(Photo courtesy of Boston Vegetarian Food Festival)
During the past few years, Boston has seen an increase in the number of vegetarian eateries and advocacy groups, as well as a heightened focus on local and natural eating. It's a shift that is expected to lead to an increase in the number of attendees at this weekend's Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, held at the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center in Roxbury.
“We are expecting anywhere between 20,000 and 25,000 people over the course of the weekend,” said Evelyn Kimber, president of the Boston Vegetarian Society, which sponsors the festival, held in Roxbury for the past 14 years.
“The Boston community really has a growing interest in vegetarian and vegan dining. One of the things we are so happy about is that the festival draws such a diverse audience from all communities and all ages," including a large contingent of college-aged students.
Kimber said she believes younger adults have a growing awareness of the “ethical and environmental significance of their food choices."
“Students are more aware now than ever before of the health benefits of plant-based eating,” said Kimber. “When students learn that meat and dairy production contributes more to global warming than all transportation combined, they want to do something positive, and making earth-friendly food choices is something they can do every day."
The festival, which includes vendors from Boston, is a chance for vegetarian natural food providers, national experts and chefs, and exhibitors to teach the community about living a vegetarian lifestyle.
Attendees will be able to sample free food, as well as shop and purchase items at discounted prices. There is a focus on international foods.
“International cuisines are very rich in plant-based foods,” explained Kimber. “In an area like Roxbury, which may not have as many exclusively vegetarian restaurant options, international cuisine is a good choice. Indian, African, Mexican, Asian—all are heavily plant-based and great options for vegetarians."
One local vendor, Roxbury Crossing-based Norma’s Catering, has been a popular exhibit at the festival for years. The catering company focuses on Latin foods, and will bring items such as tofu empanadas and yellow rice for festival attendees to sample.
Area colleges have groups that promote vegetarian and vegan eating. Northeastern University’s Vegetarians United aims to promote a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, as well as build awareness of animal-friendly products, while Boston University’s Vegetarian Society meets regularly to discuss and eat vegetarian cuisine.
Northeastern University student Dana Liebowitz, who has been a vegetarian for 10 years, said vegetarian options in restaurants and supermarkets have increased in recent years. In addition, “My friends are definitely more accepting of my eating habits because it is becoming more socially acceptable to be vegetarian," she said.
Student support is something that the Clover Food Truck, which serves solely vegan offerings, has seen firsthand.
Clover launched its food truck on the MIT campus in September of 2008 and continues to provide items such as chickpea fritters, barbeque seitan, and vegan bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. The truck has since expanded to City Hall Plaza, Boston University, the Longwood Medical Area, and the SoWa Market in the South End.
Kimber said college students have stepped up as volunteers for the festival.
“The event is entirely volunteer-based, and the student community has been fantastic with providing support,” she said.
Admission to the festival is free, as is parking. Special tickets are available to purchase for $5, which will allow for an early-entry preview event on Saturday. More information can be found at: www.BostonVeg.org/foodfest.
This article was reported and written under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel (firstname.lastname@example.org), as part of collaboration between The Globe and Northeastern.