Veg out at the 14th-annual Boston Vegetarian Food Festival
South Ender Evelyn Kimber hopes festival will spread awareness to local dining
The Boston Vegetarian Food Festival takes over the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center in Roxbury on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, setting out to prove that there’s more to meatless cuisine than just tofu.
Now in its 14th year, the free event-sponsored by the Boston Vegetarian Society-typically attracts 10,000 to 15,000 people to the area to graze on plant-based foods, listen to national and local speakers, browse through more than 100 exhibits, and pick up tips on cooking delicious meals without animal products.
Organizer Evelyn Kimber, a vegetarian for 25 years and a South Ender for even longer, explained that the festival’s success has led the Society to expand this year’s festival to two days for the first time ever.
"We’re very excited about that," she said. "The festival has become so popular and grown so much that we had to do something to address the crowding we had last year."
The event runs from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday and 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. Parking is free, and the venue is easily accessible from the Orange Line’s Roxbury Crossing T stop.
"It’s a chance for people from the Boston area to see and taste what’s new and talk directly to food producers from throughout the country and Canada," said Kimber. "We bring them right to their doorstep."
While the festival draws the latest veg-friendly items from across North America, its entertainment schedule will rely more on the educational and entertainment resources Boston has to offer.
"We do usually bring in chefs and speakers from all over the country. This year we felt very inclined to think locally as far as honoring and featuring local talent," Kimber explained. "We have drawn more on the Boston local community than we ever have before."
Speakers include award-winning local vegan bloggers Emilie Hardman and Lauren Ulm, Massachusetts-educated medical and environmental experts, and Boston-based vegan stand-up comedians Myq Kaplan and Zach Sherwin.
"We’re really tickled that we’re going to have something really different this year. ... They’re going to work some vegetarian humor into their acts," Kimber said of Kaplan and Sherwin, whose performances are slated for Saturday at 4:15 p.m.
A notable speaker on the schedule from out of town is Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., of the Cleveland Clinic, whose studies on preventing and reversing heart disease have supported a plant-based diet.
According to Kimber, the Boston Vegetarian Society strives to make its festival welcoming to non-vegetarians-those who aren’t interested in or aren’t ready to commit to a fully vegetarian or vegan diet are encouraged to attend, particularly those interested in environmental issues like global warming, to which animal farming contributes.
"We’re happy that vegetarians and vegans come to the event, but we make it mainly for non-vegetarians," she said. "We want to show them the wide variety of delicious, health-promoting plant-based foods that are readily available in the marketplace that do not include any animal ingredients of any kind."
While Kimber was encouraged by the growing number of meatless options nationwide, saying, "It’s easier than ever to be a vegetarian, whether you’re cooking at home or dining out," she sees room for improvement when it comes to her South End neighborhood.
"Some of the higher-end restaurants that have moved in haven’t been as vegetarian friendly as they could be," she said. "This [event] could be encouragement for these higher-end restaurants to consider vegetarians and vegans in their menu planning."
She said studies have shown that even non-vegetarians prefer to have a lighter, meatless alternative on the menu, and the color and variety of plant-based foods provides chefs with "a great opportunity to get creative."
"There’s so many good reasons for reducing animal foods and that includes meat poultry, fish, dairy and eggs: for your own personal health, the health of the planet, and kindness to animals," said Kimber. "We invite people to come explore it with us."
For more information on the Boston Vegetarian Society and the festival visit www.bostonveg.org. The website also offers links to vegetarian resources, farmers’ markets, and other events.