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Vegetarian Food Festival Offers Meat-Free, Cost-Free Fun

Posted by Alex Pearlman  October 27, 2011 05:28 PM

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bostonvegetarianfoodfestivalvegfest.jpgBy Vanessa Formato

If you love food and free stuff -- and what 20-something doesn't? -- you'll want to be at the Reggie Lewis Athletics Center (1350 Tremont St., Roxbury Crossing) this Saturday and Sunday for the 16th annual Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, hosted by the Boston Vegetarian Society. Local businesses, nonprofits, and a host of well-respected speakers will be sharing food, providing information, and giving talks on everything from climate change to animal rights, all for free -- though you may want to bring cash for donations or purchasing discounted goods.

Of course, meat-eaters need not feel left out: This weekend-long extravaganza is for them, too. Though many event-goers are already vegetarian or vegan, one of VegFest’s most ambitious and important goals is to show omnivores that life without consuming animal products is very much worth living -- delicious, even.

“I stopped eating meat because I didn't want to be a participant in causing suffering to animals. It was, without question, the best decision I ever made," said Our Hen House co-founder Mariann Sullivan, who's been vegan for about 15 years. She and partner Jasmin Singer will be speaking at VegFest about transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. "The synergy between being able to stop doing something that is so harmful for others and reaping the enormous health benefits for myself is deeply empowering -- not to mention that the food is scrumptious.”

One of the biggest challenges many people face in leaving animal products behind is encompassed by a simple question: But what will I eat? VegFest has that covered with 11 presentations, a nutrition Q&A session, and two cooking demonstrations. On Saturday, Chef AJ will teach you about whipping up amazing dishes with unprocessed, plant-based foods; Ayinde Howell of pop-vegan community will share some tips for homemade Chinese food on Sunday.

Other advocates support vegetarian and vegan diets for health reasons. "So many doctors have helped me along the way to successfully dodge my family history [of cancer and arthritis]. It's payback time," said Ellen Jaffe Jones, 59, a vegan since 2004. After fibroid tumors and the resulting hemorrhaging sent her to the ER, where she faced a hysterectomy, she changed her diet at her doctor’s suggestion and felt better in only a few short weeks. Jaffe Jones wrote the book Eat Vegan on $4 a Day and speaks to dispel the myth that eating vegan is expensive.

According to many scientists, the frequency with which most Americans eat meat is a huge contributor to global warming and human disease, not to mention the heartbreaking conditions that exist in slaughterhouses for both animals and the humans that work there. In graduate school, Dr. Richard Oppenlander “[saw] on a cellular level what different diets do to the human body” and has since made it his mission to spread the word about the harms of meat-heavy diets on the body, animals, and the planet. His talk, based on his book Comfortably Unaware: Global Depletion and Food Choice Responsibility, will discuss the toll meat is taking on the environment.

Today, vegetarian and vegan diets -- as well as offshoots like raw and macrobiotic diets -- are more popular than ever, partially because the Millennial generation desires, in many ways, to become more aware of their surroundings than older generations and be proactive about the problems they see. In that vein, VegFest hopes that its continued presence in the city can be a step towards a world that eats not just with gusto, but with heart.

“The benefits of a vegan diet -- for our health, for the environment, and for animals -- are poised to hit the mainstream like gangbusters,” Sullivan said. “It's an exciting time to be in this world.”

VegFest takes place this Saturday, Oct.29, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, Oct.30, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. A preview is available on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. for $5.

Photo by snowpea&bokchoi (Flickr)

About Vanessa -- Vanessa Formato is a 22-year-old Clark University graduate, freelance journalist, vegan cupcake enthusiast and video game aficionado. She blogs about body image and tweets about puppies. So awesome, even John Stamos is impressed.

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