London News & Search
Doug Hillier’s family company has operated London’s Ribfest since 2009. So you can be forgiven for thinking he would be firmly established by now as the Forest City’s Mr. Meat.
“I sure was,” Hillier said. “I’ve been on a mission to see the other side.”
That’s right: The guy who presides over the city’s annual festival de viande, which runs from Thursday to Monday, has gone to the other side. And what do people say when he tells them he no longer eats the flesh of animals?
“You sure get a blank stare for a while. So that’s been fun,” he said. “I’ve had to convince them over and over again.”
Hillier is quick to remind people that, although he got the idea of going meatless from a bunch of local vegans, he hasn’t gone that far just yet.
“I’m not vegan at all. I eat eggs and dairy,” the vegetarian who runs Ribfest said.
What people know is that when the event was protested in past years by vegan activists, Hillier invited them to join his party.
“It’s been about three years in the making,” he explained. That’s when he offered to give the protesters a spot in Ribfest. Fast-forward to today and Ribfest customers are just as likely to buy soul food as they are to pick up a vegan burger.
“Globally Local (the vegan restaurant run by James and Lia McInnes) has really convinced me that I do not have to have burger fat in my body,” Hillier said. “I actually became a vegetarian over this burger. Crazy, right?”
He made the conversion earlier this year on Jan. 6, his 50th birthday. Since then, he said, his health has dramatically improved. “So I continued my mission to find the other side,” he said.
“It worked out quite well. I lost 40 pounds,” Hillier noted, as well as six inches off his waistline.
“I think it goes to show that people stop eating meat for a lot of reasons,” said James McInnes of Globally Local, the burgeoning plant-food chain with a presence at Ribfest. McInnes said he can envision a future when his business will enter the rib competition using plant-based proteins and satisfy the tastes of even diehard meat-loving rib eaters.
Today it’s a meat fest with a vegan booth, but who’s to say one day it won’t be a vegan fest with a single meat booth?
Hillier’s extended meat fast is just one example of the head of Family Shows Canada using the political capital he’s accumulated as a business leader in London to achieve his goals. He also speaks in dreamy tones about his ultimate goal – to throw the biggest party in Canada by combining his events.
The Hilliers also run Ribfests in Chatham-Kent and St. Thomas, as well as the Victoria Park Kids Expo and the London International Food Festival.
Not only does London Ribfest offer food from fatoush to kababs to pulled pork, it’s also home to events-within-the-event like the Timbersports 2017 Canadian Championship. Naturally, there will be a competition for the best ribs, as in previous years.
This year’s participating ribbers include Boss Hog’s, Dinosaur Ribbers, Fat Boys and Ribs Royale.
Headlining the music portion of the festival Thursday are Kardinal Offishall, Kim Mitchell and the Tea Party. Other acts include Shelly Rastin, and tribute acts like Zed and Full Petty Fever.
“It has been very gradual and I have been working away on this for four years. I just want it to be a vibrant community unto itself,” Hillier said. “It’s more of a commitment and a direction of where we want to go.”
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IF YOU GO
What: London Ribfest
Where: Victoria Park
When: Thursday to Monday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. except for Monday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
How much: Entry free; see prices posted at each ribber
What will you choose at Ribfest?
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
London News & Search