January 20, 2022
CHEF WILLIAM HUMMONS' home is decorated like a Macy’s window in December. It’s two days after Christmas, and he’s telling me how the meat industrial complex has us all fooled into blindly accepting certain holiday food traditions. “We think we’ve got to leave milk and cookies out for Santa, have an abnormally large chicken in the center of the table,” he says. “It’s forced down our throats.”
“So, what did you leave out for Santa?” I ask him, gesturing to the festive wreath above his fridge.
He laughs. “Scotch.”
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Hummons is a Latin-Caribbean chef with an entirely vegan agenda. Since his meat-centric Caribbean barbecue restaurant shut down a little over three years ago, he’s been serving up delicious vegan recipes for everyone with taste buds — vegan or not.
“I was a little heartbroken about losing my restaurant. I was in limbo,” he says. “I’ve seen how meat is done. I’ve seen big old chicken breasts that just aren’t normal. They’re not normal.”
Since then, he’s pivoted to an entirely plant-based menu and lifestyle. His philosophy? If you can’t join ’em, beat ’em. When other chefs made fun of his alternative diet, he knew there was only one way to shut them up: make food so undeniably good they’d want a piece of it too. When farmers markets and pop-up festivals didn’t have space for him, he decided to make his own. That’s where Vegan Wonderland comes in: a monthly festival of vegan food and products set to a soundtrack of live, local musicians.
“Monthly for now,” Hummons tells me. “I want this thing to run weekly. The vision’s big.”
At its heart, Vegan Wonderland is about supporting a community of local businesses. (“Not ‘small,’” Hummons reminds me. “There’s nothing small about running your own business.”) Seeing the pandemic’s devastating impact on local businesses, Hummons wanted to create a space where it wasn’t just the vegan giants like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat getting attention, but the little guys, too. Many of the vendors at Vegan Wonderland are family-owned, Black-owned, or Hispanic-owned, showcasing just how diverse Vegas’ vegan community is.
“The tacos out there (in town) are fabulous,” Hummons says. “There’s some bad, bad people out there doing some good tacos.”
One such vendor includes Chef Ivon Valenzuela from Yaqui Zen, a vegan Mexican pop-up that has been running the Vegas vegan circuit for the past three years.
"My mom’s a cook too,” Valenzuela tells me, “I go to her for advice whenever I’m working on a recipe. She entered a tamale contest last year and won best tamales in San Diego, so I’ve got big shoes to fill."
Valenzuela has been prepping a bunch of new and old recipes alike for the next festival, including her personal favorite, a vegan bahn mi burrito that fuses the nostalgic flavors of her childhood into Vietnamese-Mexican comfort street food.
Vegan Wonderland aims to celebrate not only vegan food, but an entire community of artists and creators. That spirit of community engagement resonated with Artisanal Foods owners Jinelle Batista and Chef Jon Batista; they donated meals to local families during the height of the pandemic and currently deliver 50 gourmet meals a week to nurses working in Covid wards. Jon Batista also appreciates Hummons’ passion for promoting veganism and supporting local businesses. “We’re really hoping that we can grow our vegan selection and stock a lot more local businesses,” Batista says. “Veganism isn’t fringe anymore. It’s a lifestyle.”
And, counter to the stereotypes, veganism is not a bland lifestyle of dreary self-denial. Rather than wondering what happens to a dish once you take the meat away, vegan chefs nowadays are creating mouth-watering dishes that just happen to be vegan. When I ask what he thinks non-vegans will find at Vegan Wonderland, Hummons simply says, “Good food.”
And maybe a side of enlightenment. “We’re coming out of the age of Capricorn — which we’ve been in for some 200 years now — and into the age of Aquarius,” he says. “Capricorn was all ‘me, me, me.’ It was opportunistic. People are done with that now. We’re in the age of Aquarius, which is more about truth and spirituality.”
Gone are the days of forcing beliefs down someone else’s throat, Hummons says. People don’t want to hear that you have to have a turkey at Thanksgiving anymore. And they don’t want to hear that you can’t, either. That means delivering vegan food that is authentic, vibrant, diverse — vegan food that people want to eat.
Vegan Wonderland takes place 11a.m.-6p.m. January 29 at Artisanal Foods, 4860 S. Eastern Ave., Suite A. For more information, visit veganwonderlandlv.com.
