Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Random Acts of Kindness

Just last week I found myself extraordinarily behind- on my cards, my wrapping, my tree: just genuinely feeling overwhelmed by what I had to accomplish before the holidays. Then last Tuesday (that felt like it should be Friday already), I packed up all of mine and 89's winter paraphernalia and was trudging out to the car for work when I noticed there was a bag placed atop the car roof- right outside my door. Someone had left me 2 vegan cupcakes! I was so excited.

I took a pic of the find, as ya do, giddily got into the car, and almost left the cupcakes there when I drove off because I was that elated. It didn't take me long to realize who had put them there- my extremely kind neighbor who keeps me sane when those that are vastly inconsiderate get me down. "Santa comes in all shapes and sizes," she told me, when I thanked her.

So, it was basically the sweetest- literally, and I happily ate them for breakfast (yes, both; I couldn't decide).

Two days later, while walking through the lounge area of my building, we passed a woman who made an indiscernible exclamation of glee when she spotted 89. We went over to say hello and she pointed out that she and I both had the same phone case. As she pet 89, she told me that she was headed home to London for the holidays and was hoping not to drop her phone again (I hear that) because the case was already cracked and she didn't want her phone to break. I told her to wait a minute. I went back to my office and returned with a brand new case- the same as we each had. I explained to her that I always keep a spare because I too am always dropping my phone. I'd just put a brand new one on, so I was assuming mine had more life left in it than hers. She was so grateful and asked if she could repay me in cupcakes; I knew I liked her! I weighed my options. I knew I could just tell her it was unnecessary and move on, but there was a very real likelihood she'd appear with non-vegan cupcakes that I wouldn't be able to eat. So I said, "It's not necessary to repay me. Also, I'm vegan." I waited breathlessly to see how it would land.

She looked at me incredulously and said, "I've been trying to go vegan! I've been vegetarian for 2 years." She asked me what I eat for breakfast, of all things, because she was afraid of becoming anemic without omelettes. "Eggs are the hardest," she said, "how did you give them up?" I spared her the early truth, which is that they've always grossed me out (I tirelessly asked VM what an egg actually was and she wouldn't tell me), and told her the later truth- which was that when I discovered undercover PETA video of an egg farm, suddenly all of the cries of "vegetarianism is just as bad" made sense.

I asked her if she'd ever visited an animal sanctuary and she said she hadn't. She told me she had a dog that she loved. I explained that animals that are largely considered food are just as sociable as those we consider pets. Once again I told her to wait while I returned to my office. This time I gave her my copy of Beg by Rory Freedman. I've had it in my office for two years in the hopes that people would peruse it at their leisure, but no one ever has. She seemed like the perfect recipient. Again she looked at me as though she needed to reciprocate and I told her to just pass it on when she was done with it, to someone who she felt needed it.

I left for a meeting and came back to find her still there. She'd made a considerable dent in the book and looked up at me, teary-eyed. "We bought our dog," she said. I instantly felt terrible and told her it wasn't about judgment, it was about evolution. Then I did the only thing I could think of that would make her feel a little better as she continued to read: I returned to my office one last time and came back with a Gone Pie brownie for her. Yeah, that's how vegan I am: I've got stacks of books and brownies to share at a moment's notice!

If you're like me, you had a bunch of people on your card and gift lift this holiday season. These impromptu random acts of kindness, although they can't be planned, should be on your list of things to do too- all year long. And, while it doesn't have to be holiday-specific, here's a great story about being a Santa yourself.

Happy 2017.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Oops, I did it again: Modern Love Brooklyn

Ok, so I went to Modern Love Brooklyn a short while ago amid the flurry of excitement surrounding it's grand opening; check it out over at Vegansaurus. But then I returned recently and everything had been kicked up a notch with purple, twinkly lights, which made everything infinitely better (and brighter!).

Although I wasn't driving (for once) I ordered the housemade orange cream soda, which was AMAZING. Note that I said it was orange cream soda, not orange soda. You could conceivably have this for dessert.


Even though my friend already recreated them for me AND I have Isa's new Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook so I could theoretically make them myself, I had to order the deviled potatoes with roasted yukons, creamy potato filling, arugula, paprika, dill. I maintain that letting other people make them for me is a good strategy.

