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Veg Fest draws vegetarians and dabblers to Tampa

Visitors browse the booths at the Tampa Bay Veg Fest on Saturday at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park in Tampa.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Visitors browse the booths at the Tampa Bay Veg Fest on Saturday at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park in Tampa.

TAMPA — Raised by butchers, Stacey Bohan has never considered nixing meat from her diet.

Becoming a vegetarian would be out of the question, she said.

But on Saturday, the 27-year-old from Davenport found herself at the third annual Tampa Bay Veg Fest at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park.

Why? The answer was sitting next to her.

Dylan Jones, her roommate and best friend, is a vegan.

"He's trying to prove to me that vegan food still tastes good," Bohan said.

As a vegan, Jones consumes no animal products whatsoever. It started out as a health kick four years ago when he decided to avoid meat, poultry and seafood. Then he just took it a step further.

Organizers of the festival, which was presented by Florida Voices for Animals, hoped the event would help persuade more people to change their diet.

"There are so many vegan options out there now," said Dina Athanassie. "Name any food and there is a vegan alternative to it."

But, in America, vegans are still a minority. According to a Gallup poll, about 5 percent of adults consider themselves to be vegetarians. Of those, only about 2 percent identify as vegans. And the numbers haven't changed much during the past decade.

Athanassie thinks there is room for growth, though. "It's 10 times easier to become a vegan today as it was 10 years ago," she said.

For James and Shaina Edwards, that hasn't always been the case. The Valrico couple used to be vegans, but it was difficult. Living about an hour south of Chicago, the couple had trouble finding vegan options in their grocery stores and restaurants. "We slowly went away from it," James Edwards said.

Now, living in Valrico, they hope to transition back into a healthier lifestyle.

"I went vegan and lost a lot of weight," Shaina Edwards said. "Now I've gained some of it back."

At the age of 63, John Burger made the leap from carnivore to vegan for health reasons.

"He said he wanted to see his grandkids," said his wife, Julie Burger.

As the owner of Cool Mo's Coffee, a Carrollwood deli, John Burger serves Cuban sandwiches to his customers and eats tofu crumbles behind the counter.

Attending Saturday's festival with him, his wife said she doesn't know how he does it. "He has much more courage than I," she said, noting her husband's dietary change has opened her eyes to a healthier way of life.

"I eat much less meat now," she said.

But, she's not ready to go all the way.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2442.

Veg Fest draws vegetarians and dabblers to Tampa 10/13/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 13, 2012 11:44pm]
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