V For Veg: VegFest begins Saturday in Bethlehem

Bethlehem's VegFest is now in its second year.
Bethlehem's VegFest is now in its second year.
Posted: September 07, 2012

PHILLY HAS a well-known "inferiority complex" compared with New York City. The Big Apple is just so, well, big. It seems to have more of everything - including tasty vegetarian and vegan menu items, restaurants and festivals.

But an event this weekend that will occur closer to home may give big-city vegetarians pause - and give all of us a fun and festive veggie destination to check out: Bethlehem's second annual VegFest will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and it's shaping up to be quite the vegan treat.

That's fitting, since for many throughout the Northeast, Vegan Treats is what we think of when we think Bethlehem. Goodies from Danielle Konya's legendary bakery, just one part of Saturday's lineup, are available at several venues here in Philly and have won raves nationally.

One thing VegFest makes clear is that animal-free living in Bethlehem goes way beyond doughnuts and cupcakes. As more than 150 vendors spread across several blocks worth of a greenway (converted from an old railroad bed - yes, they beat us to that also), the fete is divided into 19 sections, or "corners."

These include cooking demos of "delicious vegetable recipes crafted by farm-to-table chefs at the Farmer's Market or Food Court," and "signature eco-friendly cocktails at the Drink to Your Health Bar" - plus an animal rescue area, cruelty-free products, yoga, kids activities and "body boot camp," appealing to a very wide range of vegan-related interests. And bringing all those different people together is exactly the point.

"It was definitely a hole that needed to be filled," said Samantha Schwartz, Downtown Bethlehem Association manager and the mastermind behind the festival. In the "food week" run-up to Saturday's bash, "we have people coming out to try restaurants they didn't even know had vegan options."

Matching the local community with local businesses is only part of the game plan. Last year the organizers hoped (and planned) for 4,000 attendees and were shocked when 10,000 showed up. "We had people coming from Georgia, even from Maine, as well as from Philly and New York," said Schwartz.

Besides the crowds and good vibes, Bethlehem has pulled in speakers such as best-selling New York City-based author Victoria Moran, whose latest, Main Street Vegan, is a guide that makes veganism easy for people of all walks and demographics.

Among the other speakers is Christopher Lenhart, a 38-year-old meat-eating Bethlehem electrician and father who agreed to try one month as a vegan. He'll be finishing the month on the day of the festival and will share both his perspective on the "Veganize Me" experiment and his vital stats, before-and-after style.

Lenhart chronicles his journey on a "Veganize Me" blog (philly.com/veganize). Whether he'll choose to stick with plant-based food for life is unknown, but the project already has created ripples.

Schwartz, who is not a vegan herself, has moved closer to that way of eating as a result of watching Lenhart's progress. "I'm now a pesco-vegetarian," she said. She eats meatless, except for occasional seafood.

And like others in town, the festival has clued Schwartz in to the bounty in her proverbial back yard. "When we started talking about this, a lot of people thought Philly was the only option to drive to to get vegan stuff," she said.

Well, come on, that's how it should be! Hope, we'll get that veggie groove back soon, but for Saturday, anyway, it looks like Bethlehem is the place to be.

Find out more at BethlehemVegFest.org or 610-751-4979.


Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist,

writer, musician and 10-year vegan.

"V for Veg" chronicles the growing

trend of plant-based eating in and

around Philadelphia. Send your veg

tips to VforVeg@phillynews.com

and follow @V4Veg on Twitter.

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