TAMPA — The downtown Riverwalk was awash with two distinct flavors on Saturday.
At Fort Cotanchobee Park at one end of the waterside trail, hundreds of foodies came to sample vegetarian and vegan fare from dozens of organic, eco-friendly and nutritious vendors at Tampa Bay Veg Fest.
At the other end, at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, hundreds more people came to Tampa Pig Jig, an annual barbecue cook-off and concert.
The crowds at both events, separated by about one mile of the Tampa riverfront, managed to coexist — perhaps because the festivals aim to offer something for nearly everyone.
“I’m not opposed to eating meat, but I don’t like the system at all,” said Allen Sutton of Spring Hill.
He and Vicky Hartzell drove down to spend the day on the Riverwalk and check out the many vendors who were selling everything from local produce to organic soap and cosmetics; along with detox and diet plans. Animal rescuers also were at the park, trying to find homes for some of their furry charges.
Both Sutton and Hartzell are partial vegetarians who occasionally eat meat and fish. But they like to eat healthy and promote the humane treatment and raising of livestock, which is why they limit the meat in their diets, they said.
The Veg Fest gave them a chance to learn more about the local farms and healthy food options in the Tampa Bay area, Hartzell said. “All the free samples and all the nice people,” she said. “It’s been nice.”
But vegetarians also could find something to enjoy at the Pig Jig, founder Chris Whitney said.
“You don’t have to eat barbecue to have a good time here,” he said.
Whitney founded Pig Jig four years ago as a way to raise money for NephCure Kidney International, an organization dedicated to finding the cause and cure of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a debilitating kidney disease.
Whitney’s best friend, Will Wellman, was diagnosed with the disease several years ago, he said. Until a cure is found, his friend will have to spend about 25 hours per week at a dialysis clinic.
Since he started Pig Jig, it has outgrown the South Tampa backyard where it first took place and has helped raise about $500,000 for FSGS research, he said.
The festival is more than a place to hear live music and sample some of Tampa’s best barbecue, Whitney said. It’s all for a good cause.
The event is always “overwhelming and humbling” for Wellman, who has watched the festival grow through the years. It started as just a barbecue, he said, but has turned into something that’s fun for everyone who attends.
“Even if you’re a vegetarian, there’s plenty to do here,” Wellman said. “You won’t be bored.”