Stepping out onto the waterfront venue of Saturday’s D.C. VegFest felt a little like walking into a family reunion. Exhibitors and long-time animal rights activists floated between tents to chat with old friends, while newcomers were welcomed with broad smiles and platefuls of vegan comfort food: fried mock chicken, vegan hot dogs, falafels, cookies, and cupcakes. For those who are already vegan, D.C. VegFest was a place to reconnect with other activists and recommit to their cause, with motivational speeches from some of the rock stars of the vegan/animal rights movement, including Dr. Michael Greger, Bruce Friedrich, and Terry Hope Romero. For the not-yet converted, it was a chance to pick up some information about the vegan lifestyle while sampling some sinfully delicious veg cuisine from the city’s most popular vegan restaurants.
This year’s new location at Yards Park afforded more room for vendors and informational displays – over 30 percent more than last year’s line-up – along with an added grassy space by the river for dogs and their owners to lounge about after they’d taken it all in. While some may have missed the cozy quad on George Washington University’s campus that has housed the event in previous years, the larger venue was warranted to accommodate the ever-increasing crowd, which was expected to reach upwards of 8,000 this year. “I’m amazed at how big this event has gotten,” said Ryan MacMichael, an eight-year ethical vegan. “The new venue has tons of space, and I loved the increase in the number of vendors and visitors. It’s a good sign for the future when veganism is becoming accepted by so many more people each year.”
While the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed, it wasn’t just a convivial gathering of tattoo-covered hipsters donning cloth belts. After all, this is a festival organized by hard-core animal rights activists with a single-minded purpose: to stop the exploitation of animals. I was reminded of this as I passed a group of people heading toward FARM’s pay-per-view display. “Get paid one dollar to watch a four-minute video,” said one man. “What do you suppose that’s about?” “I don’t know,” said his friend. “Let’s go see.” Little did they know that they were about to bear witness to four unbearable minutes of undercover footage from factory farms. It’s pretty disturbing stuff, which is exactly the point. As I watched them step up to the video screen, I wondered if this would be the pivotal moment that swings them over to the vegan lifestyle. Who knows – maybe they’ll be back next year sporting Herbivore Clothing t-shirts and jackets from Vaute Couture. If by chance that turns out to be the case, I’d like to be the first to say, “Welcome to the family.”
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