Monday, April 4, 2011

NYC Vegetarian Food Festival Recap

Terry Hope Romero "Vegan Latina" cooking seitan tacos
Yesterday I took the opportunity to visit the first ever NYC Vegetarian Food Festival in Chelsea. My husband and I showed up around noon and skipped a line of at least 1000 people. So glad I bought VIP tickets from LivingSocial! We heard the wait was over 3 hours - and people were willing to wait! Even better, there was a line at least 200 deep for the Cinnamon Snail Vegan Lunch Truck outside.

The organizers of the festival could not have anticipated such a high turnout for the event, because the Altman building space was absolutely too small for the approximately 5000 people busting down the doors. This was both good and bad news. On one hand, you had to push your way through gawkers to the tables to get yummy samples, and then had to jockey for space to raise your elbows to eat them. But how could you really be mad? After all, so many people interested in vegan/vegetarian food is just a wonderful thing.

PHOTOS
I would have taken more photos to share with you, but it was just too crowded to get a shot. Plus, I found it super annoying that so many people were hogging space at the tables to take 5 million photos, probably for their little blogs. Like, be considerate to those who actually want to learn and try new things! If you want to see photos of all the lovely goods go to these sites:


NYC Vegetarian Food Festival on MetroMix

NYC Vegetarian Food Fest on PIX 11 News (my husband is in the shot at 1:55, lookin' for some eats)

FOODS
Many of the tables had samples to try, and I have to say, vegan sweets have come a long way. Others are just plain getting creative. Some of the best we tried were:

Goodie Girl Caramel Popcorn - yum!

Rescue Chocolate - Pit Bull Peanut Butter was like a peanut butter cup. 100% of profits benefit animal rescue organizations.

Coconut Bliss dairy-free ice cream was super creamy and delicious (particularly the cherry).

Raw Ice Cream Company - Mint Chip and Cinnamon Vanilla - thicker than dairy, but creamy and satisfying. Made from cashews, coconut and agave.

Liz Lovely vegan cake-like cookies like snickerdoodle and german chocolate were delish. And they're from my state (VT), so it's cool.

We didn't get to try Beyond Sushi from Esprit Events, but it looked really fun and colorful. It would make a fun conversation piece for a party.

SPEAKERS
The real highlights for me were the demos and speakers. We watched Vegan Latina Terry Hope Romero cook up some beer-marinated seitan tacos with cabbage slaw and yogurt dressing that looked awesome. Seems like a spunky fire-cracker, that one. Maybe I'll go take a workshop with her at Brooklyn Kitchen someday. If I ever make it to Williamsburg, which I can't seem to warm up to.

I hadn't planned on listening to "Doc Rob" Dr. Rob Streisfeld speak about "Functional Fermented Foods", but we caught the second half of his session and surprisingly learned a whole bunch about the goodness of bacteria-rich fermented foods. I'm beginning to understand the usefulness of kimchi, miso soup, and sauerkraut in balancing the digestive system. I might just check out his book "Healthier Ever After". I really don't read much, but I might. (Supposedly he has free chapters on his Facebook page.)

Fun Facts from Doc Rob:
1. Did you know the Japanese drink miso soup at breakfast to balance their PH levels? I bet that would help my acid reflux problem!

2. Probiotics are great, but know the specific strains you're getting. There are a lot out there, and some have not been sufficiently studied as they are not normal for the human body. He said that truthaboutprobiotics.com is a great place to learn more. He also said that PREbiotics are pretty bad for you, as they are mostly made from a fiber filler that will take down even the good bacteria in your body. Better to eat lots of fruits and vegetables for fiber.

3. Liquid multi-vitamins are the easiest to digest for a stressed GI system, and absorbed into the system better than pills.

4. "A" blood types do better as vegetarians than meat eaters. I'm A+! So is my husband! Imagine that? Hmmm. This is because "A" blood types require more digestive support and supplements, including fermented foods. Explains a lot of my issues. Gonna get myself some cool 'kraut.

The learning didn't stop there. We stayed to listen to the keynote speaker, Dr. Neal Barnard, whom everyone seemed to know and adore. Yeah, the lady next to me was swooning a little. He was an upbeat and persuasive presenter, whose most recent claim to fame is his "21-Day Vegan Kickstart" plan for health and weight-loss.

Dr. Barnard outlined studies where people switched to vegan diets and reaped numerous benefits such as long-term weight-loss, reduced blood sugar, normalized cholesterol, reduced re-ocurrence of cancer and increased energy. Even migraines and arthritis can be improved by giving up meat and dairy, since certain proteins in them trigger anti-bodies that attack the joints in our bodies. (More info on MLive.com "Vegan In Vogue").

Long story short, Dr. Barnard's message is that a vegan diet (fruit, grains, legumes and vegetables) is beneficial and confirmed so with scientific facts. Our food consumption has changed and increased over the last 100 years. Higher meat, cheese and dairy consumption fueled by a push by the USDA has lead to a plethora of related health issues such as diabetes and obesity. Cheese pizza is as much to blame for these problems as meat, since animal fats sit inside our cells blocking sugars from being processed properly. Cheese pizza happens to be my #1 favorite food, so looks like it's gonna be a tough road to health for this girl!

But Dr. Barnard says to take small steps and try things a little at a time. One good point is that when you don't eat something for a long time you lose taste for it - like when you switch from whole milk to low-fat. I gave up fries for months and when I had them again they tasted like paper. Until I had them 2 more times and they started to grow on me (literally) again. Same with steak - I really just don't care about it any more, and it's been a while since I had a "give me a steak now or I'm gonna punch somebody" moment. Yay me.

RECAP
There are so many new vegan and vegetarian products out there, along with information and organizations looking to spread the health. With the phenomenal turnout at the first ever NYC Veg Food Fest, it looks like the demand is even greater than the above supply. I appreciate and commend all involved, but I hope next year brings a larger venue with a higher capacity to engage the masses. People are starting to take control of their health and are inspired to change for the better, so the vegan food industry has no where to go but up.



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