Santa Monica’s inaugural Vegan Oktoberfest puts an animal-friendly twist on a sudsy and cherished tradition

By Shanee Edwards

Meat-lovers may feel like the stuffing’s been knocked out of their sausages, but Saturday’s Vegan Oktoberfest — the first celebration of its kind in Santa Monica, and by accounts the world — has many locals excited to party with an oompah band and fraulines in dirndls while also keeping animals off the menu.

Oktoberfest began in Munich in 1810 as a giant party to celebrate the royal wedding of King Ludwig I to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Like a Brothers Grimm fairytale, all citizens of Bavaria were supposedly invited to attend and, some 200 years later, Oktoberfest is a revered cultural event celebrated around the world.

While the need for a vegan Thanksgiving and all its Tofurky trappings seems apparent, considering it’s an American holiday that most families keep, did a holiday so closely associated with pork bratwursts, white sausage and veal schnitzel also need to be veganized?

The creators of Vegan Oktoberfest, animal rights attorneys David Edward Burke and Jill Ryther, say yes.

“The idea for Vegan Oktoberfest came from the desire to combine the fun and appeal of a widely beloved event, Oktoberfest, with the compassion of animal lovers. Like many holidays or festivals, Oktoberfest is traditionally very focused on meat consumption, which means that if you’re an animal lover who chooses not to eat animal products, you can’t wholeheartedly participate in the festivities. We wanted to add a vegan twist so that everyone, from strict vegans to near carnivores, can experience a traditional Oktoberfest celebration,” Ryther said.

OK. Vegans, vegetarians and anyone who relies on gluten-free beer for a buzz will love this event, but what about carnivores?

“Many people who aren’t familiar with veganism believe stereotypes about vegans — they’re all hippies, they’re sickly, they’re snobby. None of that is true, and Vegan Oktoberfest is a great opportunity for people from all walks of life to come together and have a great time,” Ryther said. “We want meat-eaters to come so we can show them that they can enjoy great beer and great food without any animals being harmed in the process.”

So what’s on the menu?

“There will be beer brats, kielbasas, several different types of sausages from Field Roast, which are soy-free, and regular types of [vegan] hot dogs as well. We eagerly welcome meat eaters to try our healthier and tastier plant-based sausages,” Burke said.

Revelers can also say “guten appetite” to vegan ice cream, German-style potato pancakes and a few special recipes that vendors are creating just for the event:  “We are eager to try the beer cheese from Nary Dairy, the [gluten-free] soft pretzel from Sage Organic Bistro, and three special beer cupcakes: Chocolate Stout, Pumpkin Spice Ale and Lemon Wheat from Life Is Sweet Bakeshop,” said Ryther.

One term that needed clarification, however, was “vegan beer.” After all, isn’t beer just fermented barley, wheat and hops?

“Most beers are vegan,” Burke said, “but some beers use animal products such as fish bladders in the filtration process” (which, when you think about it, is kind of gross). “Other beers use dairy or even meat as actual ingredients. Vegan Oktoberfest will only feature vegan beers, but we think people will be pleasantly surprised to see some of their favorite breweries at the event.”

As one might expect, the tap list does include some German beers but maintains a distinctly California zeitgeist. Participating breweries include Golden Road, Angel City Brewery, Hanger 24, Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas Brewing Co., Anderson Valley Brewing Co., Coronado Brewing Co., Karl Strauss Brewing Co. and the local Venice Duck Brewery, among many others. Prost to that!

Llonna Schuppel, who along with her husband owns and operates Shoop’s Deli in Santa Monica — famous for its wide selection of German sausages and other European-style meats — said she hadn’t heard of a Vegan Oktoberfest before. But she doesn’t object to the idea.

“I don’t see why not,” she said. “People’s food habits have changed so much over the years. Even in Germany now, and all over Europe, I’ve found that there’s a lot more vegetarianism in those countries.  You see a lot more vegetarian options coming from Europe, like a product called Quorn. I think it would be worse to break tradition — to not celebrate because people’s eating habits have changed. The tradition is what is important.”

Santa Monica resident Kim Blish has been vegan for 17 years and is raising her 6-year-old twins vegan as well. She was thrilled to learn about Vegan Oktoberfest.

“I think it’s super cool because so many people say, ‘Oh, I could be a vegan except for this one thing —I’d miss out on cheese or brats or Oktoberfest.’ Now, there’s one less excuse not to go vegan.”

Vegan Oktoberfest is from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday near the beach at 2600 Barnard Way in Santa Monica. Tickets are $45; 21+ only. A portion of the proceeds benefits the nonprofit Expand Animal Rights Now. Visit veganoktoberfest.com.