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If you’re a vegan newbie, there are a variety of things you may have thought to be ‘safe’ but they do contain animal-derived ingredients.

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After traveling the country to highlight Black vegan chefs and restaurants on her blog, Another Vegan Journey, LLC, Quiana Quarles was left wondering how to best represent the Black vegan chefs in her own backyard.

Her answer was Black Vegan Fest Indy.

Since February, Quarles has been planning the event, the first of its kind in Indianapolis. But organizers had to postpone the in-person event until July 24, 2021. Instead, the event moves online as the Black Vegan Fest Indy Digital Experience on Saturday. The event page already has 1,400 responses on Facebook.

“We wanted to see people’s reactions when they taste the food, to see them engage in person,” said social media coordinator Dinah Allen. “But this is the next best thing.”

The event will include live performances, including a DJ and a local spoken word artist. The rest of the afternoon will consist of a yoga session, a talk by family physician Tameka Jones and cooking demonstrations, including one from featured chef Cul de Sac Poe from Indy’s the Cul De Sac Kitchen. The event will also provide coloring pages centered around vegetables native to different African countries, recipes and collections of items from vendors.

In addition to Black chefs, Quarles said a main focus of the event is highlighting local Black-owned businesses, including Black Mama Vegan, Arm Kandy LLC, Smoove’s Indy, Brewer Bakes and Sip & Share Wines.

Quarles hopes the space will celebrate Black-owned businesses, as well as Black artists, chefs and physicians.

“We have to support each other as a community,” she said. “And we can do that by being conscious about our choices in businesses we support. I want people to know that these businesses are here.”

While the event centers around spreading awareness about the health benefits of veganism and how delicious vegan food can be, it is more than that, Quarles said. She saw a need for a festival like this in Indianapolis because of food deserts around the city that disproportionately affect Black populations.

In 2019, one fifth of Indy’s population — or 208,000 residents — lived in a food desert, according to a report by SAVI, a program in the Polis Center at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. That number is a 10% increase from 2016 and includes 2,000 more people than in 2018.

“Our communities are filled more with fast food places than grocery stores,” she said. “And the grocery stores we do have aren’t well stocked. If you move toward the more well-to-do suburbs, the Krogers are stocked with great, fresh food.”

Quarles said the festival will promote the idea that everyone deserves access to healthy foods, regardless of race and zip code, and prompt discussions on the barriers that prevent some groups from accessing such healthy foods.

“I just want to see my people live healthier, live longer,” she said. “Everybody deserves to be healthy.”

Contact Pulliam Fellow Christine Fernando at cfernando@gannett.com.

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