Clean Eating 2014: 2014 NYC Vegetarian Food Festival Recap

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emmy’s chillin’ and representin’ at the nyc vegetarian food festival

Vegetarianism is clearly a mainstream movement. When I stopped by the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival on Sunday, just like last year, there was a long line to gain entrance about 30 minutes before the official open. It’s clear that vegetarianism is a big draw, and the festival attracted both the committed diehards and the veg curious alike. The momentum didn’t subside as time went by. Both floors of the Metropolitan Pavilion were packed with people curious to try the latest food products and attend various speaker series. It was a bit insane but all in good fun.

The caliber of food products displayed at the festival is high, and this year was no different. I really appreciated the fact that there was so much variety in the things to sample. There were hot, savory items, lighter snacks, as well as delicious desserts–you can clearly enjoy a tasty, balanced meal on a vegetarian diet. It was no easy task trying to sample everything, but I did manage to get through most of them, and below I’ve highlighted my favorite vendors from the festival. For the most part, you can get these products at Whole Foods or natural food stores in the city, as well as online.

nycveg - emmys
emmy’s organics macaroons and cereals

Emmy’s Organics: Emmy’s mini macaroons were my top pick for best sweet snack. These macaroons are vegan and raw, yet they still pack as much flavor as their dairy-based counterparts. They’re clearly not as crispy as a baked cookie, but they were firm and retained their shape quite well. The lemon ginger macaroons were the best–an explosive burst of bright, tart flavors in one bite, the perfect choice for a post-meal pick-me-up. Also extremely helpful to have around during work events where non-vegan desserts abound. You can find them at various Whole Foods, natural food and mainstream food stores in New York City, and you can also buy them online.

simply protein
simply protein chips

Simply Protein Chips and Bars: Everyone loves a good snack bar to hold them over between meals, but a lot of the popular brands out there are surprisingly not that healthy. A single Clif Bar, for instance, has 23 grams of sugar, which is almost the max daily serving recommended for adults, and has 230 calories, which isn’t all that light. Simply Protein Bars, by comparison, have ~160 calories and only 3 grams of sugar, as well as an impressive 16 grams of protein in one bar. They taste just as good as Kashi granola bars and have the same texture and density, but are vegetarian friendly and are supercharged with nutrients. Same thing with the protein chips–these pea-based chips also contain 15 grams of protein per bag, which is much more than the competition. The chips have a nice crunch to them, and they have a slightly nutty taste like edamame crisps–my personal favorite was the chili. You can buy their products online, at Amazon.com, and at most CVS and GNC stores in New York City.

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vegan ice cream from de mavens

DF Mavens: Vegan ice cream is very hard to pull off, but DF Mavens’ product manages to successfully replicate the creamy texture and rich flavors of a milk-based ice cream. I was very impressed that their vanilla actually tasted like vanilla, not like some odd ball concoction of mashed nut dough. The ice cream comes in three different non-dairy lines–soy, coconut and almond milk. It didn’t matter that it was a cold day, I just wanted to keep eating samples of the mint almond cookie and the key lime creme ice cream. DF Mavens is going to open a storefront on the corner of St. Mark’s Pl and 2nd Ave in spring of 2014, but in the meantime you can buy a pint or two at Whole Foods or other specialty natural food stores in the city. 

nycveg - the real vegan
the real vegan’s vegan spreads

The Real Vegan: Chips and dip ranks high on snacking’s greatest hits, but sometimes you need to branch out from the usual suspects of hummus and guac, which was why I was excited to try the vegan nut spreads from The Real Vegan. I absolutely loved the Superfood Pesto, which basically tastes like it sounds – pesto on super healthy steroids. The spread tasted so fresh, and the flavors were so bright and intense, you could feel the kale and supergreens charging your palate. This product is extremely versatile, you can use it as a tasty sandwich spread or incorporate it into your cooking. Looks like Superfood Pesto vegan pasta might be on the books for lunch next week…  

