Food & Wine: DC VegFest

DC VegFest kicks off this weekend with a fun-filled schedule of eats, but definitely not meats.

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“Keep it sexy, keep it vegan,” chef encouraged prospective attendees of DC VegFest which will enchant the District this weekend.

Rain or shine, the Yards Park will celebrate Saturday, the joys and benefits of choosing a plant-based diet when this annual festival comes to town. This free celebration features food samples, presentations from specialists and dedicated vegans, cooking demonstrations, live , a beer garden, a kids’ activity area with a moon bounce and face painting, a barking lot for dogs and so much more.

According to communications representative Sacha Cohen, about 130 vendors will be represented and over 20,000 guests are expected, a leap from last years’ 15,000.

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Chef Landau and

“The main purpose [of the festival] is really to show all the incredible things that people can experience leading a plant-based lifestyle,” Cohen said. “It’s so good for your health, it’s great for the planet, it’s obviously so good for animals, and we are really working to educate people on the benefits of a plant-based diet, and how delicious it can be, and how accessible as well.”

DC VegFest is organized by Compassion Over Killing, a national nonprofit organization working to end animal abuse.

In advance of the festival, Busboys and Poets’ Mount Vernon Triangle location hosted a preview evening last Monday, filled with tasty bites, socializing and enchanting words from various speakers.

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Tables lined the back room of the restaurant featuring various vendors that will showcase their vegan-minded products at the festival Saturday. Companies advertising their merchandise included Undone bean to bar chocolate, Dr. Bronner’s soapmakers, Craft Kombucha, ‘Chups fruit ketchup, Be Clean, Daiya, Kate Bakes and A Better Batch.

Be Clean creates skincare goods without animal byproducts like beeswax and goat’s milk. They get their supplies only from small makers that don’t test on animals.

Daiya provides non-dairy alternatives to typically dairy-based foods. Mac n’ cheese, Greek yoghurt and pizza are only some of the delicious products consumers can buy from Daiya at grocery stores around the country, including Whole Foods stores.

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Daiya supplied samples of its various flavors of Cheezecake, a dairy-free and soy-free option with gluten-free crust. You certainly wouldn’t be able to tell this tangy dessert wasn’t made with traditional ingredients.

Kate Bakes offers vegan and gluten-free protein bars in six flavors like Chocolate Coffee, Sunflower Butter Raisin, Cardamom Date and Banana Cinnamon Oatmeal, with three new flavors coming soon.

A Better Batch creates three flavors of vegan cookies, Mocha Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip and Lemon Poppyseed. Moist and delightful, these cookies are dairy-, egg-, cholesterol- and GMO-free. Instead, these goodies are made with a canola oil-almond milk blend and unbleached organic flour.

soap products

Tofurky supplied an assortment of flavors of their signature dish and Busboys catered several vegan dishes for guests’ enjoyment. Hummus and pita, vegan “tuna” on endive, an assortment of vegan cheeses and mini vegan sliders with vegan chipotle mayo were wolfed down by hungry invitees for dinner. The sliders in particular were a fan favorite and required restocking numerous times.

“We’ve got these amazing sliders back there,” Landau said. “You know, you could give that to any carnivore and, honestly, you’d have to say, ‘What the hell do you need to eat meat for when you can eat something that good?’ That’s bullshit if you really think you need to eat an animal to have that flavor.”

Various other companies took part in the festival preview that will be present Saturday, including representatives from Barnard Medical Center. Founder, Neal Barnard and his team are excited to officially open the center for business on January 4 of the coming year.

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Barnard will specialize in issues that can be solved by nutritional intervention, according to Dr. Stephen Neabore, one of the three physicians that will be practicing at the center. Such issues include high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

The philosophy at Barnard is to get patients off of medications as much as possible, and rather focus on improving overall health using a plant-based diet.

“We’ll give medications if we need to but primarily we want to try lifestyle intervention,” Neabore said.

According to a second Barnard physician, Dr. Angie Eakin, the office has already had more than a hundred prospective patients calling to make appointments.

Look out for booths on Saturday for Barnard and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for more information about the center and how they can help improve your overall health.

Speakers Monday included Compassion Over Killing executive director Erica Meier, Busboys and Poets’ representative Laela Shallal and host committee member Tracye McQuirter, as well as a few lecturers for the festival, Landau, Kate Jacoby, Dr. Aysha Akhtar and Brian Ottens.

McQuirter expressed to audiences the reasons why she loves DC VegFest and has continued to be a part of the event annually since 1997. Celebrating her 30th year as a vegan, she asserted that the festival is a very welcoming environment, open for people from all walks of life to join the festivities.

She encouraged each attendee to bring at least five people with them on Saturday.

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Landau and Jacoby are the owners and chefs of award-winning Philadelphia restaurant Vedge, a vegetable-based restaurant with locally-sourced and seasonal ingredients. Landau and Jacoby have also co-written a cookbook entitled “Vedge,” filled with 100 vegetable dishes.

Landau presented the three things he believes people need to be conscious of in order to want to become a vegetarian or vegan.  Awareness of environmental and animal issues were, of course, the first two, and the third was more self-centered. “You can live longer, you can feel better, you can look better naked, you can have better sex! Honestly, if it’s not about the environment or the animals it can be about you.”

“You don’t need to eat meat to have an amazing meal,” he preached. He intends to prove this to audiences when he and Jacoby perform a cooking demo on the main stage at 12:00 p.m.

Neurologist, public health specialist, author and animal advocate Akhtar will speak to listeners at 11:30 a.m. on the main stage. Akhtar’s book “Animals and Public Health. Why Treating Animals Better is Critical to Human Welfare” and her TEDx Talk “Do Animals Hold the Key to Your Health?” outline her studies of the connection between the handling of animals and human wellness.

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“I will be talking about how our treatment of animals impacts us, and if you want to hear some of the gory details and how likely the next pandemic will come from a factory farm, that’s what I’ll be talking about,” she hinted.

A 14-year vegan, Ottens is a part of the “Ask a Vegan Parent” panel at the festival. Ottens’ daughter, Emily, 4, has been a vegan since birth. The panel will take place at 12:45 in the kid’s area.

Each guest walked away from the evening with a generously-filled goody bag containing a box of Daiya dairy-free Cheezy Mac, a jar of horseradish-flavored sunflower spread, granola, bean and rice chips, a Better Batch chocolate chip cookie, a bar of Dr. Bronner’s soap, vegan deodorant from Evolve Skin, “Vedge,” coupons and various information guides about local vegan-related companies.

The festival begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3 and runs until 6 p.m. Find out more at dcvegfest.com.

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