Thursday, October 5, 2017

Hudson Valley Vegfest was a BLAST

First of all, let me apologize for not talking more about the Hudson Valley Vegfest in advance. I had this event on my calendar from the early planning stages, but it kind of fell off my radar for a while.

Then, about a week prior, I finally visited the website and I was immediately impressed. It was, by far, the most organized, comprehensive, event site I've ever seen for this type of event. There wasn't one question that wasn't easily answered within a click. In fact, most answers were so ideally and prominently placed, that I knew the answer before the question had yet to form in my mind. All information was clear, aesthetically pleasing, consistently branded, and a breeze to navigate; astounding credit goes to the designer, for sure. Case in point: on the question of whether or not dogs could attend, there it was in plain sight, along with a sweet explanation and recommendation on how to assuage your guilt: by bringing home treats! More on that later.

Important note about dogs:

*We LOVE LOVE LOVE Henry and all dogs - they are family! But our venue which is otherwise fabulous has a no-dog policy which we must abide by. Kindly leave your beautiful canine family members comfortably at home or with trusted friends. Come enjoy the day, and bring them home some extra treats- such as fantastic V-DOG Biscuits** (**Free take-home samples, first come, first served until supplies run out!) -  or check out the great vegan dog treats by COAST TO COAST, available at their booth! Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.

If a website could be this impressive, surely the event would be worth the 4-hour round trip. Plus, I love to support vegans doing good work. I've known one of the organizers for some time and, now, am very glad to know the other!

I enlisted none other than VM to join me on the journey. It was a scenic drive and we arrived at the event space with no issues. The parking lot was clearly marked, and there were people directing traffic. Yes, actual people with flags and wholly pleasant demeanors helping to point you in the direction of the event entrance; what a sight!


There were also nice people greeting you at the door whether you'd purchased your ticket in advance, or needed to buy a ticket on the spot. We were quickly braceleted and on our way, HVvf program in hand. The space was enormous and the floor was covered in AstroTurf- which was both kitschy and comfy.


The vendors and exhibitors were all spread out so that there was plenty of room; it was glorious. I don't go to many vegfests anymore because the crowds (yay!) can be oppressively claustrophobic (boo!). This space was huge- allowing for a ton of vendors, table/chair seating for eating/regrouping (as well as "lawn" seating), and even bleachers near a stage used for music and demonstrations. The open space and atmosphere lent itself to enjoying yourself with no real urgency, which was a really nice change of pace from other, more frenetic events I've attended. Because the fest wasn't a mobscene, it was also really nice to have the opportunity to chat with vendors we're friends with, as well as to learn more from vendors who were new to us.

The first thing we came across was an adorable photo "booth." I've been seeing these a lot lately, and I love them. This booth was especially inviting because of the vibrant and festive HVvf branding design (are you noticing a theme of them going above and beyond?). The photos were directly uploaded to the HVvf instagram, so their page was immediately a sea of happy vegfest attendees (and some exhausted organizers).

Next up was a table showcasing all the cool prizes for their raffle. It was really nice because there was someone manning the table to explain all of the prizes as well as to sell tickets. Spoiler alert: we won a prize! Stay tuned. Next up was a generous table of samples that we loaded up on. If you can believe it, I forgot to bring a tote bag: major fail. I took a quick trip to the car to unload and then we got back into the fest game.


Because we're professionals, we bee-lined over to the Peaceful Provisions table. PP is at almost every Vegan Shop-Up, but between 11:00am and noon, the line forms down the block. Once they are open for business, the special flavors sell out quickly; then there's only a few hours until they're sold out completely. I'm consistently impressed by the dedication of most of their fans, but- as amazing as their donuts are (and let me stress that they are amazing), one doesn't always feel like waiting on an hour + line (ahem, lazy me).


That being said, we were happy that we'd arrived to the event early so that we had our choice of donut flavors; we chose chocolate coffee, a rainbow for VM (her fave), and two banditos (chocolate donut filled with chocolate peanut butter cookies).


Of course, we then had to carry the donut box around for the rest of the day (it was too hot to leave them in the car), but we were hedging our bets that PP would sell out shortly and we didn't want to be left empty-handed. Surprisingly, we received many offers from friendly vendors willing to "hold" our donuts for us, but we opted to carry them- thus eliciting squeals of envy from other event attendees- particularly once PP had indeed sold out with hours left in the event.


