Main Street Vegan Academy Re-Cap: Travel, Welcome Dinner, & Day 1

March 10th, 2013 - filed under: Furthermore » Inspiration

At the end of February, 2013, I embarked on a week-long adventure in New York city. It was a gamble to say the least, but I was willing to make the bet since, you know, it’s my future and all. Pursuing my passion versus taking a day job – to me that’s a no brainer, even if the odds are on the house.

Main Street Vegan Academy is a five-day intensive course run by the inimitable Victoria Moran (30-year vegan, speaker, and author of no less than 11 books, including Creating A Charmed Life and Main Street Vegan). MSVA trains vegan lifestyle coaches, and I was part of the third graduating class.

Brushing my teeth in the terminal at LAX

I took a red-eye flight which left at 11:00 pm and arrived at 7:30 am (with a 3-hour time jump, mind you, so that was 4:30 am in my brain). I did this because I wanted to reset my sleep schedule in one fell swoop, assuring that I would be exhausted enough to fall asleep at a reasonable hour that night. I do suggest this method, as long as you can give yourself an extra day, ie not disembark from the red-eye expecting to go straight to work. I arrived on a Tuesday morning with no obligations except a welcome dinner at Victoria’s that evening.

I left LA with temps in the low 70s, and arrived to find New York still spotty with snow. I’d done my homework and had my route all mapped out, airport to hotel via air tran, 2 subway trains, and some hoofing it. Good thing, too, since my brain was NOT so functional . . .

An hour and a half of travel-time later, I was clambering up the front steps of the Harlem Bed and Breakfast. As an aside, if you plan to attend MSVA, this is a great place to stay. It’s only a few blocks from Victoria’s apartment (where class is held), it’s reasonably priced and the rooms are cute and quirky. The only downside is the shared bathrooms, BUT I literally never saw anyone ever not once, so there ya go.

All checked into my room, I immediately texted Gena, who was back home in New York for the weekend. We made a quick plan to meet at Peacefood Cafe, and I decided I’d earned my stripes navigating subways that morning . . . so I hailed a cab.

Bloggers will capture the moment, oh yes we will!

You know when you read someone’s blog for a long while and you start to have creepy stalker thoughts like “Oh Em Gee we would totally be like besties!” (not just me, right?). It’s always strange when the screen comes to life and suddenly that person is actually standing in front of you (see: Vida Vegan Con, which is essentially a 2-day extravaganza of “Oh! It’s you! From the Internet!” *hug* *chat* *head explode*). And I’d met Gena before, at VVC actually, but we never really had a chance to sit down and talk one on one.

So that’s what we did, and it was flipping fantastic, and spanned an afternoon of green juice and lunch at Peacefood, a stroll through a health food boutique across the street, and rounded out with a couple of lattes at La Pain Quotidien. And it’s just very special, one of my favorite things really, when I meet someone (or, err, re-meet someone) who I totally *click* with. Do you know that feeling? Because it doesn’t happen to me very often, and I knew that Gena was awesome but I didn’t realize how much we have in common, waaaay beyond our mutual love of healthy living, veganism, and blogging. So suffice it to say, I had a great time that afternoon.

From there I was off to my hotel to freshen up. Victoria was hosting a welcome dinner for the whole class, and my jet lag was juuuust starting to reveal itself.

I don’t have any pictures of that night, so you’ll have to accept this selfie I took on my way out of the B&B. Not a single picture! (bad blogger) I was pretty much the walking dead – I’m sure I made an excellent first impression. But it was a wonderful evening, all of us students so excited to be there. And Victoria was a delightful hostess.

