VegFest L.A., in its 18th year and formerly known as WorldFest L.A., brought together more than 100 vegan/plant-based lifestyle vendors, exhibitors, nonprofit organizations, influencers, animal activists, environmentalists and fitness/health educators on Sunday in Encino's Woodley Park.

More than 20,000 people packed into the park for the largest vegan food, clothing, music and lifestyle fest in the world.

Event organizer Melissa Breslow expected a turnout of about 70 percent vegans/vegetarians and 30 percent meat eaters. “The event is for everyone to learn better ways for our planet, the animals and our health, while enjoying food, fun and inspiration,” Breslow said.

Indeed, most festgoers I spoke to looked forward to communing with people already converted and advocating vegan/eco-minded ideals — especially the more celebrated activists scheduled to speak. Social media celeb and educator Earthling Ed, PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk and Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd were among the notables who spoke to standing-room-only crowds in the largest tent.

Making the case for veganism, Earthling Ed summed up its ethical justification for eschewing animal agriculture: “We create warped words of deception like ‘free-range,’ ‘happy meal,’ ‘humane slaughter’ and ‘cage-free.’ And these labels are there to make us feel comfortable and confident in buying a product that, if we knew the truth about, we wouldn’t want to support it.”

The alternative was on ample display. The Kite Hill booth had three varieties of cream cheese, two soft cheeses and several of the first non-dairy almond-based yogurts that taste better than their dairy counterparts. Food truck and downtown restaurant/caterer India Jones served up a delicious version of the Indian dish palak paneer, substituting tofu for the traditional homemade cheese, topped with a tamarind chutney.

Devi's Donuts and Sweets; Credit: Jennifer Yarbrough

Devi's Donuts and Sweets; Credit: Jennifer Yarbrough

There was a long queue for fast-rising food star Compton Vegan’s jackfruit ribs, baked beans, macaroni and cheese and cornbread muffins. Another big hit with the crowd was Devi’s Donuts & Sweets with its Oreo, brownie and blueberry doughnuts. McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream premiered five new vegan flavors, including Eureka Lemon & Marionberries.

Among the nonprofits in attendance, Jesse Tandler, the Los Angeles director of the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition, educates Canadian and American high school and college students on the environmental impact of their food choices. Tandler noted that per year, each person switching to a vegan diet prevents the release of 1,533 pounds of carbon dioxide, saves 219,000 gallons of water and spares the suffering of 35 animals.

Aja Diack; Credit: Ruby Friedman

Aja Diack; Credit: Ruby Friedman

Certified holistic health coach Aja Diack, who has been vegan for 10 years, brought her vegetarian-leaning but still meat-eating brother to their first VegFest. Originally from Senegal, Diack “never liked seeing animals killed for ceremonies.” She prefers the term “plant-based” to “veganism,” however, since it implies healthier food choices.

Singer-songwriter Heather Lomax, who was attending her second consecutive VegFest, became a vegetarian 20 years ago and is now transitioning to veganism, but she wasn’t there for the food.

“It’s very important to me to support the animal rights movement and to shed light on the rampant animal abuse happening every day,” she said. “I plan on bringing more awareness of the cause to my craft, but it’s very difficult to not alienate people. Why are people outraged by the dog meat trade while they eat hamburgers and pepperoni pizza?”

Ruby Friedman is a composer-singer-songwriter-musician, vegan and animal rights activist based in Los Angeles.

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