We also repeat ordered the zaatar pretzels with baba ganoush, chili oil, preserved lemon, sumac. I'm more of a salted pretzel with spicy mustard type of person but it was a hit at the table.

At the last minute we added the samosa spiced latkes with pear chutney, coconut sour cream, and micro cilantro (ugh) to the order and were glad that we did. While the raisin-laden chutney went largely untouched, the sour cream and the latkes themselves were really great.

I'd pre-chosen my entree from the online menu, only to find that it was no longer being offered. I managed to maintain my composure and, instead, painstakingly chose the maple bourbon bbq tempeh with collard greens, black eyed peas, frazzled onions, and corn pudding. No, I didn't have any idea what corn pudding was, but it turned out to be what I would describe as a creamed corn fritter- in other words, divine. This artfully plated dish was rich to the nth degree, but I've no regrets.

And that's where our meal ended. Yup, no dessert. Why? The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of my "friends," who- unlike me, were willing to let their fullness from the meal prevent them from continuing to gorge. Truth be told, even I was full well into the following day, but I still would have squeezed in dessert on principle if I hadn't been out-voted four to one. Guess I'll have to go back...

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Delice & Sarrasin "can be made vegan"

I've been meaning to get to Delice & Sarrasin, "a Vegan French restaurant offering a range of authentic french dishes, along with savory crepes (galettes) & sweet crepes, located in the heart of the West Village," ever since I saw the chef on a morning program talking about how their food is so authentic, "you'll never know it's vegan." It finally popped onto my radar again recently and a friend and I immediately made plans to go. When I arrived, I was happy to see the "vegan" pronouncement right outside; I knew I was in the right place.

The restaurant is quaint and pretty: inside and out.

That tree is the highlight of the block (aside from the adorable "citipet" puppies heartbreakingly for sale next door).

I ordered a hot chocolate and was given the option of soy, almond, or coconut milk; I chose soy. Smiling, I thought, "this is what it means to be in a vegan restaurant." But, it turned out a disappointment: it wasn't terribly hot, not very chocolatey, and, surprisingly, not at all creamy. It was served to me with a visible clump of cocoa on the surface which I hoped was from cocoa and not from a mix.

As I perused the brunch menu while waiting for my friend, I marveled at all the vegan egg/cheese/meat ingredients on the menu and tried to decide what to order. I studied all of the options and then, at some point, it occurred to me that not everything was vegan. The front of the menu, yes: clearly, all vegan.

But the back? There was definitely a whole section that seemed to be real chicken eggs and cow cheese.

And then I saw the bottom of the menu that confirmed my suspicion.

We spoke to the host/waiter/co-owner and he assured us that all of the "meat" options were vegan, and that the chicken eggs and cow cheese ingredients could be substituted with vegan versions. Since we were already in for a penny, we stayed- against the fear of having our crepes simmering on the same cooking surface as a chicken egg. I'm not a purist, but with the vegan expectation shattered I was disappointed and frustrated. Delice & Sarrasin has repeatedly been marketed as vegan- even their the header of their website states "Delice & Sarrasin is a Vegan French restaurant..." *see update below

I ordered the St Raphael from the non-vegan galettes de sarrasin section of the menu; it contained roasted potatoes, red & green peppers, Spanich chorizo, balsamic sauce & gruyere vegan cheese. I was surprised that it was served lengthwise, like a dosa, and by the unexpected deep teff-color of the crepe. Apparently sarrasin is the gluten free buckwheat flour that they use for their savory crepes and the taste is similarly tangy to traditional injera.

The galette was a nice change of pace and it was good, but not phenomenal- which was what I'd been hoping for. The cheese looked to be store-bought shreds and the chorizo was present in dense, tasteless half-moons that didn't hold a candle to Vegicano's incomparable homemade version. The potatoes and peppers presented the only discernible flavor aside from the crepe and minimal swirl of balsamic.

When we'd finished our crepes, we asked the host/waiter/co-owner if they had croissants. "No," he stated, "because croissants are typically made with butter." My face said blink-blink, but my mind said, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I mean, yes; I'm aware that croissants are typically made with butter, but, were we not sitting in a purportedly vegan French restaurant? And they couldn't crack the code of a vegan croissant? It was time to go.

