In the 1999 science-fiction film “The Matrix,” one agent of the machines enslaving the human race tells another, “Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions.”

According to Dr. Reuben Bell, the quest for health in the United States is beset by the same problem. He’ll explore this subject during a presentation titled “Living in the Food/Pharma Matrix” at Saturday’s Seventh Annual Vegetarian Food Festival in Portland.

“I’m going to talk about how the things we know about diet and health are not necessarily correct,” said Bell, who is an osteopathic physician practicing geriatrics. “It’s a paradigm we all grew up with and we haven’t questioned, until lately.”

The paradigm he’s referring to glorifies animal-based foods such as meat, milk and eggs with familiar messages such as “a chicken in every pot,” “milk builds strong bones” and “real men eat meat.” Like any paradigm, those who operate within it (i.e., most Americans) never stop to question its validity, or its consequences.

“The food we eat makes us sick over time,” Bell said. “We have pharmaceuticals to get us well. But the bad news is, no one gets well. We just take more pharmaceuticals.”

In his own life, Bell has broken out of the conventional way of thinking and switched from the standard American diet to one based on plants. At Saturday’s festival, he will be surrounded by plenty of other folks who have subverted the dominant food paradigm.

“The festival not only educates, but brings groups together,” said Beth Gallie, board president of the Maine Animal Coalition, which sponsors the event. More than 800 people attended last year’s festival.

In addition to a roster of speakers and a room full of exhibitors, this year’s event will feature vendors selling lunch.

Local Sprouts Cooperative Cafe plans to sell a scratch-made veggie burger, and Asmara intends to sell the vegetarian version of its Eritrean cuisine featuring lentils, collards and injera (a flatbread made from teff grain). India Taste will also be there selling the subcontinent’s signature fare.

However, no one will be able to ignore the elephant in the room. That’s because free food samples will be served up by the Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro of Portland and the Blue Elephant Cafe of Saco.

During the festival, cookbook author and two-time cancer survivor Meg Wolff will offer a talk called “Kicking the Sugar Habit.” She’ll be followed at the podium by Girl Gone Raw chef Elizabeth Fraser, who will provide instruction on how to prepare raw vegan foods.

Other speakers include New York City activists Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan, who will deliver separate talks about animal rights, and author/illustrator Susan Rooker, who will read from her new children’s book, “Lucky Pigs.”

On the exhibit floor, attendees can sample vegan cakes at the Ahimsa Custom Cakes table, pick up Give Peas a Chance soup mix at the Peace Action Maine table, find out how to pay less for organic and local food at the Portland Food Coop table and buy a copy of the “Totally Vegetarian” cookbook at the Delicious TV table.

Many other exhibitors will serve up vegetarian recipes, because as Gallie explained, “It’s not enough to be vegetarian, you have to know how to cook.”

Particularly if you want to escape the unhealthy confines of the conventional food matrix.

 

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

Follow her on Twitter at: Twitter.com/AveryYaleKamila