Every day, Sherry and I are encountering more people interested in learning about plant-based diets and their health benefits and gentle impact on the earth and our wallets. This Edgy Veggies column is one of the many places where readers are seeking tips for shopping, eating and learning about vegetarianism.
The concept is becoming more mainstream than ever, with large grocery store chains like Kroger and Meijer providing plant-based meat and dairy substitutes that long have been reserved for the eclectic shelves of health food stores.
This growing interest was underscored on March 27 when VegMichigan, the state's largest Vegetarian organization, hosted their annual VegFest event at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. Organizers expected to top last year's 2,100-attendee event by an extra 1,000 perhaps, but found an overflow crowd nearing 5,000 for the one-day expo. More than 100 vendors, restaurants and animal advocacy organizations were on hand to sample food, introduce products and provide educational materials about the vegetarian lifestyle.
Wearing our 2 Edgy Veggies investigative persona, we went on a field trip that Sunday and steered from booth to booth and speaker to speaker while running into countless Dearborn friends.
A fan favorite among those we knew was former Detroit Piston superstar John Salley. The 7-foot-tall former NBA player is a renowned vegan activist and speaker. He is so funny and personable that his towering physique almost seems surreal on stage. Salley shared how he used to be viewed as an outcast years ago for being vegan among friends and associates, but today, his lifestyle choice is viewed as a place for the healthy and environmentally hip.
Celebrity chef and author Tal Ronnen–known for cooking for Oprah and her staff last year–also delivered some vegan fare in live cooking demonstrations. Ronnen is instrumental in the Gardein plant-based foods company that produces meat substitutes for cooking. He features many of their products in his work with four- and five-star restaurants across the country.
Many restaurants and food vendors were there, too, offering samples of their veggie-friendly menu items, including Avalon International Breads (a favorite of ours every Friday during the Dearborn Farmers Market), Bolthouse Farms, Inn Season Cafe, Krishna Catering & Restaurant, Qdoba, Red Pepper Deli, Treat Dreams, Whole Foods Market and many more.
Exhibitors included Belly Love Doggie Treats, Dearborn's , Dobrasevic Food Company, Green Safe Products, Hiller's Markets, LUSH cosmetics, Mercy for Animals, Sierra Club and countless others. Literature and handouts were available, with coupons, educational tidbits, recipes and vegetarian starter kits.
In separate lecture rooms, speakers offered sessions like "Going Veg for Dummies," a great presentation to help with insight on how to get started in choosing vegetarian. Children's activities and cooking demonstrations were available throughout the day teaching about healthy and compassionate eating tips.
Rounding out the day was a presentation from Joel Kahn, M.D., Detroit Medical Center's Preventive Cardiology and Cardiac Rehabilitation director, who offered his spin on the vegan diet from a health perspective. His session, "Prevent not Stent: How to Take Care of Your Heart," was a testimony to the proven health benefits of removing animal products from daily diets.
We walked away from the day exhausted, processing new information, full-bellied and carrying an armload of literature and samples in our goody bags.
When speaking briefly with some of the volunteers from VegFest, we found they were delighted with the crowd and plan to occupy even more space in the convention center next year. They smiled with success, seeing so many metro Detroiters interested in learning more about a vegetarian lifestyle.
Click here to learn more about VegMichigan. There are also Veg "Meet Up" groups popping up around the city with potlucks and gatherings sprinkled around town.
Thank you for indulging us in sharing our VegFest field trip adventure. We hope to see even more of you there next year!