I decided to let the experience simmer a while before posting, but then, as if by fate, a friend posted a very recent Epoch Times write-up, titled, "At Delice & Sarrasin, French Classics Go Vegan," which I find totally misleading. Worse, though, is that in the article, they describe the whole family behind the restaurant as vegan. So, my question is this: if the "whole family is vegan, motivated by a concern for the welfare of animals as well as for their personal health," then why are dairy and eggs on the menu?

I get it. I should be impressed that there's a French restaurant that has so very many vegan options. The problem is, they're still a vegetarian restaurant with vegan options. I'm not splitting hairs here, just standing up for what has become the norm: watering down the definition of veganism and, more alarmingly, a post-fact society.

UPDATE: hours after I posted this review here and on social media, after a "conversation" on my IG post, Delice & Sarrasin has updated their listing to "vegetarian/vegan," but as of 1/18/2017, their website still states that they are 100% vegan. 

According to their comments, they are striving towards a 100% vegan restaurant, so let's hope that the change is only necessary for a short time.

UPDATE 12/8/16: The restaurant kindly reached out with this explanation. It seems that, although I didn't see this information on the website or in any advertisement/articles, the owners/chef went vegan relatively recently and are in the process of veganizing the restaurant in its entirety. It would seem that they and, purportedly those covering the story, got a little excited about vegan French food and jumped the gun with their "vegan" proclamations, but their intentions seem noble. From them:

Good morning!

Thank you for your article!
If you would not mind, I would like to explain a few points 🙂

There is probably a lack of communication from our part, but our reasons are hard to describe in one line.

We opened 2 and half years ago, starting importing lots of ingredient (the galette's flour, you've tried, typical from france for example). We never advertised ourself as vegan or vegetarian until September 6th, 2016 (so 3 months ago!), although 95% of the menu was and is vegan.

We had a few reasons :

- First, our main goal was to attract lots of meat-eater and prove them that eating vegan is actually tasteful, and not flavorless. The "restaurant" part would then not say any word about the "foie gras" or "boeuf bourguignon" to name a few, being vegan. And guess what ? Almost no one noticed that it was vegan. We were really really happy. Converting meat-eater is the hardest thing. We did this also for us to grow slowly and keep nice production/quality

- Then, we opened the biggest vegan/vegetarian group, at the french embassy in New York, and introducing people to a better lifestyle. We opened along with the restaurant, a creperie inside the restaurant. We managed to extend the kitchen. Creperies are very popular in France, it is very cultural, something you would have for lunch and dinner, with your family etc etc.. It was the best way to attract French and meat-eaters to try vegetarian food and start introducing them to it. Unfortunately, almost no french people willing to try to be vegan would like the "vegan galette (savory crepe)". Stubborn, I know. You know French people... After several talks between each other, we were thinking : what is better : 1 vegetarian or 1 carnivore? The answer for us were pretty obvious. So we introduced the galette with dairy cheese and egg. You have no idea how this changed their mind. They were willing to stop eating meat and fish, have vegan sausage,vegan bacon, and everything else. But this. Again, I am talking about the french community.

Of course, as you said, it is disappointing,for us also. But France is the less vegan friendly country in Europe, and believe me, it was a big step.

Then this question came : How do we get dairy cheese in the most vegan way ?
The French embassy and the main diplomat helped us a lot regarding this question. We started to reach to small dairy farm that was about to shut down (within the US and Canada) and we contacted them. They helped us saving the cheese they were about to throw away, and we froze the cheese in a health's department approved facility in Brooklyn.

You are the first one bringing that point out on social media, and I appreciate it. We told this exact story to ABC and they did not give those details, which was, for us, the most important part. Unfortunately, we contacted the press but no one brought it up.. There is definitely a lack of communication from us, but we can't force the press

To answer your doubts also, the entire restaurant part is 100% vegan. The creperie part, is 50% vegan (the sweet crepes are 100% vegan) , the galette (savory crepes) are vegetarian.
However, be sure that we are working on it.

