The Fourth Texas Veggie Fair Looks To Be The Annual Festival's Biggest Yet.
Stephanie Casey is not a vegan.
But after spending the bulk of her adult life living in such cities as New York, Los Angeles and Portland, and watching the local and slow food movements grow in those placeâ€™s food scenes, she now considers herself a conscious eater.
Mostly, she just wants to know where her food comes from, is all. And she wants restaurateurs to have a better grasp on the kinds of things they can do to not completely crap all over the environment.
But, upon returning to her native Dallas five years ago, she quickly noticed that the food scene in the region needed some help in this regard. She was amazed at how far behind the city was in the eco-friendly game. And, even today, she still canâ€™t believe the amount of glass she currently sees being thrown away at bars and restaurants.
Thatâ€™s part of why sheâ€™s now serving as one of the co-producerâ€™s for the Texas Veggie Fair, an event she truly believes is â€œhelping to change the world for the betterâ€ by promoting ideas that support a healthier lifestyle for plants, animals and people.
Now in its fourth year, what started as one manâ€™s mission to bring something special to Dallas has become an ever-growing, free, one-day celebration of all things food-conscious-related. Itâ€™s not just some high-minded affair; when this yearâ€™s dog- and kid-friendly event kicks off on Sunday, it will feature fried goodness, live music, fascinating speakers and so much more in its attempt to celebrate â€œchoices that do not inflict pain and destruction to animals, people or the planet.â€
Attendees will experience a quick introduction to the vegan lifestyle in a fair setting. Eco-friendly products will be for sale. Animal rights groups will have informational booths. Chef demos and yoga sessions will occur throughout the day. Speakers will talk about the benefits of a plant-based diet. Live performances, including a DJ set from this yearâ€™s keynote speaker, Erykah Badu, will rock the stage. And there will be aromatic delectables, of course: Rich vegan delicacies and a first-time beer garden, curated by Trinity Hall Irish Pub, will be available to satisfy your greasy food and beer cravings.
Casey, in her first year serving as the fairâ€™s co-producer, joined on this year, initially as a volunteer, largely because she was so impressed by last yearâ€™s event.
â€œI was just an attendee last year and I thought it was really cool,â€ she says. â€œThere were so many people. James [Scott], the founder and other producer, sent out some sort of questionnaire saying, â€˜Thanks for coming! Do you have any feedback? Would you like to help next year?â€™ I said yes, â€˜I want to. Iâ€™d be help in a big way.â€™ The event had grown so much that he really needed backup in a major supervisory, strategy type of realm. So I just jumped in.â€
Sheâ€™s not paid for her efforts — despite the many hours dedicated to planning the fair, Caseyâ€™s day-job as a freelance creative director is still how sheâ€™s been paying her bills in the months leading up it — and she says the festival â€œbarely scrapes byâ€ on funding. Still, itâ€™s worth the effort, she says.
In her eyes, itâ€™s an event that Dallas needs.
â€œWhat we want to show is that thereâ€™s just choice,â€ Casey says. â€œEverything you eat, every purchase that you make, thereâ€™s other things out there besides the heavily advertised and most-widely available choices. It doesnâ€™t have to be elitist, or more expensive, or scary tofu, or whatever people think the vegan lifestyle is. Just even being aware of choosing to buy or eat a certain kind of meat or whatever that doesnâ€™t inflict all this destruction to animals or the planet [helps]. Thereâ€™s just an education that needs to happen for people. And thatâ€™s part of our goal.â€
Or, it is now, at least. The original goal was simply to bring some comfort vegan food to town and to fill a void in Dallas, says Scott, founder of the Texas Veggie Fair.
â€œWhat initially brought me to want to do the fair was this time of year,â€ he says. â€œWith the fall, thereâ€™s all sorts of other big festivals and fairs going on that often include the comfort food-type stuff, like the corny dogs and funnel cakes. Really, when youâ€™re vegan, you really donâ€™t have an option for something like that. So, initially I wanted to have the chance to get those kinds of foods, but vegan. I quickly realized that would be short-sighted to just make it about the food. Thatâ€™s why we initially had some different organizations, and [have been] adding a few more things to it so that it wasnâ€™t just about eating that kind of stuff.â€
Scott, an IT professional at Mary Kay by day, became a vegetarian 10 years ago, and then three years after that, became a vegan. Eventually, he started DallasVegan.com to reach out to local restaurants and familiarize himself with the vegan community. It wasnâ€™t until he started his website, though, that he realized that Dallas had a substantial vegan population.
The first year he organized the festival, he had no expectations. He didnâ€™t start planning the October event until August of that year, and he put very little promotion behind it, if at all. Even so, some 500 to 750 people showed up that first year.
