Q&A WIth Sarah Gross, Co-Founder of the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival
Now in its third year, the Vegetarian Food Festival is ready to take over New York City this weekend. The Festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, brings vegetarian food companies and restaurants; skincare, jewelry and clothing lines; and a slew of notable speakers and organizations together for an experience that’s expected to draw over 10,000 attendees from all over the country. Of course, vegetarians and vegans are excited to peruse the 100-plus vendors for their new favorite foods and products, but Sarah Gross, co-founder of the festival, insists that the event is designed for foodies of all kinds that are interested in cultivating a healthy, sustainable lifestyle—or just want to stock up on chocolate treats! Read on to learn what to expect at this year’s festival and check back next week for our top picks!
LadyLUX: What was the inspiration for the Vegetarian Food Festival?
Sarah Gross: Being a long-time vegan myself, I always kept an eye out for vegetarian food festivals happening around the country. It occurred to me that my own city (the greatest city in the world) didn’t have a signature vegetarian festival. This seemed like an amazingly cavernous gap that was just waiting to be filled.
LL: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in turning this idea into reality?
SG: The real estate in New York is exorbitant, as we all know. My Co-Producer, Nira Paliwoda, and I wanted our festival to be centrally located so that the maximum number of people could be exposed to it. That meant finding a large enough exhibit space somewhere in midtown. Actually the venue our first year turned out to be too small, so we doubled capacity the following years. Another really good problem that we had concerned crowd control. At first, we had more attendees than we knew what to do with. It became a priority for us to figure out ways to move them into the building efficiently.
LL: What speakers are you most excited to see at this year’s festival?
SG: Gene Baur (founder of Farm Sanctuary), and Matt Frazier (the no-meat athlete) are perpetual crowd-pleasers. Myq Kaplan is a hilarious vegan comedian making his first appearance this year. Omowale Adewale is going to give a rad kickboxing demonstration. Robyn Moore will be telling stories in our kids’ activity area. I also can’t wait to hear from Doug McNish, a chef who started out cooking steaks and then made the journey over to kale!
LL: What are some of your favorite treats that will be available?
SG: My personal favorite has to be Rescue Chocolate. (Full disclosure: I’m the owner of the company!) The chocolates are vegan, kosher, handcrafted, organic, and fairly traded. And all profits are donated to animal rescue organizations. I’m also looking forward to eating treats from Harmony Kitchen (vegan Panini) and De La Tlerra (empanadas, vegan tuna, spicy seitan). I’ll probably pick up some tees from Herbivore Clothing, too.
LL: What was the crowd like last year?
SG: Last year there were more than 6,000 attendees, and they ran the gamut from vegans and vegetarians, to flexitarians, to omnivores. The people who normally eat animal products will be found unquestionably enjoying vegan tidbits and exclaiming that they didn’t know vegan food could taste so great.
LL: Recently, vegan and vegetarian lifestyles seem to have gained more visibility and traction in mainstream culture. Are we at a turning point?
SG: Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in major metropolitan areas are in a bit of a bubble on this issue. We have tons of vegan options in the grocery store, and plenty of vegan-friendly restaurants to patronize. But I have friends in the hinterlands who still get blank stares when they mention the V word. Veganism will get there eventually—I hope it’s sooner rather than later. We are picking up speed these days!
LL: What can first-time attendees expect to get out of this year’s festival?
SG: They will discover delicious new products that are good for their bodies, their souls and the environment. They will get inspired to experiment in the kitchen after watching our vegan chefs’ cooking demos. They will have lots of new reading material which will open their eyes to the excitement of making the world a more compassionate place. They will suddenly have more positive energy than they’ve ever had (it is said by attendees every year, no joke.)
LL: Can you discuss the breadth of products and issues represented at the festival and why it’s important to have this range of vendors?
SG: One can’t be vegan just at mealtime. Veganism is a whole lifestyle. It touches on the clothing you wear—fur, silk, and leather are produced with a lot of cruelty to animals, for example. It means ensuring that your cosmetics and other personal care items are not tested on animals. It also has to do with the sustainability of our planet. Raising animals for food uses up many more natural resources than raising fruits, vegetables, and grains uses. So vegans are also into being green. At our festival, we present all of these different avenues so that people can feed their passion.
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