VM joked about selling our donuts to the highest bidder, but she's the same person who wouldn't have dreamed of re-selling our Adele concert tickets for 6X the purchase price. Also, she'd already dug in.

You might not know this about me, but one of my pet peeves is the lack of beverages at events- particularly Vegfests...specifically Vegfests with lots of food (yay!) but minimal hydration (boo!). Thank goodness that one of the first booths we spied was Brewing Good Coffee Company, who I remembered from the HVvf event page because there was a gloriously toe-feathered dog advertising their "Drink Coffee. Save Animals" shirts. THEN, I was further enamored by the sight of their cascara iced tea; I just recently learned what that is and I've been addicted ever since. As we approached, VM noticed their totally adorable branding of a squirrel holding a "Save the Animals" sign. When Karla turned to help me, I was struck by her narwhal necklace. I would have known that narwhal anywhere! It was a Dana Young original design that I'd been admiring. It turned out that Karla was not only a fan, like me, but a friend of Dana, who I "know" through another friend, Dominic. She'd also designed the squirrel! It was such a happy small world moment and the exact reason I love the vegan community at these vegan events.


We then headed over to our buddies at Freakin Vegan and were thrilled to see that they had a chickpea tuna sammie on the menu them. It's always so nice to see them! They also had a chickpea tuna sammie on the menu! ;-)


VM and I are giant fans of chickpea tuna sammies; we got one to share because it was so early in the day. This may look unassuming, but I assure you that it was the creamiest, most flavorful, overall yummiest chickpea tuna we'd ever tasted. Chock full of celery & onions and topped with pickle slices, we really enjoyed- so much so, that we shared another before the day was over, dubbing it The Sammie So Nice, We Ate it Twice. In addition to all of my other accolades, what made this sandwich the most awesome was that the soft bun and lettuce shreds helped prevent all the sammie guts from squeezing out when you took a bite. That's some impressive sammie architecture right there.

In the interest of full disclosure, we also got empanadas to go, as well as a generous order of mac & cheese for a certain numbered dog that missed out at our last event- due entirely to my miscalculation and in spite of the abject generosity and forethought of the Freakin Vegans. It's a sore subject.

One thing I love is when vegfests are communal tables; you never know who you're going to sit with and strike up a conversation. On this day, we were lucky enough to sit with Vegan Evan and his grandmother.

We'd heard Evan perform just prior to getting our food, so it was nice to sit and talk with this well-spoken, dedicated vegan, who told us he felt foolish for having spent so much of his life (7 years) not being vegan (5 years). Evan was kind of like the unofficial mascot of the event.


We were slightly disappointed that Screamers was not at the fest; it turned out that they had vended on Saturday, then Champs vended on Sunday. Our sadness turned to delight once we saw the cheese fries!!! Perfectly crisp potato wedges smothered in creamy cheese, drizzled with sour cream and dotted with bacon. So, so, sooooooo delicious and perfect proportion of topping to fries. Running out of cheese with dry fries left over is not cool; Champs is totally pro.

Our Vegan Shop-Up friends from fil-fil were on hand with their exquisite garlicky hot sauce. It was nice to see them at another event even though I'm already well-stocked at home.


I wasn't previously familiar with the organization, Horseracing Wrongs, so we eagerly received an education from this passionate and intelligent representative.


Right next door was Chocolate Calling, whose mixed bag of chocolate-covered pretzels and potato chips from the Asbury Park vegfest had been a big hit with VM. She quickly chose another bag for our take-home booty. They are REALLY delicious. VM likes the chips a little bit more and I like the pretzels a little bit more, so we're the perfect sharing partners. It was also really sweet that the proprietor, Grace, let us know that it was my note in the post from the AP vegfest about vendors needing taller signs that made her bring one to this event. Her table is always beautiful and appealing, so it's nice that she'll be even more visible in the future too!


Lundberg Family Farms had a booth at the event and were generously sharing bushels of samples every time you passed. This was our haul of snacks and staples, supplemented with the samples we'd received at the welcome table. As you may have surmised, these required another trip to the car to unload. *note: I haven't tried everything yet, but the ancho chile chips are terrific!


