You might have run into Compassionate Action for Animals at local street festivals, where they give passersby a dollar to watch a video on animal treatment in the food production industry. Or you may have gotten a leaflet from them describing how animals are treated at factory farms, which is where a lot of our meat comes from.

The statewide animal and vegan advocacy group is also responsible for more communal events like the Twin Cities Veg Fest, the Vegan Chili Cook-Off and the Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge. Lulu EthioVegan in Stevens Square-Loring Heights won the Vegan Chili competition earlier this month. LynLake’s Vegan Trio-Based was also in the competition. Compassionate Action for Animals, based in Whittier, focuses on  education and community-building to help people incorporate plant-based living in their day to day life.

“The more I learned about just how horribly animals are treated in our food system, and how hidden it is, and how little is happening to change it, the more I felt compelled to speak out and do more about it,” executive director Laura Matanah said.

Compassionate Action for Animals integrates local vegan-friendly businesses into many of its community events.  

Plant-based lifestyles including vegan and vegetarian diets involve some level of abstinence from products made from animals like meat, dairy and fish. Some lifestyles include avoiding materials made out of animal products like leather and suede. People who follow plant-based diets can vary in their habits– some eat food exclusively from plants, and others just adhere to Meatless Mondays.

Compassionate Action for Animals volunteers served lunch at Simpson Housing Services in January. Photo courtesy of Compassionate Action for Animals

Plant-based eaters have plenty of options in Southwest Minneapolis. Lulu EthioVegan, Trio Plant-Based, Vegan East and Hi Flora! serve exclusively vegan meals in Southwest Minneapolis. In addition to these vegan restaurants, there are quality plant-based options at restaurants like India Palace, World Street Kitchen/Milkjam Creamery, Galactic Pizza and Lowbrow–to name just a few.

Another event the organization hosts is serving meals at Simpson Housing Services. A Compassionate Action for Animals volunteer noticed that Simpson Housing Services was looking for people to serve food, so they organized volunteers to make and serve vegan soup to guests in January.

“It was a big hit. The people who were there to eat loved it. The volunteers loved it,” Matanah said. “It’s been really successful.”

Compassionate Action for Animals executive director Laura Matanah met a cow at the Farmaste farm sanctuary. Photo courtesy of Compassionate Action for Animals

Volunteer slots to serve lunch at Simpson Housing Services in March are already full. Matanah evoked Paul Wellstone’s famous words, “we all do better when we all do better,” to explain why this event is important.

“I think we’re all interdependent. To state the obvious, it’s important for people in our community to have food and housing. The housing piece probably isn’t within our capacity, but the food piece is,” Matanah said. “I think it’s important to step up and be part of that.”

Compassionate Action for Animals is also behind the Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge in which local chefs make a vegan meal that isn’t typically on their menu for community members to sample and vote for their favorite. Tori Ramen in St. Paul won last year and Namaste Cafe on Hennepin Avenue came in third place. Other Southwest participants in 2023 were Hi Flora!, Barbette, Book Club, Pat’s Tap and Pinoli.

“It’s a really fun thing and people love to go around sampling, and a lot of restaurants have added things permanently to their menus, so it’s expanded the number of plant-based options in the Twin Cities,” Matanah said.

The organization’s biggest event of the year is the Twin Cities Veg Fest in September. A volunteer committee organizes the showcase of plant-based food in the Twin Cities at Harriet Island Park in St. Paul. According to Matanah, the event “draws people of all dietary backgrounds,” and last year plant-based icon Tabitha Brown attended.

“There is just this sense of euphoria because you get to go somewhere where all the food is plant-based,” Matanah said. “If you are someone who eats entirely plant-based, that is quite a treat because that is not the usual day-to-day experience.”

To help fund the Veg Fest, Compassionate Action for Animals started a bike crawl through Minneapolis last year. The ride started at Powderhorn Park, moved around Bde Maka Ska, Minnehaha Creek, and Lake Nokomis and stopped at Herbie Butcher’s Fried Chicken and Vegan East. Volunteers provided stops with vegan snacks and water. This year’s crawl will follow a similar format starting at Reverie Cafe & Bar.

The organization initially started as a student group at the University of Minnesota in 1998 and expanded to state-wide outreach, even delving into the public policy world. The group is currently working on a bill that would push agricultural funding for pig group housing to prevent the use of gestation crates for mother pigs. Gestation crates restrict mother pigs to a space not much larger than a pig’s body, preventing them from standing up or moving.

“I think that there’s a way, too, that the treatment of animals in our food system really does touch all of us in various ways,” Matanah said.

Compassionate Action for Animals provides tips and resources for people who are interested in the plant-based life on their website. There’s a list of vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants, plant-based recipes, a guide to staying healthy and fully nourished while keeping plant-based and recommendations for books and other literature.