By Joseph Winters ’20
Back home in Washington State, there was an annual vegetarian fair in Seattle called VegFest. For an entire weekend, vegan and vegetarian foodies would congregate at the Seattle Center for two days of cheese-less, egg-less, meat-less wonder. Could it get any better?
To non-vegetarians, it sounds lame, I realize. I dragged one friend to VegFest last year who refused to set foot inside the building, instead asking where the nearest burger place was. But one reluctant step into VegFest quickly changed his mind—vegetarian fairs are not about flavorless deprivation from traditional animal products. There’s actually some really profound meaning behind them. But before mentioning that, the shallow truth of what really gets people to show up to a Veg Food Fest: samples.
My first step into the Boston Veg Food Fest at the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center on Tremont Street revealed that it was going to be everything I loved about Seattle’s VegFest—only in Boston. The gym was packed. I bought a tote bag and immediately began scanning the room for free samples. They weren’t hard to find; I quickly started scooping up packets of meatless teriyaki jerky, raw agave, granola bars, hummus. Other samples were meant to be eaten on the spot: spiced pumpkin seeds, whole-grain mochi balls, tomato goji chutney, sea salt-flavored popped sorghum. There were, of course, the stereotypical vegan substitutes of “Veganaise”, vegan butterscotch “pudding”, and vegan American “cheese”. As an omnivore, I’m never a huge fan of these substitutions, but I have to say the ones I tried at the Veg Food Fest could have fooled me.
I was pretty hungry, so after my hors d’oeuvres—including Pizza Almonds, Cheeky Monkey Peanut Butter Puffs, and an entire (free) So Delicious coconut ice cream sandwich (from a whole box of ice cream sandwiches I got for free)—I bought a Miso Bowl from Whole Heart Provisions, a sweet little vegetarian restaurant in Allston. Rice on the bottom, cooked veggies in the middle, and miso sauce with crispy chickpeas on top.
I grabbed dessert at the FoMu booth. Ironically, they have a location right next door to Whole Heart Provisions’s Allston location. They were featuring some seasonal coconut-based ice creams, particularly Pumpkin Caramel, Purple Mu, and Apple Cider Donut. I mixed all three.
The interesting takeaway from the Veg Food Fest, in my opinion, is the variability of reasons for veganism. I walked past booths advocating the humane treatment of animals, booths about the “protein myth” that a vegan diet can’t provide enough nutrients for healthy development, and booths about the ecological benefits of an animal-free diet. For me—not a vegan, as I’ve said—it’s about awareness. I love vegan restaurants and organizations because there’s obvious care that goes into food sourcing (the ecological benefit), food preparation (the health benefit), and they’re often local businesses run by passionate employees (the human benefit).
Take, for example, The Jackfruit Company. I met Alex Chamallas at the Veg Food Fest as he was serving up something that looked a lot like barbecue sauce-smothered pulled pork. “It’s jackfruit,” he explained to passerby who peered into his steaming crockpot. Jackfruit is a tropical fruit that grows in conditions too poor for other species to thrive, making it “easy to sustainably source,” according to the company’s website. Jackfruit is notably prolific in developing India, and The Jackfruit Company has taken advantage of the stringy, fibrous fruit to “provide income and opportunity for thousands of farming families” in the country. It’s high in fiber, and, subjectively, pretty delicious when stewed with a sweet and spicy sauce. The company was actually started by a Harvard College graduate, Annie Ryu, who calls herself a “socialentrepreneur—a business developer with a conscience.” To me, the jackfruit story is exemplar of the best reason for a vegan outlook on eating because it promotes the three lenses of environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and health, which is a heck of a lot more than a gimmicky low-cal pork substitute.
With my tote bag—and stomach—full of wonderful vegan food, I left the Veg Food Fest still working on my bowl of FoMu ice cream. Unfortunately, my free box of So Delicious ice cream bars won’t last me until next year’s Fest, but maybe a solid day or two. Until then, I may look twice at some cool new products whenever I visit the grocery store, notably the strangely delicious and versatile jackfruit.