Local vegans and veg-curious types explored all things sustainable and vegan-friendly this weekend during Sonoma County’s annual earth-friendly event — VegFest.
Amid Sunday morning’s cool temps, dozens of people milled about, scanning the offerings from numerous Bay Area vendors and exhibitors who were stationed outside and inside Santa Rosa’s Veterans Memorial Building.
Scores of items were available for purchase, including mushroom shots, ocean-friendly kelp chips, shoes made from cactus leather, kittens open for adoption and goats.
Besides the vendors, the event also featured live music and demonstrations of vegan cooking.
VegFest is produced by Compassionate Living, a Bay Area nonprofit working to end farmed animal suffering and create a healthy, thriving, climate-stable world.
The festival’s organizer, Hope Bohanec, said she became vegan 32 years ago. Since that time, she said, she has watched as the vegan community in Sonoma County has grown.
Beginning small with potlucks at various community centers, she said, local efforts expanded to activities such as film screenings at area libraries, which informed and encouraged people to explore the benefits of a vegan lifestyle.
“I’ve always been drawn to animals. When I started making connections with what I was eating, I realized that I didn’t want to hurt animals,” said Bohanec, 52, a Sonoma County native who now lives in Sacramento. “I wanted to live a life that didn’t support a system that was cruel and was environmentally impactful.”
Hungry attendees at Sunday’s VegFest — some carrying their own bowls and mugs that they brought from home — lined up in front of food trucks and booths serving vegan desserts, tacos, sustainable coffee and mushroom-infused drinks.
The first VegFest, held nine years ago, at Santa Rosa’s Finley Community Center moved to different locations as the community expanded.
The festival eventually moved to the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts and was held there for several years.
But in 2019, after realizing the event needed an even bigger space, organizers moved VegFest to Santa Rosa’s Veterans Memorial Building.
“There wasn’t enough interest and enough food back then (at the event’s beginning). It’s changed so much,” Bohanec said.
One VegFest attendee, said she, grew up raising chickens with her family. She said she always felt uncomfortable eating animals of any kind.
“Eating animals has never been my thing, even as a kid,” Redelle Canniff, 22, of Santa Rosa, said. “I’ve been vegan for two years now and it’s changed my life for the better on a personal level and is better for the environment.”
Tucker Lang said he became vegan in order to improve his health and keep his cholesterol under control. The 22-year-old Santa Rosa man added that he wants to help save the planet any way he can.
“The animal rights bit was the last thing to click for me,” Lang said. “When you’re growing up, you don’t make that connection with your food. You don’t look at a chicken and think of chicken nuggets. You don’t look at a cow and think of the burger in your hands.“
You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at [email protected] @searchingformya on Twitter.