Whether you’re a hardcore vegan, an on-again-off-again vegetarian or an omnivore looking to eat more plant-based meals, Saturday’s Vegetarian and Vegan Food Festival will serve up something to chew on.

“There are plenty of opportunities for people to get their feet wet if they’re thinking about a plant-based diet,” said Beth Gallie, the co-chair of this year’s event. “One thing that makes us happy is people who come who aren’t vegetarians but who want to add meatless meals to their diet.”

Now in its sixth year, the free festival serves up oodles of food samples, a roster of speakers and a host of vegetarian-focused organizations.

Each year has brought a bigger group of attendees, with more than 750 people walking through the door last year. Gallie anticipates an even larger crowd this year.

After jumping around to a few different venues, the event found a hospitable home at Portland’s East End Community School last year and will return to the space this year. The certified green-built school makes a logical match for the festival’s environmentally-friendly bent and focus on education.

Once again, free food samples and exhibitors will fill the cafeteria and the gymnasium, with musicians on the open stage between the two spaces and speakers in an adjacent classroom.

A new feature this year is the book swap. Those who attend are encouraged to bring books and magazines related to vegetarian food and animal rights and donate them to the book swap. Anyone is welcome to take something from the swap table (whether or not they bring a book in exchange).

The always-popular raffle offers a slew of veg-friendly products, including gift certificates, books and plants.

This year brings a new slate of speakers. The talks kick off with a presentation by Susan Rooker, a South Portland resident and the author of “The Practical Vegan,” who will discuss the environmental benefits of eating a diet devoid of animal protein. She’ll be followed by Mary Louise Town Jacqua of Winslow, who will offer a juicing demonstration and talk about raw foods.

Next comes Dr. John Herzog, a Falmouth-based orthopedic surgeon who will talk about how our bones can benefit from a plant-based diet. Finally, Toni Fiore of Cumberland, who hosts the all-vegetarian cooking show “Delicious TV” on PBS and is the author of a cookbook by the same name, will talk about how to expand your repertoire of vegetarian recipes.

Popular exhibitors returning again this year with free food samples include Local Sprouts Cafe and Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro. New this year will be tables staffed by North Star Music Cafe (gazpacho and baked goods), Lalibela Farm (Maine-made tempeh), Heiwa Tofu (Maine-made tofu), Little Lads Bakery/Dr. John Herzog (popcorn and Brain-ola), Vermont Soy (tofu), Zukay Live Foods (raw, probiotic salad dressings) and Arbonne International (vegan shakes and energy drinks).

Event sponsor Maine Animal Coalition, which advocates for animal rights and encourages people to eat more plant-based foods, will serve up free samples of Tofurky sandwiches and baked potatoes with vegan fixings. Whole Foods Market is donating many of the ingredients for these two dishes.

Gallie, who is president of the Maine Animal Coalition’s board, said the organization continues to coordinate traditional animal rights activities, such as protests and leafleting campaigns. However, she noted that one of the most effective things the organization can do is to encourage people to eat more vegetarian meals.

“We consume 10 billion animals a year in the United States,” Gallie said. “We know they don’t have a good life, and we know their consumption isn’t good for our health. The best way to help the animals is to stop eating them.”

Saturday’s festival will show just how delicious such an animal-free diet can be.

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]