Attending one of the best events of my life: 2024 Vegan Women Summit + more

Soon as Vegan Women Summit CEO Jenny Stojkovic announced last year that the 2024 event would be in Los Angeles, I vowed to be there live. New York City is less accessible than Los Angeles for me, and hubs and I are hoping to go to NYC for our 10-year wedding anniversary in 2026.

We made a trip of it so we could visit family and friends, and most importantly, hit the beach. My friend had recently moved from Buena Park to Costa Mesa which is roughly 42 miles south of Los Angeles proper (a 1.25 hour minimum drive), so we had to plan our trips strategically to ensure we wouldn’t be driving too much or stuck in notorious LA traffic.


Tuesday, May 7

There would have been nothing to report the day we arrived. However, after doing some groceries and while searching for nearby restaurants with vegan options, hubs found the new location of the plot restaurant, whose owner Jessica Waite contributed to my book. It was a Costa Mesa miracle!

We learned the restaurant had just opened in January. I had only known about the location in Oceanside. I brought five books to give away on my trip, so I left a signed copy for her. The plot is in a new hip area in Costa Mesa called The CAMP, with other shops and cafes like Patagonia nearby.

We each had recess zero proof cocktails and roasted eggplant and chronic (a sushi roll made with tempura-fried lions mane mushroom “crab”) to start and this was our favourite part of the meal.

We shared the shepherds pie and roasted cauliflower as entrees. The pie would have been amazing if there was just a little less salt, and the roasted cauliflower was a little more scorched and not as big as we would have liked. The cauliflower was on special and we didn’t realize it came with fries and gravy, which was a bit too much. I would have eaten more of it if I wasn’t already full.

The plot is not only a vegan restaurant, but it’s a zero waste company, which is awesome. We sat on the outdoor patio, which was lovely (there was a big table beside us with a fire pit), but the circular interior of the restaurant is nice too. I would come back especially if we stayed in Costa Mesa again. 


Wednesday, May 8

Before driving north 30 minutes to my aunt’s house in Buena Park, we stopped to pick up some vegan food at Seabirds Kitchen, which was coincidentally in another hip area right across The CAMP called The LAB Anti-Mall, also with many stores, cute cafes, and art installations. Fun fact: The LAB stands for “Little American Business”!

I didn’t get any photos of Seabirds Kitchen or their food BUT if we were staying in Costa Mesa again I’d definitely dine in because the interior looked super cute. We got the Chips & Guac, Kale Caesar Salad, Beer Battered Avo Tacos, and Al Pastor Tacos to share.

My other aunt who lives in the Valley joined us. I was told to bring vegan food because only animal products would be served, but I ended up taking a lot of leftovers to eat for dinner because my aunt made lentil stew and my other aunt made a Filipino dish called Puso ng Saging (banana heart). It was the first time I tried Puso ng Saging and I liked it!

The Al Pastor tacos had chile lime peanuts with the jackfruit, which was a little too much texture for me (also didn’t get much of the chile lime flavour when I reheated it). Everything else from Seabirds Kitchen tasted great.

If you’re wondering why there are so many bottles of water on the table, I wouldn’t say LA water is undrinkable, but it’s filtered differently than it is in Canada. Obviously my family is used to drinking bottled water, but they also recycle.

One major thing I learned on this trip that I hadn’t noticed previously was that recycling is not normal in LA. Residents must opt-in to order a recycling cart (free of charge) to separate recyclables from garbage, or they can take bottles to a depot to get a refund, but I don’t think most people do either. Some areas will sort collected garbage and recyclables at a facility after it’s picked up.

For a major city by the ocean, I found this strange, but not surprising. We are ahead in Canada with sustainability initiatives.

My aunt talked about how she got into growing succulents and cacti (which require little to no water) during the pandemic. Compared to when we last visited her house 15 years ago, she had filled her entire backyard with them! She has all the big plants labelled, and we learned that if a leaf falls, you can replant that and it will grow a new one, which is why you can end up multiplying the number of plants you have pretty quickly.

My aunt told me that my grandma was a fan of cacti, which is why she keeps them. This was so cool to learn because in 2018 we went to the cactus garden in San Diego, which was really cool. Now every time I see a cactus, I will think of her.

After lunch, we headed to Huntington Beach, which is one of the more quiet beaches (also huge) in the LA area. We had to pay $15 for parking which we never had to before, but street parking in Los Angeles is SO CHEAP at $1 an hour, so this wasn’t a big deal. There were two big factory-looking buildings being built in the area which are an eyesore, but this beach is still a good choice if you want a quieter and less crowded experience.

