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Pittsburgh VegFest Returns With Food, Critters And More

The number of Americans who identify as vegans isn’t large; surveys typically put it at between 2 and 5 percent of the population. Many sources suggest, however, that the ranks of folks eating a wholly plant-based diet have grown in recent years.

Perhaps a few of those converts were introduced to plant-based lifestyles at Pittsburgh VegFest. The free, day-long showcase was founded in 2014, and its most recent full-scale iteration, in 2019, drew an estimated 8,000 or more visitors. After a pandemic year that saw only scattered pop-up events, the seventh annual VegFest will take place Sat., Aug. 21, in Allegheny Commons Park on the North Side.

The return to a full-scale fest includes some 120 vendors, with two dozen of them selling plant-based prepared foods, from main dishes to sweets. A partial list includes Onion Maiden, The Pittsburgh Juice Company, Shado Beni Trinidadian Cuisine, Sugar Spell Scoops, Revival Chili and Pleather Vegan Jerky.

Other exhibitors include retailers featuring other kinds of plant-based (or non-animal-tested) products, and nonprofits that focus on animal welfare.

Co-founder Leila Sleiman said all of the vendors are from the Pittsburgh region.

“We really try to keep it local so that money’s staying in the community,” she said.

VegFest also includes kids’ activities and live music by the likes of Sloane Simon (from “American Idol,”), Dinosoul, Jay Michaels, and Truth and Rites.

The festival’s emphasis on animal welfare comes naturally: Sleiman is a former PETA employee who has refused to eat animal products since childhood, and co-founder Natalie Fristick is a former PETA volunteer. Animal-welfare groups set to attend include Hope Haven Sanctuary, Misfits Coven, Biggies Bullies and the Homeless Cat Management Team. Sleiman said actual animals on site will include rescue dogs, at least one goat and Doc the Pig, who will create “snout art” that will be sold to benefit nonprofits aiding pigs and other animals.

Sleiman emphasizes that you don’t have to be an animal-rights advocate or even a vegan to attend.

“We always keep getting new people,” from the “veg-curious” to those seeking new options for healthier eating, she said.

Like every producer of live events at this stage of the coronavirus pandemic, the organizers of VegFest are carefully watching the changing state, local and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Sleiman said festival vendors will be spread out more than usual to encourage social distancing. The park also leaves plenty of room for distanced picnicking.

Pittsburgh VegFest is set for 11 a.m.-5 p.m. More information is here.

The festival will be immediately preceded by the Happy Vegan Pet Walk, a short parade around the grounds.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm
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