Can I just pause for a moment here to talk about our fearless leader? Victoria Moran. This woman is electric, magnetic, and generally just kind of twinkley. She has that sort of presence that’s both intimidating (she’s obviously got some magic shit figured out, and thus moves on a plane just a bit above the rest of us) and yet completely calming (because she’s warm, genuine, and remarkably down to earth). I have so much admiration for Victoria, on a professional level as well as in a personal capacity (she was once a single mother, too, and has battled plenty of her own demons). She is the real deal and I can relate to it, which makes her all the more inspiring. Plus, I mean let’s be honest – she is a prolific author, a speaker and educator, and an all-around vegan powerhouse. She is earning a living by living her truth – basically leading the life that I aspire to!

It is truly a gift to be able to meet someone who can model your dream so definitively.

But moving along, Victoria and her two in-house helpers (fellow MSVA attendees Bonnie and Melissa) had prepared a feast for us – chickpea curry over brown rice with chutney, carrot and coconut slaw, and massaged kale salad. With plenty of beverages including vegan wine (which I did NOT partake in, fearing that I may fall asleep with my face in my food). We chatted over dinner, going around the circle to introduced ourselves.

One of the coolest things about my particular class, was that we came from all over. Besides the folks who traveled together, nobody was from the same state. We represented the northeast, the west coast, the midwest, the deep south, and one woman flew all the way from Qatar in the Middle East!

Before we left, we all dug into a big box of vegan truffles – the perfect little dessert to top off an amazing night. I stumbled back to my B&B in the blustery cold, and barely managed to get into my pajamas before passing out entirely. Whew!


Victoria’s recently adopted rescue-dog, Forbes. He is adorable and we became fast friends, although he is suffering from Heart Worm which means can’t be neutered until it clears up, so he is prone to . . . err . . . ungentlemanly episodes. Always forgiven though – I mean look at that face!

Day 1
MSVA doesn’t mess around. There’s a lot of ground to cover, which means you’re expected to hit said ground running, and you just don’t stop.

On Wednesday, Day 1, breakfast was served promptly at 8 am. Which meant I’d been up at 6:45 to shower and prep, which was sort of basically still 3:45 am in my brain. Huzzah! After we’d eaten and caffeinated, class – which is held in the warm and comfy confines of Victoria’s living room – was ready to begin.

First up was Public Speaking and Media Training, taught by Victoria herself. I loved this session, mostly because it’s one of my weakest areas (crippling fear of public speaking + major introvert = no bueno). Her talk covered a ton, including “Presentation Skills”, “Getting the Gigs”, “Radio and Teleseminars”, and “TV and Online Video”. All jam-packed with tips and tricks culled from decades of experience. I loved this session!

Our next presenter was Marty Davey, MS, RD, LDN – also known as LaDiva Dietitian. This was the nutrition portion of our training, which I was really looking forward to.

Marty shared so much great information over the next few hours, and for the most part I was nodding along and “right on!“-ing the entire time. But then she started talking about fats.

As you probably know, there are a few different schools of thought when it comes to vegan nutrition, particularly regarding the optimal macronutrient ratio (carbs/protein/fat). Marty happens to be of the “low-to-no-fat-is-right-for-everyone, all-the-time” persuasion (she recommended 1 tablespoon of oil per week), while I am just . . . NOT. And having been through what I’ve been through so recently, and knowing with 100% certainty that fat – and plenty of it – is essential for my own health, well honestly, it was hard for me to hear. Not just because I disagree, but because it obviously wasn’t my place to speak up. And I am not so good with biting my tongue.

So that was a struggle, and probably good practice for me, actually. I’m not going to harp on this here, but I will write extensively about my feelings on fat in the future. So anyways, like I said there was a lot of excellent info presented and I did learn quite a bit. My disproportionately emotional reaction was a product of my own [still raw] personal experience, and I know that.

Lunch was served in between Marty’s two presentations. It was home-cooked again, by Victoria, Bonnie, and Melissa. Baked mac ‘n cheese, enormous salad, and the previous night’s leftovers. It was such a treat to have amazing, all gluten-free vegan home cooking. You could taste the love!

After lunch (and re-caffeination) Marty presented her second talk, and then after that it was time for Main Street Vegan Radio!

