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The Great Vegan Cookie Challenge Kicks Off at Cinema Paradiso This Thursday

Think cookies don't taste as good without butter, milk, or eggs? Think again. Baked goods are just as good without any animal ingredients, and the competitors at the Great Vegan Cookie Challenge are out to prove it this week.

The cookie competition will kick off on Thursday, August 4, at 7 p.m. at Fort Lauderdale's Cinema Paradiso (503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale), where a variety of local eateries will be pitted against each other. The evening also includes the Florida premiere of the documentary The Vegan Movie - Everyday Stories. 

The occasion is a fundraiser for Animal Hero Kids, a group founded by Susan Hargreaves that offers free kindness programs in schools and recognizes the efforts of young animal advocates. Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased online. 

"I began ruminating on what would be a fun idea to have our first-ever fundraiser," says Hargreaves. "I have been giving free presentations in schools and Animal Hero Kids Awards for 34 years, yet Animal Hero Kids has never have had an actual benefit. A co-organizer, Jennifer Mennuti, suggested vegan cookies as a fun, yummy theme."

There will be nine competitors in the cookie battle, and every audience member will get to sample each option. Competitors include Green Bar & Kitchen, Fresh First, Darbster, PAC Pastries, Chunkie Dunkies, Raw Chef Carla, Sustainable Cooking, SuperFit Gym, and Jac Blades. As far as cookie choices go, "There will definitely be a wide variety, from raw to gluten-free to dark chocolate peanut butter cookies," says Hargreaves. 

There will be two awards: Audience Choice and Animal Hero Kids' Choice, with prizes donated by Whole Foods Market in Fort Lauderdale, Sublime Restaurant, and Cinema Paradiso. 

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As far as the film goes, it's a full-length documentary that tells the stories of four vegans with different stories, lifestyles, and backgrounds, including an ultramarathoner, a sanctuary owner, a food truck chef, and a little girl. 

"The Vegan Movie — Everyday Stories premiered in L.A. last month, [and] we are excited to be the Florida premiere host," says Hargreaves. "It features hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, musician Moby, Chicago Bears football player David Carter, and eight-year-old Animal Hero Kids copresident Genesis, who turned her entire family vegan by asking questions."  

Hargreaves' group is all about fostering empathy in children, and funds raised at the event will help support humane education programs and other efforts that encourage kind and courageous acts on behalf of animals.

It's a night of good eats meets education, and if the movie doesn't convert you to a more compassionate lifestyle, the cookies might.

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