Inside the SoCal Veg Fest

By Allison Economou

Have you ever thought about going vegan but couldn’t find the strength to sever your long term relationship with pizza? Whatever your favorite comfort food happens to be, whether it’s coated in cheese, covered in sprinkles, or deep fried in oil, the Socal Vegfest, which took place Oct. 20 and 21 at the OC Fair & Events Center, had it and anything else your over-studied and undernourished body could possibly have desired.

Even though this was only the festival’s fourth year in operation, it took more than one full lap to survey everything there; there really were that many options! Before describing in detail the two items I ended up selecting and the masterminds behind them, some honorable options worth mentioning included: kombucha on tap, marinated tofu poppers, and sprinkle rimmed cookie shots. All the available caloric creations made selecting just two entrees extremely difficult, but I willed myself to make a decision by ordering a fruit filled bear claw from the Donuttery and a pesto avocado pizza from Love Amaro pizzeria.

Established in 1970, the Donuttery started as a traditional mom and pop shop that expanded overtime to meet vegan patron demands. Alyssa Chan, a member of the store’s marketing team, said that they don’t plan on just stopping there either. In addition to selling vegan versions of traditional favorites, the store carries gluten free options as well, and hopes to sell both vegan and gluten free donuts in the near future.

Seeing the beautifully decorated donuts on display was enough to capture my attention, but biting into one of the store’s sweet and gooey confections was really what put me over the edge. Open 24 hours a day, the Donuttery is the perfect place to make a pit stop on the way to work; just remember to try the store’s best selling vegan PB&J along with a steaming cup of coffee when you go.

(Vegan Magazine)

Like the Donuttery, Love Amaro pizzeria served up traditional favorites with an innovative twist. After moving to Southern California from Colorado, Jesse, the store’s owner and chef, decided to become vegan after receiving encouragement from health conscious friends. His belief that veganism shouldn’t compromise his ability to eat his favorite foods was beautifully exemplified by the three daily specials which strive to emulate the best white sauce, pepperoni, and pesto-based pizzas Jesse could create. The pesto avocado, inspired by a whole foods, plant based friend of Jesse’s, served thick slices of avocado on a bed of fresh pesto made from green pumpkin seeds. After biting into a slice, the love and artistry that Jesse harnessed to make my pizza was evident. You can get a taste of the love-inducing pizzeria and its consistently evolving menu yourself at various farmers markets throughout Southern California, including Loma Linda, Helendale, and Rancho Cucamonga in Terra Vista Center.

Even though it seems most obvious to attend a vegan festival for the cuisine, there were many other alluring avenues to explore including: informational talks, cooking demonstrations, and cruelty-free vendors selling everything from vegan leather to charcoal toothpaste. My particular favorite was the information being distributed at the speaker stage. There, I had the opportunity to hear two great talks; one about the American obsession with protein and why it’s killing us, and the other about how a vegan diet has improved the performance of both amateur and professional athletes.

In his talk “Proteinaholic,” Dr. Garth Davis uncovered the Paleo diet to assert that contrary to popular belief, early human civilizations predominantly ate plants instead of meat. Despite this, many people who follow a paleo diet emphasize protein as the most important food group. In addition to debunking popular fad diets, Dr. Davis also looked at the RDA’s daily recommendation of protein for both men and women. He used those estimates to urge his audience to acknowledge that the recommended 56 and 46 grams are two standard deviations above what the average American likely needs, meaning 30 is a more accurate aiming point.

It is true that certain people, such as endurance athletes, need more protein than others, the doctor was willing to concede, but that protein doesn’t have to come from meat! Protein is in everything, the speaker reminded his audience, and you get it every time you eat fruits, vegetables, and beans along with fiber and other nutrients your body is likely craving more than protein.

Forty-five minutes after his talk, the doctor appeared again at the vegan athletes panel along with Olympic cyclist Dotsie Bausch, fitness coach John Lewis (a.k.a Badass Vegan), ballerina Agnes Muljadi, and army veteran Bill Muir. All the athletes reported seeing positive changes in their performance since adopting a vegan lifestyle including: increased energy, stamina, endurance, and recovery. A vegan diet not only made working out easier for the athletes, it made obsessing about macros and portion control less of an issue. As an athlete, Dr. Davis said he needs to worry about getting enough calories; other than that, he keeps it pretty simple. He eats when he’s hungry and doesn’t eat when he’s not.

The athletes left their audience with a few final words about how to go plant based. “Stop trying to reach perfection,” Dotsie said, “If you love ice cream, then eat ice cream and eat vegan everything else. Odds are, you’ll eventually stop wanting ice cream.”

By offering an abundance of information to those just learning about veganism, the festival managed to create an inclusive environment for its vehement veterans and inquisitive newcomers. Veganism, as many people fail to understand, is not about force feeding yourself unappetizing food in order to obtain nutrients. Instead, Vegfest taught its attendants that variety and innovation go hand in hand with a lifestyle that not only offers tremendous benefits to the body, but to the planet and the people and animals that inhabit the planet as well.