by Ian McNulty
Those who choose the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle have long found the going a bit bumpier in New Orleans. From waitresses suggesting crab cakes as a meatless option to “vegetable soup” starring big hunks of beef to innocent-sounding side dishes richly imbued with ham hocks or chicken stock, the ardent vegetarian may indeed feel like some New Orleans cooks are out to get them.
It must be a welcome change for some, then, to see the New Orleans Veggie Fest appear on the calendar, coming up May 12-13 this year. Planned by the Humane Society of Louisiana, the event is a showcase for the vegan lifestyle. Now in its fourth year, it will be held this time around at the Healing Center, 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. The Taboo Brass Band and dancer Moxie Sazerac of the Slow Burn Burlesque troupe are among the local performers on the bill.
For some though, the strongest draw is the panorama of vegan 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 who specializes in vegan cooking. 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.