Disclosure statement: They say that all the cells in your body regenerate every seven years, which means that I’m now completely made out of plants. Like a cow, only way better-looking. I quit eating meat because animals are cute. Even the ugly ones are cute when they’re babies. Plus, the Ed Gein torture-shed conditions provided by industrial agriculture are also environmentally grim. But! Some of my best friends — and also the person I intend to marry — eat meat, and I would never judge anyone by their dietary choices, unless those choices include quinoa, a high-protein pseudograin that tastes like chlorophyll mashed up with dirt, popular within an insufferable demographic cohort that likes National Public Radio and wears New Balance shoes. Other than that, no judging! Disclosure ends.
The fourth annual New York Vegetarian Food Festival sprawled across two floors of the Metropolitan Pavilion this last weekend, packed with vendors, restaurateurs, activists, authors, and hordes of people who showed up to eat. If there was a line, you knew that it was vectored toward some food.
Because they’re more interesting and accessible, I focused primarily on the local businesses instead of the national vendors in attendance (although I would be happy to write about manufacturers of powdered vegetable protein supplements if you can pay me). This decision was forcefully validated when a Gardein soy meat-substitute vendor handed me a stick-borne sample of Mandarin Orange Crispy Chick’n substrate, which had a snotty texture and tasted like Tang.
It didn’t help that I’d just eaten some pretty great samples from the booth of Marty’s Vegan Fast Food. While I was waiting in a self-organized queue that kept sidewinding off in different directions according the whims of a large group of indecisive young women who kept allowing friends to cut the line, I talked with owner Marty Krutolow, who said he was still looking for a location, preferably one that could provide a large, communal vegan kitchen. “Vegans don’t have a lot of fast-food options,” he said. TRUTH.
Marty’s was serving two kinds of Vegan Drum “Stix” (sic) — basically a battered, soy-based vehicle for barbecue or Buffalo sauce. The “stix” were satisfyingly crispy with a chewy texture, and the vegan Buffalo sauce was vinegar-y and great. I don’t want to throw shade on the barbecue sauce, but I grew up in Kansas City and I HAVE OPINIONS. But setting aside regional biases, it was just fine. I’ll definitely eat at Marty’s when they find some real estate.
The line for the Yeah Dawg booth was long enough to block the booths of other vendors. Among the pleasures you have to give up when you quit eating meat is buying hot dogs from street vendors. This is the line:
This is the reason for the line:
Yeah Dawg Vegan is a pop-up organic street vendor that makes vegan hot dogs with vegetables, seeds, gluten free flours, and herbs and spices. Chef Marina Benedetto was grilling some big-ass dogs that really did look amazing enough to line up for. Benedetto is kind of bad-ass:
The 15-minute wait would ultimately be a crushing disappointment from a faux-dog-consumption perspective, because despite the near-universal representation of iPhone-based Square credit processing services at the event, Yeah Dawg wasn’t taking cards, and I hadn’t powered up at an ATM before arrival. But the compensation for my weinerless afternoon was standing in line behind Roy Thomas, hands-down the coolest guy I met at the festival.
An actor, writer and director for the stage, he attended the Veg Fest with his adult children Edwin and Jonea, who seemed cool, but who clearly didn’t inherit their dad’s amazing sartorial instinct.
“I’ve been a vegetarian fifty years,” Thomas. “I’m Jewish. And the rules and the concept of kosher food didn’t ring true to me…why chicken and fish, but not pork? How does killing an animal this way cause it to feel any less pain?” As the line edged forward, he talked soulfully and with palpable sincerity about the compassionate basis of the choices he’s made — not just compassion for animals, but for other people.
I didn’t get a hot dog. I ate some totally convincing vegan nut-milk cheese at the booth of a company called Treeline. I had some amazing chocolate-raspberry macarons from a vegan baker called Lagusta’s Luscious. I sampled truffle vegennaise. Still hungry, I bought a spicy seitan fajita from the Taft Foodmasters booth.
Over at an author lecture at the first-floor stage, eating absently, I was overwhelmed by the sensory impression of river silt, dirty nickels, and human suffering, and realized that the actually zesty, seasoned seitan was packed into the tortilla with a fistful of hateful goddamn quinoa. With apologies to the impoverished people of quinoa-producing regions who are now faced with food insecurity, depleted soil, and deforestation due to the popularity of their disgusting crop among urban trendoids, I finished the whole thing because I am powerless before any food wrapped in a flour tortilla.