With the 21st century’s proliferation of fad diets, detoxes, cleanses and myriad other culinary regimens, vegetarianism and veganism have become almost boringly mainstream. But despite the ubiquitous presence of tofu and quinoa in every supermarket, and the well-established Meatless Monday initiative, there’s still a fair bit of ignorance and misinformation surrounding vegetarianism—and especially veganism—out there. A desire to amend that, and to make a veggie-based diet accessible to every Albertan, led to the advent of Vegtoberfest: a month-long celebration of all things plant-based, hosted by the Vegans and Vegetarians of Alberta (VVoA).
After moving to Edmonton last summer, Sarah Foster started up a vegan baking company and began volunteering for the VVoA; she’s the business liaison and event coordinator and has helped put up the last couple Vegtoberfests. (This is the festival’s fourth year.) Having grown up in a farming community just outside Calgary, Foster notes that there’s still some stigma attached to a vegetarian/vegan diet in our beef-happy province.
“We all have our own reasons for being vegan or vegetarian; mine is definitely an ethical thing,” she says. “I run a small vegan baking company. That’s my form of activism, to show people that vegan/vegetarian lifestyle is quite accessible in Edmonton. You don’t really sacrifice anything in terms of taste or food.”
October is World Vegetarian Month—hence the “vegtober” portmanteau. The VVoA has arranged a full roster of events throughout the month, kicked off by a festival on September 27 in the parking lot at Earth’s General Store south. The VVoA and Voices for Animals will have a presence, but the event is primarily food-focused: the vendors are all vegan-friendly and include Sailin’ On food truck, Emerald Lily Organics Tea, Blue Rose Baking Co (Foster’s own business), Truffula, Tamiri Bites, Moonshine Doughnuts, and Olympia Cafe & Catering.
Vegtoberfest’s events include a screening of Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret at the Metro Cinema, vegan cooking classes at Get Cooking and a vegan pub crawl down Whyte Avenue. A few places with vegan-friendly menus have cropped up on Whyte, so the pub crawl will start at the Buckingham (where Mike Brennan and Garret Kruger of Sailin’ On just took over the kitchen) and continue to Pourhouse and El Cortez. Vegtoberfest is also hosting its annual potluck, a superfoods workshop and hatha yoga class, a mindful eating workshop and a campfire storytelling circle with vegan s’mores. Earth’s General Store is also doing a Meatless Monday special every Monday of October, offering 25 percent off all cafe items at its downtown location.
“The vegetarian and vegan community is growing every year; we continuously have new businesses opening up,” Foster says. “It’s really quite interesting because being in Alberta and kind of having that mentality that it isn’t really a vegetarian-friendly place, we’re doing really well here.
“People have other reasons for going vegetarian or vegan, too,” she continues. “There’s definitely … people who are becoming vegetarian or vegan for health reasons, or are even curious about it. It’s a good time for them to explore that. And for sustainability purposes as well—a lot of people are becoming more conscious about the environment and kind of how their diet and personal habits are impacting the environment.
“I would say that in the past decade or so, I mean, globally there are so many more alternatives and companies and stuff that we have access to. The products are more accessible; I think people are used to seeing them in the grocery store now. It’s not as weird.”
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