Vida Vegan Con (VVC) has to be the most fun event on earth. I’ve been to lots of veggie fests, and they are all wonderful (every last one of them). VVC is a little bit different though; it’s a more intimate gathering that nurtures vegans to help us become more effective, joyful and confident advocates for animals.

As described by the organizers, Janessa, Jess, and Michele, the conference is about “community, celebrating veganism, and becoming better bloggers and sharers.”  There were also plenty of non-bloggers in attendance and I would imagine they got as much out of the event as anyone. Much of the information presented could easily translate to all kinds of activities aimed at helping animals.

There were tons of practical workshops for bloggers on writing, networking, restaurant reviewing, and photography. But many of the sessions looked at issues that impact our community and our outreach. I presented on how we evaluate nutrition research and why it’s so important to base our health claims on scientific evidence. I also participated in a panel discussion with my buddies Gena and Jasmin to talk about how different dietary theories help or hinder our efforts to push veganism into the mainstream.

Other sessions addressed big advocacy-related issues: the intersections among veganism and other social justice movements; the importance of taking our ethics beyond the plate; problems of sexism and body shaming in vegan communities; and how and why we should introduce a message about animal rights into vegan blogs, even when those blogs are about food and nutrition.

The conference felt like the perfect blend of celebration and purpose. The food was amazing—for the rest of my life, whenever I’m hungry, I know I’ll be fantasizing about the “build a sandwich” buffet (I’ve been torturing my husband with descriptions of that spread.) And the exhibitors were generous with a never-ending selection of delicious samples. We had healthy food, convenience food, and party food—a great demonstration of how well vegan food can fit any occasion.

There was also lots of time for more intimate conversations. I had a chance to chat with new and old friends about food, fashion, and feral cats, about environmental issues, and human rights issues.

As a dietitian, of course, my niche is nutrition and health. My focus is on helping vegans stay healthy, because that is what I know, after all. But as a vegan, these other topics matter to me as well.

Recently, a colleague shared some comments about why veganism in and of itself is not enough to produce optimal health. And, it’s not of course. You can be vegan and eat a pretty unhealthy diet. (See above comment about party food!) And I can see that someone who is advocating exclusively or primarily for health may not want to see their recommendations conflated with veganism, a choice that may or may not be healthy.

My own perspective is different, though. Because if we are going to change the world for animals, a vegan ethic is where we start. I never refer to myself as a “plant-based” RD, because, to me, a healthy plant-based diet is “not enough.” Only veganism offers the opportunity for good health—if we do it right—and at the same time encompasses an ethic of fairness and compassion.

That’s why I loved all of those “big-picture” conversations and presentations at Vida Vegan Con. It reflected how impactful our choices are, and how many things there are to consider. Things like the environmental and human costs of our purchases, the obligation to help homeless animals in our communities, and also the need to protect our personal health. We do need to consider all of those things because veganism by itself isn’t perfect. But we can’t have a perfect world without it.