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Live a Lot

VegFest invites Tulsans to try a plant-based diet 

Terrie Shipley (Tulsa People) May 1, 2019 Updated Feb 21, 2020

Vegan food.

(Are you still reading? Stick with me.)

"You hear the word and everyone runs the other way," said Cynthia Beavers, owner of Pure Food + Juice in Center 1 in Brookside. "For a long time … I wouldn’t even say the word ‘vegan’ because I think there’s a lot of negative connotations to it."

Light bounces from every white wall of the space at Pure, which is mostly monochromatic with touches of natural wood and elegant florals. Its minimalism is the right canvas to showcase Beavers’ strikingly gorgeous menu items. Some of their drinks—like the "Hot Pink," made with pear, pineapple, beet, and cucumber—are so highly pigmented that you might be tempted to dip in a paintbrush and Jackson Pollock the place.

The restaurant has served as a role model for the greater trend of whole food plant based (WFPB) eating in Tulsa. In fact, they’re a sponsor and food court participant of the upcoming VegFest, Tulsa’s first large-scale celebration of the WFPB lifestyle.

Those of us familiar with the delights whipped up by veggie-friendly chefs like Beavers know WFPB cuisine can pack a punch, but can you blame the uninitiated for their aversion to the V-word? If you and your rumbling belly were to scan a lunch menu that lacked meat, eggs, and dairy, and then read the words "gluten and soy free, table salt free, processed sugar-free," the word abundance wouldn’t be the first that comes to mind.

Yet crunch into Pure’s Green Dragon Sushi Roll and you’ll notice a veritable rainbow of wholesomeness. Bursting out of a rice wrapper is Roy G. Biv himself: red bell pepper, carrot, English cucumber, avocado, spinach, purple cabbage, and chili-spiced cashews. Served with a side of lip-smacking almond ancho chili sauce and sprinkled artistically with black and white sesame seeds and edible flowers, this is a dish that I would stack up with any other for its ability to satiate and light up Instagram.

"My goal is to show people that healthy food is not like rabbit food, or doesn’t taste like tofu," Beavers said. "We can take really healthy ingredients and it can still taste like the unhealthy version." People, try their nachos (or tacos—or anything) and tell me it’s not like eating happiness.

Greens on the Green

Featuring more than 60 vendors and exhibitors from several states, a 100 percent plant-based food court, and national and local physician speakers, the inaugural Tulsa VegFest is the first of its kind in Oklahoma and will take place May 4 at Guthrie Green.

One of the VegFest speakers will be cardiologist Dr. Rich Kacere, co-owner of Ediblend Superfood Café, another local brick-and-mortar pioneer of WFPB.

With heart disease being the No. 1 killer in Oklahoma and with our state ranking third in the country for cardiovascular disease, Kacere offers a unique perspective: "I see the ravages of poor lifestyle changes all the time."

He said that what VegFest is doing—exposing more people to WFPB—is, in his practice, "probably one of the most beneficial things I can do for my patients. Almost every disease I deal with is a lifestyle choice. If we can make a lifestyle choice that reverses a disease or stops the disease in its tracks, then wouldn’t that be amazing?"

While there is evidence that WFPB/vegetarian/vegan diets have myriad health benefits, the reaction from his patients when he brings up a WFPB lifestyle is mixed. Say a patient of his recently had a heart attack. "When I talk about whole food plant based, they look at me like ‘Really?’ … It’s foreign to them," Kacere said. "Sometimes that’s the easier crowd because it’s an audience who is having some issues, but on the flipside, they got there for a reason."

The health benefits are a main motivator for Melissa Furman, co-founder of Tulsa VegFest and its parent organization, Plant-Based Green Country. "The way I look at a WFPB journey is that it’s easier and cheaper to invest now in educating oneself about this lifestyle and taking the time to cook or order nutrient-dense foods [rather than] pay later with medical bills or limited enjoyment of life," she said.

Furman was inspired when she visited a highly attended VegFest in Florida. "I came home from that trip energized," she said. "I thought a VegFest was probably one of the best ways to reach so many people in a fun yet educational and experiential way."

Wherever Tulsans are on the dietary spectrum, Furman hopes that VegFest will inspire people to "learn something new and try something new."