Two World Premieres
“In a world in which dancers, particularly women, play by the rules, Lovette makes — and lives by — her own,” wrote New York Times dance critic Gia Kourlas last March, when 29-year-old New York City Ballet principal dancer Lauren Lovette announced she was retiring to focus on her own work. Like so many of us, Lovette had spent the pandemic contemplating what she really wanted to do with her life, and that turned out to be choreography. Where Lovette is just embarking on what’s expected to be an exciting career, Trey McIntyre is well into his. The Houston Ballet created a choreography apprenticeship for McIntyre when he was only 20; now 54, he’s freelance-produced more than 100 ballets, earning him the Isadora Duncan Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography, along with numerous other prizes. Lovette and McIntyre are behind the Nevada Ballet Theatre’s upcoming show, “Two World Premieres,” a one-night-only event that will also feature selections from local dancer-choreographer Krista Baker’s piece The Current (above).
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Nevada Ballet’s artistic director Roy Kaiser describes the event as part of his vision for the company’s cultural mission: “New works are critical for the growth of any ballet company, and they create a unique artistic identity for NBT,” he says. “They feed the creative soul of our dancers, and they inspire and excite our audiences as they experience the future of our art form.” Heidi Kyser
2p and 7:30p, $30.95-$140.95, Reynolds Hall, thesmithcenter.com
Sensual, passionate, intimate, electric — yeah, tango pretty much represents all those spicy feels we lost touch with when social-distancing our viral meatsuits became the, ugh, new normal. So, one imagines that attendees of Tango Argentina will be watching this performance with particularly rapt, ravenous attention. The talent on the roster will certainly ensure that: The show’s producer, GD Tango, is the brainchild of veteran tango dancers Guillermo De Fazio and Giovanna Dan. Raised in tango capital Buenos Aires, the duo has since settled in Los Angeles, where they’ve built a veritable dance mini-empire, offering lessons, staging productions, and touring the world. In this show, eight dancers from GD Tango will show off their moves, accompanied by the Fabricio Mocata Quartet. Andrew Kiraly
7:30p, $20-$40, UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall, unlv.edu/pac
Jan. 22- Feb. 26
Even since Meow Wolf debuted its critically acclaimed Omega Mart art installation last year at Area 15, lots of locals have been looking to explore more work from Vegas artists. They need look no further than the new exhibit Local Explorations. Hosted by Core Contemporary Gallery and sponsored by Meow Wolf and Core Arts Concord, Local Explorations features artwork from 13 Las Vegas-based artists who contributed to making the comical and surreal Omega Mart a reality — in other words, they’re some of the valley’s most talented creators. But you can do more than see their art; you can hear from the artists themselves 6p Feb. 12, when participating artists Brent Sommerhauser, Elliot Demlow, Eric Vozzola, Jane Poynter, Jerry Misko, Nancy Good, and Valentin Yordanov discuss their inspirations and methods at the gallery. The opening reception is 6p Jan. 22 and the closing reception is 6p Feb. 26. Ganny Belloni
Free, Core Contemporary Gallery, 900 E. Karen Ave. #D222, corecontemporary.com
Love in the Dunes
Just before Valentine’s Day, contributors to Nevada Humanities’ twelfth installment in the Las Vegas Writes anthology series , Love in the Dunes, will gather to read excerpts from their stories of heartbreak, loneliness, and lust. The collection’s editor, Jarret Keene, will moderate a discussion that, based on the book’s themes, should satisfy everyone — including the Hallmark holiday haters. The writers include Emily Bordelove, Melissa Bowles-Terry, Kim Idol, Nicole Minton, Jen Nails, Brett Riley, Nicholas Russell, and Tonya Todd. HK
6:30-8p, Writer’s Block, free, thewritersblock.org
Rail Explorers Valentine’s Tour
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 100 years since the Hoover Dam was built amid the scorched desert of the Mojave. Back then, Las Vegas was little more than a pit stop between train stations, a place where weary travelers and dam workers could rest up for the long journey ahead. For those looking to be transported back in time, check out Rail Explorers, an outdoor adventure attraction that puts visitors on their very own Indiana Jones-style train adventure. Unlike most desert tours, Rail Explorers puts the guests in the driver’s seat — adventurers take control of their very own rail car as they traverse an eight-mile round-trip journey across the Mojave Desert. Each rail car is equipped with pedal-powered electric motors, which make the experience as effortless and exciting as possible. This Valentine’s Day, Rail Explorers is offering couples excursions that include complimentary chocolate and sparkling wine for the adventurously romantic. GB
6:30 pm, $110, 601 Yucca St., Boulder City, railexplorers.net
Arabic guitarist and instrumentalist Bishr Hijazi (right) is no stranger to Nevada Public Radio; both Desert Companion and KNPR’s State of Nevada have featured his Arab Music Ensemble in years past. But next month will see the stage debut of the Bishr Hijazi Arab Ensemble, which also includes Georges Lammam on violin and Romario Bandek on percussion. Accompanied by belly dancing, the group will play songs from the Golden Age of Arabic music and tell stories of the era’s composers and songs to draw the audience into the culture of the Arab world. HK
