Veg Out with Pittsburgh's VegFest

By / Photography By Michael Fornataro | May 19, 2016
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Innovative farming and brand new dining spaces surface, while breakout local festivals prepare to storm the summer 

Animal rights activists Leila Sleiman and Natalie Fristick say they grew up, fittingly, as black sheep. Their early affinity for animals and dietary explorations eventually transformed into a desire for change. So when they met while protesting against the circus and began talking about their shared passion, it wasn’t long until they joined forces to create something more.

“We wanted to do a VegFest, which we saw a need for in Pittsburgh,” Sleiman explains, previewing the upcoming free summer festival. “But that’s not all that we wanted to do — we wanted to create a nonprofit and help animals in a larger way. We thought, ‘How can we organize? How can we reach more people in Pittsburgh — and extend compassion to more than just dogs and cats?’” Their answer was Justice for Animals (JFA), the demonstration-organizing, rights-campaigning, action-taking nonprofit that has grown tremendously since its 2013 inception. JFA is responsible for Pittsburgh’s Meatless Monday, the recent proclamation from Mayor Bill Peduto to encourage residents — and himself — to dine meat-free at least one day a week. The achievement promotes not just animal welfare, but also sustainable food sourcing and healthy eating.

Their biggest accomplishment (in terms of size, at the very least) is the community-wide festival, Pittsburgh VegFest, which celebrates plant-based fare — among so many other things. This year, the second annual event will take place on Saturday, July 30 at Allegheny Commons on the North Side once again, and is hoping to double its more than 4,000 attendees from last year. A long list of food vendors, including Stickler’s Ice Pops, Franktuary, Apteka, and Onion Maiden will be joined by an equally impressive lineup of other local businesses. One business, Rustbelt Workshop, creates handmade planters and terrariums from reclaimed driftwood and antique glass, all sourced locally in Pittsburgh.

Fristick’s company, 1944 Skincare, will also be present at VegFest. She says of her skincare line, “I wanted soap that’s gentle on my skin, and deodorant that’s not tested on animals but actually works.” Named for the year that the Vegan Society was founded, 1944 carries organic, handmade balms, soaps, lotions, body butters, and deodorants that prove to be gentle, effective, and safe for kids. The natural and conscious company is indicative of the festival as a whole: it celebrates a cruelty-free lifestyle without being autonomously about animals.

“I don’t think most of the Pittsburgh public came [last year] because it’s a VegFest,” Sleiman reflects. “I think it’s about living your life in a positive way and showing how you can change your lifestyle. We really wanted to bring the community together; it’s not just about animals.” Musicians, speakers, pet adoptions, and kid activities add even more to the festival’s many attractions, showing just how many people the gathering can appeal to.

Still, it’s an unmatched destination for those who do care about the welfare of animals. “I want to let people know that anybody can help animals,” Sleiman implores, reiterating the mission of both Pittsburgh VegFest and JFA. She and Fristick are dedicating their lives to their cause, and their hard work is paying off. Says Sleiman, “The future looks bright for animals!”

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Article from Edible Allegheny at
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