Victoria hosts Main Street Vegan Radio every Wednesday afternoon on Unity FM (also available to podcast thru iTunes). It was very cool, after the morning’s media lecture, to be able to watch Victoria work through her live show. Her guest of the week was Marty, and two MSVA students were chosen (out of a hat) to cohost. Up there is Margarita getting ready to help with the intro. You can listen to the episode here.

In the late afternoon Victoria led another session, where she taught us how to put together a coaching questionnaire. This is important for making sure that your client gets the most out of your work together, by helping you quickly pinpoint the issues that need focus. It was exactly the sort of practical, applicable information that I found so very valuable at MSVA.

At 5 pm Joshua Katcher arrived to give what would turn out to be one of my very favorite presentations of the whole week. Joshua, who runs the blog The Discerning Brute, as well as the clothing and shoe line Brave GentleMan, is fucking brilliant. Period.

His talk was on Animals In Fashion, and I think it blew my mind in part because I considered myself pretty well-versed on the subject. I mean, leather and fur and wool, right? But Joshua approaches the issue as a psychological analysis, a sort of study on the psyche of a culture that would allow itself to do the things we do, the way we do them. His talk is an intellectual exploration, which makes perfect use of modern images (ads and such) to juxtapose the ideas against the realities. He covers concepts from “aesthetic irrationality” to “virtuous hedonism” and so much more, and I want him to make a movie because everyone needs to see this talk!

Afterwards, Joshua joined our group for dinner out at one of New York’s very best vegan dining establishments: Candle Cafe West. I was so excited to finally dine at a Candle restaurant! The menu was overwhelming in all its glory of local, seasonal, organic offerings. I did it up right, too, all the way from juice to dessert. Here’s Joshua and I at dinner:

I look so tired! Oi. Still having a blast though!

And food:

Spring rolls! Lynette (from South Africa, now living in Qatar) was the only other blogger in the class – can you tell? Haha, oh bloggers. Also, Joshua pointed out that the gentleman in the window seat, just over Lynette’s shoulder there, is renowned psychedelic pop artist (and vegetarian) Peter Max! Very cool.

So, I started with the “Candle Cocktail” (a juice of carrot, celery, beet, mixed greens, and ginger) and my main was the Porcini Crusted Tofu (with celeriac purée, sautéed shallots, wild mushrooms and string beans topped with radishes, almonds, and mushroom gravy). Both of these were stellar, but none of the pics came out. So here’s the bathroom and dessert:

What would you tell them? // Peanut Butter Chocolate Mouse Pie, with berry coulis and salted peanuts.

I honestly don’t remember how I got home to my hotel, I was so tired. It was after 10 pm. I had a quick FaceTime call with Waits (only 7 pm on the west coast), brushed my teeth, and hit the hay!

Edit: There are a lot of comments responding to what I said about fat. I’m so glad you guys are interested in the topic, and I look forward to writing about it in the future. For now though, I really didn’t intend it to be the focus of this post, so I’ll reserve my responses for a future essay. Thank you for understanding.

The rest of the story:
Day 2
Day 3
Days 4 & 5

  • Cherry

    Don’t blame you for getting disturbed by the fat talk. Or is it no oil? Some are no-oil but ok with fat. Anyhow, I am supposed to be on a low diet diet for health reasons and I can still have more oil than a teaspoon a week. That’s ridiculous.

  • Sonja

    love your recap of the MSVA! And I’m very interested in your thoughts about oil/fat.

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    I was in a similar situation last month when I had to hold my tongue during a presentation, *not* an easy task. I was present at an Intro to Vegan Nutrition lecture that was being given to a large group of first time vegans, and the speaker spent almost the entire talk raging against the evils of several dietary components, especially oil of any kind. It was really, really hard to keep my mouth shut – not only was the speaker using dubious credentials and speaking in a defensive/condescending manner that made the Q&A portion a joke, it was obvious to anyone listening critically that she had little-to-no evidence to support her claims. Also, there were a LOT of parents of infants and young children in the audience – making the dissemination of misinformation a huge concern! After the lecture, I spoke with the meeting’s organizer and was relieved to find that she was equally horrified. I’ve since been asked if I would do this talk in the future, something I’ll take very seriously if I decide to do it.