8p, $10, Winchester Dondero Cultural Center, 702-455-7340, clarkcountynv.gov/parks
Through Feb. 26
Seeing/Seen features striking professional photographic portraits of Black women, pictures worthy of a fine-art gallery, to be sure — but the exhibit also includes found images, archival performance photos, slides, and videos. The range of form reflects the richly ambiguous intent of curator Erica Vital-Lazare — in other words, a broad vision calls for a broad range of photographic media. Vital-Lazare sums up that vision best: “I want this exhibit to offer such teaching and learning in a glance — in the posture of hand tucked beneath the chin, in an open laugh. I want each face, each historical moment to resound as clarion call for some and the tug of a coat-tail for others, that gentle urgency and coded message Black Women detect and share in the presence of one another provides an exhibit within an exhibit—completing the circuit between us.” AK
Free, UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum, unlv.edu/barrickmuseum
Blanket of Protection
Through March 26
You can always count on Left of Center Art Gallery to produce challenging, complex exhibits, and its latest show, Blanket of Protection, will certainly keep up its tradition of stirring conversation. Ten artists consider the role of Black Americans in World War II — as military service members as well as citizens — and explore the moral complications of fighting for a country that refuses to recognize your full humanity. Dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen, the Black military pilots and airmen who served in WWII, this exhibit includes work by artists Tamara Carter, Harold Bradford, Sonya Ruffin, Joseph Watson, Lolita Develay, and more. AK
Free, Left of Center Art Gallery, leftofcenterart.org
Cats & Dogs
Through May 8
Three years ago, determined to be the best possible dog-parent to my infant rescued pit bull, I read Stanley Coren’s book How to Speak Dog. A social scientist’s exploration of how dogs inhabit their bodies and the world, and communicate with each other and humans accordingly, the book made a strong impression and shaped how I still “talk” to Buster every day. (He’s a very good boy, btw.) Families now have an opportunity to learn what I did, minus the hours and hours of reading, and plus all that info on cats, too. The Springs Preserve is hosting an interactive exhibit called Cats & Dogs, coproduced by a Parisian museum of science and industry, a Quebecois museum of civilization, and U.S.-based Imagine Exhibitions. It invites participants to experience the world and social interactions through their pets’ senses. It also gives some history of how our fur-babies came to be family members, cultivating a better understanding of their role in society. HK
9a-4p, free with general admission, Springs Preserve, springspreserve.org
THE SUN IS just peeking over the mountains near Bunkerville, Nevada. It’s summertime, about 85 degrees, and the warm light spreads over an open expanse of the Mojave desert. This area is protected as a national monument called Gold Butte, which means it’s mostly public lands. Anyone can come here and go hiking or camping!
But for Patrick Donnelly, the Great Basin director for the Center for Biological Diversity, this place effectively belongs to local rancher and extremist Cliven Bundy and his family, who militantly oppose federal control of these lands.
“These are not safe spaces,” he says. “These public lands are not safe public lands."
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It’s easy to understand why Donnelly might be nervous. In 2014, Bundy and hundreds of militia members and protesters held a tense, hour-long armed standoff with federal agents and local law enforcement.
The confrontation was an effort to stop the Bureau of Land Management from rounding up Bundy’s cattle, which have illegally grazed on these public lands for nearly three decades. The feds eventually backed down, fearing bloodshed. Intimidation, and even sporadic reports of violence, have continued ever since.
“There have been contractors for BLM run off with shots fired,” Donnelly says. “BLM rangers were forbidden from coming out here for years. This is not a safe place.”
Cliven Bundy and his family were some of the first prominent anti-government agitators of the 21st century, and Donnelly and other public lands activists believe their actions paved the way for other far-right uprisings in the U.S., including the January 6th takeover of the U.S. Capitol. While the Biden administration has moved to crack down on extremism over the past year, it hasn’t touched the Bundys, who continue to illegally graze their cattle on public lands.
“It’s an outrage that armed thugs could violently force their way into continuing to break the law,” Donnelly says.
The Bundys’ ongoing cold war with the federal government began in 1993 when Cliven Bundy stopped paying fees to the federal government to graze his cattle on public lands adjacent to his ranch. He and his two sons, Ryan and Ammon – who led the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016, and the latter of whom is now running a long-shot campaign for Idaho governor – don’t recognize the American taxpayer as having ownership over the federal land that makes up roughly 47% of the West.
