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Frank Gray

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Pushy, preachy PETA out to ruin our best fest

Note to PETA: Keep your stinking hands off the Johnny Appleseed Festival.

Most people have heard by now that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to the Johnny Appleseed Festival board, asking that since Johnny Appleseed was a vegetarian, the festival not allow anyone to sell food with meat in it.

The letter even suggested some alternative recipes, like meat-free pizza, which you wouldn't be allowed to sell at the festival anyway because that dish didn't exist in Johnny Appleseed's day.

The request was polite, and the festival's response was polite, but the end response was that for now, nothing at the festival would change, though next year the festival might suggest that vendors consider adding some vegetarian and/or vegan selections.

As far as I'm concerned, even that was too much of an accommodation.

The Johnny Appleseed Festival has been going on for nearly four decades, with different booths selling items such as caramel apples, sliced apples with a caramel sauce, apple wraps, apple cider, apple butter, apple pie – just about anything apple you can imagine – along with cornbread, corn on the cob, corn chowder, popped corn, caramel corn and so on.

Meanwhile, some vendors, who are required to wear period costumes made out of period cloth and cook over charcoal or wood fires, have always served meat dishes not unlike what people ate in Johnny Appleseed's day – pork chops, grilled chicken, turkey legs, ham and bean soup, chicken and dumplings and so on.

PETA wants all of that gone.

I have nothing against vegetarians, or vegans. I don't care what other people eat. I don't care if their favorite foods are stewed tomatoes and wax beans on a stick garnished with potato leaves. (Don't try that. Potato leaves are poison.)

But in exchange, don't tell me what to eat.

I talked to Bridget Kelly, who is in charge of the food vendors for the festival. What would happen if the festival did try to go vegan?

The Johnny Appleseed Festival is different than most festivals. The food vendors are almost exclusively nonprofits – churches, service clubs, schools and so on. They all have their specialty dishes, and the festival is a big moneymaker for them. Try to go vegan and you'd eliminate a big fundraising event for them.

Meanwhile, the festival would lose a lot of revenue from those vendors.

Eliminate half your food choices, and you lose festival-goers. Lose festival-goers, and eventually you lose the festival.

PETA's suggestion – that the festival board turn itself into the food police to advance PETA's point of view – is a perfect recipe for killing what I consider Fort Wayne's best festival.

Fortunately, the festival board isn't going to cave.

Kelly, for her part, hopes that this little issue will pass, "but that's not in (PETA's) nature," she said.

PETA will probably approach the board again with similar demands. It plans to hand out vegan literature at the festival. It might call for a boycott of the festival in the future. And as a result, the festival may lose some of its vegan traffic.

I mentioned to Kelly that it's as though PETA wants to run the festival itself.

Well, if they want to run a festival, let them put on a vegan festival of their own. They can rest assured that the Johnny Appleseed folks won't be writing them letters urging them to serve pork chops and chicken.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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