Portland VegFest celebrates plant-based living

Oregon’s largest plant-based food event, “VegFest,” rolled into town at the Oregon Convention Center on Saturday and Sunday, September 21 and 22.

Presented by Northwest VEG, a local nonprofit organization, VegFest is an annual event focused on celebrating and promoting, in the organizer’s words, “compassionate and healthy food choices and lifestyles,” specifically vegetarianism and veganism.

“Eating as many plants and whole foods as possible is important for a healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Betty Izumi, a nutrition professor at PSU. “Portland provides lots of great resources, such as VegFest, for those interested in a plant-based diet.”

Celebrating its ninth year, VegFest saw over 100 exhibitors gathered to display vegan and vegetarian products and distribute free food samples to the weekend’s nearly 6,500 attendees, who wandered from table to table tasting samples of fresh organic produce, fruit smoothies and juices, non-dairy cheese, energy bars, snacks and more.

When visitors weren’t chewing with their mouths, they were speaking with them.

“I believe all animals deserve to liberated,” exclaimed PSU student Phil McKay in a conversation about the use of animal traps. While admittedly not vegan or vegetarian, McKay is a fan of the work of the animal-rights activist groups that table at VegFest, especially the “Sea Shepard Conservation Society” and “TrapFree Oregon.”

In addition to attendance by nonprofit organizations, local restaurants also came out in force with all manner of pamphlets and products, and visitors looking for a bit more action were able to sit in on cooking and product demonstrations as well.

Children were welcomed with a pirate-themed corner stocked with crafts and games, a face paint station featuring cruelty-free vegan makeup, a photo booth, and an interactive worm bin exhibit.

After exploring the main exhibit hall, attendees had the option to head into lecture rooms and hear distinguished presenters speak about everything from food policy and nutrition to health and tips on how to be a successful plant-based athlete. Many camped out early to get seats, and some lectures were so popular that they filled within minutes.

While many large events, like VegFest, can generate quite a bit of waste, the weekend’s organizers worked to reduce the amount of trash that left the event for the landfill. All vendors that tabled at the event worked to minimize any waste produced and avoided the use of plates, cups, and dining utensils that were not compostable. Attendees and participants were also encouraged to take public transportation, bike or walk to the venue in an effort to increase sustainability.

August Parsons, another PSU student, has been attending VegFest since it started in 2004. Parsons spent the second day of the event helping out at a “Tandem Treats” food cart, which made the trip from its usual spot between Cramer Hall and Smith Memorial Student Union on campus. “I love how much the VegFest’s popularity has increased over the years,” she said, “It’s really the perfect introduction to veganism and plant-based living.”

As a vegan for 8 years, Parsons said that she “really appreciates the resources and options Portland offers to those living a plant-based lifestyle.” She is, however, still waiting for the day she can walk into any restaurant in the city and order something vegan.

VegFest will return next September, and to help pass the time, Northwest VEG offers classes and events throughout the year. For more information visit nwveg.org.