When Kristin Lajeunesse’s teenage brother told their parents he wanted to be a vegetarian, they weren’t thrilled.
Worried that a vegetarian lifestyle was unhealthy, they set out to dissuade him. They just researched the heck out of it, Lajeunesse said.
Then a funny thing happened. As they read more and more about the benefits of a vegetarian diet, Jan and Dave Lajeunesse not only gave their son their blessing to give up meat, they decided to do the same.
And they suggested Kristin try it, too.
So the Lajeunesses adopted their new diet as a family. Being in high school at the time, Kristin remembers being a little turned off that the only options at local restaurants seemed to be salads and pizza, but she said her parents did a good job incorporating flavorful foods at home.
`Today, there’s pretty much an alternative for anything you’re craving,` she said, although she added with a laugh, `Those first few batches of veggie burgers were not good.`
Veggie burgers notwithstanding, the Lajeunesses enthusiastically adopted their new lifestyle. They went to vegetarian expos around the country and sought out other non-meat eaters in the Capital District. That led them to launch the Albany Vegetarian Network, which held its first vegetarian expo four years ago. This year’s expo is Saturday, Oct. 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Empire State Plaza.
The event aims to educate people about three components of vegetarianism: animal advocacy, health and the environment. There are a number of speakers, covering such topics as `Saving the Earth One Bite at a Time,` `Guides to Plant-Based Eating` and `Wholesome Holiday Desserts to Live For.` Exhibitors include everyone from food vendors to Five Rivers Environmental Education Center to a pit bull rescue group. There will also be a vegan fashion show that showcases cruelty-free clothing products, and the culmination of the event is a pre-screening of the movie `Forks Over Knives.`
The point of the event, Kristin said, is not to `convert` anyone. If past years are any indication, many of the people who attend will already be vegetarian or vegan, which means they don’t use or consume animal byproducts. If any meat eaters attend, Kristin said, the objective is to teach them about some of the benefits of the other diets and maybe offer them some food samples.
While Kristin was pretty open about trying a vegetarian lifestyle herself, she balked when her parents turned vegan. `I wasn’t ready to give up my cheese and my ice cream,` she said.
But on her trips home from college, she noticed things were disappearing from the refrigerator. Regular milk was gone. Ice cream soon followed. Her parents bought her shirts that said, `Vegan.`
It wasn’t until she attended an expo in Syracuse, though, that she decided to embrace the vegan lifestyle after hearing dietician George Eisman talk about the detriments of dairy products. `That’s what triggered it for me,` she said.
While the health aspect was at the root of what convinced her family to make the move to a vegan lifestyle, in the ensuing years, they’ve also grown conscious of the benefits to animals and the environment. `It’s a powerhouse combination,` she said.
She remembers growing up with a friend whose dad couldn’t fathom giving up meat. When he saw Kristin and her family, he would tease them, saying, `You’re going to eat grass for dinner.`
Not long ago, though, Kristin’s friend convinced her dad to attend the vegetarian expo. He listened to the speakers, bought some books and was soon on the phone to Lajeunesse family.
`He said, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how amazing it was,’` Kristin said, noting that the man has been vegetarian ever since.
New to the expo this year is the vegan fashion show, which will be notably absent of leather and other animal products. Lajeunesse thinks it will be a fun event for both people who are into animal rights and those who just have a general interest in fashion. Also debuting at the expo is `Forks and Knives,` which examines the claim that many degenerative diseases can be controlled, or even reversed, by switching to vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. The movie has not been released nationally yet, and Lajeunesse said the expo is very excited to host the pre-sceening. A $10 advance donation is required as seating is limited.
Admission to the expo, meanwhile, is free, although a $5 donation is suggested. Sign language interpreters will be on hand.
For more information, visit http://www.nyvegetarianexpo.org.“