â€œI really, honestly, I canâ€™t say in that first year that I could have anticipated where we would be now,â€ Scott says. â€œAfter the first year, I knew that we had something. I knew that there was definitely a community there that was willing and that was really wanting that kind of event. Itâ€™s a great place for people that already are vegan or vegetarian, or leaning in that direction. But, really, what I saw was the opportunity to showcase the fact that being vegan and eating those kinds of foods doesnâ€™t meant that youâ€™re restricted, necessarily. That was really the main thing — the opportunity to educate and show people that this kind of lifestyle doesnâ€™t mean that your social calendar is over and youâ€™ll never get to experience any fun anymore.â€
The fun at this yearâ€™s fair will include a number of musical performances: In addition to the aforementioned Badu DJ set, singer/songwriter Eddie Lott, seven-piece band Mighty Mountain, baroque folk outfit Home By Hovercraft and electro group Zhora will each perform as part of Sundayâ€™s festivities. But a perhaps more important aspect of the festival is the amount of information that will be available to attendees. Speakers and organizations will be on hand to help Scott and Casey educate the public about our countryâ€™s eating habits.
â€œOne of the big things is that we have a lot of different organizations that talk about our food systems and how meat is produced,â€ Scott says. â€œAbout 90 percent of the meat that is produced is from factory farms. Learning about what kinds of decisions youâ€™re making when you do choose to eat meat or dairy or something like that. Just really understanding and learning more about the food system and where your food comes from is, I think, important for everyone.â€
Specifically at this yearâ€™s fair, Scott says he is looking forward to hearing Erykah Badu speak about what life is like for a vegan artist on the road. He also describes Chad Byers, a vegan bodybuilder whoâ€™s also serving as one of the festivalâ€™s featured speakers, as an â€œamazing specimen of a guy that shows thereâ€™s ways to become whatever you want to be on a vegan diet.â€
Other speakers will include raw food movement pioneer Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram, Mercy For Animals coordinator Sarah Von Alt, writer Carol J. Adam, filmmaker David Lowery; and founder of The Humane League and Farm Sanctuary compassionate communities manager Nick Cooney.
Food, of course, is another huge component of the fair, considering it was the leading cause of the festivalâ€™s conception. And most people still go to the fair go for the food, with good reason. Several restaurants and food vendors from all over the state will set up booths at Reverchon Park in order to please palates. Capital City Bakery, Good Karma Kitchen, Hacienda on Henderson, Kalachandjiâ€™s, Trinity Hall, Veggie Garden and Spiral Diner Bakery will all be in attendance, among others.
Sara Tomerlin, owner and operator of the Spiral Diner, has attended the festival since its first year, and though she says she initially â€œbrushed offâ€ the event when she first heard of it because she didnâ€™t think it would be successful, she has now completely bought into the concept.
â€œWhen James first brought up the idea, it sounded like fun,â€ Tomerlin says. â€œBut I thought thereâ€™s probably going to be a small handful of families that are gonna come to this. Even if it wasnâ€™t gonna be a huge event, I felt like we should at least go and make food for those people. But I did not ever dream that it would get to be as big as it did.â€
Tomerlin received a welcome surprise that first year: She saw long lines of people waiting for food all day, and sheâ€™s only seen those lines grow since. Last yearâ€™s event drew 5,000 people. Organizers are expecting anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 visitors this year.
â€œItâ€™s important for us to be involved in the vegan community,â€ says Tomerline, who first became a vegan while studying at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. â€œAs a vegan food vendor in Dallas, we have the responsibility to represent the people and to kind of offer a service to people who are vegan here. Finding a vegan festival like this where you can go and enjoy the day with your family and not have to worry about the food or what went into the production of the event is really rare. Definitely, we wanted to be involved because it was something really cool and it was something in the vegan community that we wanted to support.â€
Even so, Tomerlin believes that the fair is great for both meat-eaters and vegans alike.
â€œThe whole concept is to prove to both vegans and omnivores that eating vegetarian and vegan food doesnâ€™t have to be boring,â€ she says. â€œIt doesnâ€™t have to mean salad and tofu. It can be corn dogs and donuts and things that we donâ€™t normally associate with vegan. I know, from a food vendorâ€™s standpoint, itâ€™s really our goal to make the really outlandish, over-the-top-type fair food that really blows people away — but to make it vegan. For somebody who is a meat-eater, this event will just open their mind to the possibilities that vegan food can present. And, hopefully, it can be an educational event for them as well.â€
And Spiral Diner will even pull out some â€œthrowback itemsâ€ specifically aimed to wow the crowd on Sunday. A zucchini poâ€™boy sandwich with breaded and fried zucchini, vegan gumbo and a â€œbunch of different baked goodsâ€ are just some exclusive dishes Tomerlin says her restaurant will have on its Texas Veggie Fair menu — items sheâ€™s proud to present, as the fair now acts an annual ritual for Tomerlin and her Spiral Diner crew.
As with co-producer Stephanie Casey and founder James Scott, this festival is one of the highlights of the year for Tomerlin.
â€œThe Veggie Fair is one of the most important events of the year for vegans,â€ she says. â€œItâ€™s the time that all of the vegan restaurants and stores and supporters all come together for one big event. Weâ€™re all together in one place, and working toward one common goal. Itâ€™s the kind of thing that we all talk about all year long.â€
But, like Casey and Scott before her, Tomerlin emphasizes again that itâ€™s not just the vegan community that stands to benefit from the Texas Veggie Fairâ€™s continued success.
â€œItâ€™s something,â€ Tomerline says, â€œthat brings everybody in the community together.â€
Cover photo by Jacopo Werther via WikiCommons. The Texas Veggie Fair runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, October 20, at Reverchon Park. It is free to attend.