Thanks a lot, and talk soon 🙂
UPDATE 1/11/17:
Listen to The Bearded Vegans podcast, episode 62, for their review of Delice & Sarrasin, which includes a shout-out to A (soy) Bean at 21:36.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanksgiving and a Noodle Pudding Miracle

There was a Kevin Hart meme going around this year suggesting that everyone stop posting photos of their Thanksgiving plates because we're all "eating the same shit." That may be true- literally, for millions of non-vegans, but the vegan plates that fill my social media feed on thanksgiving are some of the most colorful and meaningful plates that I see all year. Keep 'em comin'!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The reason I find these bountiful plates so thrilling is that when I went vegetarian in high school, it really just meant that I'd be leaving turkey off my plate. But today, as a vegan, it's not about elimination, it's about abundance. And never is that contrast more evident than in what VM prepares for Thanksgiving.

That inevitable first Thanksgiving when I refused a piece of obligatory turkey, VM was mortified and- dare I say, angry. It was surprising to me because I never even liked turkey in the first place. But, looking back, I think it was the symbolism of the defiance: refusing to eat something that she'd painstakingly prepared. Fast forward to my 16th Thanksgiving as a vegan: VM, now vegetarian herself, has now expertly veganized every holiday-specific dish and I am her biggest fan. Sure, we banter, but I kid!


professional corn stuffing preparation

Thanksgiving day started off with Trader Joe's seemingly accidentally vegan pumpkin rolls. These are the kind that pop out of a can and, just a few minutes later, you have a yummy and warm pastry. Well, 5 actually.

They come with a pouch of pumpkin icing, but I prefer to use only a little of that and then douse the roll in maple syrup. Not shown drenched because you'd plotz if you saw how much maple syrup I'm talking about (hint: that's why it's in a bowl). 

The rest of the day was spent cooking. Not me, VM. She made her famous corn stuffing, maple-roasted Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, baked sweet potatoes with cinnamon and marshmallows, and a Field Roast Celebration Roast with applesauce.

look, I made a vegan meme!

As promised, I made the green bean casserole.

But, wait; there's more. 

We were gifted a box of Follow Your Heart's vegan egg and, a few days before Thanksgiving, VM made her 1000th attempt at veganizing her noodle pudding (keugel). IT FINALLY WORKED!

This vegan version was 100% indistinguishable from its egg-laden counterpart.

There are very few things left that have yet to be veganized. After m&ms, this was the lone holdout I can think of and I couldn't be happier. I think I actually forgot just how much I love it, and now it's mine any time I want it she makes it. Yay for me!

In case you're wondering what 89 was up do while all this was going on, she basically spent every waking minute sitting at the table waiting to be served.

And served she was; here's her plate. Watch her noisily scarf it all down.

Finally, I shall leave you with @thespicyvegan repost that's been blowing up my own FB page this week:

Hope your holiday was happy; there's more to come!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Howlaween: 89 as Frida Kahlo

I've been an ardent fan of Frida Kahlo ever since my high school art teacher showed the class a movie of her life (it wasn't the Salma Hayek version, but rather one of these). Last year, when a friend took me to the art/garden/life exhibit of her work at the New York Botanical Gardens, I was newly inspired by the imagery- both in the portraits and iconography, as well as the patrons- many of whom were donning flowers in their hair or otherwise paying homage to the style she's made famous. This ignited the idea to continue with the fine art theme for 89's Halloween costume this year- both because it's a beautiful challenge and also because I'm a glutton for punishment who still hasn't tired of explaining to people who Gustav Klimt is (JK; yes I have).

I compiled a few photos for a vision board of sorts, gathered some items that were appropriate, and got to work brainstorming. My earliest and best idea was to forgo the velcro and hot glue gunning of last year, and instead enlist VM to custom sew the main component: the gown. I explained what I was looking for, made sure her workstation was strewn with the images of Kahlo I was most inspired by, and chose special materials we had around the house from various projects of hers, mine, and even my grandmother's.


After a couple of strategic fittings,


VM presented me with the most glorious garment I could have imagined.


She immediately refused to make one for me.

I was in charge of the accoutrements, but because of the time that went into the garment, there wasn't much left to spare before Halloween. I had actually fashioned an ornate hairpiece over the course of the previous  weeks, but ultimately decided that 89- namely her signature ears, were as important to the homage as Kahlo's own ornately braided hair. Not to mention the fact that last year, while being interviewed by Buzzfeed, 89 unceremoniously flung her ABB wig mid-sentence. So, I nixed the headpiece in favor of what I hoped would be the successful merger of the two inspirations.

