San Diego EarthFest celebrates Earth Day with vegan food, animal rights

San Diego EarthFest celebrates Earth Day with vegan food, animal rights

At the inaugural EarthFest at Balboa Park Saturday, a vegan chef explained methods for cooking tofu, vendors sold plant-based cuisine and animal rescue groups offered cats and dogs for adoption.

In a change of the guard for San Diego’s major Earth Day celebration, the company Vegan Food Popup took on the Balboa Park event after the similarly named San Diego EarthFair closed out its more than 30-year run last year.

“For the past 31 years, San Diego EarthFair has completely taken over Balboa Park,” said Michelle May, event director for the new festival. “That ended last year, so I had the opportunity to hold a different event.”

The new festival maintained an emphasis on sustainability, but with a different scale and scope than the original event. Since 1990, EarthFair has taken over nearly all of Balboa Park and attracted more than 50,000 visitors with an annual parade and exhibits on zero-emission vehicles, environmentally themed art and ways to reuse and repair consumer goods. That event was canceled due to cost increases, according to San Diego EarthWorks, which hosted the event.

“The key reason is that recent dramatic increases in production costs (some due to COVID) were more than we could raise in exhibitor fees and sponsorships,” the organization’s website stated.

Thomas Sternsdorf, front, relaxes on a blanket as he and other people take advantage of the tree's shade during EarthFest.

Thomas Sternsdorf, front, relaxes on a blanket as he and other people take advantage of the tree’s shade during EarthFest at Balboa Park on Saturday.

(Hayne Palmour IV/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

This year’s event drew an estimated 5,000 visitors to a more concentrated area on President’s Way Lawn across from the Air and Space Museum, with 120 vendors offering vegan cuisine, natural fashion and beauty products and animal rights messages.

“We’re trying to celebrate Earth Day with the zero-waste ethic, doing the least harm as possible to the Earth,” May said.

She enlisted the nonprofit “Sustainability is Sexy” to guide vendors toward sources for sustainable plates, cups and utensils. The organization will do a waste audit to calculate how much material went to the landfill, compared to the amount sent to compost or recycling facilities, founder Liz Murphy said.

Vendors in the packed food court sold plant-based food ranging from vegan pastries and ice cream to Thai food and falafel.

Brenda Avalos of Riverside attended the event with a friend from San Diego, and sampled a platter of Kenyan food including greens, rice and veggies.

“There’s a lot of foods I’ve never tried before, vegan or otherwise,” she said. “I do think the space is crowded.”

The crowding extended to parking facilities as well, and some visitors spent hours trying to exit the parking lot opposite the lawn later in the afternoon. San Diego Police responded to at least one fight as drivers grew agitated during the wait.

Activists with the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade shared information on their protests against the use of fur in the fashion industry, while Matt Lieurance, executive director of the Farm Animal Refuge in Campo invited EarthFest participants to visit their facility, which houses rescued cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chicken and turkeys.

“A lot of people have never met animals that are food animals,” Lieurance said. “We want people to come out there and meet a pig and rub its belly and hopefully make some ethical food choices when they leave.”

Some visitors lamented the end of EarthFair, as well as the more compact space the festival occupied this year.

“I’m disappointed that Earth Day is not as big as it used to be, to attract more of the general public,” animal rights activist Ellen Erickson said.

Kym Prince, chapter coordinator for Sea Shepherd San Diego, said she thought was a good start for the new event.

“The hope is that this becomes bigger and we can scale up,” Prince said.


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