Where Y'Eat: A Vegan’s Feast at Veggie Fest

May 10, 2012

In a town where crab cakes are sometimes touted as a meatless option, this weekend’s Veggie Fest strives to give the vegan lifestyle its due.

Those who choose the meatless lifestyle have long found the going a bit bumpier in New Orleans, especially when they dine out, and most especially if their idea of the vegetarian diet is so orthodox as to exclude seafood. Of course, some may naturally assume that vegetarians forego fish as a matter of course, but that’s not always the case with the special food attitudes that New Orleanians of the old school bring to the game. 

They are out there, I can assure you, and some work at restaurants where they have been known to inform vegetarian diners that the kitchen’s meatless options could include shrimp pasta or crabcakes. Newcomers to this city’s dining ways are sometimes astonished to learn that a main ingredient in vegetable soup here is often beef. And of course those adhering to the more broadly accepted precepts of the vegetarian lifestyle quickly learn, when visiting New Orleans dining rooms, to inquire about the seasonings lurking behind some innocent-sounding side dishes, lest they revolve around chicken stock and ham hocks.

I’m no vegetarian myself, but I’ve broken bread with enough of them to witness their frustration and even their growing suspicion of conspiracy. For the ardent vegetarian here, it may indeed seem like some New Orleans cooks are out to get them.

It must be a welcome change for people in this predicament, then, to see the New Orleans Veggie Fest appear on the calendar. Planned by the Humane Society of Louisiana, the two-day event is a showcase for the vegan lifestyle that this year falls on May 12 and 13, at the Healing Center. That’s the multi-purpose complex in the Faubourg Marigny that’s also home to the New Orleans Food Co-Op.

Veggie Fest includes a slate of national speakers giving presentations on topics like nutrition, fitness and preventative medicine. There will be a screening of the documentary film “Vegucated” and networking with local nonprofits. For some though, the strongest draw is the panorama of vegan-friendly foods that Veggie Fest offers, and the opportunity to spend a day noshing though it all with the like-minded, or at the very least the genuinely open-minded. There will be cooking demonstrations and food from New Orleans restaurants, caterers and chefs for hire specializing in vegan options. Café Carmo from the Warehouse District is in that number, as is Santa Fe Tapas on St. Charles Avenue.

And there’s also a bazaar of booths featuring local resources and national suppliers ranging from raw food producers to fair trade coffee importers. There’s the chance to sample vegan ice cream, mock meats and dairy-free dips and to see myriad more foods and drinks made from hemp, soy, rice, and nuts, including a vegan version of jerky. 

Being vegan is about a lot more than just what one chooses to eat, and Veggie Fest takes in the full measure of this lifestyle. But it also puts food front and center, and in this way at least the Veggie Fest format isn’t so different from the many other festivals around town. Nothing gets New Orleans out to an event like food, and that seems to be as true for local vegans and vegetarians as it is for the omnivores among us.

WHAT: New Orleans Veggie Fest

WHEN: May 12, from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; and May 13, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (plus a film screening at 5:30 p.m.)

WHERE: The Healing Center, 2372 St. Claude Ave., New Orleans

DETAILS: www.nolaveggiefest.com