“Come for the food, stay for the people.” It was the perfect way to describe the sense of community that Vegetarians of Central Florida has come to provide for its members. Jenna Huber, co-owner of vegan restaurant 2nd Sun, probably knows this better than anyone. Since January, she has hosted the 3rd Sunday Vegan Brunch at her home where she serves fresh, home cooked meals to anyone who ventures into her yard.
It’s one of many monthly events the organization plans for its members. From personal experience, the events are both a way to experience great food and to interact with people that have similar interests, ours being meat-free food.
Started in 2003, Vegetarians of Central Florida was created in a time when there were only 1 to 2 vegetarian restaurants in the area. Its purpose was to provide a social outlet, support, and education to the burgeoning community of vegans and vegetarians. It was successful from the beginning.
In 2005, it held its first VegFest, an event that includes renowned speakers, cooking demonstrations, and, of course, lots of vegetarian and vegan food vendors. Two thousand people were in attendance. With its ninth year anniversary quickly approaching, the event is now one of the largest events of its kind in the country. Its yearly Earth Day event held each April at Lake Eola in Downtown Orlando, also in its ninth year, according to its website is “the largest Earth Day event in Florida and the largest vegan event in the country.” With the success of these events and the work that it takes to pull them off, the group still takes time to host smaller, monthly events that foster community, support, and, for some, friendships.
My first event was a few months ago at the group’s July Veggie Meetup. About 15 to 20 of us packed into the small dining area at Loving Hut, a vegan Asian fusion restaurant located on East Colonial Drive. The attendees were more diverse than I assumed they would be: there were old and young, black, white, and in between, newly vegan, only vegetarian, and there was me, the pescatarian in the group. I listened as one of the ladies spoke about her travels to different vegan communities around the US. I took mental notes as a small group discussed the best brands of meat substitutes on the market. While most of us had eaten at the restaurant before, it was great to see a husband and wife duo experience the food for the first time.
“The food and the people.” Sitting outside on a Sunday afternoon enjoying freshly made vegan waffles topped with blueberries, with a side of tofu scramble, and a slice of melon, Michelle Crowe echoed Jenna’s sentiment. It was what kept both her and her boyfriend, Brian Wheat, coming back for each event. The Sunday brunches, the first Monday vegan potlucks, the bi-monthly Ethos brunches, and the monthly veggie meetups at local restaurants provided both food and the opportunity for connection.