Veganism in vogue at Saturday's Tampa Bay Veg Fest

On Saturday, Tampa Bay Veg Fest captured vegan and omnivore attention in downtown Tampa.

click to enlarge The Veg Fest spread from Pinellas Park's Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant. - Paige Butterfield
Paige Butterfield
The Veg Fest spread from Pinellas Park's Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant.

Vegans used to be the weirdos — the freaks flaunting faux leather, the misfits with the moxie to say “no bacon” on their BLT. But omnivores are so 2014.

Bacon was found to be cancer-causing; Google has attempted to buy a veggie burger start-up for $300 million; and headlines like “Vegans Go Glam” are popping up in popular newspapers.

So, it's no surprise the sixth annual Tampa Bay Veg Fest attracted between 5,000 and 6,000 people to downtown Tampa on Saturday, according to Veg Fest co-organizer Diane Koon. While the food, speakers and vendors attracted omnivores curious about the veg lifestyle, there were plenty of vegans and vegetarians that came to show their support.

“I’ve seen so many [people wearing] vegan T-shirts; I’m just astounded,” said Suzanne House, Florida Voices for Animals board member and Veg Fest volunteer coordinator, during the festival.

Meat-free eaters gathered in numbers to support the event, and each had their own story about why they chose the lifestyle.

Festivalgoer Lauren Anderson Christian was inspired by the ethics of a plant-based lifestyle after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, a book that explores “the many stories we use to justify our eating habits… and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting.”

While some omnivores may have a hard time transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, Anderson Christian didn't.

“I love food, I love to eat, I love to cook. And I felt like [when I went vegetarian] I had more options available to me. I started discovering all of these new grains, and so I was really excited,” Anderson Christian said.

Tampa Bay Veg Fest showcased a vegan smorgasbord with food trucks and stands like Queen of Sheba, Gone Bananas and Cafe Hey.

“I like [Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant’s] noodles, and their egg rolls, and mushroom tofu. It was so good,” two-year vegan Arden Elwell said.

Gone Bananas, one of the most popular stops at the event based on its line, served up frozen vegan treats, many of which — you guessed it — are made with bananas. If you skipped the truck for fear of your goodies melting in the 90-degree heat, stalk Twitter for updates on its locale.

Across from Gone Bananas, Whatever Pops shared some of the beat-the-heat business with gourmet ice pops in flavors like mango tangerine and, my favorite, strawberry basil.

Gabrielle Ray, a vegetarian since April, said she was happy to see how many choices there were. When the 11-year-old started having stomach problems, she couldn’t eat meat without getting sick. Her mother, Whitney Ray, supported Gabrielle’s decision to go vegetarian by bringing her to Tampa Bay Veg Fest.

While Whitney is in favor of her daughter’s decision, she said she isn’t vegetarian because it’s hard finding options when they eat out.

“That’s what we always seem to struggle with, finding the right choices for her,” Whitney said.

Other omnivores agree with Whitney, including Ryan Stone, a sophomore studying computer science at St. Petersburg College. Stone said he likes trying vegan food, but the problem is it’s not always offered.

“If it was more available in restaurants and grocery stores for cheaper, then I would probably be more about it," he said. "And, I really like eggs.”

Stone’s in luck. The dairy-free product brand Follow Your Heart has launched VeganEgg, a plant-based egg replacer used for scrambling or baking, which will be shipped in early November through online retailers to start. Other brands, like Taco Bell, are also keeping an open mind when it comes to vegan and vegetarian consumer demands. The chain became the first quick-service restaurant to offer a vegetarian-certified menu in October.

Though veganism isn’t mainstream just yet, it was definitely in vogue at Tampa Bay Veg Fest. And, unlike the man bun, this reporter hopes its popularity sticks.

Follow Paige Butterfield at


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