Every 33 seconds a person dies from cardiovascular disease in the USA, CDC.
“Bringing people together, working side by side, and spreading what we know – that’s how our impact grows”, Sonny Rodriguez, Corpus Christi VegFest.
Physical health is a treasure that we often take for granted until it’s gone. There are many factors that need to be taken care of in order to live in good health, one of the most important ones is what we eat. This is part of the reason why Sonny Rodriguez and a couple of friends got together to promote the health benefits of engaging in a plant-based diet in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“In south Texas a lot of our diet is heavy in animal products and we have a tendency to not be in the best of health. A lot of generations before us had lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and other diseases and it’s tied directly to our food,” explains Sonny. “But our generation doesn’t see that. We grew up where something of an animal had to be on the plate for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Heart Disease and Diabetes Statistics in USA
In the USA, heart disease is the leading cause of death, according to the CDC. In fact, every 33 seconds a person dies from cardiovascular disease in the country. In 2021, heart disease was responsible for the death of 695,000 people which accounts for 1 out of 5 deaths. And among the 5 most detrimental conditions and lifestyle choices that put people at risk for heart disease is an unhealthy diet.
Diabetes 2 is another disease that is linked to diet and widely spread throughout the USA. According to the CDC, 37.3 million Americans have diabetes which is 11.3% of the country’s population but even worse: 1 out of every 5 Americans who have diabetes don’t know it yet, that is 8.5 million Americans have diabetes and haven’t been diagnosed. Many more people could develop this disease because 96 million American adults have prediabetes. Fortunately, the World Health Organization notes that a healthy diet can help – among other things – to prevent diabetes as well as being a part of its treatment.
Why Be Vegan?
Excluding animal products from one’s diet is important to maintaining one’s health but for Sonny, the care and respect for animals is a very important issue to consider as well.
“Over the last 100 years, animals have gone through the most increased amount of pain and suffering that they have ever done. A lot of people really believe animals have been put in this situation forever because that is what we have seen in our lifetime but it hasn’t always been like this for animals. Animals haven’t always been put in extreme confinement in the mass amount of numbers that they are put in now,” says Sonny. “I have been a vegan for 14 years and I think this is the best move I have made in my life. Once we connect with the fact that the baby pigs and baby chickens feel pain just like the cats and dogs, we can find a better way to live our lives without participating in the violence of the animal agriculture industry and take them off the plate.”
Advocating for Animals Through Food
In order to raise awareness about the benefits of having a plant-based diet and advocating for animal rights, several activists started to go on conferences, giving out pamphlets and spreading the word from person-to-person in Corpus Christi. Then in 2017, they got together and decided to work in an event that would allow them to engage many more people from the community – a vegan festival.
“A group of friends came together. We wanted to do something for the community, for the animals and we thought that a vegan festival would be a good way to highlight all of the good food,” recalls Sonny. “We saw other veg fests in Dallas, Austin, and other big cities and we came together and decided we could do the same thing in Corpus Christi. For the first festival, we had no idea how many people would show up. Our goal was to have around 400 people and we had over 1,400 show up. So it was great and every year we have grown more. We want to do good for the animals and this is a good opportunity for us to do that. ”
A City That Has Embraced Their Vegan Festival
On average, 2,000 people attend the Corpus Christi VegFest.Guests can take part in conferences and hear from renowned guest speakers. The event includes food vendors, food samples, literature on plant-based diets, cooking demos, and community engagement. This year the Corpus Christi VegFest will take place on October 14th from 10 am to 4 pm at Heritage Park.
“The community has really embraced the VegFest. They love the event, they love tasting great food and it gives us the opportunity to talk about all the benefits of eating vegan,” says Sonny. “This year we have a local physician who specializes in vascular surgery and limb amputations which is sometimes caused by diabetes and he correlates that to an unhealthy diet, so he advocates his patients to eat more vegan food before they get into worse health and have to lose a limb.”
In addition, the world renowned chef Eddie Garza will be showing everyone how to turn their favorite foods into vegan and plant-based options while various speakers will talk about the sustainability of eating more vegan on a day-to-day basis.
Joining Efforts with Other Organizations to Promote Veganism
The organizers of the Corpus Christi VegFest try to stay in touch with the community throughout the year promoting the benefits of veganism. They participate in various events handling out information and have a media presence before the event in order to reach out to the people who still don’t have much information about plant-based food.
“A lot of people who are not vegan and come to the festival have a change of heart and change their eating habits,” says Sonny. “Once they realize that the food tastes just as good, it’s better for their health and it doesn’t cost any more, it’s easy for them to make the change.”
The Corpus Christi VegFest is run by volunteers who search for funds to make this event possible. This year, they applied for The Pollination Project seed grant to be able to purchase over 150 vegan books for kids and acquire the products to give free food samples as well as pay for technological requirements.
“It’s amazing to get a seed grant from The Pollination Project,” says Sonny. “The team was extremely excited when they heard about the positive answer to our application and we are very grateful for the support”.
For Sonny, their biggest achievement is that they have kept doing the Corpus Christi VegFest for so many years and how it has continued to grow every year.
“My work has changed me to be more considerate to people and the animals overall, to try to do the most good that I can do”, says Sonny. “So I am hopeful that we can showcase that it is an upgrade to our lives to take the animals off the plate – it’s going to benefit us, our health, the environment, the animals, and a lot of times it costs less too.”
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