What's it like to be vegan? Find out at Fort Wayne's first Veg’n Brew Fest

Fort Wayne is home to many food-centric festivals: BBQ Rib Fest, Germanfest, Arab Fest, and Greekfest—just to name a few. But while their names and purposes may differ, one thing most regional festivals have in common is that they're bad for your diet.

Now, a new festival in the Summit City is hoping to change that. Fort Wayne's first Veg’n Brew Fest is coming to Headwaters Park on Oct. 6, and even carnivores are invited to join the fun.

Festival Chairwoman Heather Dahman says the main goal of Veg’n Brew Fest will be giving guests an easy way to try vegan foods and allowing them to see firsthand the benefits and versatility of a plant-based lifestyle.

“We wanted to show people you can eat a healthy diet without animal protein,” she says noting that this way of eating can help prevent or reverse many chronic diseases.

The committee is composed of people from the community with a common interest in plant-based eating.
The festival is, in some ways, a sign of the changing times in Northeast Indiana and beyond. International meal delivery service Just Eat named veganism a top consumer trend in 2018 as more people become aware of healthy and ethical lifestyle choices.

So how vegan-friendly is Fort Wayne?

In addition to launching the festival, Dahman is also the founder of a Fort Wayne Vegans & Vegetarians Facebook group.

She says if you're looking for signs of the trend toward healthier eating here, look no further than local restaurant menus. Only five years ago, there was just one all-vegan restaurant in town—Loving Cafe—and a limited number of other places with vegan dishes. Today, there are two more vegan restaurants in the works and a host of several vegan-friendly restaurants, like 800 Degrees Pizza, Trubble Brewing, Freshii, and Mitchell’s Sports Bar.

That's right, Dahman says. Even sports bars, which are typically associated with burgers and beers, are starting to cater to vegetarians, too. She says establishments that want to better accommodate vegetarians and vegans in Fort Wayne should consider adding meat and dairy alternatives to their usual menu options. 

“It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come," she says about local restaurants' efforts to be more inclusive and aware. 

800 Degrees Three Fires features several vegan pizzas on Sundays.So the Fort Wayne food scene is becoming more accommodating to vegetarians—and if you ask Dahman—that bodes well for the city's overall health.

But that’s not the only reason to go vegan, Dahman says. You can hear the passion in her voice as she talks about the intersections of veganism, environmental stewardship, and animal welfare.

Speaking of sustainability, she says her team is aiming for a zero-waste event at Veg’n Brew. 

"Large festivals typically come with a lot of trash that will sit in the landfill for hundreds of years," she says. "In order to reduce waste, we’ve asked our vendors to not give out plastic bags, water bottles, plastic straws, and other items that are not recyclable."

With the festival just a few weeks away, Dahman is also quick to point out how it’s a concept that has been several years in the making.

She and her husband, JR, frequent vegetarian/vegan festivals in and around the Midwest, and her experience inspired her to start one here. She enjoys the camaraderie of the events and knowing that the foods she's eating meet her dietary preferences without having to double check the ingredients. 

“When you go (to these vegan festivals), everything is for you,” she says. 

In addition to the food, there’s often cruelty-free products for sale at vegan festivals. But for Fort Wayne's event, Dahman wanted to think beyond these two staples and do something different. So besides a host of vegan foods from local, regional, and national vendors, Veg’n Brew will feature beer and music from local acts, including Alyssa Enright, Kelsie Cotie, and Be Colony.

In other words, there will be something for everyone—carnivores and vegans alike. 

Attend Veg’n Brew Fest

General admission to Veg’n Brew Fest is free from noon to 6 p.m. on Oct. 6 at Headwaters Park West.

VIP tickets are available for $15 for a special VIP hour from 11 am-noon. This will give 100 guests early access to all of the food and vendors for one hour without lines.

The festival will also cater to families with children with kids yoga, trivia, vegetable gardening, and a local author's reading on the itinerary.

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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