It is really nice to have take-home goodies after a fest. To that end, we also picked up these gluten-free cookie sammies from Sweet Megan in three different flavors: chocolate chip, brownie chocolate chip, and lemon (?- I don't know; that one was VM's).

Sweet Megan is dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our children, our friends, and our world. May we all eat safely-- together. Sweet Megan is a testimony of going beyond the call to do the right thing. To preserve a legacy of eating cleaner. To keep consumers safer. To make life just a tiny bit sweeter.

I brought one to work for breakfast the next day (don't judge me) and it was really yummy.


When we'd first arrived at the fest, we'd been offered an ice cream sample from FoMu; they were also selling cookie sandwiches. We didn't buy anything on our first pass because I really liked the ice cream and wanted that instead of cookies. I'm picky like that.


Thankfully, sometime later I started noticing people eating the ice cream and realized that they were selling cups. I'm not sure how I made the mistake, but immediately decided to rectify it. VM informed me that she didn't want any. "Sometimes I don't feel like ice cream," she said. After a double take of incredulity, I went to procure my cup of smoky s'mores. Upon my return to the table we were sitting at, she took in the creamy cup of chocolate ice cream brimming with marshmallows, chocolate chunks, and graham crackers and her look of interest quickly transformed to longing. I offered her a taste; she took it, and then immediately said she was going to go get her own. This after sharing everything all day, Mrs. I-don't-always-like-ice-cream did not want to share dessert! Because I'm the nicest, I gave her mine and went back for another.


We were really disappointed that Gunas wasn't at the fest on Sunday (they'd been there on Saturday) because I've been ogling their bags online for some time now and was anxious to finally see them in person. In turned out, unfortunately, that the person expected to man the booth was ill that day, but they advised me on IG of their current pop-up shop at Jivamukti.

To my delight, I was FINALLY able to meet the founder of west coast's dreamy bean- to-bar Charm School Chocolate! We bonded over the excitement I feel when I receive a box of 20 jars of toffee almond bites in the mail (for gifts!), as well as that time I gifted Senator Cory Booker one of their maple pecan bars simply because he's my Vegan Pal. I also picked up a new-to-me flavor bar: caramel malt. I'll keep you posted on that one via IG.

This t-shirt vendor (and entrepreneur/self-help guru?), FOUNDationYOU, has some really hilarious tees; I got the one that says, "I only came here for the vegan cake." Natch.


In addition to the music and demos in the main area of the fest, the organizers also arranged for speakers and presentations in an upstairs space. I'm sorry to report that we had so much fun in the thick of things that we never made it there, but it was not for lack of posted information and signage, which was truly superb.

Another impressive thing to note about the fest was the "garbage," which was managed by Zero to Go, an "education waste management company focused on composting and recycling". Read a bit more about how the 2-day fest managed to produce only a handful of bags' worth of garbage.

This is just a funny card I saw posted in the restroom.

And, finally, you'll recall that while dogs weren't allowed to attend the HVvf, they recommended that you bring something home for your furry friend. As such, we visited the  Coast to Coast dog treats booth and chose the butternut squash/blueberry, heart-shaped treats for 89, who was at home- eagerly anticipating our return.

As you can see, she was barely interested.

She didn't want anything to do with them, really.

Of course I'm kidding! She gobbled up 4 of them within minutes of us returning home, including the individually- wrapped sample of the pumpkin flavor they'd given us so she could try that one too. It was really great to have a special treat for her to enjoy after having enjoyed so many ourselves over the course of the day.

What more can I say? Thank you so very much for an amazing event, Hudson Valley vegfest crew; it was a phenomenal day and we can't wait for the next one.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Try Vegan Food Truck

I've seen the Try Vegan (NJ) food truck at a few vegan events, but I didn't actually "try" them until just recently at a semi-private event that was offering both vegan and non-vegan food (separate food truck).

I understand that their menu varies by event, but the menu on this day was so basic that I was quite shocked that people were literally lining up to try such boring items. I should note that the food was free to guests, so that could have something to do with it. I, personally, lined up in the interest of research.

The menu:
(whole wheat) WRAPS!
Portobello- portobello mushroom, lettuce, tomato, balsamic glaze
Falafel- falafel, lettuce, tomato, hummus, tahini
Veggie Burger- veggie burger, lettuce, tomato, special sauce

Translation: homogeneous wraps with lettuce, tomato, and 1-2 component variations. My well-fed vegan brain translated this to "generic offerings of uninspired items that people assume are the only things vegans eat."

