AT THE TABLE: Odds and Ends from the Vida Vegan Conference

By Theresa Curry/images by Mark Miller

Portland was the site, and well-chosen, too, for the second-ever vegan food bloggers conference, Vida Vegan Conference,  held last month.
(I thank Shannon Ables over at The Simply Luxurious Life for recommending her favorite Portland restaurants, all wonderful choices.) 

I also went to Natural Selection in the Alberta Arts District with a group of old friends, and ate what may be the best meal I've ever had. Watching Aaron Woo and his talented staff in the visible kitchen is a valuable lesson for anyone wanting to cook meals based on plants: nothing on the menu is trying to imitate a meat version of anything. The preparation space is small and the dinner service is choreographed perfectly, without chaos or noise. The vegetables, fruits, grains and herbs are simply cooked, perfectly seasoned, artfully arranged and presented with grace.

Woo plans his meals for a week after seeing what looks good at the market and comes up with two four-course menus, mostly vegan and some gluten-free, too. I didn't photograph my food, since I've heard from many chefs this has gotten out of hand. However, it appears I was not the only food blogger who visited Natural Selection during the conference. Dreena Burton, one of the best of the vegan food bloggers, recorded her visit.

Back to the conference...
There are probably as many reasons for blogging about food as there are food bloggers, and coming from a traditional food-writing background, I was fascinated by the variety and focus of the conference sessions, and learned a lot. I now follow all kinds of dining, baking, health and advocacy blogs that I hadn't known existed.

One of them is The Laziest Vegans in the World, which captivated me with its title. Written by John McDevitt, this is a kind of instruction manual for those out there who do not want to do much cooking but also don't want to eat animal products. Like many at the conference, McDevitt embraces veganism for compassionate rather than health concerns. He scours supermarket shelves to find new pre-packaged plant-based foods. I check his often tongue-in-cheek posts from time to time to find out what's new in the world of vegan fast food. He may be lazy in his cooking, but McDevitt is conscientious in his reviews, believing the public has a right to know what imitation cheese won't melt; or what new products have been introduced to make a vegan's life easier.

One presenter was quite familiar to me, as I've used many of her recipes. Unlike McDevitt, Susan Voisin at Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, may be the least lazy vegan in the world, skilfully combining dozens of plant-based products for delicious and healthy alternatives to familiar and new foods. I've followed her for a while, so it was good to see her on a panel of recipe development. Her focus tends to be on health, and she spends a lot of time and care creating food that tastes really good without sacrificing nutrition.
One of my favorites, "Super Foods Soup" succeeds in both cases.  Don't be afraid to make substitutions or add in different vegetables according to what you have. The "super foods" we're talking about here are greens, mushrooms, tofu and onions, all potent little packages of anti-oxidants and vitamins.

I like soup even in summer, especially when it's gray and drizzly outside. Voisin says this soup stays under 100 calories for a huge (3-cup) serving, and delivers a huge dose of major nutrition in even a tiny bowl. Use any greens you choose–and feel free to add more of them. I used bok choy, kale and collards from my garden. Voisin suggests that those who don't use tofu substitute white beans. Garnish with cilantro, tiny asparagus, or fresh chopped parsley.

Superfoods Soup 

4 – 5 cups water
3 baby bok choy (about 9 ounces), trimmed and sliced
3 ounces mushrooms, sliced
3 – 6 ounces organic silken tofu,  cubed
1 small onion, halved and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Korean powdered pepper (or red pepper flakes to taste)
freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon mellow white miso (add more to taste)

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add all ingredients except miso, reduce heat, and cover. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
Remove a few tablespoons of the broth and place it in a small bowl; add the miso and stir until well combined. Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the miso and serve.

Long-time food writer Theresa Curry tells stories about food and the people who prepare it and is grateful to have chosen a career that has her shelling muddy crawfish one day and tasting fine wine the next.Theresa is currently working on a series of food stories as part of the documentary division of Alpha Vision Films.
Connect with Theresa at

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  1. Wow, something new and tasty to do with the end of a really fun article. Thanks, Ms. Curry...

  2. Dearest Anastasia,
    Love that soup as it did bring back memories from Indonesia where we ate such soup frequently. They called it 'Sop Sehat' meaning healthy soup and they eat a lot of tofu and tempeh and very little fish and chicken. We both are eating mostly vegetarian too. For that we still need to shop in the big city as local food is not as health conscious yet. But we don´t mind driving the good two hour one-way ride for stocking up.
    Thanks for sharing this and you did very well. The other person you mentioned did show the dishes being served but most she showed herself!
    Hugs to you,

  3. I look forward to trying this soup with the white beans and perhaps some different herbs. I am also anxious to investigate "lazy" veganism! While I love cooking when I have the time, during the workweek I find myself searching for healthy fast food. Thanks for the tip!

  4. This looks great. I love the mis en place photo. Nice, healthy recipe to use up "a lil' of this & a lil' of that" from the garden!

  5. My company loved the soup and it was so easy to make. Keep those recipes coming.