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James Scott: Kim Ritzenthaler Leeson

The ‘other’ State Fair

In October 2010, even as Dallasites drooled over the meaty, cheesy Texas Fried Frito Pie (taste-division winner of the State Fair’s Big Tex Choice Awards that year), James Scott organized a culinary-based event that was free of meat and animal products. Scott rallied several local vegetarian and vegan vendors and saw some 500 visitors in and out of the Deep Ellum warehouse in which he hosted that first veg fest. Three years later his Texas Veggie Fair has outgrown two venues, acquired participants from around the nation and made a strong case for the fun side of vegan and vegetarianism. More than 5,000 visitors came through the 2012 event, now held at Reverchon Park, 3505 Maple in the Turtle Creek area. Even one of East Dallas’ most prolific celebs, Erykah Badu, has taken notice. A practicing vegan, Badu will be the keynote speaker and entertainer at this year’s fair, Sunday, Oct. 20 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Why the interest in veganism?
Initially, about 10 years ago, I became a vegetarian for health purposes. But that led me to research some of the other reasons why people become vegetarian or vegan. Once I started learning about practices of the food industry, which involve a general inhumaneness toward animals and environmentally irresponsible procedures, I became vegan. So avoiding contribution to that industry — the factory farming — became my motivation.

That led to the blog [dallasvegan.com], which I started, and the feedback there let me know there was a community out there of people who felt the same way I did. That’s when I started thinking about the fair.

Unlike, say, Austin, Dallas doesn’t seem to have a ton of vegan options. Is it difficult to be a vegan in Dallas?
That is part of the reason I wanted to do this. I noticed many restaurants around that have vegan options or potentially vegan options on their menus. Often they aren’t marked that way, but they are there if you look for them. On my blog, I started encouraging a dialog about vegan items in restaurants. Some of the local restaurateurs noticed the commentary and the demand, and some even asked me to work with them on their menus.

“Our hope is to include everyone. Yes, we are here for vegans and those who are leaning toward that lifestyle, but we really want to get the non-vegetarians out here and let them see that this food can be fun, too.”

What restaurants — ones we might not think about — have vegan menu choices?
One of the big ones that’s been on my radar for a while is Trinity Hall Irish Pub [at Mockingbird Station]. They always had a couple of menu items, but recently they put together a vegan menu. Hacienda on Henderson also has reached out through the blog and has developed some vegan options.

How does incorporating organic, meatless and/or vegan options benefit restaurants?
There are plenty of vegans out there, but often their families and social groups are not. Sometimes when you have a vegetarian in the group, a restaurant can be ruled out based on what we call the “vegetarian veto.”

What’s that?
It means that a large group of diners might rule out a particular restaurant based on its lack of options for the pickiest of the group’s eaters. So a restaurant with zero vegan options might lose out on a whole family of diners because of the single vegetarian among them.

Did you create the Veggie Fair as an opposition to the State Fair and its deep-fried, bacon-centric offerings?
No — that’s not it. There was a nod to the Texas State Fair. Initially we called it the State Veggie Fair. But really what you will find at the veggie fair is that vegan and vegetarian food, while it can be healthy, can also be as sweet, fatty and fried, and creative and fun as your traditional state fair food. Our hope is to include everyone. Yes, we are here for vegans and those who are leaning toward that lifestyle, but we really want to get the non-vegetarians out here and let them see that this food can be fun, too. The speakers, the entertainment and the activities we put on for kids, too, will be a draw for everyone. And the beer. Trinity Hall is sponsoring our beer garden. So, no, I wouldn’t even call it an alternative, just another fun thing to do in October.

Speaking of entertainment, how did you score Erykah Badu?
Well, for one I’ve now got a good team of people working with me, like Stephanie Casey — she reached out to Erykah. And because Erykah believes in this, she accepted the chance to help educate and improve the lives of animals. We will have several vendors out talking about ways to do that.

Answers have been edited for brevity.


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