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SEED Food and Wine Festival Founders Honored as Community Leaders

Michelle Gaber and Alison Burgos, co-founders of SEED Food and Wine Festival

Alison Burgos and Michelle Gaber, who launched in 2014 the popular SEED Food and Wine Festival celebrating plant-based cuisine, are receiving the Community Leader Award at this year’s Johnson and Wales University ZEST Awards. The pair join such noted philanthropic organizations as Common Threads and the Miami Rescue Mission as awardees. Burgos and Gaber see the event as more than a festival – it is a movement of ideas and people committed to elevating the conversation on plant-based foods, sustainability, conscious living, vegan living and animal welfare.

“This award speaks on behalf of the staff, faculty and campus,” says Dr. Larry Rice, campus president. “When we look at the work Alison and Michelle are doing, I believe it’s making an impact – people are excited to learn more about a plant-based lifestyle.” Rice adds that the festival promotes a feeling of camaraderie and collegiality – “there’s not that tone of ‘carnivores not allowed,’” he says.

Burgos and Gaber say they were thrilled to learn they were receiving the award, adding that they felt a sense of responsibility about “creating this voice around people getting connected to their food,” Burgos says. “SEED Food and Wine is year-round engagement with artisans, chefs, companies … bringing people together, showing how easy it is to make better choices about our health and our planet.”

Someone who was non-vegan nominated Burgos and Gaber for the award out of respect for the work they were doing – “it was a unanimous consensus,” Rice says, adding that SEED’s mission aligns with the university’s Changing the Way the World Eats initiative to educate consumers about what’s behind healthy eating. The campus recently received an A+ Vegan report card rating by peta2, a program of PETA and the largest youth animal rights group in the world, for its campus dining service. There’s a dedicated food station regularly offering alternative protein-filled meals. Johnson and Wales is also launching a new culinary nutrition degree program this fall.

Rice himself became vegan six years ago after reading Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. “I knew there was no return,” he says. After touring vegan restaurants in New York, Seattle and Portland, he says he discovered how veganism “expands our perspective on the foods we eat. It doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice taste and texture. I find being a vegan liberating.”

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