Do you ever think about the food you eat and what all those ingredients are that you can’t pronounce without a dictionary? As technology has progressed much of our food has become processed, full of preservatives, and plumped up with hormones. While our food may last longer and cost less, it isn’t necessarily healthier. Linda Le started San Diego Veg Fest to give the opportunity for others to learn about healthier and tastier foods. Her work has the added bonuses of being environmentally sustainable and bringing together members of her community.
What was your inspiration or what necessitated you to begin this adventure? San Diego Veg Festival emerged from my passion for healthy and compassionate living. I saw the need for a veg festival. Being a San Diego native (I was raised here most of my life and lived in the Bay Area for 6 years for college), I was surprised we didn’t have a veg festival considering the fact that every big, metropolitan city in the US has a veg festival.
As a daughter of Vietnamese American refugees, I am thankful for my background. I grew up with access to year-round, fresh produce. It was there in the comfort of my parents’ backyard garden that I developed an understanding of the interconnected energy between what we consume and how it affects our planet. I spent time meditating with a very inspirational and compassionate Sangha in Oakland, California during my undergraduate studies in the Bay Area. They inspired me to frequent monasteries where I volunteered in the organic gardens and cultivated compassionate eating. Such experiences taught me to honor the practice of mindful, vegan eating—with such lasting impacts that I underwent a spiritual awakening.
Recent events such as the declaration of National Food Day on October 24th, the contributions of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign, and the presence of Proposition 37 on this year’s California ballot have helped to really push the issue of health to the forefront of our public consciousness. We can see it at the local level in San Diego. We have about 70 restaurants that offer veg-friendly items on their menus, and that list keeps growing. We are not converting people–rather, we want to educate people of healthy lifestyle choices and plant the seeds of consciousness.
I get inspiration from many areas of my life. There is so much inspiration in our daily lives if we choose to be aware. I follow current news, community events, policies, campaigns in order to understand the dynamic world that we live in. I look at leaders from our past and present for inspiration also. One in particular is a compassionate, Zen Buddhist Monk named ThichNhatHanh. I find his quote very inspiring: “Each moment is a chance for us to make peace with the world, to make peace possible for the world, to make happiness possible for the world.” It makes me feel like my personal eating choices are not so personal because this singular action has a ripple effect on our immediate environment.
What steps did you take to create your program? It started off as a side project while I was the Managing Director of San Diego Health Fairs (SDHF). At the time, which was last spring of 2012, I was working with an intern at SDHF. Business was going well with SDHF but I felt like there was something more I could be doing to contribute to the health of San Diegans. With the launch of Our Greater San Diego Vision, I felt compelled to think about the long term health of our local community. I knew that I had wanted to visit some other veg festivals in other cities but the more the pondered, the more I questioned why we didn’t have one here. It just all came together in a moment of “aha” epiphany. We then brought on another intern and the three of us began the ground work for what is now the San Diego Veg Festival.
What obstacles were you forced to overcome? Like every start-up, the issues of defining ourselves such as branding and choosing particular events to participate in so that we can best serve our mission of healthy, sustainable living. Another issue we are dealing with is funding for our festival. Being that we all volunteered our time and energy, we have to look at how we want to structure ourselves so that we can continue to do this work for years to come.
What were the hardest problems to solve or actions to take? I’m in grad school for holistic health/acupuncture so that takes up a lot of my time. I also enjoy volunteering my time with progressive organizations in San Diego. Therefore, time management is a big obstacle for me. I find myself needing to be more disciplined with planning and defining my days, weeks, months.
What must you do to stay operational? Currently, we are looking at the 2013 agenda and working to acquire sponsors to at least cover the overhead costs for the venue and printing costs.
Who, if anyone, helped you succeed? Many people and things have helped San Diego Veg Festival to succeed. It’s great to know that it’s being supported by the community. It’s about the network that allows for us to do well, and we were able to pitch the idea and event to partners that have similar missions. The San Diego Veg Festival received very well reception from them. These include: the online veg-friendly community like Happy Cow and Plant Powered Living, other veg festivals across the nation, local press coverage, local businesses such as Veg Appeal, World Beat Center in Balboa Park, Jimbo’s grocery store, Loving Hut restaurant, as well as organizations like the Animal Protection and Rescue League, Green Lifestyles Film Festival, San Diego Master Gardener Association, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, True Kitchen Creatives, Operation Samahan, and local Community Supported Agriculture programs.
Do you have any advice for readers who want to get involved or start a similar program?Believe in your vision 110%. If you are not the most ardent, firm believer in your vision, no one else will believe in you. I would use the metaphor of growing your own garden. The seeds must be ready to be planted so know yourself well. Know your boundaries and your values. Once your seeds are ready to be sprouted, be prudent: do your research and ask for collaborative supporters! Look at the seasons. Look at the possible strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Plan accordingly and create a budget for overhead costs that you may not even anticipate but are necessary in the execution of your vision. Know the sunny days but be aware of the rainy seasons too. Like a great soil foundation, building a team can be your greatest foundation so that you don’t burn out—but not just any team…I once read: “If you are the smartest person on your team, then you do not have a strong team.” Lastly, be original and claim it. No one wants to just plant peas and radish. Add kale, strawberries and micro-greens! Make your program unique and stand out. There is a niche for almost everything. If you are a firm believer of your vision, you will cultivate supporters. Happy growing.
Email to volunteer at Veg Fest: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow on Twitter: sandiegovegfest