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Inaugural ‘Veg Fest’ pushes change

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/9/2019 10:00:10 PM
Modified: 7/9/2019 10:00:04 PM

Coming on the heels of a holiday that glorifies, among other things, the aroma of meat sizzling on a grill, the first ever Mountain Veg Fest could be viewed in terms of what it lacks. Vegans are used to that assessment.

But the organizers of the vegan festival, which comes to Colburn Park in Lebanon on Saturday, are hoping people will see it for all that it offers: delicious food, acclaimed speakers and information on a compassionate lifestyle that’s gaining popularity as it becomes more accessible.

“It’s a really fun experience. It’s open to everyone,” said Mike Young, founder of the nonprofit aplantbaseddiet.org which is organizing the event. “We especially want people who are not familiar with veganism to show up.”

The free event, which Young said is the first vegan festival in the Twin States, will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and feature of a variety of vendors and speakers, including keynote speaker Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and star of the hit TV show Whale Wars.

Watson, who lives in Woodstock, won’t be preaching veganism: He’ll be talking about his work defending whales and other marine life from illegal fishing around the world. But the influential activist believes in the cause.

“One of the reasons I’m at the Veg Fest is that for the last 25 years, all of our ships are vegan vessels,” Watson said. “We feel that because so much destruction is caused by the meat industry … it would be hypocritical for us to do otherwise.”

People who come to volunteer on Watson’s ships are sometimes dubious about the requirement, he said. But they soon realize a vegan diet can not only meet their nutritional needs but provide additional health benefits.

“I don’t believe in proselytizing; I believe that the experience converts people,” he said.

Watson also believes his message is a critical one for anyone who cares about the environment. “If the ocean dies, we all die,” he said.

Along with hearing about Watson’s adventures, guests can learn about vegan dining; cooking and weight management; sample vegan products; purchase vegan meals and treats; listen to live music and acquaint themselves with activist groups in the region.

“We want to do what’s best for human health, for the environment and for the sake of animals,” said Young, whose Florida-based organization has brought vegan events to cities up and down the East Coast. “The more you learn about one, the more you realize how connected they all are.”

“It’s about vegan food, but it also spreads into issues of environment and wildlife,” said Kristina Snyder, who will represent NH Citizens Against Recreational Trapping at the event and is a member of Twin States Animal Liberation. “A lot of the animal people are connected.”

Snyder, who lives in Chester, N.H., became vegan in 2013, after several years of “dancing around” the possibility.

“It’s been amazing. I have met the best people,” she said. “Just within these six years, the growth of veganism, the growth of plant-based foods, I’m seeing a huge movement. … I think in the beginning vegans were looked at as these hippie tree huggers running through the woods chanting. Now it’s reaching into the mainstream.”

Since “thought leaders” such as former Google CEO Eric Schmidt began predicting a plant-based food revolution, corporations have been jumping aboard the plant-based bandwagon, developing products that are giving meat and dairy a run for their money, Snyder said.

Snyder knows the plant-based food movement can be a touchy topic in a region that’s feeling the pinch of declining dairy prices. Many dairy farmers object to the plant-based food industry’s co-opting of the word “milk.” But she sees the transition from animal-based diets to more earth-friendly diets as necessary and inevitable, and thinks farmers should find ways to embrace the change. Companies such as Elmhurst, a New York-based dairy that reinvented itself as a plant milk company in 2017, provide a road map for doing so, she said.

“We want to support local farmers. … I don’t want to see a farm gone,” Snyder said. “But we need to work with the politicians to help people transition, instead of dumping money into a losing proposition.”

Even if the dairy industry can recover, feeding an ever-growing population with an animal-based diet is an increasingly unsustainable option, Snyder said. And while humanely raised animal products offer a compassionate alternative to factory-farmed products, these farming practices require even more land than traditional farming practices, she said.

Not everyone sees veganism as a viable answer to the world’s problems, of course. But organizers hope people will come with an open mind.

Young became a vegetarian in 2009 and a vegan five years ago. “At that time, I didn’t know any vegans,” he said. “Five years ago was a very long time ago in the history of vegans.”

These days, finding delicious, vegan food is easy, Young said.

Although vegan activists hope to attract new people to their cause, they realize the Veg Fest will mostly be a gathering of like-minded people. They hope the event will energize people already committed to the lifestyle and connect them to organizations where they can make a difference.

Snyder will be offering information on trapping and encouraging people to contact local lawmakers about inhumane trapping practices.

“Trapping, to me, is particularly horrific,” she said. “The animals are caught in these traps, and they can be in these traps for up to 24 hours. … It’s cruel. It’s not a quick kill. Come on, this is 2019. They’re not doing this to make a living.”

Snyder knows a lot of people don’t want to hear about animal suffering, whether in the meat and dairy industry or in the wild. “But what can change unless people know?” she said.

Admission to Mountain Veg Fest is free, but an RSVP is requested. Visit mountainvegfest.org.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.

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