VegFest makes a case for flavor without animal products

September 29, 2011

Vegan queso from Burrito Bandits: Arash Arabasadi doesn’t need no stinkin' dairy. (Andrea Sachs/The Washington Post)

D.C. VegFest, held Saturday at George Washington University, seemingly advanced the vegan cause through raspberry chocolate cupcakes (care of Bakeshop in Arlington), cheddar cheesy nachos served in a frisbee (DC Bread & Brew), gooey queso and chips (Burrito Bandits, a local catering outfit) and Southern fried “chicken” (Sweet & Natural in Mt. Rainer).

While more than 30 nonprofit groups set up booths at the third annual event, organized by Compassion Over Killing and the Vegetarian Society of D.C., the 18 food vendors drew the biggest, loudest, hungriest crowds.

Based on rough data (my eyeballs), the line for Vegan Treats was the longest, stretching almost to the sidewalk and nearly colliding into the queue for the Fojol Bros.’s food trucks. By 4 p..m., the line for Vegan Treats was gone. But so too was the Bethlehem, Pa., bakery: The company had sold out of goodies and packed up early. Not a crumb remained; I checked the grass.


Amsale Saife’s doro wat was so tasty you had to wonder if there was chicken in the pot. (Andrea Sachs/The Washington Post)

Yet for others, it was a chance to get piggy on free samples. (Early arrivals got the so-called worm substitute.) And to swap recipes while snacking on said freebies.

Against a colorful display of hand-cranked pastas, Mary Ann Valente, of Pasta Valente in Charlottesville, described her faux alfredo sauce: a combo of cauliflower, garlic, onion and olive oil, with a sprinkle of V-cheese for taste. Even Arlington fest-goer Diane Rickey, a vegan since Lent and an avowed toter of leather Coach bags, had a recipe to share: her signature Concoction — red, black and garbanzo beans, corn, rice, red and green peppers, guacamole, vegan cheese and a jar of salsa. Her grandfather’s reaction to this everything-but-meat dish? “He asked me, ‘Did you put hamburger in it?’” Oh, Pops.

Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing, conceded that fooling the palate can be a powerful weapon in her arsenal. “You can find all your familiar flavors in a vegan diet — meat, ice cream, sausage, pizza, hamburger,” she said. “You don’t have to give up your flavors.”

To be sure, chewing on the tender brown chunks swimming in Dama’s Ethio­pian doro wat, I wondered if a chicken had accidently fallen into the pot. Then I remembered where I was and opened the esophageal gate.

As the festival wound down in the late afternoon, there was a rush of vendors selling off leftovers, if there were any. A small woman with a big voice shouted out fire-sale prices at Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant: “Two dollars for a roll. Two dollars, two dollars.” The Burrito Bandits had only 10 containers left of their queso. Make that nine.

When I returned home, I emptied my bag of VegFest goodies: four basil-tofu spring rolls, a slice of mocha cake, lentils and injera, apple sauce, queso and one slender pamphlet on animal rights.

Andrea Sachs (not the one who wears Prada) has been writing for Travel since 2000. She travels near (Ellicott City, Jersey Shore) and far (Burma, Namibia, Russia), and finds adventure no matter the mileage. She is all packed for the Moon or North Korea, whichever opens first.
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