A bountiful crop of summertime vegan festivals

Melons, other fruits artfully carved at last year's CARE Veggie Fest. The Chester County Vegan Festival will be held on August 9 in West Chester.
Melons, other fruits artfully carved at last year's CARE Veggie Fest. The Chester County Vegan Festival will be held on August 9 in West Chester.
Posted: June 13, 2014

SUMMERTIME, and goin' vegan is easy.

Call it what you may, easing into eating more plants and fewer animal products is simple and fun in summer, with a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and weather conducive to adventure. Combining these, summer vegan festivals offer everybody a chance to try new and different vegan foods while maybe learning something about the philosophy.

* Saturday sees the debut of the Humane League's Philly VegFest, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at The Shambles in the Headhouse Square District.

Plant-based heavy hitters Rich Landau, of Vedge, and vegan TV diva Christina Pirello will be there. And you can try a jerk "chicken" salad (made with Beyond Meat) with pineapple mango salsa and Caribbean slaw from Whole Foods, or hot wing tempeh with cucumber ranch dip, or an Italian-style seitan cheesesteak with marinara dip, both from Rachel Klein, of Miss Rachel's Pantry, or even vegan scrapple from Long Cove Foods. thehumaneleague.org; 646-719-0070.

* If for whatever reason you're in Delaware that day instead, check out the Second Annual Rehoboth Beach VegFest. It goes all weekend, but Saturday's the big festival day.

"V for Veg" fave John Schlimm will be the emcee, and speakers include Susan Levin, director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. She'll discuss plant-based eating and disease prevention.

Food highlights include offerings from James Beard nominee Hari Cameron, of the restaurant "a(MUSE.)"  A standout is the mixed grains salad with early summer vegetables and sherry vinegar. rehobothvegfest.org; 302-604-4316.

Closer to home but further into the summer are two regional fixtures to the north and the west.

* Bethlehem's VegFest returns for its fourth year, on Aug. 23. Emily Gerber, assistant manager of the Downtown Bethlehem Association, is seeing "more excitement and involvement from vegan-friendly businesses in Bethlehem and beyond," as vegans and others flock to South Bethlehem to "enjoy the energy and experience the vegan culture at no cost." Among food standouts in Bethlehem is Vegan Treats, now a nationally famous brand for animal-free pastries. downtownbethlehemassociation.com; 610-739-1273.

* Over in Chester County, the longtime Veggiefest from CARE (Compassion for Animals, Respect for the Environment) evolves this year into the Chester County Vegan Festival, Aug. 9 at Hoopes Park in West Chester.

CARE president Lee Hall notes that many offerings will feature local mushrooms from Kennett Square. With a grounding in Quaker culture, CARE's event is family-friendly, non-confrontational (no violent photos) and "emphasizes the element of veganism centered in peace, joy and delicious food."

Speakers at the CARE event include Liqin Cao, who will examine the backyard chicken trend, and former cattle farmer Harold Brown, who will explain "the how-to of peaceful transformation to vegan agriculture."

chestercountycare.com; 484-631-7878.

* One internationally noted event we're lucky to have right here in Pennsylvania - if a couple of hours west on the Turnpike - is Johnstown's Vegetarian Summerfest over July Fourth weekend.

The North American Vegetarian Society has been doing this immersive weekend on a serenely beautiful college campus for 40 years, and it's one that more Philly vegans and vegan-curious should experience. Come on out and say hello: I'll be doing some emceeing as part of my 17th year there.

Need a bigger draw? Among the dozens of doctors, activists and entertainers, this year we welcome back Howard Lyman, the infamous "Mad Cowboy," who got Oprah into trouble with the cattle ranchers in 1996 by suggesting there could be mad cow disease in U.S. herds (yeah, there was). He's a fan favorite and a compelling speaker on many topics, especially on why he turned from cattle ranching to animal advocacy.

vegetariansummerfest.org; 518-568-7970.

Food highlight at Summerfest? There's no single item: The all-you-can-eat buffet meals are created by chef Mark Reinfeld, of Vegan Fusion, supplemented by raw fruits, fresh breads, salads and pizzas, driving home the point that eating vegan is a joy of abundance - though driving home you may not be overjoyed to find your pants tighter than they were when you arrived on Friday morning.

But remember, summer is also a great time for outdoor exercise. See? Easy.

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