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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 30.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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ISTHMUS GREEN DAY

2011 Isthmus Green Day full of questions, answers and food!

The author on a bicycle built for pumping water.
The author on a bicycle built for pumping water.
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"Is honey vegan?"

Those are the first words I hear at the first booth I visit at the Isthmus Green Day expo. Two women standing in front of the Willy Street Co-op's display are having what started as a very earnest conversation but is quickly veering toward conjecture and silliness. The debate started after the Willy representative explained to them exactly what was in a "Bumble Baby," (nuts, seeds, and, of course, honey, which is where they get their name) samples of which the two women and I now hold, waiting on an answer to the question of the hour.

"Isn't honey just flowers?" says one, imprecisely, though I silently agree with her position. Why wouldn't honey be vegan? I think. It's not bee flesh, and it's definitely not bee eggs.

"Yeah, but you could pretty much say that about anything, right?" says the other. "Isn't milk just grass?"

I mentally settle the debate (OK, but bees don't have udders), take a bite of my Bumble Baby and move on. This level of discourse is something I'm ill-prepared to deal with; besides, neither of these women are actually vegans, just curious, so the matter is largely academic. So to speak.

The convention hall on the first floor of Monona Terrace is lined with booths from a wide variety of area vendors. There are the obvious ones, the ones you'd expect at an environmental exposition, and then there some whose connection to "green" is a little less obvious, like furniture store The Century House or Madison Community Acupuncture. The fact that they're in the room seems nice, however, and indicative of a trend toward breaking green living and green industry out of niche and into mainstream.

Unintentionally - yet predictably, as it's late morning and I've skipped breakfast - I gravitate toward the booths and displays offering samples of food. I try a tiny piece of vegan, fair trade chocolate at TerraSource Chocolates and a square of artisan pizza at Madison Originals, a trade organization for independently owned local restaurants.

The stand-out, as far as environmentally conscious snacking goes, is Whole Foods. The national grocery chain has set up a huge tent display in the center of the hall. They serve warm whole grain banana bread with organic milk on one side, and on the other, "local grilled cheese" little pieces of toasted bread with Pleasant Ridge cheese and a dab of small batch fig preserves from Quince and Apple.

Walking around the room I see no fewer than four re-purposed bicycles. Two are being used to make drinks as the pedals power a blender whose motor has been replaced by the revolutions of the bike chain.The others, at Working Bikes, have been given a more practical application. One is hooked up to a prototype water-pumping system, the other is being used in place of an electrical power source (in this case powering a record player and speaker system.) Working Bikes collects unwanted bicycles from around the city, fixes them up and sends them to Africa, so it's easy to see how both of those applications would be helpful in that context.

At 11:30, I wander over to the stage area, where the titular stars of "The Fabulous Beekman Boys" talk about their Green Planet show and other parts of their lives for the better part of an hour. The gay couple from New York City moved upstate to a small farm in Sharon after being hit hard by the financial crisis. They show up wearing sweaters, slacks, and shiny galoshes, but inform the crowd that "These are our city galoshes," lest they loose any farm cred for not having scuffed boots.

Among other things, they make the thought-provoking argument that the mentality that led to the housing crisis and resulting financial meltdown is the same one that will have to be overcome for people to be truly conscious.

Their presentation is interesting, but those in attendance seem to know the show in great detail and I drift away during the Q&A, pulling out my phone to text ChaCha: "Is honey vegan?" I get no response, and compulsively check my phone through the next vendor, a chiropractor giving free nervous system checks (I pass with flying colors; my spinal chord apparently indicates that I'm in tip-top autonomic shape), but there's still no response.

Growing a little suspicious at this point, I resolve to settle the issue one way or another. After a few more booths, I head out and get right on my computer when I arrive home. It turns out the honey/vegan issue is a contentious one; the question isn't as clear cut as I had thought. Out of curiosity, I go to ChaCha.com where they list their previous responses. My question was common enough for the site to auto-fill the search box as I typed. ChaCha's answer:

"Declaring honey to be vegan or non-vegan depends on each person's definition of veganism. It doesn't literally contain animal products, but many strict vegans do not consume honey because it comes from bees in a process similar to how milk is collected from cows."

Chalk it up as just one more thing I learned because of Green Day expo. I'm just not quite clear on who's milking all those bees.

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