Leo and I both took a brief dip in the water. Although the sun was right over us, it didn’t feel as warm as I would have hoped. Another degree or two warmer would have done the trick, but I was happy and remembered I had been waiting a year for this! The sand here is SO SOFT too compared to the grainy sand we have in Vancouver.

Thursday, May 9

We headed north and crawled in traffic for a good hour and a half to eat at the Los Angeles location of Mr. Charlie’s, AKA vegan McDonald’s. I’ve been a big fan of this brand since inception (see the branding/website blog I did here).

I was excited to try their version of a McChicken called Not a Chicken Sandwich, British Chips (fries), and Not Chicken Nuggets with Chuck’s White Sauce and Chipotle Sauce. Hubs went for the Double Not Cheeseburger with Impossible patties.

While the Not a Chicken Sandwich was solid, the White Sauce tasted mostly like a vegan mayo, not what I remember the McDonald’s sauce tastes like, which is okay. I liked the Chipotle Sauce. Next time I’d go for the cheeseburger.

I LOVE Mr. Charlie’s branding and decor, but they didn’t have a public washroom, so there’s only hand sanitizer and napkins to keep your hands clean. I didn’t drink my beverage so that I wouldn’t have to take a bathroom trip. Mr. Charlie’s also has a seasonal location in Venice Beach and ones in San Francisco and Sydney, Australia.

Then we headed to BESTIES Vegan Paradise in Los Angeles, parking real close to a city-block-wide location of Scientology. Gross!

There were a lot of brands I recognized from Vegan Supply and I’d say the store is about the same size as Vegan Supply and Friend & Faux in Chinatown Vancouver combined. However, BESTIES is known for their soft serve ice cream, for which I didn’t have an appetite.

They also had a few branded products. I asked one of the owners if they had any shirts, and he pulled out a t-shirt they collaborated on with Don’t Eat the Homies. Usually I don’t wear white because it gets dirty easily, but I love the shirt.

My aunt gave me some spending money the day before (yes, I’m a fully grown adult), so I used it on the shirt, some chocolate, cookies, and Beyond Meat’s jerky.

Leo and I wanted to kill time at Erewhon and make fun of all the overly-priced products, but because there was so much traffic in Hollywood, we headed to the Beverly Center at 5:30pm so I could change my outfit for Vegan Women Summit’s VIP reception at Pacific Design Center.

This venue seemed almost out of place in busy West Hollywood, but it’s nice and there was a cool popsicle-themed exhibition on the ground floor by Betsy Enzensberger, a Southern California-based pop artist with a studio in Palm Springs.

While waiting in line to get to the rooftop party, I met the execs at Chella and Karin Olsen (Plant Power Productions), a fellow Vegan Business Tribe member who I’d recently connected with online.

I met familiar online faces Kandice Vincent (vegconomist), Carolyn Scott-Hamilton (The Healthy Voyager), my client Rey Ortega (Sun Flour Baking Co), Jamie Logan (It’s Jamie’s Corner/Just So You Know podcast), Erin Ireland (To Live For), Noah Hyams (VEGPRENEUR), Desiree Dupuis (VOES & Co), Silvia Gallo (Jeane & Jax), Venessa Stonehouse (Mindful FUD), and Jenny Stojkovic.

I also met Lauren Toyota (Hot for Food), Rajendra (Rani) Chirumamilla (Monaesi), and Jane Velez-Mitchell (UnchainedTV), who I gave a book copy to. Kandice told me Moby had attended and left. It would have been cool to meet him, but I’m not a huge fan, so I wouldn’t have known what to say except that I had read his memoir.

I wished I had eaten a snack earlier, because the food served was more like hors d’oeuvres. The event served some solid zero proof cocktails and wines, which were good. The only downside to the event was the wind, which was pretty tunnel-y on that rooftop. However, it was a short event and just enough of a time for people to greet each other and then get ready for the summit ahead.

When attending Vegan Women Summit virtually in previous years, I could see everyone walking around with tote bags. Now I know it’s because there’s a TON of swag to be given! The VIP tote bags differed slightly from the summit ones (tie-dyed vs. white).

Here are the photos of my BESTIES haul and the VIP tote bag contents:

On the way back to Costa Mesa, I ate the rest of the leftover Not Chicken Nuggets and one of Whoa Dough‘s cookie dough snack bars.


