Festival Food, Vegan Style
For the past six years, Northeast Florida VegFest has been a crowd-pleasing event. Although cancelled this year, it is set to return in 2018, Until then, vegans, vegetarians and plant lovers of all walks in Jacksonville found themselves without a means to promote their lifestyle and celebrate the coming of Spring in Riverside Park. That is unless they were willing to make the short trip to Gainesville on April 8, for the inaugural Gainesville VegFest presented by Solutionary Species.
The well-attended event featured a diverse gathering of vendors with plant-based and animal friendly intentions. Animal rights advocacy groups such as the Alachua Humane Society, Bear Warriors United and several animal sanctuaries were in attendance alongside farmers markets, environmental activists and various outreach groups. The event billed itself as non-judgmental, empowering and positive to support people on some part of the spectrum towards a vegan lifestyle – in other words, a sense of inclusion. As a non-vegan who nevertheless appreciates plant-based solutions, my interest was primarily in the food. After all, what better way to reach out to non-vegans than by proving that vegan food can be just as delicious as the alternative?
A lot of vegan food gets a bad rap and occasionally, it’s well-deserved. But the truth is, vegan food can be quite delicious when done right and suffice it to say, the food vendors at this festival did it right! Curious to see what all was on the menu, I did my best to capture the tasty options available at Gainesville VegFest.
No vegan festival is complete without Indian food and in my experience, the best vegan dishes are the ones that are natively vegan. Indian food, Middle Eastern fare, Japanese cuisine, even (real) Mexican food abound with authentically vegan options that don’t rely on lackluster meat substitutes. To this end, Govinda’s Bakery & Cafe was on hand serving authentic Indian dishes such as masala dosa, veggie samosa and potato pakoras. Unfortunately, they were out of samosas by the time we made it to the front of the line. The masala dosa, a crispy pancake filled with spicy potatoes and served with a light green cilantro chutney and the deep fried potato pakora with cranberry-cardamom chutney more than made up for their absence.
Next up, we were enticed by the empanadas and tofu skewers on the menu at the Latin American Fusion Food Truck; the slow-moving line proved more than we could handle so we abandoned it for the equally as popular, but faster-moving line at the Curia tent. Curia Off the Drag is easily one of my favorite vegan restaurants and is high on the list for best restaurants in Gainesville. I eat there almost every visit, this from someone who loves nothing more than switching things up. Curia’s food isn’t only a great vegan option, it’s delicious by any standards and always skillfully prepared. Even their meat substitutes are always flavorful revelations in their own right that do an amazing job of delivering wallops of flavor. Having just eaten there earlier that week, there was only one menu item that I hadn’t samples, the Thai Curry Roti, a soft yet crispy flatbread filled with curried chickpeas, romaine lettuce, cucumber relish, pickled veggies, bean sprouts, peanuts, green onion and cilantro. It proved somewhat problematic to eat but delicious nonetheless. If you get a chance to visit their permanent location, try the falafel as it’s some of the best I’ve had outside of New York City.
While there, I also grabbed a bottle of locally made Wellspring Kombucha, opting for the Pineapple Coalescence flavor. It was genuinely some of the best kombucha I’ve ever had. The pineapple flavor was subtle, the tea was effervescent and it had just the right touch of fermented funkiness.
While I waited in line for Curia, my partner in crime saw an opportunity to snag some spring and summer rolls from Vegan2Go. The spring rolls were lightly fried and crispy with a savory cabbage filling. I did not partake of the summer rolls but they looked refreshing, filled with lettuce, carrot, herbs and smoked tofu.
The great thing about a lot of vegan food is you can stuff your face with it without feeling guilty about it. In that spirit, we unapologetically devoured our bounty listening to the remaining speakers for the day giving presentations on organizing positive protest and pursuing a plant-based diet.
If ever there was a way to convince someone to consume less meat, dairy and eggs, it would be through delicious, well-prepared and thoughtful vegan food that focuses on flavor over recreating familiar yet verboten items. When Northeast Florida VegFest rolls around next year, be sure to sample some of what’s out there, as it may just change your mind about vegan food!