Susannah Sherman was 13 years old when she decided to become a vegetarian – on an afternoon her parents brought a lobster home to be boiled alive.
“I just couldn’t believe that they were going to put that animal inside a pot while it was still alive, and cook it,” Sherman said.
Sherman said it was difficult to be a vegetarian in the ’70s and that she was the only vegetarian in her high school.
Now, Sherman will be one of 10 speakers at the free first annual Tampa Bay Veg Fest – the Tampa Bay area’s first vegetarian and vegan festival – downtown at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m on Saturday. According to the free festival’s website, it will be held Oct. 2 in observance of World Farm Animals Day.
Sherman eventually became a vegan, which has been her lifestyle for more than 20 years. She is the current organizer of the Animal Advocacy of Tampa Bay, Meetup Group and a board member of Florida Voices for Animals (FVA) – a non-profit organization that promotes animals’ rights and freedoms.
Sherman, who is also the volunteer coordinator for the Tampa Bay Veg Fest, said the festival aims to expose attendees to such health-conscious organizations while also offering recreation.
The festival will feature speakers, singers, musicians, bands and local art and food vendors. Animals will be present, but in the form of cats and dogs up for adoption and leashed pets rather than food.
Former NBA basketball player John Salley will speak from 2 to 2:45 p.m. According to his website, johnsalley.com, Salley became a vegetarian in 1994 and later a vegan, and has promoted nutrition in ways ranging from planning a vegetarian cruise appearance to executive producing “Simply Raw,” a film about combating diabetes with uncooked food.
The youngest speaker at the festival will be 11-year-old actor Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, who played Damien in the 2006 horror film remake “The Omen.” Davey-Fitzpatrick has been a vegan since his birth and will talk about his experience with practicing vegan parents from 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Students from the campus organization, Students Protecting the Environment and Animals through Knowledge (SPEAK) will be volunteering at the event throughout the day. Kristie Almeida, a junior majoring in political science, will be among the volunteers.
Almeida, the group’s president, said the organization’s main goal is to provide students with information about animals’ rights issues, so that they can make knowledgeable choices.
Almeida said she has been a vegan for the past two years, and is open to speaking to students both well versed in vegetarianism and veganism, and those hoping to learn more.
“This event is suitable for all veg and veg-curious,” Almeida said. “If anyone has a question about being vegetarian or vegan, we will all be there to answer them.”
Almeida, who grew up in the Tampa Bay area, said that she has been a vegetarian since middle school. The Tampa Bay area is very vegetarian-friendly, she said.
“There are so many foods on the market nowadays such as mock meat, almond, soy and rice milk, ice cream, cheese,” Almeida said. “If you want it, you can find it vegan.”
Loving Hut – an all-vegan restaurant located on 1905 E. Fletcher Ave. that serves imitation meat dishes like Philly Subs and spaghetti with mock meatballs – will offer vegetable wraps and vegan burgers at the event.
FVA will provide free samples of rice milk and soymilk, courtesy of Veg Fund, and almond milk from the company Almond Breeze, according to the festival’s website.
USF alumnus Hussein Mourtada, the event’s public relations and FVA board member, said that the Veg Fest could be a good learning experience for students and an opportunity he would have appreciated as a student. He said he considers it the right time for the Tampa area to host its first Veg Fest.
“Attending the event will hopefully provide them with information that would not be readily available to them,” he said.
For more information on the Tampa Bay Veg Fest, visit tampabayvegfest.org.