It can sometimes be pretty tough to go meatless here in the DMV.
Vegetarians are accustomed to cobbling together meals out of the side dishes on restaurant menus (who doesn’t want a meal of mashed potatoes, sautéed spinach, and, uh, french fries?), and vegans, well, they get the house salad.
Luckily, a few restaurants have stepped up to the plate, like Equinox, which has been experimenting with plant-based fine dining for several years, including a wildly popular vegan brunch, and 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church just debuted its eight-course vegetarian tasting menu; vegans across the area are also breathlessly following the Indigogo campaign to raise funding for a new vegan diner concept, slated to open on H St., N.E., by Sticky Fingers Bakery owner Doron Petersen.
In the meantime, there’s D.C. VegFest, a day-long celebration of all things meatless at Yards Park on Saturday, Oct. 3, which will bring 15,000 of both the faithful and the curious together to sample everything from nutmilk cheese to jackfruit barbecue. For a vegan like Shawn Byers, D.C. VegFest is an eagerly anticipated event each year.
“I love not having to ask, ‘What does this have in it?,’” says Byers. He knows the festival is one of the few places where he doesn’t have to worry about eggs or dairy products sneaking into the ingredient list.
When Byers and husband Mike O’Sullivan agreed to take on a friend’s 30-day vegan challenge back in 2012, they had no idea that they would keep up with the dietary change, but have embraced it wholeheartedly, experimenting with a wide variety of dairy-free recipes at home. They see D.C. VegFest as a place where they can explore new products, food trucks and restaurants, especially, as Byers says, “The vegan versions of foods you would think you could never have again,” such as cream-filled cannoli and fried “chicken” sliders.
But for some people, like this year’s D.C. VegFest emcee, Jane Velez-Mitchell, an animal rights activist and journalist, the event is about much more than food. Citing heart disease, climate change and global hunger as issues all variously connected to the meat industry, Velez-Mitchell says, “Attending VegFest is the most important thing anyone can do because meat production is the most destructive industry in our world today.”
To take it a step further, she also sees animal rights as an issue that should resonate with the LGBT community.
“As a lesbian and an animal activist, I see tremendous commonalities between the struggle for LGBTQ rights and the struggle for animal rights,” she says. “Until recent times, the grievances of gay Americans were ignored or treated with contempt by mainstream media, the courts and society at large. We, in the gay community, know what it’s like to have our suffering trivialized and mocked.”
Indeed, unlike most food festivals, D.C. VegFest is deeply intertwined with a variety of political, ethical and social issues, including animal rights, health care and the environment, so the more than 100 exhibitors and sponsors will include the Vegetarian Resource Group, Pig Placement Network, Vegan Muscle & Fitness, and Herbivore Clothing, just to name a few. For non-vegetarians, Velez-Mitchell sees an event like D.C. VegFest to be a mind-opening experience, saying, “Millions of vegans, like myself, are living proof that you don’t need meat, dairy, leather or fur to survive and flourish. Kindness is joyous.”
D.C. VegFest 2015 takes place on Saturday, Oct. 3 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Yards Park, corner of N and 1st streets, S.E. The dog-friendly event is free and open to the public; the first 1,000 attendees get a free 2015 commemorative D.C. VegFest tote bag loaded with vegetarian-friendly products and coupons. Highlights include a vegetarian cooking demonstration by the owners of Philadelphia’s renowned Vedge Restaurant; presentations by Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary and ultra-endurance athlete Rich Roll; over 20 food vendors, including Vegan Treats, Woodlands Vegan Bistro, Equinox Restaurant, Vegetable Garden, Ape Man Foods, and Better Batch Vegan Goodies; and a beer garden sponsored by Busboys & Poets. More information is available at dcvegfest.com.
Kristen Hartke is a DC-based food writer and editor; follow her kitchen adventures on Twitter: @khartke.