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Miller, Mark James

When Jenny Jones encounters someone who is skeptical about the value of “going vegan,” she tells them they should do so for “the heck of it.”

“Going vegan for the heck of it,” she explains, “means ‘h’ for your health, ‘e’ for the environment, ‘c’ for your conscience, and ‘k’ for kindness.”

A vegetarian diet lowers blood pressure, reverses heart disease risk by 50 percent, reduces heart surgery risk by 80 percent — and heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the U.S. It increases life expectancy, strengthens the immune system, fights obesity and reduces the risk of type-2 diabetes.

Going vegan is also an important way to fight climate change. Livestock-raising accounts for 51 percent of global warming. Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland could be reduced by 75 percent and still feed the world. Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to a recent study.

The abominable ways animals are treated in the meat and diary industries has been well-documented, so going vegan is also a way to gain a clear conscience, as well as exhibiting some true kindness.

There weren’t any skeptics at the 2nd Annual Vegan Festival on a recent Saturday at the San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church. It was standing-room-only at every exhibit and vendor’s table. Jenny, the event’s primary organizer, couldn’t have been more pleased.

Vendors hawked everything from compassionate jewelry, vegan shirts, vegan soap, to vegan baked goods. With 33 vendors, up from last year’s 28, there were also tables representing various animal sanctuaries, as well as one presenting “Food from the future, where being vegan is just called eating.”

The speakers’ lineup included television journalist and animal rights activist Jane Velez-Mitchell, and Chef Babette, a motivational speaker and vegan chef whose amazingly youthful appearance belies her 67 years.

“Mindsets are changing,” said Jenny, when asked if veganism is going mainstream. “There is a course correction taking place, in which people are becoming more aware of the need for change if we are going to save the planet.”

She is especially pleased to point out that the largest number of attendees at the festival are women age 18-25, a good omen for the future.

“Younger people are more tuned in to what is taking place in the world,” she said, “and they realize this is the only planet we have.”

She attributes much of the success of the Vegan Festival to social media, which helps spread the word in a way the mainstream media cannot, giving people a different and more positive perspective on both veganism and vegetarianism.

Veganism and vegetarianism may seem like relatively new phenomena, but many people from the past have been vegetarians — Pythagoras, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and Elie Wiesel. Mohandas K. Gandhi is one of the most famous vegetarians of all time. Another is playwright George Bernard Shaw, who famously observed, “Animals are my friends, and I don’t eat my friends.” Modern vegetarians include Ellen DeGeneres and Natalie Portman.

Lest anyone think vegetarianism is for sissies, it is important to remember that the most ferocious military machine in history, the Roman army, consumed a mostly vegetarian diet. 

Jenny is a former yoga teacher as well a former real estate broker. She is already planning next year’s festival, which will do even more to educate people on the benefits of veganism, and win over a few more skeptics.

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Mark James Miller is an associate English instructor at Allan Hancock College, and president of the Part-Time Faculty Association. He can be reached at: