[Photos by Carrie Epps]
The line formed two hours before opening, wrapping a full block and then some around a parking lot in the shadow of Nationals Park. But it wasn’t a baseball game they were waiting to get attend — there wasn’t one scheduled; nor were they waiting to get in to the Capital Bacon Festival, which was held at the nearby Half Street Fairgrounds. What these people were waiting for was the chance to get their hands on, and roam a veritable playground of, plant-based delights. Thus began this past Saturday’s DC VegFest, the wildly popular (an estimated 15,000 were in attendance) annual festival celebrating plant-based lifestyles. Now in its sixth year, the event also makes a good case for DC to be counted among the best cities to be vegan or vegetarian.
Obviously, there was food. A lot of it. But while most people who hear the word vegan think, “Oh, that hippie weirdo doesn’t eat meat” — which is easy to do because all diets and cuisines are powerful symbols of who we are, where we come from, and what we believe in — where VegFest excels is in reminding people that there’s a lot more to veganism than what you put on your plate. There was literally something for everyone, demonstrated best by the varied backgrounds of the festival’s main stage speakers.
Take someone like Robin Quivers, the personable and dynamic co-host of the long-running Howard Stern Show, for example, who comes at it from the perspective of health. Diagnosed with a rogue’s gallery of illnesses, most notably endometrial cancer, she attributed her speedy recovery to a vegan diet in a rousing afternoon speech. Dr. Betty Smith, an ultra-marathoner who also spoke, attributes her athletic successes to veganism, with her vaguely salt-and-pepper mane belying her age: 73-years-old.
For vegan chef and cookbook author Bryant Terry, veganism is empowerment. The wide-ranging remarks he delivered before his cooking demo could have come out of a locovore’s manifesto: advocating growing your own food and touching on the innovative Black Panthers free school breakfast program. Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan — who very publicly “came out” as vegetarian in an editorial published in March 2013 — wants to refocus vegetarianism as the “presence of vegetables over the absence of meat.”
But the food. From raw (Khepra Raw Food Juice Bar), to soul food (Everlasting Life, Sweet and Natural, and Woodland’s Vegan Bistro), to sushi (Vegetable Garden), to cafe favorites (Randy Radish, DC’s first — but not only — vegan food truck), the local vendors showed the best of what DC has to please plant-based eaters. My best bite goes to the tacos served up by up-and-coming woman-owned vegan catering company Stefwiches, who served two delicious types of tacos, one Mexican-inspired with beer-braised Beyond Meat chick’n, the other bahn mi-inspired with roasted tofu and sriracha mayo.
Popular veg-friendly eatery Busboys and Poets showed off an item from their new fall menu: vegan sliders, featuring a housemade soy-based patty, vegan chipotle mayo, caramelized red onions, and a specially made vegan brioche bun, ideally washed down with an ice-cold hops-brewed kombucha (beer-bucha?) from either Barefoot Bucha or Craft Kombucha, both offering their potables at the event.
[Vegan slider from Busboys and Poets]
But, the clear crowd favorite was Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Vegan Treats Bakery. People waited in line for an hour-plus to get their hands on cannoli, whoopie pies, sticky buns, and chicken and waffle doughnuts(!), just to name a few.
It was a day of delicious food and food for thought at DC VegFest. And this writer is already counting down the days until next year’s event.