Skip to main content

Global bake sale is 'sweet' vegan activism

By Brett Roegiers, CNN
  • Second annual Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale runs from April 24 to May 2
  • More than 120 groups worldwide selling tasty treats that contain no animal products
  • Animal rights activist: "It's almost like a political statement with icing"
  • Veganism
  • Animal Rights
  • Desserts

(CNN) -- When animal rights activist Jasmin Singer found herself face to face with a scientist who conducts animal testing, a cupcake was exchanged instead of harsh words.

"A good vegan cupcake has the power to transform everything for the better," Singer said. "It's almost like a political statement with icing."

Singer was co-hosting a vegan bake sale in New York last week as part of the second annual Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale. More than 120 groups across six continents are holding vegan bake sales from April 24 through May 2.

Bake sale participants see the sweet treats as a way to introduce those unfamiliar with a vegan diet to some of the flavorful foods they can eat.

While vegetarians stay away from meat but may consume dairy and eggs, vegans give up all animal products.

Some people become vegan for animal welfare reasons. Others view it as a way to reduce their carbon footprint. Still others choose the plant-based diet as part of a healthier lifestyle.

Ruxandra Costescu, of Bucharest, Romania, said most attendees at the bake sales she helped organize weren't vegan.

One person who showed up couldn't decide what he wanted, so he took one of everything, she said, adding that he came back later to buy more of his favorites for his family.

"It's really nice to have people who eat anything really appreciate the vegan treats," Costescu said. "Usually people are amazed that they're so tasty."

In Sydney, Australia, Amanda Salles was inspired to start regularly holding vegan bake sales after joining the first worldwide bake sale last year.

She has never gone to an animal rights rally, but she tries to make a difference by baking vegan desserts like gingerbread cookies.

"I know a lot of people probably think it's not enough or that you should be going to protests or demonstrations," she said. "But it's a good way to participate. It's not very aggressive."

Some approaches to vegan outreach are less subtle. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has had half-naked activists campaign against meat consumption by covering themselves in fake blood and lying in human-sized meat packages.

PETA's theatrics may seem a far cry from a bake sale, but the organization sees the sales and protests as means of reaching the same goal.

"Even if [people] don't like the medium that we're using to get things across, we really just try to make sure they understand why we're doing it," said PETA senior campaigner Ashley Byrne.

Gary Loewenthal, director of the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale, said he believes bake sales can be a nice change of pace for people used to more confrontational forms of activism.

"I liked it because it combined this time-honored, well-liked tradition with vegan outreach," he said.

He started planning last year's event from his home in Falls Church, Virginia, after brainstorming fundraising opportunities with Compassion for Animals, the animal advocacy group he helps run.

Loewenthal sent invitations to cities all over the world and soon generated a buzz online. In 2009, the event had close to 100 participants and raised more than $25,000.

Each group decides where to direct the proceeds of its own bake sale. While the money is not required to go to any specific type of organization, many opt to donate to nonprofit groups.

Two events in Seattle, Washington, last week raised $1,770 for Pigs Peace Sanctuary, where Edgar, a potbellied pig, is being treated for a broken leg.

Funds from a vegan bake sale in California on Sunday will benefit breast cancer research and education through the Avon Foundation. A group in Louisiana will send its proceeds to Food For Life, a vegan hunger-relief organization.

When Loewenthal started researching vegan bake sales in 2008, a Google search yielded few results. Now, he says, one can find at least a handful of them taking place in any given month.

In late January, more than 25 U.S. cities held vegan bake sales to raise money for Haiti hurricane relief. They were able to donate more than $75,000, according to organizer Isa Moskowitz, author of a number of vegan cookbooks.

The growing popularity of vegan bake sales makes Loewenthal think about the future of the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale.

"We've got some ideas going forward about how to keep it fresh," he said. "But we're also prepared for it to be obsolete. ... We can call it a success and go on to something else."