    I look forward to seeing how you integrate your MSVA certificate into your site!

  • GirrlEarth

    Having grown up an Italian-American home, I never thought I could give up olive oil unilt I read: Reversing Diabetes by Dr. Neal Barnard (I am not a diabetic, but I have friends who are). This book completely changed my feelings on oil and convinced me that giving up oil will do my body some good. I have been oil-free since December 1, 2012 and I’ve never felt better. For one, my digestion improved to the point where I no longer need digestive enzymes. Granted, I do realize there isn’t a one-size-fits-all, but based on what I read in that book, most Americans can do without the added oil in their diets.

    On another note, have you had a chance to view the trailer: The Ghost in Our Machine I am going to make sure my non-vegan friends watch it. Most couldn’t get through Earthlings so I’m hoping they will be able to sit through this.

  • ellisabethe

    Hi! I’ve been quietly following your blog for a while and I so appreciate your transparency which seems all too rare in the world of blogs….

    Anyway, I’m a single mama and currently going through some big time life transitions right now too…. I’m trying to survive financially by staying true to my soul but the pressure to get a job just for the income can be overwhelming and I might have to resort to that for a while just to stay afloat.

    And then there are my health issues. Over the past few years I lost virtually all of my energy and started having reactions toward certain foods in my near vegetarian diet – insomnia, horrible bloating, a destroyed digestive tract, an itchy, itchy rashiness all over my body, despair and depression and too many other symptoms to list. I’ve had to become a social recluse just to concentrate on healing.

    I tried increasing my protein, vitamin and mineral levels in different ways and the only thing that has helped me personally is eating a high fat diet with pastured eggs, raw butter and oils such as coconut oil and also (sustainably-raised, pastured) meat/animal products. This has been really tumultuous for me to switch to animal foods and I miss my beautiful, colorful, flavorful plant-based diet so much. I’d like to try to get back to it somehow…. I’ve been attempting to incorporate fermented veggies into my diet but it’s not going so well at this point.

    And to be honest, I’m feeling pretty bitter toward life right now. I feel defeated in every way possible and it seems like it’s impossible to cultivate the socially conscious lifestyle that I think is more deeply satisfying than the shallow, mindless consumerism I grew up with….

    I don’t feel that I can go back but moving forward feels like inching, crawling, even being pushed back…. I find myself questioning what I believe and just not sure about anything anymore. Maybe this is all part of letting go of past things or learning to embrace a more open mind – I don’t know.

    Your blog has been very uplifting for me however. Just knowing someone else out there is going through something similar and has a much better attitude than me helps a lot. So, yeah. Just wanted to reach out, say hi and introduce myself in this crazy place called life. Thanks for putting yourself out there.

  • Anonymous

    This sounds like a perfect thing. I wish we had an Academy like that over here (Belgium that is).

    So nice for you that you had the chance to meet Gena and had a ‘click’ :-), it is always nice when that happens!

  • Gena Hamshaw

    I think it’s a shame that so much focus in vegan nutrition goes toward vilifying things–oil and fat among them. A huge volume of research supports a diet that focuses on moderation–with the inclusion of discerning use of oils, as well as other fats. In light of that, mightn’t it be better for vegan health advocates to focus on the benefits of plant based food (and there are so many)? Of course health professionals have to address pitfalls and problem foods when necessary, but I don’t see the value in making veganism more restrictive than it needs to be.
    In other news, I felt EXACTLY the same way, Sayward. You’re an inspiration–passionate, intelligent, and incredibly wise. I’m so happy to be your friend.

