Local Group Gets People, Vegetables Together

August 3, 2011

By Sarah DiPeppe

The Vegetarian Society of Richmond is a local, non-profit organization that creates a community for vegetarians and vegans alike, while advocating for their involvement in the local community.

The society’s annual Vegetarian Festival, involvement in Richmond’s Chili Cook-off and monthly potluck dinners create opportunities for Richmond locals to learn about vegetarianism, while allowing it’s members to “give back.”

The Vegetarian Society of Richmond was founded in October of 1995 by current president and 25-year-vegan Lois Angeletti. The organization welcomes both vegetarians and non-vegetarians to become members.

“I recognized the need to bring like-minded people together,” says Angeletti, acknowledging that, although not all members are vegetarians, most are concerned with issues like personal health, environmental health, or animal rights.

Thumbnail image for Vegetarian Greek Salad at Ipanema Cafe on Grace St. in Richmond, Va

Click on the photo for a photo and audio slideshow of a Richmond vegetarian restaurant.

The society prides itself on being both a volunteer society, as well as an educational tool.

“We are the only source of vegetarian information in the area,” says Angeletti.

It sends a bimonthly newsletter containing various articles
and recipes, an e-newsletter with reminders of local events, and gives
its new members a copy of “Vegetarianism in a Nutshell,” a pamphlet published by the Maryland-based non-profit Vegetarian Resource Group
that focuses on health benefits of a vegetarian diet.

While it provides textual education tools to its members, the non-profit also utilizes community events to educate those who may not be familiar with vegetarianism in the Richmond

The annual Richmond Vegetarian Festival is one of the organization’s largest local events. First hosted in the summer of 2002, The Richmond Vegetarian Festival just had its ninth anniversary this past June.  On June 18 vendors, speakers, chefs, animal rights groups, and thousands of Richmond natives and visitors flocked to Bryan Park in Richmond.

“We really push for good speakers,” says Brenda Morris, Financial Advisor of VSR and director of the Richmond Vegetarian Festival.

While Morris feels good speakers at the festival help to educate the public on the vegetarian cause, cooking demonstrations, adoption agencies, as well as musical entertainment are all present each year to keep festival-goers busy.  Local sushi restaurant Sticky Rice, grocer Trader Joes, as well as local sauce manufacturer Flynn’s Food, Inc., were a few of the many vendors present at this year’s festival.

“We start getting ready for the festival in January,” says Morris.

Morris does PR for the festival, contacts potential speakers, as well as sits at the welcome both each summer.

“Its gotten bigger and bigger every year,” says Angeletti. “We now have to turn vendors away.”

Listen to Brenda Davis, a dietician, speak on the advantages of a meatless diet.
Sequence 01.mp3

With thousands of people in attendance this past June, the Vegetarian Society of Richmond definitely feels it was a success.

“The health aspect of vegetarianism has really taken off,” says Morris. “It’s encouraging, even if they don’t care about the animals, that this many people still come out to the festival.” According to The Vegetarian Times official website, there are over 7.3 million vegetarians in America.

Norfolk native Anna West, who lived in Richmond for three years while seeking her Master’s in Public Relations from Virginia Commonwealth University, said she would make an effort to go to the festival each year she was in the city.

“It always has good speakers who speak on both the environment and the animals, and lively entertainment. It’s a lot of fun,” says West, who has previously worked for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The non-profit also participates in the city’s annual Chili Cook-Off sponsored by local radio station XL 102.

The Cook-off takes place at the Richmond International Raceway every April.  The Vegetarian Society of Richmond has the only all-vegetarian booth at the event, where volunteers served over 40 gallons of vegetarian chili this past year on April 26, according to the VSR events calendar.

“There are lots of people there who are not inclined to try vegan chili,” says Morris. “Most people who decide to try it ask, ‘this doesn’t have meat? This is great!’ and its really good to hear.”

VSR sees the annual Chili Cook-off as a way to get people who may not be educated about vegetarian cooking a taste of what options are available to them when working with vegetarian ingredients in the kitchen.

“The Cook-off is the first place I ever tried vegetarian chili,” says Lauren Oliver, recent Christopher Newport University graduate and five-year vegetarian.

“The taste is almost exactly the same,” says Oliver.

Besides these two events, the Vegetarian Society hosts restaurant visits, potluck dinners, lectures, and is involved in various outreach programs, like the Healthy Child Initiative.

Although the non-profit’s involvement in the community is extensive, membership in the group is low.  With a current membership of around 200 people, the organization realizes there is work to be done.

“Our membership really fluctuates,” says Angeletti. “We have had between 800 and 1,000 members at our best, but money is really an issue right now.”

The non-profit has dues of “$20 per individual, $30 per family and $15 per student or senior,” says Angeletti, who said the organization had to raise dues this past year.

“The outreach really helps with memberships, but we would still like to attract a younger demographic,” says Angeletti.

While organizing student and family group sessions presents a problem for the Vegetarian Society of Richmond, the organization is still hopeful for the future.

“Getting involved with other like-minded people is what its all about,” says Morris. “The Vegetarian Society allows people in the community to do so.”