I'm thrilled with how everything came out and we wish you a very Happy and safe Halloween!

P.S. The infamous brow is one of the best things to happen to 89 and she's been wearing it around the house all the time.


Friday, October 7, 2016

My New Jersey VegFest Experience

When I heard that someone was planning a vegfest in New Jersey I was excited. The biggest problem with New York vegfests always seems to be that the space is too small and the event space too crowded. If there's anything New Jersey has to offer, it's space. But as soon as I heard the tickets were $39 I was disappointed to the point of apathy. I've spoken at length about my thoughts on charging admission to vegfests, most recently here, but after much inner dialogue, I decided to purchase tickets to the the inaugural NJ vegfest when they dropped the ticket price from $39 to $25- $39 tickets for those wanting to hear Dr. Fuhrman speak. In the end I'd decided that $25 each for VM and I seemed worthy of a look-see, particularly because the organizers had begun touting goodie bags for the first 1000 people to purchase tickets and I love goodie bags. More on that later.

It being suburbia and all, we- like most attendees, entered the Morristown Hyatt from the parking garage. There was no signage, nothing pointing to the lobby as a check-in area, and no one to greet and direct. We ultimately asked a policeman, who pointed us toward what turned out to be the vendor room. We were stopped at the door, tickets in hand, by 3 organizers/volunteers who, in unison, asked us for wristbands we didn't know existed. They seemed exasperated already- this was only 15 minutes after the event had started, and pointed us towards the lobby. The group of us that had excitedly arrived at the door at the same time all ambled a little aimlessly in the general direction of the pointed finger, and then one of the volunteers decided to escort us.

When we arrived at the lobby, it was a bit of a clusterf*** of lines; VM immediately dubbed it "a disorganized mess." There were signs at eye level, but the crowd prevented you from being able to see that three lines were for pre-purchasers to show their existing tickets in order to acquire said wristbands and one very long one was to purchase tickets at the door. I can't imagine that the volunteers were blindsided by the turnout since they'd known 1000 tickets had been sold, but they seemed so nonetheless. They barely made eye contact- let alone greeted us with any excitement or welcome, so we were not exactly filled with warm fuzzies when it was our turn. We'd seen them handing out blue, vegfest totes which we'd assumed were the goodie bags, but they instead handed us each a small, flattened brown bag. We asked what it was and they insisted it was the goodie bag. When we asked specifically about the blue bags they told us those were only for people who had purchased $39 tickets. This seemed odd because the goodie bags were not advertised in tiers and so it seemed like a kind of a bait & switch.

We walked away, perplexed, and peeked inside the "goodie bags." Aside from 2 coupons and some stickers, the bags each contained various paper advertisements, a pack of smarties and a raw rev bar that I ultimately donated to an unsuspecting squirrel because it was not delicious. A crowd of others curious about the contents of the bags had joined us at the lobby table and we all looked at each other in shared disbelief. "$25?" one person lamented. "Seriously?" said another. In direct contrast to the information we had received, a fellow attendee shared that she had been told that the larger goodie bags were only for the first 100 tickets sold. We were all disappointed and perplexed; it wasn't a good way to begin the event.

I knew from a blurry NJ Vegfest facebook post that nearby Morristown Game Vault had donated a Ms. PacMan for the event, so I was able to gratefully decompress for a minute with my fave game before we went any further.

We then returned to the vendor space, which turned out to be two rooms. We entered the smaller room first, where most of the vendors were set up around the perimeter with a couple of tables that didn't require a set-up area behind them in the center. It was pretty packed there already- mostly thanks to the Ledgewood Loving Hut and their significant amount of offerings for a 4 X 8 conference table! We'd skipped breakfast, so we immediately partook in an order of crispy fried wontons, which were served by an exuberant and friendly bunch and tasted exactly as authentic as I'd hoped. We visited The Skylands Sanctuary table, entered a Whole Foods Raffle, and said hello to the hardest working man at the fest: Carlo from V Marks the Shop. It was a little awkward to eat the fantastic wontons while moving around a crowded space, but it was do-able and reminded me of a vegan-friendly street-fest, only indoors and vegan.

