If you had to summarize Vegfest into three words, a good start would be “inspiration for transformation.”
At least that’s the goal for founder and organizer Josh Meckel, who on Saturday helped usher the free event into its sixth year at Spokane Community College.
From the diverse cast of speakers and presenters, who shared plant-based recipes and tips for a vegan lifestyle – including a particularly fit and energetic vegan bodybuilder – to vendors selling plant-based food, products and apparel, the weekend was all about change.
But in a good way – not the beat-you-over-the-head way. All according to plan.
“That is the reason for the event,” said Meckel, whose nonprofit Inland Northwest Vegans – run mostly by him – coordinates the annual get-to-together. “It’s to help those people learn about how to heal their body and get healthy. That’s my main goal.”
From the moment attendees ventured into the confines of the festival, it was apparent Meckel’s aspirations were on display. Food trucks awaited empty stomachs, including Meltz Extreme Grilled Cheese from Coeur d’Alene selling a vegan version to a long line of customers.
Rows of vendors selling everything from clothing, jewelry and food, to animal sanctuaries adopting out dogs and cats, lined the walkways leading people inside the college.
There, more vendors awaited. Some spoke about the benefits of ditching plastic water bottles for reusable ones filled with tap water, while others such as vegan/vegetarian-focused Quorn gave away free samples.
And in the auditorium, a panel of keynote speakers. Torre Washington, a body builder who’s been vegan since 1998, was one of the first to take the stage.
In a lively demonstration that featured plenty of tongue-in-cheek pictures of himself posing for the camera – and a how-to-guide on proper squat technique featuring a woman from the audience – Washington led the mostly packed room through his decades-long journey of veganism and bodybuilding.
Washington said after being raised vegetarian, he switched to veganism in 1998 as part of his Rastafarian lifestyle, which calls for nutrition that’s “from the Earth.” And it was about a decade ago that he got into bodybuilding.
In 2009 he stepped onto a competition stage for the first time and placed third. He said he never viewed veganism as something that got in the way.
“Bodybuilding led me to where I am today,” Washington said. “I had always had a want or need to serve people … I figured out this is my way of helping.”
Before Washington, Dr. Yami Cazorla-Lancaster from Yakima talked about sustainable habits for health. They were followed by vegan musician DJ Grey and Vancouver, British Columbia-based dietician Dr. Pamela Fergusson.
Meckel isn’t sure, but past surveys have shown about half of Vegfest’s 2,000 to 3,000 yearly attendees are what he calls “veg-curious” omnivores. For that reason, he also invited a panel of chefs to share plant-based recipes during live cooking demonstrations.
They covered everything from vegan baking and chocolate-making to preparing sauces and cooking plant-based meals everyone – no matter their diet – can enjoy.
Perhaps those lessons came in handy for Leah Harryman and her boyfriend Jarrod Wilson, who stopped by the Mead-based Higher Ground Animal Sanctuary booth. Reaching into a small cage, they scooped up one of the three puppies running about.
Harryman said she’d been vegan for about a year, while Wilson was still making the transition.
“I’m making my way there,” he said. “One day.”
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