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VegFest Houston 2014 helps students navigate veganism

Vendors came from as far as Austin and San Antonio. |  Betty Henriquez/The Daily Cougar

Vendors came from as far as Austin and San Antonio. | Betty Henriquez/The Daily Cougar

Think you know everything about veganism? Think again.

Founder and President of the Vegan Society of PEACE: People for the Earth, Animals, Compassion & Enlightenment Kristen Lee Ohanyan dispelled the most common myths about veganism on Saturday, July 19 at the fourth annual VegFest Houston with committee members Alan Clune and Bernadette Sessions.

VegFest Houston is 100 percent volunteer-run and claims to “be a voice for billions!” The event offered completely free admission.

The Vegan Society of PEACE, which started VegFest Houston, is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization. It aims to educate the public about ethical vegan living, abolitionist animal rights advocacy, environmental responsibility, plant-based health and nutrition, world hunger solutions, peace and nonviolence. The organization is dedicated to promoting peace and compassion for all sentient beings through education, outreach and advocacy.

“The kids’ yoga was really sweet. It was really cool. We haven’t had a chance to see the speakers because of being with our kids. But being able to connect with them as a family over veganism was really special. We don’t get to do that a lot,” said festival goers Keely and Chad Shelbert, who brought their two daughters Paisley and Penny this year.

The event is held annually as a way to educate vegans and non-vegans alike about the vegan lifestyle.

“It exposes the resources. It gives people a sense of community and it exposes everybody to a lot of really, really good food,” Session said. “It also showcases the vendors. Some of these people came from San Antonio and Austin and we go there to support them. So it shows the community what’s out there. It also lets you network and give support to people. And it exposes people to really good vegan food and it’s like a free promotion for the vendors. Then they get more customers and a larger base. It’s a win-win.

“I think it’s a win-win for the city, too,” Session said.

Volunteers are often asked the question “How could you give up all of these delicious foods?”. But, according to VegFest Houston volunteers, it’s easier than you might think. Many of the volunteers expressed the need to educate and clear up the common misconceptions regarding a vegan lifestyle. Several of the following myths have been debunked by VegFest volunteers.

Vendors gave educational presentations as well. |  Betty Henriquez/The Daily Cougar

Vendors gave educational presentations as well. | Betty Henriquez/The Daily CougarHeld at Pershing Middle School, this year’s VegFest Houston featured 18 speakers, chefs, emcees, and presenters, four different musicians including DJ Chris Lewis, numerous product donors, over 60 exhibitor booths, fun prizes, yoga and fitness demos, cooking demos and youth activities.

1 — Deprivation Diet

Rather than having a mindset of giving things up, veganism is actually about gaining things — better health, a better attitude toward other living beings and an overall healthy lifestyle. Many people tend to assume that veganism is a strict diet, but it is not fasting. In fact, there was even a vegan bodybuilder present at the festival.

“People think of it as deprivation as opposed to how much more you eat. How many vegetables can you name ­— like 20 vegetables? Okay, a lot of people who are not vegan cannot name that because they think vegetables are French fries and iceberg lettuce. It’s not deprivation because we eat such a wide variety of stuff that people don’t even know about. It is, to me, one of abundance — being a vegan,” Session said.

2 — Protein Deficiencies

Kristen Lee Ohanyan explained that protein does not just come from meat. Again, a lack of education is the problem here, not a lack of protein.

“That’s one of the most asked questions. Proteins — the essential amino acids — they’re in everything. They’re in all plant-based foods. Leafy greens are abundant with proteins: nuts, legumes, tempe, tofu. Americans typically have a very heavy protein diet — almost too protein heavy because of all the animal protein. Plant-based proteins are much healthier,” Ohanyan said.

3 — It Is Just about Food

“Veganism is about a whole lot more than food. A lot of people don’t realize that. It’s a lifestyle. Ethics, world hunger, yoga, health — all of these things go into veganism. It’s about doing the least amount of harm possible,” Ohanyan said.

The Abolitionist Animal Movement is a big part of it. There is also another movement – The Animal Welfare Movement – that focuses on the idea of treating the animals better. Session thinks that that’s not enough; she said a kill is “still a kill.”

4 — Food Withdrawals

Vegans eat various greens to fill their daily nutritional needs.|  Betty Henriquez/The Daily Cougar

Vegans eat various greens to fill their daily nutritional needs.| Betty Henriquez/The Daily Cougar

Alan Clune said his change to a vegan lifestyle was overnight

“From vegetarian to vegan, it was all of a sudden. And then that was it — I never ate cheese or eggs or milk or anything like that again. I knew if I wanted to be true to myself, this is how it had to be from now on,” Clune said.

No withdrawal symptoms seem to plague new vegans, though some seem to have trouble giving up their favorite foods. Session and Ohanyan both agreed that cheese seemed to be the thing that people had the hardest time letting go of due to its fat and high calorie content. However, now there are numerous different kinds of cheese substitutes, so it is a lot easier to make that transition now than it was a decade or two ago.

5 — It Is Expensive 

“Products are becoming much more available and prices have come down. Even Walmart offers vegan choices now” Clune said. “Also, we tend to eat much more than we need as Americans. So when you start eating lots of raw vegetables and things, the fiber itself fills you up. You get fewer calories and your weight stabilizes and you’re buying less food to eat.”

Session described in great detail how the meat industry is subsidized by the government — by your tax dollars. She claimed that if meat was not subsidized, you wouldn’t be able to afford it regularly “unless your last name was Buffet or Trump.”

6 — Vegans force their pets to be vegan 

You may have heard about this in the news lately — vegans trying to make their pets go vegan. Dogs can do it without any problems. Cats, on the other hand, are naturally carnivorous and cannot become vegans. Some cats, specifically male cats, have died due to this practice. Clune spoke out about this issue and brought it to light.

Soy meat is a popular way for vegans to get daily proteins. |  Betty Henriquez/The Daily Cougar

Soy meat is a popular way for vegans to get daily proteins. | Betty Henriquez/The Daily Cougar

“It’s not a control issue at all. The whole idea of being vegan for ethical reasons is you don’t want your money entering the economy of brutalizing animals. But some animals are just carnivores and you can’t help that,” Clune said.

He attempted to get his cat to go vegan, and experienced the devastating results. His cat started urinating outside of her litter box. The reason was, surprisingly, a lack of acidity. Animal protein contains more acidic PH than vegan food, which is something that cats need in their food. If this acidity is not present, magnesium crystals form and become lodged in the urinary tracts of the animals, causing pain and sometimes death. Though Clune could have continued experimenting with other avenues to vegan-ize his pet, he decided that it just wasn’t worth the risk; he cared too much about his cat.

VegFest volunteers estimate that over 4,000 people attended this year’s event, citing the price of admission (free) as a main reason for the large flow of attendees.

“It’s so important to educate and reach out to the vegan-curious and let them know what it’s about, the reasons to be vegan — for the animals, the environment, health, for some it’s spirituality — there’s so many reasons and they’re all interconnected so that’s one thing we try to do for Houston: keep it free for the community,” Ohanyan said.

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