When we entered the 2nd room all of my positivity dissipated. The room was PACKED. I know what you're thinking, "Success!" Well, yes and no. Yes, this was definitely a success in terms of interest and attendees, but as far as claustrophobia and maximum occupancy were concerned...I began to scan the room for xanax samples in a panic. Others agreed.

There were vendors along the perimeter of this larger room, as well as some semblance of rows of vendors throughout. Most rows did not wrap around, so once you walked to the end of one, you'd hit a dead-end wall and have to retrace your steps back through the crowd in order to exit the row. Because many vendors who needed a private set-up area behind them had little or none, that meant that you might take a step back from waiting for your cauliflower wrap and broccoli & cheese empanada from fan-favorite Freakin Vegans, and inadvertently step into super-popular Yeah Dawg's prep area because there was just nowhere else to go. To add to the confusion, a handful of vendors dealt with intermittent power outages that didn't seem to help tensions any. The most perplexing part of it all was that since quite a few vendors had backed out (including stars Peaceful Provisions, Cinnamon Snail), it left you wondering where exactly they would have possibly fit.

Most of the vendors had signs hanging from their tables or table top that were obscured by the sheer volume of people, which caused attendees to cluster once they could finally squeeze in near a table- happy for the opportunity to peruse offerings and to have even the most rudimentary of conversations with vendors where possible. Unfortunately, this kind of necessary standstill was terrible for the small remaining path left through which other attendees were left to navigate past. Tables offering food samples? Forget about it: bottleneck central. There were so many great things to see and partake in, but very little opportunity to do so leisurely. Perhaps I'm in the minority when I say I do not enjoy scenarios where the atmosphere can be described best as frenzied.

But, we sucked it up and squeezed through: making small talk with fellow attendees where possible and grabbing snacks as we went. But therein lay the next problem. Sure there were plenty of prepared foods to purchase, but where to enjoy them? There was seating for about 40 outside the front entrance of the first vendor room, but for the people who had already made it through to the back of the second, crowded room, there was only an escape hatch of sorts into a hallway where the options available were to sit on the floor or use an errant baby grand piano as a somewhat disrespectful, makeshift, bistro table.


It was here where we had another impromptu piano roundtable discussion with other attendees about the entrance fee. All agreed that the event was too crowded and the goodie bags were a joke. But, to my surprise, many had never been to a vegfest before and had no idea that some were free. One person, in particular, said that he was curious about vegetarianism and veganism, but could not convince any of his friends to join him since it meant paying a significant amount to participate in an event just out of curiosity. And therein lies the first problem. The second, of course, being that you shouldn't have to pay $25-$39 to attend an event so that you can spend money with vendors who also paid a significant fee to be there; there must be a happy medium. But, if you decide that it's okay to charge an exorbitant sum since, frankly, New Jerseyans seemed eager and willing to pay, at least do so in a manner that is appreciative: with decent goodie bags (hello, sponsors?) and room to breathe.

One respite from the craziness was our chat with Peter from Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary where I spied this tote that I will covet until I visit.

AND, this advertisement (shameless plug) for The Animal Show starring Michael Harren!

Always good to see Grape Cat and I finally snagged the retired Liberation is Love tee from Compassion Co.; such a beautiful design and it's finally mine. It was the chickens at Woodstock- Coco in particular, that convinced VM to finally go vegetarian.

We also grabbed some great desserts for later from Good Karma: this wowing cookie-filled rice crispy treat (yes, that's what I said) and a humongous smores.

We were so glad that Good Karma represented because they are quintessential NJ veg and there aren't many of those!

Oddly enough, though, there were quite a few NJ vegan institutions that were glaringly absent: Veganized, Positivitea, Veggie Heaven- to name a few. And, in an unexpected move, there were non-vegan restaurants offering vegan-friendly grub at this event. I'm as glad as the next guy to find vegan options at an omni restaurant where possible, but would have preferred more vegan owned & operated gems at a fest celebrating veganism.

