My Cool Uncle Moment vs. the Invasion of the Brands

This past weekend I returned to a pop-up market called The Vegan Market. It comes around to various locations in my area every few months and I jump on the opportunity to attend it whenever it arrives. Having been plant-based since the late 90s, I jump on the chance to find vegan-friendly goodies, especially when I get the chance to meet like-minded folks.

This most recent visit was both special for me and disappointing, for two entirely different reasons.

Let’s start with the good. It was special because I got to have a definitive Cool Uncle moment with my niece. She’s lactose-intolerant so she avoids dairy like I do, albeit for different reasons. She’s spent her entire life (all eleven years, mind you) checking ingredients and asking if sweets are safe for her to eat, or else she gets sick. Bringing her to The Vegan Market was my chance to show my niece what it’s like to browse with freedom and peace of mind.

I do not have the words to describe what I felt as I watched her realize, in real time, that she didn’t have to check ahead of time if the cupcakes and cookies she saw were okay for her to eat, and that she had free reign (within her budget) to choose whatever she wanted. This was my milestone Cool Uncle moment, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the excitement behind my niece’s eyes.

However, this most recent Vegan Market was also disappointing for me. For one, a chef I was looking forward to seeing (and devouring their food) was unable to attend, but more than that it was that there were more brands there than previous markets.

In the past, the Vegan Markets were largely populated by very small businesses and DIY crafters, bakers, and chefs. Sweets were hand-wrapped, shops were either in-town or the next town over, or had no storefronts at all and were just starting to get off the ground. This most recent Market had brands; logos with professional graphic designs, tables manned by salespeople with practiced pitches, and machine-wrapped goods that resembled things I could buy in the plant-based section of chain supermarkets.

Look, I get it. Brands are synonymous with successful businesses, and vegan goods can be big business. The growing popularity and success of The Vegan Market is a testament to that. But I didn’t go to the Vegan Market to discover brands. I went there to discover people. I was drawn to the Market to meet the people representing themselves, not salesmen representing a brand. It felt… different, and I hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

Regardless, my niece came away with a belly full of sweets and I managed to see most of the people I wanted to see, so overall it was a good weekend. Cool Uncle wins out over brands.