By Sahan Weerakoon, news correspondent
Around 30,000 people filtered through a Roxbury track center last weekend for one of Boston’s largest- and longest-running vegetarian food festivals. Businesses and nonprofits set up booths at the Boston Veg Food Fest to infuse a new consciousness into the local community.
The festival, hosted by the Boston Vegetarian Society, welcomed veggie lovers to its highest-attended year yet, according to event organizers.
The Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center housed the convention, a higher capacity venue than the fair’s origins at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Johnson Ice Rink.
“The Festival… allows non-vegetarians to explore a vegetarian way of life,” Evelyn Kimber, president of the Boston Vegetarian Society and chair of the festival’s organizing committee, said.
Around 120 domestic and international vendors set up food stands inside the gymnasium of the Reggie Lewis Center. A paid preview hour on Saturday for diehard vegetarians cost $5, but afterward the volunteer-run festival was free to the public as vendors offered complimentary samples and discounted prices on products. Sellers provided everything from international vegan cuisine to vegetarian-themed apparel.
“We make lactose-free, plant-based, kosher ice cream from scratch, as well as our own syrup,” Luke Morris, an employee at FoMu, an Allston-based non-GMO ice cream shop, said.
Some companies saw the Boston Veg Food Fest as the perfect springboard to push their businesses forward.
“The festival gives us a much stronger reach to share our goal [of creating] affordable and healthy spreads,” Celeste Croxton, owner of Lyndigo Spice, an all-natural chutney, relish and fruit-spread company that launched one year ago in Jamaica Plain, said.
Clothing vendors described the quality and ethics behind the production of their goods.
“Our clothes are sweatshop-free, made of organic cotton or bamboo, made in the US and printed with water-based ink,” Paul Steller, an employee at Compassion Company, an online graphic T-shirt manufacturer, said.
Fledgling startups, grounded companies and an assortment of nonprofits benefitted greatly from the event. Masses of people occupied spaces in front of company booths.
“We offer direct delivery of organic, kosher snacks to homes and businesses,” Tamara Monroe, marketing manager for Boston Organics, a company that launched in 2002 and has been coming to the Festival for over 10 years, said. “The Festival helps us generate a lot of signups.”
Though the Boston Veg Food Fest has been growing every year, it still faces hurdles. With such a large quantity of people cycling through, organizers were worried that the Reggie Lewis Center would reach capacity.
“Our biggest obstacle is that the space is crowded, and larger venues are much more expensive,” Beverly Rich, vice president of the Boston Vegetarian Society and an original member of the festival’s organizing committee, said.
Despite spatial limitations, the food festival helps bring a perspective of health consciousness back to Roxbury.
“You see lifelong vegans and see local children who have the power to impact the community,” Somerville-based bakery owner Evie Noël said.
Local children and families filtered throughout the convention center and got a taste of a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle that normally would not be emphasized in an urban environment, according to Noël.
“The Festival shows the local community how many options there are,” Elyssa Linden, marketing team leader for the oatmeal-pouch company Munk Pack, said.
Photo courtesy Randall Collura, Boston Vegetarian Society