  • Bianca-Vegan Crunk

    Wow! That sounds like so much fun!!! I’d love to attend the academy someday! And hang with Victoria and Joshua! And Gena (met her at VCC too but very little time for talking). Also, I’m totally with you on fats. Healthy fat is good … for the body and for the soul.

  • Sienna

    This may be my bad, but I’m confused. I used to read about how you used washable pieces of cloth on the loo, for eco purposes. But now you say you fly all over the place. I thought you were committed to being green or something..

  • Chef Amber Shea

    Oh dear, oh dear…I would’ve been having an inner conniption fit, myself, during the Fat Talk. I feel you, fellow Fat Sister (and you know I mean that as a compliment!).
    The rest of this post, however, is amazing. Victoria is a gem, and I know exactly what you mean about her “radiant twinkle.”

  • skeptk_vegan

    Some full days are absolutely amazing, and this fits the bill! So jealous! I am surprised that you would not say anything about the fats. Not that I think you should have, that’s not my call. What I’ve experienced though in my college nutrition classes is that people in nutrition [college mostly teaches what I would call 'mainstream nutrition'] repeat what they’re told by the FDA and whatever else. I’m talking teachers, interns, the whole lot. I had an intern give a presentation and tell the class how aspartame is completely harmless despite all of the hype. Over the last couple of years I’ve learned that I regret not speaking my mind, and I gain confidence by not wallowing in my discomfort of wanting to speak up. So I challenged him on the subject with some undeniable proof and concepts, which he stammered on, paused a bit, and at least acknowledged that I made good points. I just can’t help the fact that all the people in that classroom would otherwise just have absorbed his claims and continued the ripple effect of untruths. To me, in science, I feel that there is no rhyme or reason to what your “place” is. Facts, experiences, evidence, and data are all what make the “place”. Science shouldn’t be dealt with offensively, and therefore alternative ideas or proofs should never be considered as an attack, but more so as teamwork. To represent that as scientists, we want to get to the bottom of things. The more information, the better!

  • skeptk_vegan

    The impact that Sayward will have/has had from flying to New York to take this class, far outweighs the impact of her taking a plane flight there… Come on now. In addition, the alternative would have been taking a car, which would be even more wasteful.

  • skeptk_vegan

    *When i say far outweighs, I’m saying that the flight “pollution” is minimal in comparison to the great “green” impacts vegan coaching will have for many years to come. Just to clarify.

  • Gena Hamshaw

    B! I hope we get to talk more next time we hang out :)

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  • Amanda

    I met Victoria Moran at Vegetarian Summerfest last year and attended her public speaking lecture. The woman is a pixie!

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  • Sayward Rebhal

    Do the talk Monika! You’d be great!!!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    WOW that trailer was amazing, thank you so much for sharing! I can’t wait to see that film now, and I shared all over my social media, haha.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Ellisabethe I’d rather talk in private, please email me okay? info AT bonzaiaphrodite DOT com

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Ditto lady! See you at VVC =)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Bianca you’d love it! So many amazing people, so much fun, SO MUCH GOOD FOOD!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I still think we should start an e-revolution, you and I. Fat-loving vegans unite!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Total pixie!

  • Victoria Moran

    Thanks for all these beautiful postings, Sayward! I do want to be clear that Main St. Vegan Academy does not promote the super-low-fat philosophy. One instructor – a very qualified instructor – is of that point of view, as are many other plant-based luminaries these days (Barnard, Esselstyn, McDougall, Ornish, etc.). I don’t censor points of view expressed at the Academy. However, MSVA philosophy is “Vegan. As whole as you can get it. That’s enough.” Personally, I eat some oils. I’ve done it both ways and on a no-fat approach, I feel like a dried-up leaf.

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  • Sayward Rebhal

    Victoria, one of the things I admire about you is your ability to hear somebody without feeling the need to interject your own stuff. I notice it on your radio show all the time, and it really allows people to feel comfortable and share what they’re there to share. I’m working on it!

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