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NYC Vegetarian Food Festival

March 7, 2012

As soon as I heard about the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, I knew I had to check it out. This year’s festival was a two-day event (March 3rd & 4th) featuring food and drink from green-minded food vendors, restaurants, and health and wellness companies, as well as live talks and cooking demos. The way to someone’s social conscience is often through their stomach, and One Green Planet, a media platform dedicated to championing a “humane, healthy and green lifestyle,” definitely served up plenty of food for thought!

On Saturday morning, I braved long lines and threatening skies outside the Metropolitan Pavilion. Over 75 national and local vendors came to share samples, including big names like VitaMixPeanut Butter & Co., and Honest Tea. There was something for everyone– vegetarians, semi-vegetarians (or flexitarians, if you prefer), vegans, and omnivores were all welcomed and encouraged to learn more about healthy living and sustainable cuisine.

My first stop was the Coconut Bliss table, where Luna and Larry were serving up non-dairy frozen desserts. The founders love coconut milk for its health benefits and source fair-trade and sustainable ingredients.

I’m not typically a huge coconut fan, but the coconut milk gave a rich, creamy texture to the iced treat without an overpowering coconut taste. It was a delicious way to start the festival, and their mint chocolate chip (my favorite ice cream flavor) certainly gives dairy-based frozen desserts some tough competition.

Next I wandered over to Rescue Chocolate, a company whose sweet products are backed up by a serious message: 100% of the net profits from each chocolate sale are donated to animal rescue organizations across the country. Each flavor highlights an aspect of pet overpopulation, like Pick Me! Pepper, which encourages prospective pet adopters to find pets at shelters rather than breeders.

Continuing the chocolate & mint theme, I sampled the Foster-iffic Peppermint, a rich dark chocolate bar with crunchy cacao nibs and a refreshing hit of peppermint.

Of course, vegan food isn’t all about sweets and treats! There were many savory options, and one of my favorites was the Raw Hot Sauce at Bao Food & Drink.

As a mango fiend, I considered it my duty to do a shot of the mango sauce. Tangy and spicy-sweet, I could see it going well as an accompaniment to Indian food, or as a glaze on BBQ’d veggies in the summer.

After fortifying myself with some samples, I was ready to hear what some of the speakers had to say. Given my own dedication to an active lifestyle, I was eager to hear from Matt Frazier, the No-Meat Athlete. One of my favorite takeaways from his talk was that a plant-based diet shouldn’t be held up as healthier than one that does include meat, eggs, and dairy. Going full vegetarian or vegan is challenging, and given constraints of time, money, and location it’s certainly not for everyone. There are also plenty of people who simply enjoy a steak, burger, milkshake, or dish of Eggs Benedict for brunch, and it’s alienating and counter-productive to lecture about healthy choices from a standpoint of absolutism.

Matt also recaps and expands upon at the Festival on his blog. If you’re thinking about cutting down on the meat in your diet (or adding more vegetables), it’s a great resource.

After Matt’s talk, I realized I had neglected an entire aisle. As I wandered past cookbooks displays and heaps of sandwiches, rolls, wraps, and veggie burgers, a table piled high with brightly-colored paper caught my eye. The vendor smiled and handed me a piece of elephant dung paper (no, really!). Human encroachment on elephant habitats in Sri Lanka often results in the deaths of many elephants. Mr. Ellie Pooh encourages villagers to instead make use of the dung (which I would think is a nearly inexhaustible resource) to create paper products and gifts. In addition to preserving the wild elephant population, this encourages economic growth in rural areas and reduces dependence on clear-cutting to make paper.

A little closer to home is Clean Plates, a guide to healthy eating in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and LA. They share restaurant reviews, healthy eating tips, recipes, and more on their site. I’m already a big fan of their recipe makeovers, and plan to make the vegan spiced black-eyed peas this weekend.

I found I had room for dessert after all, so my last stop was Sweet & Sara‘s table for a vegan marshmallow. I avoid marshmallows due to the gelatin, and it’s been tricky to find a satisfying substitute. I’m happy to say that the soft, tender goodies were even more satisfying than the “real” thing. I tried a vanilla marshmallow s’more, and picked up a box of the strawberry marshmallows and some spring-shaped almost-too-cute-to-eat treats for a friend’s birthday:

I find that large food festivals can almost be too overwhelming to navigate. If you got there later in the afternoon, the line to get in was certainly daunting. NYCVFF was definitely well-attended, but samples were plentiful and my fellow seitan worshipers were all on their best behavior. One of my favorite aspects of the festival was the real-time photo blogging. I saw and tasted quite a bit, but there was still no way to seek out every last vendor, speaker, or sample. You can view the photo gallery here. I’m already looking forward to next year’s festival!

ETA: read One Green Planet co-founder Nil Zacharias’s take on the market for vegan food over on HuffPost Food, plus some bonus recipes from the NYCVFF!

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From → Food, Health

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