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Malaysia.
VTG: Wow! Can you tell us about your experience in general at the Festival and any highlights you had?
Julie: I had a wonderful time at the International Vegan Festival in Varna. It was great meeting and spending time with like-minded people both from Bulgaria and other countries including Germany, Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, India, Turkey, UK and USA. It was a treat to have delicious vegan food served three times a day and to attend a host of different thought-provoking lectures with topics ranging from nutrition to animal rights.
One of my highlights was spending time at a local animal sanctuary. Other highlights included an evening of Kurtan music and our very own special talent show on the last night “Vegans Got Talent!” which featured Bulgarian belly dancing, a yoga display, magic and a sock dance!
VTG: Sounds like a lot of fun! The theme of the Festival was “For the People, For the Planet, And for the Animals”. What kind of topics did this cover, and did you have a favourite session during the festival?
There was a wide range of topics covered during the festival, both from speakers who were attending the festival and those who talked to us via Skype.
Topics included lectures on health, nutrition, fundraising for veggie organisations, genomics, humane education, raw food, the case against palm oil, the 269 campaign etc.
One of my favourite speakers was Guarav Jain who was both entertaining and inspirational when he spoke of his involvement with PETA campaigns in India. Another was Vesanto Melina who spoke to us at length via Skype on vegan nutrition and answered many of our important questions.
VTG: Now onto the food! The program included vegan breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. How did you find the vegan meals during the festival? Did you discover any foods that you hadn’t tried before?
Julie: Yes indeed. We were very well fed during the festival on three vegan meals a day. We were very lucky to have vegan chef Kye on board, ably assisted by Petra, from the Czech Republic. The food was delicious and plentiful and was served buffet style. Kye had done lots of research on Bulgarian food so there were plenty of new dishes to try as well as old favourites like hearty soups, stews, lasagne, stuffed peppers as well as a range of delicious cakes, desserts and pancakes.
An interesting food I encountered for the first time was Einkorn – an ancient variety of wheat. This seems to be much healthier than modern-day types of wheat and can be used in a variety of dishes such as porridge, salads and curries or baked into bread, scones and biscuits. I have been carrying on with my adventures with Einkorn since I returned home from the Festival.
VTG: Did you have an opportunity to do any sightseeing around Varna or visit any local vegan-friendly restaurants?
Julie: In the middle of the Festival, we had a day of sightseeing which included a trip to the Four-Legged Friends Animal Sanctuary and the botanical gardens. We also had a couple of enjoyable evenings in Varna at some lively beach bars.
Although we didn’t get a chance to visit any vegan-friendly restaurants as we were on full board at the hotel, those who stayed on after the festival were able to visit a local Hare Krishna centre, the Vitarama, and to have dinner at a vegan-friendly restaurant, the Jasmine Tea-House.
VTG: Can you tell us more about your visit to the Four-Legged Friends Animal Sanctuary?
Julie: Visiting the the Four-Legged Friends Animal Sanctuary in Varna was a highlight of the Festival. It was started by a lovely Bulgarian couple in 2006 and began with one rescued goat. They now have a collection of rescued animals including donkeys, goats, dogs, sheep, a pig, dogs, and, more recently, during the course of our visit, a pair of terrapins.
There are no animal protection laws in Bulgaria and the sanctuary is in a dire financial situation following the loss of a recent sponsor and is desperate for funds. If anyone would like to donate to this vital organisation, you can find more details on their Facebook page (posting on 28 May).
VTG: Do you have any travel tips for vegan travellers visiting Varna (or Bulgaria in general)?
Julie: You will need the local currency Bulgarian Lev for taxis, shops and restaurants.
Check out Happy Cow for details of where to eat in Bulgaria.
VTG: Where to next? Have you got plans to attend any upcoming local or international vegan festivals?
As for myself, I am planning to stay a bit nearer home as there are two vegan festivals happening in London UK. The London Vegan Festival is on Sunday 17th August 2014 and VegFest London is on 27th and 28th September 2014.
VTG: What an exciting vegan festival calendar ahead!!! Thank you so much for sharing your photos and experiences from the 14th International Vegan Festival in Varna with us!
Julie: Happy travels!
Julie Rosenfield has been a vegan for 26 years and lives in London, England. She is the Co-Organiser of the London Vegan Meetup group, a former trustee and currently a local contact of the Vegan Society UK. Julie is the Co-Owner of a vegan resources website, www.veganlondon.co.uk and editor of the book Vegan Stories. You can read Julie's bog which features a number of vegan articles at http://julierosenfield.wordpress.com.