Find Support In Your Vegan Quest At Portland Vegfest

Adopting a vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based diet — not to mention a complete plant-based lifestyle — may not be easy. It takes motivation and dedication … and often a strong support group. You can find all of this at Portland Vegfest.

We spoke with Lindsey Newkirk from Portland Vegfest about the festival, about the obstacles people often face in pursuing a vegan diet, and about how events like this can help.

RN: Lindsey, tell us a little about Portland Vegfest.

Lindsey: Portland Vegfest is a plant-based food lifestyle festival produced by Northwest VEG. Northwest VEG is a non-profit dedicated to educating and encouraging people to make vegan and plant-based food choices for a healthy and sustainable and compassionate world. It was started by a small group of people that were really passionate about this lifestyle and about eating in a way that was in line with their values. They found that more and more this was coming to the forefront of conversations and they really wanted to build community.

Now, Northwest VEG produces many events throughout the year. This year there’s a health conference for health practitioners, a Race for the Animals fund-raising event, a community Thanksgiving event, and several pot lunch and restaurant meet ups. But Vegfest is by far the largest event that we do throughout the year. In fact, this year is our 10th anniversary. The committee and people involved in Vegfest has grown, the number of vendors and exhibitors, restaurants, the notoriety of the speakers and the chefs … Everything has been elevated over the past 10 years and it’s really exciting to see it grow in the way that it has. It’s grown from a small community gathering to an event with over 100 exhibitors, restaurants, and activities. We’re expecting over 7,000 attendees this year at one of the larger venues in town, the Oregon Convention Center.

The goal of the event, much like the mission of Northwest VEG, is to celebrate, promote, and build community around vegan and plant-based lifestyles in a way that’s inclusive for everyone. So you don’t have to be a hard core vegetarian or vegan; we really want to encourage anyone that’s curious about learning about healthy and sustainable and compassionate food choices.

RN: Why is this important?

Lindsey: There are several reasons this is an important conversation, and there was a great article in National Geographic recently that kind of sums it up. [National Geographic Magazine, May 2014, Feeding the World] The planet can’t survive on meat-based diets. Climate change is one big reason that people decide to adopt a plant-based diet and from an environmental perspective there’s a lot of impact from eating a meat-based diet.

There’s also health. Of course, health has become a huge issue globally and in the United States specifically. There’s a lot of research out showing that plant-based diets are really the best choice if you want to have a healthy body and mind.

The third aspect is animal welfare. There is a lot of unfortunate and unfair treatment of animals in the meat industry, and so people often decide to adopt plant-based diets because they’re really compassionate about all the other animals that we share the planet with.

RN: What can visitors to Portland Vegfest expect to find?

Lindsey: This year, being one of the biggest Vegfests to date, we’re going to have over a hundred exhibitors and restaurants providing free food tastings throughout the weekend, which is typically the biggest draw for people. Who doesn’t love free food?!

We also have several renowned speakers and chef demos. Some of the most noteworthy include Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who is a board-certified family physician and nutritional researcher. He’s going to be presenting on reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. [The End of Diabetes: The Eat to Live Plan to Prevent and Reverse Diabetes] We also have Fran Costigan, the queen of vegan desserts. She’s going to be doing demonstrations on how to prepare dairy-free desserts, specifically focusing on vegan chocolates. [Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts] And we’ll have Ellen Jaffe Jones who has a new cookbook out called Paleo Vegan. [Paleo Vegan: Plant-Based Primal Recipes] It’s fun to blend this popular paleo diet with a vegan approach, and she’ll be doing several demos and talks throughout the weekend as well.

In addition to that we have a new fashion and beauty area as well as a new fitness and farmer’s market. Then we’ll have really great film screenings, interactive kids and teens areas, a free photo booth, a book store, lots of information tables for people who want to learn more, and lots of other fun activities throughout the weekend.

RN: Some people feel that vegan food is boring. They think that going vegetarian simply means cutting out meat and eating just salads. Is there more to it than that?

Lindsey: It’s much more than that and I think that one of the great things about Vegfest is there’s so many resources to inspire you to go beyond salads. The over 100 businesses and restaurants with free tables will show you so many great ways that you can get more creative with plant-based foods.

And it really is more than cutting out meat. It’s important to incorporate replacements for meat, to choose a variety of fresh, healthy, and sustainable-based foods including plant sources that will give you protein such as soy, legumes, nuts and seeds, grains, and leafy greens.

But adopting a vegan lifestyle doesn’t mean that you have to only eat vegetables. Fran Costigan is brilliant at incorporating the sweets and the chocolate that we love in a way that is amenable to dietary restrictions.

So, between going to events like Vegfest — and there’s other similar events throughout the country and throughout the world — and with all the books that you can find on the Vegfest web site, and other kinds of resources, even if you can’t go to a festival there’s still lots of information out there on how to get inspired to be creative with healthy plant-based food.

RN: What would you say are some of the greatest obstacles to the wider adoption of a vegetarian or vegan or plant-based lifestyle? What’s holding many people back?

Lindsey: I think there’s quite a few reasons. For one, we’re creatures of habit and a large part of our society’s food culture is built around eating meat. Of course, it’s hard to adopt new habits in general, including a new diet. So whether you’re trying to lose weight, or you’re trying to be more sustainable, or you’re trying to be more healthy, it can sometimes be difficult to create new routines and rituals and habits around the food you eat. That’s just like establishing any other habit. You start and you find resources to help you to be successful; you find support to help you stick with your commitment.

Also, there’s a lot of information out there about having a vegetarian or vegan diet, and finding credible sources from certified health experts or other credible sources is really important. Luckily, in the digital age, there’s lots of really great information out there online. It just takes time to sort through it to find those credible resources.

Another obstacle is being alone on the journey. So if you’re figuring this out for the first time and navigating what this new diet might look like for you, if you’re the only one in your family adopting these kinds of new ways of eating, or the only person in your group of friends or in your community, it can be challenging not to have support and it takes extra effort to eat differently from those around you. That’s one of the reasons why Northwest VEG, Vegfest, and other groups throughout the country and throughout the world are really important; they’re helping to establish that community and give people support so they can continue with the food practices they’re trying to incorporate into their life.

Whether you’re just starting to eliminate meat from your diet and incorporate more plant-based foods, or you’ve been a committed vegan since you were five years old, no matter where you are on the journey there are a lot of great resources and places where you can get support and build community. Portland Vegfest is a great place to start.