I was also intrigued by the Faux Gras, a walnut pate inspired by the famous duck liver delicacy. While the texture and consistency were similar to the real thing, it couldn’t capture the gamey decadence of the original. But the sweet and nutty spread was perfectly fine on its own, and I would certainly incorporate it into an hors d’oeuvres dish or a sandwich. The Real Vegan showcased the Faux Gras in their vegetarian banh mi, which I thought was a creative use of the product. You can buy the spreads at Whole Foods, Russ and Daughters and other specialty food stores in the city.  

nycveg - beyond sushi
beyond sushi – 100% vegan

Beyond Sushi: Beyond Sushi definitely had the most visually stunning display at the event. I was mesmerized by the various technicolor strata of beautiful sushi rolls arranged right in front of me. The sushi here isn’t meant to replicate the cooked white vinegared rice that you find at most traditional Japanese restaurants. Beyond Sushi uses forbidden black rice or six-grain rice in their rolls, which right off the bat signals that this a completely different and unique experience. Think of it as another way of incorporating clean eating into your diet, and elevating your vegetarian experience beyond just salads and carrot sticks. The sushi rolls tasted extremely fresh, and the vegetable combinations were very thoughtful and substantial, which is much more than what a meager cucumber roll can provide. To try more of these vegan sushi creations, visit Beyond Sushi’s restaurant at 229 E. 14th St or The Green Roll counter at Chelsea Market. 

gardein booth at plantbasedS
the guys from gardein, courtesy of @plantbaseds twitter feed

Gardein: I’m not a big fan of “mock” meat products. It sort of defeats the purpose of going vegetarian if you’re craving meat the whole time and want some inferior knockoff of the original, right? But I’m going to make an exception for the delicious mandarin crispy chik’n samples that Gardein was serving. These were very, very close to what actual chicken tenders taste like. The breading was golden and crisp, and the mock protein meat inside was tender and plump. I will definitely pull these from the freezer aisle of Whole Foods and pan-fry these one day. It tasted so great, I was skeptical that it was healthy, but at 150 calories per serving and 17 g of protein, it’s not too shabby. The 260 mg of sodium is a bit on the high side, but when you’re pan frying golden chik’n nuggets, that’s not your biggest concern, is it? You can try other frozen mock meat products from Gardein at any of the major food retailers in the city. 

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runa tea products

Runa: Here’s another superfood to add to your list–guayusa, an Amazonian super-leaf that balances caffeine with antioxidants. Runa’s guayusa-based teas provide you with the jolt of caffeine in 1 cup of coffee, but without the jitters and the subsequent 3pm energy crash. It also contains twice the antioxidants found in green tea, leaving you energized and fortified at the same time. Still not sold? You’ll also support a socially responsible cause, since Runa supports the indigenous farming families who source the guayusa tea. I tasted freshly brewed samples of their loose leaf teas, and I found the smooth, non-bitter flavor extremely appealing. The next time I head to Whole Foods or the local bodega, I’m going to have to grab a box of the organic ginger citrus. Cold and don’t want to go outside? You can also order them online from their website. 

nycveg - way better snacks
new flavors from way better snacks

Way Better Snacks: I first discovered Way Better Snacks at the vegetarian food festival last year and have been hooked ever since. The quality of these chips is impeccable. There’s great texture from the real, sprouted ingredients that go into them, and the unmistakable crunch that you get when you bite into the chip is especially satisfying. At the festival, the brand unveiled two new flavors, Sriracha and Mustard + Onion, but my heart belongs to the Multi-Grain Tortilla and the Sweet Chili. You can find Way Better Snacks in most food stores, although I haven’t seen these new flavors yet.

Clean Eating 2014: Going Vegan for the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival!

nyc-vegeterian-food-festival

I am very excited about my weekend plans–on Saturday and Sunday, I will attend the fourth annual NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, which will take place at The Metropolitan Pavilion from 11 am to 6 pm. If you’ve ever been curious about vegetarianism, or if you’re an old veteran looking for new tricks up her sleeves, then you should definitely check this festival out. Various vegetarian food companies, restaurants and health and wellness vendors will be on hand to answer every question you had about adopting a healthy and sustainable plant-based lifestyle. You can buy tickets here or at the door for $40, cash only. To learn more details, check out the link to the festival website.

