U alum who pioneered Twin Cities Veg Fest hopes to tackle animal rights policy

Unny Nambudiripad will step down from his role as executive director of Compassionate Action for Animals, which he started in 1998, at the end of the year

Freshmen pre-architecture majors Nathan Manske and Lanie Hei taste free samples of non-dairy soy ice cream sandwiches on at the Twin Cities Veg Fest on October 26, 2013 at Coffman Union.

Ichigo Takikawa

Freshmen pre-architecture majors Nathan Manske and Lanie Hei taste free samples of non-dairy soy ice cream sandwiches on at the Twin Cities Veg Fest on October 26, 2013 at Coffman Union.

Jacob Steinberg

Breaking into factory farms and peacefully spreading awareness helped one University of Minnesota alum become a revered figure in the animal rights community.

Unny Nambudiripad co-founded Compassionate Action for Animals in 1998 to peacefully advocate for animal rights reform. Now, before CAA’s annual Twin Cities Veg Fest this weekend, Nambudiripad announced he will retire as the group’s executive director.

Nambudiripad started at the University in 1995, and became involved with animal advocacy through people he’d met in the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. In 1998, he co-founded CAA with a desire to create an advocacy group with less “confrontational” and “angry” tactics.

“We wanted to have a very different tone, we read a lot about nonviolence, trying to be compassionate and gentle and respectful to our opposition,” he said. “That started as a philosophical discussion and eventually turned into starting an organization.”

Throughout his career, Nambudiripad has engaged in a number of activities in the name of animal rights.

“We’d break into farms in the middle of the night and we would document what was happening,” said Nambudiripad, who also admitted he “rescued” several animals from farms.

Now CAA spreads awareness by handing out pamphlets, giving away food, showing videos, and hosting events like Twin Cities Veg Fest, said CAA President and Co-Founder Matt Mackall. “Progress is slow but visible.”

This weekend’s event will be the festival’s fifth annual installment, but the first time it will span two days.

The festival will see businesses from around the Twin Cities showcase plant-based products through free samples, food vendors and live cooking demos.

Nambudiripad’s favorite restaurant, Reverie Café and Bar, will make its first public appearance at the event since the eatery opened in February.

“It’s a really natural place for us to go and connect with potential customers and patrons and also just connect with the community,” said Reverie Co-owner Kirstin Wiegmann.

Medical Laboratory Science sophomore and CAA Student Group Officer, Hayley McCormack, said she’s excited to see this year’s new exhibitors and how the festival’s longer runtime will affect attendance.

Nambudiripad said he expects about 4,000 people will come, and hopes they can get a sense of the growing movement.

“There’s a lot of people who care and I feel really good that I’ve been able to help facilitate the growth of other activists,” he said.

Despite the work he’s done with CAA, Nambudiripad will step down as executive director at the end of the year.

McCormack said the student group will miss him — and his leadership — “dearly.”

Nambudiripad said he will take this time to push for policy changes instead of convincing consumers to change their diets.

“I need a change of pace because I want to make changes in a different way than I’m doing now,” Nambudiripad said. “I think there are other powerful ways to make a difference for animals and I want to pursue those.”