The V Word: Annual Tampa Bay Veg Fest to attract thousands

One feature of Saturday's Tampa Bay Veg Fest will be on everybody's list: the food.

click to enlarge Tampa Bay Veg Fest is set to return to downtown Tampa for a sixth year. - Tampa Bay Veg Fest
Tampa Bay Veg Fest
Tampa Bay Veg Fest is set to return to downtown Tampa for a sixth year.

Approximately 4,000 to 5,000 vegetarians, vegans and veg-curious locals will swarm Tampa Bay Veg Fest from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday as Tampa's Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park transforms into a vegan Eden.

Some groups will stop by the free event to support vegan painters, crafters and soap makers. Some fans will come for photographer Jo-Anne McArthur, subject of acclaimed documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine. Some passers-by will use the complimentary bike valet to catch a vegan cooking demo, and some children will coax their parents to the Veggie Kids Zone for face painting.

But one feature will be on everyone’s list.

“I think everybody wants to come and get the food,” said Diane Koon, co-organizer of Tampa Bay Veg Fest.

The sixth annual festival, organized by Florida Voices for Animals, will welcome almost 20 food vendors, not including two tents dedicated entirely to free food samples.

Stop by an old favorite like Mangia Gourmet for vegan black bean or white bean zucchini burgers, then head to the Loving Hut to savor a spring roll (or five) and truffle mac 'n' cheese from the new kid on the block, Cafe Hey. No vegan smorgasbord would be complete without sweet treats, including caffeine from Java Planet Organic Coffee and Gone Bananas' shakes and floats.

While the biggest selling point is probably the food, according to Koon, the festival offers much more. Veg Fest will host a collection of bright speakers, from a champion vegan boxer to two plant-based pharmacists. Folks shouldn't stress if they can’t watch them all; for the first time, videos of the five talks will be available online afterward.

Also new to the event are six films planned for next door at the Tampa Bay History Center. Showings will include Cowspiracy, the popular Netflix exclusive produced by Leonardo Dicaprio, at 5:15 p.m. and the kid-friendly Room on the Broom at 1:15 p.m.

Koon encourages bringing a “non-veg friend” to the festival if you’re already vegetarian or vegan. Leashed pets are welcome, too.

“Our mission is definitely to educate everyone. Of course, I love giving our support to the vegetarians and vegans out there, but what we really want is to get the word out to let all people know that eating vegetarian is delicious,” she said.

Whether the crowd comes for the free samples or the vegan education, co-organizers Koon, Marie Galbraith and the rest of the team are ensuring there’s something for everyone.

“Anytime you see anything going on with Veg Fest, it’s always all volunteer, so we’re pretty hardworking doing this,” Koon said. “It’s just from our heart, because we really believe in it.”

Follow Paige Butterfield at


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