By Jessica Lovell
Guelph’s newest festival is all about a lifestyle that some might consider a little unusual, but its organizers believe that it’s a way of life that’s on the rise.
“Public interest in plant-based eating is higher than ever before,” says Vegfest co-founder Christine Allard.
The way trends are headed, it won’t be long before vegans make up a significant portion of the populations, she says. But it’s more than vegan food that will be on the menu when Vegfest takes place at the Guelph Youth Music Centre and Goldie Mill on Sept. 21.
“We want to promote and celebrate a plant-based lifestyle,” Allard says.
Along with the food vendors that will be at the event, there will be everything from environmental groups to animal rights groups, animal sanctuaries to plant-based cosmetics.
But food will certainly be a big part of the event, and that food goes beyond simple vegetarian fare.
“It will be all plant-based, no dairy, no eggs, no animal products of any kind,” says Allard.
The inspiration for the festival came after Allard and co-founder Robyn Fraser attended a couple of similar festivals in other cities.
“We said we think it would be a great thing to have in Guelph,” says Allard.
She and Fraser have both been vegan for about six years, she says.
For Allard, giving up meat and animal products started out as a health choice. Seeing the film Forks Over Knives, which examines the health impacts of giving up animal-based and processed foods, reinforced her decision.
“For me, I came to the realization that it’s completely unnecessary to use and consume animals to have a happy or healthy life,” she says.
That’s not to say that people who eat meat – or eggs or cheese – or wear leather are not welcome at the festival.
“It’s going to be more of a celebratory sort of environment,” says Allard, noting that the whole community is welcome to come out and check out the festival and learn more about the vegan lifestyle.
“There’s going to be delicious food, and they can take part in any part they want,” she says.
And for people who are considering veganism, “the information will be there for the people who are moving in that direction and want help,” she says.
Besides vendors, the festival will feature several guest speakers, including NHLer turned animal activist Georges Laraque.
His talk will include stories about his career, his nutrition and why he became vegan.
For those who are “veg-curious,” a talk by Kristen Bethel Lepine entitled “A Vegan Roadmap” might be a good one to take in.
She’ll talk about how to make the vegan transition simpler, healthier and happier, and she’ll also do a cooking demo.
There will also be talks by vegan author Victoria Moran and Farm Sanctuary president and co-founder and animal activist Gene Baur.
There are currently a long list of vendors, but organizers are still continuing to sign up more, she says.
“We want to have as many vendors as we can fit,” Allard says.
As for the number of festival-goers, based on what other similar festivals generated in their first years, Allard foresees a crowd of between 1,000 and 1,500 people.
The festival is free, and the date was chosen so as not to conflict with vegfests in other cities or other local events. It was also timed so that university students would be back in the city, Allard says.
“We wanted something the students could participate in as well,” she says.
If the festival is successful, she hopes to make it an annual event.
Asked what part of the festival she’s most excited about, Allard says: “I love the educational side of it; I love the shopping experience – the different items you can buy at these sorts of events; and the community – it’s a very positive vibe.”
Organizers are still looking for sponsorships and donations. They are also selling merchandise to support the festival and will soon be looking for volunteers. For more information, visit www.vegfestguelph.ca.
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By Jessica Lovell