Friday, May 10: Vegan Women Summit

I told Jenny the night before that I probably wouldn’t be at the summit right at 8am, and she said it was fine because time means an hour later in LA! When I arrived at around 8:45am, breakfast was being served by Beyond Meat, Violife, and Mr. Charlie’s in the outdoor dining area, but I didn’t know that because I hadn’t visited the summit agenda online.

Instead, I made my way through some of the vendor booths that were serving food. NotCo, whose brand I am a fan of, gave me their new Kraft Mac & Cheese product and NotMayo, which I used for dinner the week after.

A couple of other memorable vendors included Nature’s Fynd, VBites, Blue Zones Kitchen, Mooji Meats, Jeane & Jax, 2Foods, Mauna Loa, Clean Beauty Collective, and Kindom (which offered shirts from a 2017 collection in the VIP lounge). It warmed my heart to learn that Kindom‘s items are all made by artisans in the Philippines and the company had flown two women to attend the event.

The talks started late because of inspections needing to be done, but Jenny kicked it off with the recently scheduled Ethan Brown, CEO of Beyond Meat. When that was announced the week prior, I was thinking what everyone else probably was: “Why is a man keynoting the Vegan Women Summit?”

However, this was my first time seeing Ethan live, and it was worth the experience. He does so much speaking that by now he knows what resonates with audiences. For a guy whose company is constantly berated online for its declining stock, he was inspiring and positive about the company’s future.

He said vegans should stop condemning processed plant-based companies like his, and I agree. If you don’t want to eat their food, don’t. But the more you talk badly about meat alternatives, the more omnivores will agree and continue eating animals.

The best analogy he gave regarding animal farmers was, “My grandfather had a landline, my father had a landline…” Just because things were done a certain way before, it doesn’t mean they have to be done that way forever. Ethan said he heard the complaints from customers about their products being heavily processed, so the company has gotten even more clean in terms of their ingredients.

I’m not the biggest fan of Beyond Meat, but his talk motivated me to consider buying more of their products when I have the chance.

After the keynote, I learned there were workshops also going on in the VIP lounge. I visited the online agenda on my phone and that was helpful! I was told the first workshop was not happening though, so I stuck around for The Quest for Longevity panel with Lisa Smith, Dr. Melissa Sundermann, Dr. Janel Gordon, Dr. Robyn Tiger, and Abigail Coleman.

I can’t say I learned anything all that new, but it was good that they talked about how a plant-based diet helps brain health, and Abigail talked about the new product line from Blue Zones Kitchen.

There was a surprise appearance by Oliver Zahn at Climax Foods, which was recently denied an award for its plant-based cheez due to recently implemented regulations. I’d just reported on the fact that the company still got good press in my newsletter, and got to try a sample of the blue cheese.

Jenny Stojkovic with Oliver Zahn of Climax Foods, speaking into a microphone

Jenny interviewed the duo behind Sugar Taco, Nia Gatica and Jayde Nicole, about entrepreneurship. They were both very smart and supportive of each other, even though they said they constantly fight daily. I didn’t have time to eat at Sugar Taco on this trip, but it’ll be on my list for next time.

Now that I had the agenda at hand, I headed to the food area for lunch. Violife was no longer selling, but they gave a sample of the fire queso they’d made with their product and chips. It’s a good thing I got in the line for Mr. Charlie’s when I did. However, I had the same thing for lunch I’d had the day before: the Not a Chicken Sandwich, only with hot vegan honey instead of mayo.

The sandwich was wrapped in a TiNDLE-branded paper, so that’s when I learned they used TiNDLE chickn products. I’d always wanted to try the brand, so that was good. Throughout the morning, people were raving about Pura Vita and they served their kale caesar salad. That was fire, too.

The VWS Top Chef Challenge was happening during this time, but I went for the food first, so missed that part.

The next panel I attended was on The New Plant-Based Consumer with the co-founders of Hey Sunshine Kitchen, Ipek Erdogan-Trinkaus of milkadamia, and Kate Dugan of Beyond Meat, moderated by Angela Flatland at SPINS. It was interesting to learn how each business tackled messaging and interactions with consumers.

Panelists from Hey, Sunshine Kitchen, Ipek Erdogan-Trinkaus, Kate Dugan, and Angela Flatland

Right around this time, I hit an afternoon slump and thought about taking a 15-minute power nap in the VIP lounge, but I stuck it out because I didn’t want to miss anything!

