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Plant-Based on the Forefront: The Boston Veg Food Fest

By Julia Yanez
By Julia Yanez, Contributing Writer

Over 70 local vegan artisans lined the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center in Boston for the twenty-seventh annual Boston Veg Food Fest on Oct. 1-2. Showcasing food, fashion, and care products, the all-volunteer nonprofit Boston Vegetarian Society combined education with community empowerment to show the merits of a plant-based lifestyle.

“We here are at the forefront of plant-based eating with the longest running plant-based festival of 27 years. I love that it’s in this very diverse community because we want to make sure that folks who may not have as much access to plant based eating have this opportunity to see who offers it, resources, and materials to bring home,” said Jennifer D’Angelo, Humane Educator at Unity Farms. As a principal sponsor to the Boston Veg Food Fest, Unity Farms advocates centering plant-based lifestyles around animal kindness and rehabilitation away from farming.

The festival offered visitors the opportunity to learn from leaders in the plant-based industry including Jesse Isidor, Straus Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, Max H. Bazerman, Harvard Postdoc and CEO of Tender Food Christophe Cahntre, and Nirva Kapasi Patel, Harvard Law School Global policy Fellow in the Animal Law and Policy Program. Ten total speakers and panelists provided a wide range of perspectives on plant-based options within medicine, cooking, entrepreneurship, and storytelling.

Evelyn Kimber, who has served as President of the Boston Vegetarian Society for 25 years and been featured in Boston Magazine, organized the first iteration of Boston Veg Food Fest 27 years ago.

“The organizing committee has such a good time planning something that we feel has such a contribution to the world. We want people to think about food choices, their impact on the climate crisis, and on their health, so it all feels good and rewarding,” said Kimber. She hopes more people learn that a plant-based lifestyle is “fun and easy.”

While the Boston Veg Food Fest is the oldest running veg festival in the country, COVID impacted its ability to function normally.

“We didn’t know what to expect since this was our first in-person festival in three years due to COVID,” said Kimber. “We found in rounding up exhibitors that many are experiencing short staffing, and many could not have their businesses be open and be present at our event… But, we found that every exhibitor had such glowing events and sales since people were able to talk and connect.”

Even while operating at a post-pandemic scale, the festival still centered Boston and New England based artisans, chefs, and activists at the forefront of its programming. Lining the athletic center were rows of vendors selling products ranging from soaps, pastries, shirts, ready-made-meals, cook-books, coaching and advice, and more.

The diverse array of food highlighted the festival. Visitors could meander the stalls while the smell of sweets, stir-frys, and fried pakoras filled the air. One local entrepreneur, Kalpana Kethineedi, founder of Kay’s Curries, was exhibiting her new line of ready-to-cook meal kits featuring traditional Indian recipes. Kethineedi said that, as an emerging business, “We wanted to gain awareness and spread our product throughout Boston. My goal is to not just bring food, but bring awareness to real Indian food and names. We tell a story about where the dish is from.”

The Boston Veg Food Fest even hosted opportunities for visitors to make connections after the festival was over. One exhibit in particular is paving the way for vegans/vegetarians to build community. Vegpal, “the Bumble for vegans,” is an online dating, friendship, and networking app that allows plant-based eaters to connect around the world. Founder Dahlia Eisenberg said, “I have had so many people come up to this table and say, ‘Oh my god, this exists? I didn’t know there was a way to connect with other vegans.’ An app is an easy way to facilitate those one-on-one connections.”

From its volunteers to its continued supporters, it is the community that keeps the Boston Veg Fest running. Two visitors, Sahara Truth and Elle Tillery, have been coming to the festival for the past five years. “We’ve been coming to check out what’s new in the vegan community,” said Truth, since the festival shares new recipes, restaurants, and vendors in the Boston area.

The festival also provided a space for university students to come together with the Boston community. Kira DeSalvo, a third year at Northeastern, said “It’s awesome because it makes it accessible…it helps people come together, share ideas, and gain experience for free.” Marisol Pacheco, another Northeastern student, said, “There’s a lot of diversity, tons of different populations represented united under one event.”

Five-year volunteer Raj Melkote reflected on the growing visibility the Boston plant-based community has amassed in the past few years. Instead of being on the outskirts of Boston’s culture, the Boston Food Festival has become mainstream and garnered attention from around the country. He said, “We had Boston City Council Woman Julia Mejia here yesterday…It’s a tangible means of showing support without donations.”

The Boston Veg Food Fest is bridging the knowledge and accessibility gap to a plant-based lifestyle. Organizer of the festival and Assistant Director of Harvard’s Office for Sustainability David Havelick said, “Our audience is not just vegans and vegetarians. The whole point of this is to invite people who may not otherwise try these foods to come by.”

Kimber said, “People come to the festival out of curiosity, and it changes their lives. I feel like I’m making a small contribution to make this a better world.”

The Boston Veg Food Fest has made a substantial impact for local businesses and become a staple tradition for the plant-based community in New England. With the festival’s vibrant and diverse atmosphere, vegetarians, vegans, and non-restricted eaters alike are welcome to find their new favorite plant-based product and meet passionate sustainability, climate, and animal-rights advocates.

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