VegFest draws a crowd of thousands


They came for the yoga and stayed for the dumplings. They listened to climate change experts and nibbled on empanadas. They learned about animal welfare while digging into big bowls of ice cream.


One of the many popular vegan food vendors, Dumpling Haus set up a tent in the Brown Courtyard of the Rice Memorial Center. (Photos by Jordin Metz)

On March 24, more than 3,000 people attended the second annual Rice VegFest, which was held in various locations around Rice Memorial Center. Campus visitors joined students in sampling plant-based foods and bath and body products, listening to speakers on a variety of sustainability topics and attending workshops and cooking demos. More than 50 exhibitors and vendors filled the Grand Hall, the Brown Garden and more.

The goal, said organizer and Rice graduate student Christoph Wagner, was “to make learning about serious issues fun.” Wagner, who is president of the Rice Vegan Society, designed the festival to be an educational platform.

“The event encourages all people to learn about the scientific evidence between health, environmental sustainability and ethical values in the context of our food and lifestyle choices,” Wagner said.

Distinguished scholars and activists included Will Tuttle, who spoke about his World Peace Diet; Dr. Linda Carney, who has a family practice in Austin focused on wellness and lifestyle habits; and Sailesh Rao, the founder and executive director of Climate Healers.

The event drew lots of Houston community members to campus.

Vegan Jeopardy

Tami and Jacob Andrew, resident associates at Will Rice College, created a Vegan Jeopardy board. Players could win cupcakes and other swag by asking questions that matched the answers in categories such as “This green planet” and “Celebrity Vegans.”

“To see students’ energy and effort in educating the public is great,” said Rice President David Leebron, who participated in a Q&A session. “They’re bringing the community to Rice, and that’s a great thing for Rice to do.”

Loren Hensley brought her husband and two children to campus for the Sunday afternoon event because “it sounded fun.” A dedicated vegan, Hensley was also interested in sampling some new plant-based foods.

“I follow some of these vendors on social media and this was a chance to check them out,” she said while waiting in line to buy some treats from The Cupcake Girl. (Fun fact: The Cupcake Girl sold more than 1,100 cupcakes at VegFest.)

Chris Donaldson, who lives in the Medical Center area, was surprised by the crowd size.

“What I really learned is how huge the vegan community is here,” he said while standing in line at Veegos, which specializes in plant-based Mexican food. “I had no clue.”

The Whole Juice Bar, which specializes in cold-pressed juice blends, made its debut at VegFest.

“It’s been a wonderful launch,” said Ranjani Girish, who started the Houston Heights-based company with Girish Vasu to help customers improve their health.

Duncan College senior Rebecca Lee and a friend were in line to play “Vegan Jeopardy,” a clever version of the game show that included categories like “Future You,” “Celebrity Vegans” and “Friends, Not Food.” Students could play for the chance to win plant-based cupcakes.

“Vegan Jeopardy” was the brainchild of Tami and Jacob Andrew, resident assistants at Will Rice College, who came up with such questions as, “This fast food staple will debut a dedicated all-vegan menu in 2019.” The surprising answer? Taco Bell.

“We had some super fun contestants,” Tami Andrew said.

Salsa dance lessons and a dance social with Houston salsa band Grupo Latitude closed out the day of activities.

VegFest, sponsored by the Rice Vegan Society in partnership with The Peaceful Planet Foundation, kicked off Sustainability Month at Rice. To find out more about this and future events, go to

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The Rice News is produced weekly by the Office of Public Affairs at Rice University.