After grazing was eventually banned in most of southern Nevada in 1998 to protect the imperiled desert tortoise, the family continued to keep its cows out here – even after the armed standoff. The Bundys have turned natural springs into watering holes and installed irrigation in recent years, all without the permission of the federal government.
Still, the land doesn’t support cattle well – especially in the midst of a severe and prolonged drought. Water is sparse and forage in the Mojave Desert isn’t great. It’s full of small, hardy plants like greasewood and cacti. It’s a fragile ecosystem where cattle are an invasive species.
Donnelly spots two of the Bundys’ cows walking along a dirt road. They don’t look healthy.
“These cows are skinny,” he says. “They look in very poor condition.”
But the Bundys remain steadfast in continuing to flout the law. Last January, the patriarch of the family, Cliven, issued a stark warning to the incoming Biden administration if it attempted to seize his family’s cattle.
The Bundy family has violated federal laws and developed a watering hole, along with an irrigation pipe, for trespassing cattle on public lands in southern Nevada.
“If we have to walk forward towards guns, which we did at the Bundy ranch, we have to do that,” he said on a far-right internet radio show.
Ryan Bundy, who helps manage the family's cattle operation and played a prominent role in the 2014 armed standoff, reiterates his father’s remarks and says they’ll “do whatever it takes.”
“You can’t draw any lines in the sand,” he says. “You’ve got to say, ‘I’m going to stand regardless of what happens, come hell or high water.’”
It's not always clear what, exactly, the Bundys are standing against. Their anti-government grievances are vague, but their resistance to federal control of public lands is rooted in a fundamentalist interpretation of Mormon theology.
A BLM spokesperson did not respond to repeated calls and requests for comment about the Bundys.
On the anniversary of the Jan. 6th Capitol siege, the left-leaning watchdog organization Accountable.US published a report highlighting the overlap between the anti-public lands movement and the insurrectionists. The Bundy family praised the mob and wished it would have escalated.
“It should have been something more,” Ryan Bundy says. “I think Trump failed when he told the people to back down. I think Trump should have said, ‘Let’s take this capitol, let’s keep it.’ They should have never left. They should have held that capitol and corrected the problem.”
More than 700 people have been charged with crimes after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Last June, the president created the country’s first-ever national strategy for combating domestic terrorism. This week the U.S. Department of Justice announced a new unit to counter domestic violent extremists.
But the administration hasn’t touched the Bundys yet. Donnelly thinks he knows why.
“It’s politically nuclear,” he says.
The nation is a tinderbox right now. There are a growing number of militias, political extremism is on the rise, and Donnelly believes the Biden administration isn’t willing to spill blood over some trespassing cows on obscure Nevada rangeland few could find on a map.
“I don’t think the political momentum exists at the moment to force the issue,” he says. “It’s hard to imagine it being done of the administration’s own volition.”
That’s a tough pill for Richard Spotts to swallow. The retired BLM employee, who lives in St. George Utah, worked for 15 years on public lands in the Southwest and his field office dealt with ranchers like the Bundys who broke the law.
“It’s kind of like dealing with a bully in the schoolyard,” he says. “If they always get away with it, it empowers them.”
The Bundys also got away with the Malheur occupation after a stunning acquittal in federal district court in October 2016.
Spotts says there are ways for the Biden administration to take action quietly. For instance, Cliven Bundy owes roughly $1 million in fees and fines to the federal government. Spotts says a court could issue a lien on his property and seize his cattle when they go to auction. Or federal agents could use a bench warrant to arrest Bundy, quickly and quietly, in the parking lot of a Costco or Walmart.
“You could be creative about finding ways that he’s not going to be able to alert the militia and have 300 people there with bulletproof vests and assault rifles,” Spotts says.
But, bottom line, he believes something has to be done by the Biden administration, because letting the Bundys walk has set a dangerous precedent.
“Especially in light of the insurrection,” Spotts says. “It’s almost like there’s a civil war. Are we still a country of the rule of law?”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News
Photos and art: William Hummons: Christopher Smith; Nevada Ballet Theatre courtesy; Tango Argentina courtesy UNLV; Bishr Hijazi courtesy Clark County; Harold Bradford painting, courtesy Left of Center Gallery; Gold Butte National Monument: Nate Hegyi, Mountain West News Bureau
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Photos and art: Via Focaccia photos courtesy Ismaele Romano; Joe Lujan portrait by July Castle; film set photo and Immortal Wars poster courtesy Carcass Studios