I went last year, and it was definitely an eye-opening experience. I always thought vegetarians were missing out with their eating restrictions, but the delicious food samples that I tried at the festival told me otherwise. I tasted unbelievable cookies and chips that would appeal to any sort of diet. Because of my positive experience, I actually felt like I could realistically sustain a vegetarian diet if I wanted to.

To truly get into the spirit of the vegetarian food festival, I’ve decided to adopt a vegan diet for the week. Going vegetarian is hard enough, but veganism is a real challenge. You take for granted how many things secretly have dairy or honey in them. Yes, I’m trying to keep it hardcore vegan and not eat honey. I thought my Kind Bars were in the clear, the packaging even had “dairy free” on it, but sadly, honey was on the list of ingredients. When I went to the company cafe to see if I could get a vegan-friendly snack bar, I was frustrated to see that everything had honey or chocolate in it. My only other options were potato chips or salted nuts, which was not what I was in the mood for. If I didn’t find a banana hidden in my desk, I would have totally blown my diet and eaten the Kind Bar.

As you can tell, going vegan can be difficult. The lack of vegan options makes failure a real option if you’re hungry, desperate and unarmed. The second challenge for me was feeling full. I would sautee some kale or brussels sprouts for dinner, and while these vegetables had bulk, I wasn’t quite satisfied at the end. I had to rely on a lot of nuts, lentils, beans and quinoa to get me through. But the biggest hurdle of all was not getting bored. In week 1, I had some variation of kale salad everyday. While it was fine for one week, I don’t want to keep eating that in the next. I’m going to have to actually research some vegetarian recipes and make something new so that eating doesn’t become a chore, and suddenly that chicken soup looks mighty appetizing.

But a vegan diet can also be fun and exciting! For instance, I went out of my comfort zone and tried one of those really granola food brands to check the box on my vegan dinner. I was a litle leery of the Amy’s Kitchen Black Bean Vegetable Enchilada that I bought, but it ended up being quite delicious. I also tried making a tofu scramble from scratch and was very impressed by the results. It’s amazing how garlic, onions and simple spices can transform anything. Same thing with my kale, bean and lentil salad experiment–I sort of threw all my leftover vegetables together and was skeptical of the results, but it was actually very good.

vegan yumminess tofu
delicious tofu scramble, courtesy of veganyumminess.com

There’s also a lot of options for great vegan desserts in the city. My favorite is Lula’s Sweet Apothecary, a vegan ice cream parlor in Alphabet City that makes a peanut butter ice cream  to die for. If I had to give up real ice cream for Lula’s, I would do it in a heartbeat. Momofuku Milk Bar makes a great vegan chocolate chip cookie, as does Jennifer’s Way Bakery, both in the East Village. Apparently Atlas Cafe in the neighborhood makes a dessert called the peanut butter bomb that is the bomb, so I can’t wait to try it out.

Lula's sweet apothecary brownie sundae seriouseats
lula’s brownie sundae, courtesy of seriouseats.com

As for the health effects, my skin always looks better when I take out meat and dairy. I haven’t felt tired yet, which is something I was worried about. A lot of people complain that they don’t get enough protein on a vegan diet and hence feel fatigued. This morning I was able to get through my Beachbody Insanity workout, although my push-up portion was crap, but I’ve always had terrible upper-body strength. This may be TMI, but I think my digestion has improved. So I would say these are big wins on the personal healthcare front, and I am going to keep on doing this the next work week!

In case you were wondering, this is what a vegan diet looks like:

Day 1 – Kind bar (didn’t know there was honey!), sweet potato kale salad for lunch, an apple and orange for snacks, sauteed kale for dinner
Day 2 – Repeat of Day 1, except pan-fried brussels sprouts for dinner
Day 3 – oatmeal w/raisins for breakfast, kale salad with beans and lentils for lunch, an apple and almonds for snacks, Amy’s Black Bean Enchilada for dinner (heavenly!)
Day 4 – oatmeal w/raisins for breakfast, kale salad with beans and lentils for lunch, two bananas and an orange for snacks, homemade tofu scramble

Hope to see you at the festival, and maybe we can do this vegan-during-the-work-week thing together!