Don't get me wrong; we all know that simple vegan food can be just as delicious as gourmet. My major issue with this menu is that this is the type of boring, token vegan food that you can expect to find at a rando diner in the middle of suburbia. Who would go through the trouble, expense, and effort to start up a vegan food truck business in order to offer unimaginative items we've all seen done a million times? This is not how you woo non-vegans who are genuinely interested in trying vegan food and seasoned vegans know better. Way better.

Still, I was open to the possibility that redemption would be found in the seasoning or "special sauce." 

It wasn't. The food I had from the Try Vegan food truck was abysmal. You might think that it pains me to say that, but it doesn't. Why? Because it was so bad that I'm actually mad about it. And it was free! Do you have any idea how ticked I'd be if I had actually paid for a dry/chewy wrap with lettuce, tomato, and superbly earthy portabello mushroom strips that I could maybe be convinced once traveled in a grocery bag alongside a bottle of balsamic vinegar? Very. And the reason I was angry wasn't because I pitied my own tastebuds, it was because I wanted to scream to the tons of people around me that were probably trying vegan food for the first time, "THIS IS NOT ALL WE'VE GOT!"

I take no pleasure in writing a negative review. I actually do not want to say these things. But, moreover, I do not want bad vegan food out there circulating. Why? Because, A) there is absolutely no reason for it, and B) if this is the first vegan thing a non-vegan tries, we're going to lose them forever. If my omnivorous Dad were to bite into this atrocity, the result would be a cacophony of Smug Omnivore Bingo insults and he'd be right. We can, we must, AND WE DO do better. Honestly, I thought this type of food was behind us.

To put this sad sandwich in context, this is the description of the last, mid-priced, vegetarian steak portobello mushroom sandwich I enjoyed: smoked portabello mushroom carpaccio sandwich with fried caper berries, caramelized onions, truffled kalamata olive tapenade, and arugula on grilled herb focaccia. THAT is how you do a vegan portobello sandwich. And you know what? Don't try to tell me "to each his own." There is intentional, thoughtful food and then there is nonsense.

From their website:

"Try Vegan focuses on what veganism is all about, eating right and living a healthy lifestyle. The most common question vegans are asked is "What do you eat?" Which is the exact question Try Vegan sets out to answer. We want to let people know veganism is not as restrictive as they think because it in fact opens up a whole new world full of culinary adventure!
The best way to push a message is to go to where the people are rather than waiting for them to come to you, which is how Try Vegan operates. Our vegan street food can be found throughout New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and more. We want to make veganism awesome.

The Future is now. Try Vegan."

First off, veganism isn't about eating "right" and living a healthy lifestyle. Veganism is about not eating or using animal products. Period. There are health vegans and there are those that could give two figs; neither is "right," both are vegan.

Secondly, if Try Vegan is truly setting out to answer "What do [vegans] you eat," I have a newsflash: I am a longtime vegan and I surround myself with vegans and THIS IS NOT WHAT VEGANS EAT IN 2017! Anyone with an instagram account can tell you that vegan food is so much more than these options that peaked in 1994. Let me be clear: falafel, portabello mushrooms, and veggie burgers have their place, but served in a wrap with iceberg lettuce and tomato, they are anything but a "culinary adventure." I have to believe that the proprietors of Try Vegan must earnestly want to "make veganism awesome," but whether they actually believe they are doing so is another question entirely. In my opinion, they are making veganism ridiculously boring and unappealing. This is neither trite or mean-spirited, it is the truth and it is not doing animals any favors.

Assuming the people behind the Try Vegan food truck are committed vegans who truly want to spread the tenets of veganism, I implore them to make some improvements. As it stands, it's possible that what they're currently offering is doing more harm than good.

And, in light of the disappointing experience, the meek passivity of suggesting that people "Try" Vegan seems to be offered with a shrug, "Try this. If you don't like it, well, what can we say? You tried." The goal is for people to GO vegan and in order to make that happen, we have to do much better than what is going on here. Unrepresentative of good vegan food and New Jersey in general, the fact that this food is coming from the same state that brought us the GOAT vegan food truck- that's a damn shame.