Over lunch I’d met Terry (T.L.) Stanley, an editor at Adweek, who moderated the next panel on Rising Women in Food with Insa Mohr of Mooji Meats, Fei Luo of Liven Proteins, Delaney Berman of Prophecy Foods, and Mehek Khera of Niramaya. Insa was giving me Julia Garner Inventing Anna vibes.

I didn’t stay for the whole thing because I jetted upstairs to catch a workshop on Plant-Based Consumer Insights, led by Angela Flatland of SPINS.

T.L. Stanley, Insa Mohr, Fei Luo, Delaney Berman, and Mehek Khera

Despite my eyelids wanting to close, I found this workshop to be the most insightful. Even though SPINS only collects data from US grocery stores, Angela said that Nielsen collects some data from limited grocery stores in Canada. What you can learn from grocery store purchasing trends is fascinating, and Angela’s passion for this data kept me awake!

I headed back to catch the panel on Beyond Plastic in Fashion with Stephanie Downs of Uncaged Innovations, Silvia Gallo of Jeane & Jax, and Desiree Dupuis of VOES & Co, moderated by Jamie Logan.

Next, Jenny Stojkovic had another fireside chat-style interview with Heather Terry, CEO of GoodSAM, which had one of the biggest presences at the summit. Serving coffee in the morning definitely helped, and they had a steady supply of snacks served all day long. I appreciated Heather talking about GoodSAM working with organic fair-trade farmers, and how regenerative agriculture doesn’t require animals.

Wrapping up the talks for the day was Sharon Carpenter interviewing VBites’ Heather Mills, who announced she was looking for distribution for VBites in the US this year. She had smart things to say about marketing and branding vegan food products.

Sharon Carpenter and Heather Mills

Ending the day was the inaugural VWS Awards Ceremony where I learned Vancouver’s own Erin Ireland won Creator of the Year. She didn’t even know she’d been nominated, but I had a feeling she would win.

Someone had to call Heather Mills, who had left the event to come back to receive the Woman of the Year Award. She was en route to meet a potential new distributor! Atta girl.

Erin Ireland and Jenny Stojkovic
Heather Mills and Jenny Stojkovic

After the awards, the sun disappeared, and it got real breezy, so I headed back up to the VIP lounge to warm up. Things were being taken down there, but I chatted with a few ladies before Rey texted me to tell me he had stuff for me: cookies!

Sun Flour Baking Co cookies aren’t available in Canada, so getting some samples of the cookies made my day—still more swag to bring home! The VWS After-Party with LMFAO’s Redfoo (who is vegan) had started, so after trying Impossible Foods‘ nugget, pork-style meatball, and hot dog, I went back to the dance floor where I spent most of the evening.

Earlier in the day, I took some photos of Karin with Robert Cheeke, who I later realized would speak at Vancouver’s Planted Expo a few weeks later. This guy had some serious dance moves and was in circles at one point.

After the drive home, I drank the entire bottle of Lemon Perfect water I’d put in the fridge, from in the VIP swag bag the night before. So good!

I haven’t talked about all the conversations I had throughout the day because they were many. I gave away all my business cards and a few more books. I also met Vegan Business Tribe members Chloe Bullock (who contributed to my book), and Liz Craig. You can see more photos from the day in my Instagram Story Highlight “LAX 2024.”

Vegan Women Summit 2024 was one of the best events I’ve attended in my life, so much so that I was still vibrating 3-4 days later. The sampling and vendors are like what you might experience at any local vegan festival, but the addition of business interviews, panels, pitch contests and the opportunity to network and try not-yet-on-shelves products from vegan brands make this unique and unlike any business conference.

Plus, a dance party! That 90s/2000s playlist was damn good.

The feeling I had after the Summit was like what I felt when I first attended the Social Venture Institute (SVI) Conference at Hollyhock, only it was more high energy than tranquil, and you never needed to figure out what food was vegan.

There was also some drama a few weeks before the Summit in which an old guard of vegans put out an open letter asking speakers to step down from the event. They succeeded in that somewhat, but Jenny and VWS put out its own statement and pivoted quickly to fill in the gaps in programming.

The VWS team did a stellar job and I’m proud to see what this team accomplished. Vegans need to spend their time working together for a better world, not bringing each other down. Onwards!


