This past weekend, R.I. VegFest — an annual vegan food festival in Rhode Island — brought over 85 plant-based and vegan vendors to the WaterFire Arts Center.
Co-organizer Robin Dionne said the event has taken place annually since the first VegFest she organized in 2020.
“I have been vegan for 25 years (and) I've been going to VegFests for a really long time when I was living in Boston,” she said. “I thought it'd be amazing if, when I moved back to Rhode Island, I could host one of these.”
Dionne said that she was worried about the event losing its traction when the pandemic hit, but “people were even more responsive after the pandemic,” she said. They “missed being in big crowds with their friends and going to a big party like this.”
Dionne added that the festival brings vegan businesses from both within and outside of the Ocean State. In doing so, out-of-state vendors can develop “relationships with other vegan business owners and stores that (can) carry their products.”
When selecting vendors for the festival, Dionne said the organizers aim to pick newer small businesses. “It's really about introducing people to new things and bringing new people to Rhode Island — people who haven't been here,” she said.
Jason Authier, chef and owner of Chef Jay’s Vegan Cooking School, was one of the vendors present at the festival. He said his goal “was to just meet and connect with the local vegan community to enhance my business.”
Authier first became vegan for health-related reasons. He said he hopes his business can raise awareness and make veganism more accessible to other people. “I think it's important to share the information that I have with other people that may be in a similar situation.”
Lyndsay Dean, owner of The Vegan Potter, said she has been vegan for over 30 years. When she first began there were no plant-based alternatives for meat and dairy products.
“I certainly have seen a lot of change in the past 30 years,” she said. “It's been a pleasure to witness.”
For Dean, VegFest “is a way to (connect with) my people in a place where I don't feel judged for my ethics and beliefs and the way that I live my life.”
“The energy and the vibe of a place like this (and) the community that comes together for an event like this is unparalleled,” Dean added. For her, “developing long lifelong friendships with other vendors and with clients who come back and want to support us every year” is one of the best parts of being at VegFest.
Green Bean Creations owner Lena Green was another vendor at the festival. As most of her customers are vegans, she wanted to be part of VegFest to reach out to more people in the community.
Green said that veganism was important to her for sustainability and ethical reasons. “We live in a time where it's accessible for me to easily transition from being a meat-eater to not eating meat.” She added that with plant-based alternatives, “it feels like the same but you're saving the animals (and) saving the environment.”
Aside from promoting sustainability in food consumption, everything at VegFest was also fully compostable, according to Dionne. Events like VegFest can generate large amounts of waste, but Dionne hopes that partnering with Bootstrap Compost — a local composting company — will promote more environmentally conscious practices.
Festival organizers connected vendors to a compostable materials company to make VegFest fully compostable for the first time ever, according to Dionne. In some cases, it can be “more expensive to provide those materials, but we have a great resource to connect them… as affordably as possible,” she added.
Green added that she hopes VegFest helps small businesses grow more sustainable through these practices while showing attendees how accessible and beneficial veganism can be.
“I'm really hoping (VegFest) brings more awareness to the resources we have available,” Authier said. “Hopefully, it will destigmatize and get people a little more open to trying new things.”
“It doesn't matter what part of your journey you're on, whether you're a vegetarian … vegan or just dipping your toe in the water of veganism,” Dean said. “We just want to help educate and support each other and do it in a compassionate way that just spreads the message of love.”
Dionne hopes that the event shows attendees that a variety of vegan options exist while welcoming them into the vegan community. By knowing that more choices exist, “I think people are more likely to choose them,” she said.
“It's a very welcoming community,” Dean said. “We are here to support each other.”
Avani Ghosh is a Metro Editor covering politics & justice and community & activism. She is a sophomore from Ohio studying Health & Human Biology and International & Public Affairs. She is an avid earl grey enthusiast and can be found making tea in her free time.