VegFest offers food for both meat eaters and those with limited diets

Juhie Modi

If you ask Julian Villarreal, the best food in Austin doesn’t come from owners of hole-in-the-wall barbecue restaurants or inconspicuous food trailers. The best food in Austin comes from vegetarians. 

“We don’t just walk into McDonald’s and say ‘Oh, I want a burger,’” Villarreal said. “We actually have to think about food in a much more proactive way, so our food tends to be really delicious. I think people are always surprised that the food is so good and it doesn’t have meat. [VegFest] is not just for vegetarians. [People should go] to try good food.”

Villarreal, a Middle Eastern studies and sociology sophomore, is just one of many vegetarians who are excited about Saturday’s second annual Texas VegFest. The festival, hosted by the Texas Veg Foundation, will offer various multicultural vegetarian and vegan food and clothing vendors, guest speakers, cooking demos and live music.

As the president for University Vegetarians — a social organization in which those with plant-based diets eat at various restaurants — Villarreal believes that Austin is a great city for people who avoid meat or dairy, especially because of its labeling system.

“In American culture, meat tends to be put on a pedestal and every meal has to have meat, and it’s kind of a central part of how we eat,” Villarreal said. “[It’s difficult] to give it up and think about what you’re going to eat and how it will affect making sure you have the right balance, and [there is also] social pressure. In Austin, it’s sort of different because every other person is either a vegetarian or vegan, or at least it seems like it. Austin is a little bit of a paradise.”

Public relations freshman Elizabeth Pickard said that she received a lot of animosity for being a vegetarian, and she initially joined University Vegetarians because she never had any vegetarian friends. However, she said that Austin’s plant-friendly food scene is one of the reasons why she
chose UT. 

Pickard said that at the festival, many people may see that being vegetarian may not be as intimidating as it seems.

“I hear people say, ‘I could never be vegetarian. It would be too hard. I can’t live without meat,’ but the reality is that they haven’t tried and they haven’t looked into it, so hopefully, VegFest will make people reconsider vegetarianism/veganism,” Pickard said. “Even if they don’t want to eat the food, there will be live music and a cool atmosphere.”

Ross Abel, a UT alumnus who is on the board for VegFest, was initially surprised that Austin didn’t already have a vegetarian festival. But now he believes the festival will show that people can eat “incredibly tasty vegan grub” while maintaining an active life. 

Adrienne Lusk, the festival director and Vice President for the Texas Veg Foundation, thinks that college is a good time for students to consider diet changes, because they become independent and discover who they are as a person.  

“A lot of people say, ‘You’re going to miss out on your protein, you’re going to miss out on this, that,’ and as I tell everybody, there are so many habits that people have today that are unhealthy whether you’re vegan or non-vegan,” Lusk said. “So the best thing to do is see where you’re personally, physically at, and see what’s best for you.”

Because she said Austin has dedicated, diverse and healthy groups of people, such as running groups, rowing groups and animal activists, she believes Austin has the potential to network all of them together. 

Although Lusk realizes that a lot of people don’t know about it, and meat-eaters in particular may be intimidated to approach such a festival, she believes that everyone will enjoy the food. 

“Whenever they walk through the door and see the activities and see the information and see the food that we have — I mean, we have hamburgers, funnel cakes, shakes, ice cream, Indian food, Ethiopian food, nachos — there is nothing they will be missing,” Lusk said. “The food will overwhelm you.”