FGCU holds Inaugural Vegfest
By Nina Mendes
The rise of veganism across the country has sparked businesses to meet consumer demands and implement more sustainable practices.
The FGCU Vegan and Vegetarian Club (FGCUVV) recognized the need for an event devoted to students that highlights the importance of diet health and how the food impacts the environment.
VegFest debuted on Feb. 17 on the library lawn. The theme was “Eat for the Planet.” Several neighborhood vendors, including local merchants and non-profits, tabled at the event.
Colby Brownell is the president of the FGCUVV and organized VegFest with the help of Student Government.
“I think wellness is a very important topic for colleges to be speaking on,” Brownell said. “This event was specifically made for students that don’t come to the vegan club. Universities have a duty to provide services to their students, and events like VegFest add to that discussion.”
The event featured open & guided meditation sessions, musical performances and guest speaker presentations.
One speaker was an FGCU alum, Marcus Watts.
Watts played for our collegiate basketball team and talked about how his body relied on the foods he chose to fuel himself with. He pursued a vegan lifestyle after graduation.
“I think with all of the information that is out there now, there is more of a conversation,” Watts said. “Students are at such an impressionable time as they gather who they are and what they believe. Taking information from people who have invested years into the study is priceless.”
Watts also said he had seen extensive growth from when he was a student, versus the opportunity available for students on campus today to maintain a vegan lifestyle.
Neal Barnard, the founding President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, also presented at VegFest.
He is a clinical researcher and the author of over 15 books addressing well-balanced, plant-based diets.
Barnard talked about how more restaurants are dedicating their menus to meatless and dairy-free cuisine. He also brought up the lasting effects of agricultural practices, particularly the harm that meat production has on the warming climate.
“My goal is to reach people as much as I can and enlarge our circle to welcome as many people as we can,” Barnard said. “When we are young, we feel a little bit immortal, but we discover that the food choices we make now have a profound effect on our health in the future.”
Barnard said it’s already an open question as to how much damage we can reverse. He believes we don’t have much of a choice.
President of APlantBasedDiet.org, Mike Young managed a table educating others on the importance of advocating for change.
“There’s a shift that is going to happen very soon,” Young said. “It involves the lack of knowledge and hanging onto the old ways of doing things. As more studies get released, they all point to the direction of removing animal products and replacing them with plants.”
APlantBasedDiet.org is a non-profit, which aims to improve lives by raising awareness of the benefits of eating an organic, plant-based diet.
One struggle people might face when first trying out a vegan or vegetarian diet is the endurance to follow through. The first week or so can be exciting because it is something new, but continuing the diet is what’s most difficult.
“Most people cannot be successful at something unless they surround themselves with likeminded people, and that is the purpose of our group,” Young said. “Events like VegFest are a testament to the raising of awareness that is happening with the general public.”
Students here are fortunate enough to live in an area where vegan foods are more accessible compared to other college campuses.
Barnard said one million animals are killed every hour with the intent of being eaten, and he encourages anyone who has lost hope in a vegan or vegetarian diet to try again.
“It’s a little bit like if you went to a different country,” Barnard said. “It takes you a little while to find out what the right foods are. You might not make the best choices at first, but you’ll find them.”
The FGCUVV looks forward to hosting another VegFest on campus after its success.
Brownell’s hope is for students to maintain their inquisitive attitude towards food, and remain informed of the crucial impact diet has on the planet.
“This event is just the beginning,” Brownell said. “We plan to keep the dialogue about plant-based wellness going because this is not a trend or a fad. All sciences are agreeing that a shift towards less animal products will have benefits for our health and the environment.”