In the end, VM and I made it to as many tables as possible, but ultimately gave up and went to the Hyatt bar to kill time before the speaker panel. We sidled up next to some veggies and ordered off the cocktail menu. The person who made our drinks curiously consulted the menu as she did so- ultimately telling us that she'd followed the ingredients, but had no idea how much of each to put in; it was rather mind-boggling. Then we walked through the lobby where a sharp object sticking out of one of the dirty and worn upholstered chairs ripped my pants. I notified the front desk and three people immediately ran out and called a meeting encircling the chair. I reminded them that my pants were ripped and the response was a shrug and an offer of a sewing kit. Keeping it classy, Hyatt Morristown! UPDATE 10/11/16: The Hyatt concierge contacted me via Twitter and was extraordinarily apologetic during our phone conversation. They have gone 100% above and beyond to make it right.

Finally it was time for the Future of Food Panel. I'd unknowingly spoken to the parents of the speaker, Liz Dee, of Smarties Candy Company & Baleine & Bjorn Capital LLC just prior to the panel; they seemed shocked and impressed by the event's turnout. As the granddaughter of the founder of Smarties, Liz shared that it was as a result of consumers contacting the company to discern the veganity of their products that she went vegan and she urged us to all keep contacting companies: asking questions and letting our voices be heard, because, in many cases there are whole departments dedicated to documenting and addressing such inquiries and requests. Also joining the panel, Dr. Ethan Ciment of Vegan Mos and Rachel Dreskin, Compassion in World Farming. Much of the panel was dedicated to talking about advances in vegan food sources that mimic non-vegan food. Hampton Creek was discussed at length (although no mention of the recent allegations), as well as The Impossible Burger, which has apparently cost millions to develop. There were some fireworks when one of the attendees admonished Rachel Dreskin during the Q&A for having made an innocuous comment in her welcome "lumping vegans and vegetarians together" even though "vegetarians are no better than meat-eaters." Rachel cited individual journeys in her response and I admired her kindness to both the source of the complaint and those not-yet-vegan members of the audience, but was really disappointed that someone would be so openly dismissive- particularly at an event intended to attract people to a compassionate lifestyle.

Luckily, just afterwards Chef Adam Sobel of The Cinnamon Snail spoke warmly and informally about genuine kindness and compassion. He imparted a refreshing amount of information about living a compassionate and non-violent life, as well as what that means beyond just following a standard vegan ethos. He was disarmingly open about his own family and lifestyle- which truly engaged the audience. As a contrast to the previous panel, it was interesting to hear his thoughts on the amount of waste in time, effort, and money that goes into relatively non-nutritious analogs that may act as gateway foods, but certainly seem not to provide either nourishment or new vegans commensurate with what goes into making them- from development to delivery (fossil fuels, etc.). It was so refreshing to hear this perspective and it gave me pause to consider that vegan panels, which are notoriously lacking in diversity, can use a shake up in other respects as well.

I was feeling quite zen and incredibly glad to end the event on such a high note, but halfway through the talk there began to be radio/walkie-talkie chatter...and then actual chatter between Hyatt employees behind a double door just beyond the podium. It was distracting and rude, but to Adam's credit he did not falter in the least. I thought it would have been helpful if a fest volunteer had been present to address the issue. When his Q&A was over, Adam offered to stay a bit to answer any further questions and hug anyone who wanted one, but Hyatt staff rushed in rolling large tables and stacking chairs from underneath people in such a flurry that one stack fell on the nearby equipment of a photographer in the haste. For me, this put an unwanted, anxiety-laden period at the end of the frenetic event.

Thankfully, there had been a lot of vegan messagewear to get me through the day; this was my favorite ensemble overall:

Don't get me wrong. I know it's hard to pull off an event of this magnitude and easy to come in as an observer and point out all that was wrong with it. And, to be fair, I'm also coming from a place where I am extraordinarily lucky to be part of a New York vegan community that offers me the opportunity to shop at many of these and other terrific, vegan vendors at my leisure and without a cover charge (glowing example: Vegan Shop Up). I do not dispute that New Jersey definitely needs a vegfest- it was made abundantly clear by the extraordinary response to this inaugural event. But surely there's a way to pull it off that doesn't perpetuate the idea that you have to be rich to be vegan, or come off as one group of vegans taking money from another. I wish the future of NJ Vegfest every success.

UPDATE: Since this posted, the people behind NJ vegfest- Kendra specifically, have initiated and continued a dialogue, been extremely open to any criticisms and understanding of critique, as well as intent on vast improvement for future events. To say I am impressed by their kindness and openness is an understatement.