Celebrate Plant-Based Eating at the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival


We’re not particularly interested in the East Coast/West Coast rap-style rivalry between vegetarians and carnivores, mostly because there are few things more personal than individual food choices. We’re also not a bunch of culinary evangelists over here (though we will take this opportunity to say that science has shown in at least one study that vegetarians are sexier than carnivores — thanks carotenoids). But even if you’re not a vegetarian motivated by vanity, health, or the sentience of cute animals, you should think about picking up a ticket to the annual NYC Vegetarian Food Festival — the flagship event of U.S. Veg Corp — founded in 2011 by Nira Paliwoda and Sarah Gross.

When Gross, a ballet dancer and pilates instructor, moved to New York from Louisiana, she was surprised to discover the lack of a full-fledged vegetarian festival in the city. At a fundraiser hosted by an entertainment production company called Two Shes, she met its founder Paliwoda, a Cardoza School of Law graduate who had a lot of experience planning big events. “She became a good partner to tackle something of this scale,” says Gross.

The 2011 Veg Fest was a one-day event at a much smaller venue. The scaled-up 2014 festival runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on March 1 and 2 at the Metropolitan Pavilion (125 West 18th Street), and it is the duo’s biggest event so far. “We’ve had to expand every single year,” says Gross. “This year, we’re actually doing two floors of the Metropolitan Pavilion. We’ve expanded our kids’ area. There are a bunch of fun, educational activities throughout both days.”

Exhibitors this year include:

  • Gross’ company, Rescue Chocolate, a vegan chocolate company that donates 100 percent of its net profits to animal rescue organizations
  • The Natural Gourmet Institute, which teaches students “health-supportive culinary arts and theory”
  • Vega, a producer of plant-based whole foods aimed at convenience and reducing dietary causes of nutritional stress such as highly acid foods, refined carbohydrates, and sugar
  • D.F. Mavens, makers of vegan frozen desserts
  • Nutiva, a producer of vegan cooking oils, butter substitutes, and other lipid-y products
  • Vegan food company Nuttin Ordinary
  • Peanut Butter & Co., producer of kosher, gluten-free peanut butters, most of which are vegan

Vegetarianism and its way more specific counterpart veganism orbit inside the globular cluster of issues that include renewable energy, sustainable farming practices, agriculture policy reform, and food access, so the Food Festival includes exhibitors and talks from a range of experts about these subjects.

Speakers will address juice cleansing, the effects of industrial agriculture, heart health, eating vegan in a non-vegan world, and general plant-based lifestyle issues. Sessions will also include yoga asana practice and pranic healing. For a complete list of exhibitors and events, see the food fest’s website.

The festival also includes a charity component. “We always pick a group,” says Gross. “This year, it’s the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food. They’ll have a couple of tables to explain their whole mission.” The coalition is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit dedicated to expanding the range of plant-based foods in New York school lunches.

Besides running U.S. Veg Corp and the annual festival, both partners are active participants in New York’s various green and plant-based communities and operate their own separate companies. Their next endeavor launches later this year: “We’re producing a new event that incorporates beer and fundraising,” says Paliwoda. “We’re hoping to have it in the spring — the Better Booze Festival, which will raise awareness that some alcohol is not vegan and the FDA doesn’t regulate it.”

She adds, “We don’t sleep. Our bandwidth is crazy. But when you’re actually passionate about your work, things tend to get done.”

Find more information about the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival on the event’s website. Tickets are $30 for single-day access and $50 for two days.