For those passionate about eating ethically and exploring meat-free and NYC vegan culture, the NY Vegetarian Food Festival isn’t to be missed. The festival was started in 2011 by Sarah Gross and Nira Paliwoda, two women passionate about living a healthy, sustainable and moral life (and who also host other interesting events for U.S. Veg Corp). We caught up with Sarah to learn more about the annual event — taking place this year on May 7 and 8, 2016 — as well as the benefits of a veggie-focused lifestyle.
1. What was your inspiration for the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival?
I had been to vegetarian festivals in other cities around the country and just loved how I could spend the day sampling wonderful vegan food and learning about the latest products from fabulous NYC vegan vendors. It amazed me that the greatest city in the world (NYC!) didn’t have a large-scale vegetarian food festival of its own. So I discussed it with the friend who became my business partner, and we decided to jump in and create our own. At the time neither of us had any experience in running festivals. Maybe if we had known all the difficulties we would be taking on, we would have thought twice. But by now the NYCVFF is a smooth-running machine which is pure joy to be a part of.
2. What are some experience highlights attendees can expert to have?
I’m most excited to hear one of our new speakers this year. For a lot of long-time vegans, a book called The China Study has been our bible. It was written by groundbreaking physician Dr. T. Colin Campbell. His son, Dr. Thomas Campbell, will be speaking for us. He runs the University of Rochester Program for Nutrition in Medicine. But most of our speakers are just as incredible. We have Gene Baur who runs Farm Sanctuary. We have Dr. Casey Taft, who wrote Helping People Help Animals. And then there are all the vendors–more than a hundred of them! Plus we have a hilarious vegan comedian named Myq Kaplan, and a whole corner devoted to kids’ arts and crafts and storytelling.
3. What is your personal story on becoming a vegetarian?
I’ve always loved animals. Back in junior high, I would go to my local animal control facility to volunteer to walk the dogs who were waiting for homes. I became a vegetarian first, and then a vegan when I learned that the dairy and egg industries are just as cruel to animals as the meat industry. It was only later that I discovered the health benefits of a vegan diet, and how much better for the planet a vegan lifestyle really is.
4. What are some of the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle for individuals?
In my case, the energy level is amazing. I love to work out every day, and I attribute my stamina to the fact that I don’t have to waste energy on digesting meat. But beyond that, I have a peace of mind that comes from being in tune with the other creatures of the earth, knowing that I am not hurting or exploiting them.
5. What are some of the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle beyond the individual (i.e. for the planet, etc)?
I could go on forever about the benefits to the environment, but let me just give you a few of my favorite statistics from EarthFirst:
- The livestock sector is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Cows emit vast amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere – and the impact of these emissions is greater than that of CO2 from cars.
- Overuse of antibiotics in animals is causing more strains of drug-resistant bacteria, which is affecting the treatment of various life-threatening diseases in humans.
- Raising animals for food consumes more than half of all the water used in the U.S. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat, but only 25 gallons for a pound of wheat.
- 20 times more land is required to feed a meat-eater than to feed a vegetarian.
Overgrazing has turned a fifth of all pastures and ranges into desert.
6. What advice would you give to a meat eater looking to make the switch to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle?
Start slowly. You might begin by having one or two meatless meals per week, discovering new favorites, and then gradually increasing that number. You can experiment with all the faux-meat products, some of which are indistinguishable from the real deal. Check out the superior vegan restaurants popping up in every city, and splurge on a vegan chef’s creation whenever your budget allows. And, look deeply into the eyes of your dog or cat companion–guaranteed to give you a powerful jolt of motivation.
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