Saturday, May 11

After the hectic last few days, hubs and I got up fairly late and made our way north to Fountain Valley to eat lunch at Au Lac‘s original location. The cool thing about the restaurant is it leans toward raw vegan, with an entire page dedicated to raw vegan food. The restaurant was fairly busy with lots of families dining in.

We started with the Spring Rolls, which we thought were going to be fried—we should have asked for the Egg Rolls instead. However, freshness isn’t a bad thing, and it went with a nice peanut sauce.

When I used to eat animals, Lemongrass Chicken was my go-to Vietnamese entree, so I ordered that with white rice instead of black rice. Hubs got the same thing. Made of seitan, it was very ginger-y, but I was glad to get some fresh food in me after all the processed stuff I ate from the Summit.

Outside Au Lac Plant-Based Cuisine
Au Lac Spring Rolls
Au Lac Chicken Lemongrass with white rice and salad

Our plan after lunch was go to Balboa Pier on the Balboa Peninsula and then take the ferry to Balboa Island, but because our GPS was used to going the fastest route, it took us straight onto Balboa Island. We decided to just park there and walk along the pier and along historical Marine Avenue.

There were a lot of very nice and cute houses on Balboa Island, but the environmentalist in me kept thinking they would all sink if there was an earthquake and tsunami.

Arguably the busiest street on the island, Marine Avenue has a lot of shops and places to eat, but it’s more of a street for seniors. There were a couple of neighbouring businesses selling frozen bananas, each saying they were the “original” frozen banana stand (“since 1945” or whatnot) and it reminded me of the family drama between Bo Kong and Po Kong restaurants, which are across the street from each other on Kingsway in Vancouver.

View of the water on Balboa Island
Marine Avenue Balboa Island

Then we drove onto Balboa Peninsula to walk along Newport Beach. Despite the cloudy and somewhat windy day, there were still a lot of people on the beach and running or cycling along the path.

We headed back to our friend’s place and then ate dinner with him and his partner at Zabb Thai Cuisine in Newport Beach, which had an entire vegan menu. We definitely ate the fried Thai Vegan Spring Rolls this time, and I ordered the Vegan Pad Thai with tofu. It tasted pretty authentic despite the lack of fish and oyster sauce. I ate the leftovers the next day before our flight home.

Vegan Pad Thai and spring rolls from Zabb Thai Newport Beach
Sandra with husband and two friends inside Zabb Thai Newport Beach

Our friends took us to Inspiration Point at Newport Beach, which I had no idea about. This is a lovely area with two levels of ocean views where you can see waves crashing on rocks below, the people on the beach, and look at all the big houses along the coast.

Then we took the scenic route and had ice cream at Salt & Straw in Newport Beach, which had 3 vegan flavours, including my favourite, mint chocolate chip. A perfect way to end the evening!

Sandra and her husband at Inspiration Point

Sunday, May 12

Although our flight was at 2 p.m., we were at John Wayne Airport just before noon. What I haven’t mentioned yet about this airport is that although it’s small and can feel busy, it’s SO close to where we stayed—10 minutes, to be exact! Security is a breeze.

If you are staying in Anaheim, Orange County, Santa Ana, Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Irvine, or south of this area, definitely consider flying in and out of this airport. It’s SO much more convenient than LAX and you won’t even need to take a shuttle to a car rental place.

While there are only a few places to eat, this airport has Greenleaf Kitchen & Cocktails, and I ordered the vegan burger to eat for dinner later on.

This was my first real trip to Los Angeles and the surrounding areas as a vegan, and while Costa Mesa wasn’t the most abundant place for vegan food, I’m confident you can find at least one vegan restaurant, no matter where you stay around the LA area.

Here are the places we had on our list that we didn’t get to, that we’ll consider for our next trip (many of these were recos from Erin Ireland):

  • Plant Power Fast Food
  • The Plant Butcher
  • Sugar Taco
  • Donut Friend
  • Dear Bella Creamery
  • PLANTA Cocina
  • Hey Sunshine Kitchen
  • Monty’s Good Burger
  • Justine’s Wine Bar
  • Just What I Kneaded
  • Jewel
  • The Moody Vegan
  • San & Wolves Bakeshop would have been at the top of the list, but the permanent location for this Filipino vegan bakery wasn’t open yet.

Also check out Erin Ireland’s IG post for other vegan spots she recommended in the LA area.


Check out my previous posts on going vegan in Seattle and Victoria.

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