The ISKCON-devotee-run student club VOICE made an impact on students’ consciousness on April 21st when they organized the first ever Veg Fest at the University of Texas (UT) in Dallas.
VOICE (Vedic Organization for Inspiration, Culture, and Education) partnered with the UT Sustainability Club to put on the event, which was sponsored by the university.
Established nine years ago, VOICE has had hundreds of members over the years.
“We discuss contemporary topics from the perspective of the Bhagavad-gita, do kirtan, and promote vegetarianism,” says organizer Rasaraj Das.
“In October of last year, we fulfilled a need at UT when we started the Krishna Lunch program to facilitate vegetarian students and those who would like to be.”
Around thirty-five students reserve Krishna Lunch boxes at Krishnalunchdallas.com and collect them on campus every day. The program is gradually growing in popularity, and has been featured in campus newspapers and radio shows.
Veg Fest, designed to further promote Krishna Lunch, was attended by around 800 students over its four-hours.
Hundreds of students line up for prasadam at Veg Fest
From their booths at the event, The Humane League, the Sustainability Club, and other organizations provided information about the downsides of meat-eating, the benefits of a vegetarian diet, and the connection between sustainability and vegetarianism.
VOICE’s two food sampler booths offered barbecue tofu, panir, rice, subji, halava, and a tamarind drink. Catered by ISKCON Dallas’ Kalachandji’s restaurant, they made quite the impression.
“There was complete disbelief that vegetarian food could actually taste this good,” Rasaraj laughs. “A lot of students were like, “This is ridiculous. This cannot be real!” The dean of student affairs also attended and was very impressed by the quality of the food.”
Devotees also offered cooking lessons on how to make dahl, puris and halava, which the students thoroughly enjoyed.
Because a lot of students were vegan, VOICE provided information about where their dairy products came from.
“Our ISKCON Dallas temple and Kalachandji’s restaurant get raw milk from a local farm and have an arrangement with the farmer that we protect the cow after she is done milking,” says Rasaraj. “Students were quite impressed that we were considering the whole nine yards.”
VOICE also provided information about Krishna Lunch, vegetarianism in general, and the idea of conscious eating.
“We raised the idea of a more conscious lifestyle, and how eating mindfully makes a huge difference to our consciousness,” says Rasaraj. “We explained that Krishna Lunch is cooked by people who practice a conscious lifestyle themselves, and gave out cards with the slogan ‘Think before you chew.’”
Devotees also talked about recognizing a higher power and expressing gratitude when we eat.
Students asked many questions about the spiritual aspects of vegetarianism, conscious eating and the connection to God.
Since the event, there has been an increased interest in the Krishna Lunch program. And by fulfilling a need in the student population, Veg Fest has given VOICE a lot of credibility with the University of Texas.
As a result, devotees will be able to put on a second event in September after school restarts. They also plan to make next year’s Veg Fest much larger, with a stage program featuring cultural aspects of Krishna consciousness such as kirtan, and 2,000 to 4,000 students expected. They hope the program continues to double every year after that.
“The university has about 35,000 students,” says Rasaraj. “So we haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg.”
Devotees also plan to bring students to the ISKCON New Talavan farm in Mississippi to experience farm life and see protected cows. And they want to expand Veg Fest across more of the nine UT campuses throughout Texas.
“We hope to be recognized as an organization that is very supportive of not just the vegan and vegetarian diet, but also the total lifestyle,” says Rasaraj. “I feel that Veg Fest is a really powerful tool that will allow the students to connect with us from both a vegetarian and a Krishna conscious perspective.”
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