By Elyssa Schwartz
In a land where humans dance with cows instead of eat them, the organizers of the 7th annual Central Florida Veg Fest set up camp near Downtown Orlando.
At this free event, guests experienced a cross-section of vegetarian cuisines and lifestyle from humane education areas to a veggie kid’s zone. Food, apparel, crafts and other products from over 250 vendors and contributors were displayed, sampled and sold throughout Orlando Festival Park. Musicians, food preparation demos, yoga classes and public speakers were also featured at the festival.
“I think it’s definitely a kind of community. Most of the people here are part of an animal friendly and environmentally friendly kind of group,” Lindsey Weingarten, 19 said. “It’s a really chill atmosphere.”
Weingarten, along with a few of her peers, set up a table at the event to represent the University of Central Florida’s Body of Animal Rights Campaigners club. BARC distributed animal-testing awareness pins and stickers with slogans such as “meats not green” and “pigs are friends not food” that patrons sported throughout the event.
BARC was not the only group of UCF students in attendance. Central Florida Veg Fest Coordinator Larry Rumbough, an alumnus of the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, reached out to members to volunteer in exchange for community service hours.
“Me and five other fraternity brothers went down and handled all the parking services,” Shane Brophy, 24 said.
During their 10 hour shift, the volunteers were given a couple of breaks along with a $25 food voucher each. Vegans for the afternoon, the volunteers traded their typical meaty-rich diets for veggie options. First, Brophy went for the Mediterranean and Asian cuisines such as falafel, shawarma and spring rolls.
“I wanted to try something new before I left,” Brophy said. “I tried vegan nachos. Those were my favorite things I had all day. The cheese was made from roasted red pepper puree, a cheese substitute and peanut butter. It tasted like nachos I would get like at a regular baseball or football game.”
Brophy and the other volunteers experienced Central Florida Veg Fest from a different perspective than most.
“It wasn’t how I imagined it would be,” Brophy said. “I might be wrong. I might be stereotyping big time, but from what I saw, the vegan lifestyle is Namaste; very much karma induced of a lifestyle.”
Speakers at the event included Victoria Moran of Main Street Vegan, Samadhi Artemisa of In Joy Healthcare, Vicki Chelf of Vicki’s Vegan Kitchen, Diana Ewald of Aromatherapy Living, Jason Gillett of Jason and the Veganauts, Melanie Joy of Carnism Awareness & Action Network and Lee Sackett of CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm.
“The tent where [the] speakers were giving presentations was where I’d send someone because knowledge is power,” Lindsey Aronson, 20, said.
Aronson felt most inspired by author Victoria Moran.
“She was incredible,” Aronson said.
Cited by VegNews among the Top 10 Contemporary Vegetarian Authors, Moran shared her slaughterhouse experience with the audience. Moran mentioned that many people say it is inconvenient to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
“Yeah, it may be inconvenient to find kale salad at the airport, but a lot of things are inconvenient; being married, having kids, getting stuck in traffic, but they are things that we deal with,” Moran said.
Aronson, a vegetarian, attended Veg Fest with four of her sorority sisters. One is vegan and although the other three eat meat, Aronson said “They really enjoyed the festival anyway. One of them is now trying out the veg life.”
Local food vendors offered a variety of vegan fare from Dandelion Communitea Café, Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar, Ethos Vegan Kitchen, Loving Hut, Joe’s Oat Patties and the Spork Café among an alley of others. Baby Cakes NYC, Coconut Bliss and RAWR! Organic Raw Treats served dairy-free doughnuts, cupcakes, cookies, ice cream and other desserts for the sweet-tooth connoisseur.
“My favorite part probably had to be all the free vegan food,” Aronson said. “I also just loved the good vibes I got from all the like-minded and compassionate people there.”
Samples were distributed at tents by companies such as Living Light Smoothies. Guests were able to watch what went into the raw smoothies as it blended right in front of their eyes. This allowed the vendors to explain how to make the smoothies and teach guests the nutritional value of each.
“They said a cool quote: ‘We are alive, so we need to eat food that’s alive. We can’t eat dead food,'” Aronson said.
At the Beer Garden, Earth’s Best Beverages provided organic beer, wine and mimosas. Those sipping on brews were able to listen to live music from contemporary folk to country and rock ‘n’ roll performed by more than 10 musicians.
The Seed Orlando Alliance presented an Artist Corner which featured jewelry, scarves, wall art and other décor and apparel for sale by crafters and artists. One booth had paintings composed by monkeys. A few aisles over, event-goers had the opportunity to play with dogs, bunnies and even hogs to name a few. Adoption agencies and pet rescue workers set up to encourage people to volunteer, adopt and foster animals. Guests had the option to volunteer to walk dogs during the event.
“I wish Veg Fest was the mainstream,” Aronson said. “Walking around and being able to find raw, organic, vegan food that will prevent us from diseases and obesity instead of seeing McDonald’s on every corner would be fantastic.”
Whether an animal lover, a yogi guru or a health nut, Central Florida Veg Fest welcomed herbivores and omnivores alike to get involved in family-fun activities, food and entertainment. A learning experience for some and a celebration for most, an assortment of Facebook posts on the event page deemed Veg Fest 2012 a “success.”