Last Sunday, the North Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles became a vegan mecca of sorts with the second annual Vegan Street Fair.
A vegan myself for more than two decades, even I couldn’t help but wonder if there were enough of “us” to make for a successful event. Other vegan events like the popular Vegan Beer and Food Festival and Vegan Oktoberfest, both in Los Angeles, draw crowds if for no other reason than “you had me at beer.” But an ordinary street fair, you know, without the booz? And no meat or cheese?
If you think vegan food is all quinoa and kale, this event was anything but--there were vegan corn dogs, tamales, vegan pizza, mac and 'cheese', donuts, cupcakes, ice cream, and so much more.
The inaugural Vegan Street Fair last year was so packed it felt like being stuck in one of those huddles of people exiting a stadium after a sold-out sporting event. The event producers reported attendance of about 10,000 over the course of the day, so this year they tripled the location size, and expected about the same number of attendees.
With more room to move around, the event certainly felt more accommodating, but lines to buy tickets—the only currency for the vegan food—were immensely long. Some people waited 30 minutes or more to load up on tickets before queuing up in lines for any of the 100 vendors at the event.
But were the people attending the street fair vegan, or just hungry?
I talked with a few of the event goers, and all but one said they were vegan.
Taylor, 30, of Hawthorne, Calif., was waiting in a line with her friend Carlos, 26. She’s been vegan for more than four years after doing a plant-based cleanse and “never went back to meat.” Recently she introduced Carlos to the diet, who seemed genuinely curious about vegan food, and how he would ever break his cheese addiction.
Carlos isn’t alone. Cheese is often the most common reason people say they can’t go fully vegan, “it’s just too good,” says Carlos. But to his delight, the vegan cheese industry is booming.
Daiya (yes, you’ve probably been pronouncing it wrong; it’s “day-uh” not “die-uh”) is now being served in more than 20,000 U.S. restaurants, and business is booming for other vegan cheesemakers like Kite Hill and Miyoko’s Creamery.
At a recent trade show in Orange County, Organic Authority’s founder and editor-in-chief Laura Klein tried some pizza made with Miyoko’s new VeganMozz and commented that if I hadn’t told her it was vegan cheese, she would not have known.
Ethyl, 51, of Los Angeles, came to the Vegan Street Fair because it just “seemed so delicious.”
She was vegetarian for more than a decade, but last year, she decided it was time to vegan. “I started reading about the health benefits,” she said. She also began to read about the modern agricultural practices for dairy cows and egg-laying hens.
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“I believe God put the animals here for us,” she said, “but not the way we’re treating them. That’s just not right.”
While the vegan diet is on trend for the health benefits and even its lower environmental impact than meat and dairy, its roots are in animal welfare. Some 55 billion livestock animals worldwide are killed every year, most suffering immensely in the months or years leading up to their deaths. The true definition of vegan means not only avoiding meat, eggs, and dairy, but also products tested on animals, fur, wool, and leather, too.
Rachel, 33, and Ryan, 40, both of Los Angeles, made their diet choices for the animals. For Ryan, his decision to go vegetarian (he still eats some cheese on occasion, but not at home), came 19 years ago after serious food poisoning from eating meat put him in the hospital.
“I started to read about the industry and it just turned me off,” he said.
Heather, 25, and Nick, 29, drove down to Los Angeles for the Vegan Street Fair from Ventura County. About six months ago, they watched the film “Cowspiracy” on Netflix.
“We were ‘normal’ eaters, but [the movie] just kept coming up on our Netflix list,” said Ryan, “so we finally decided we had to watch it.”
From there they watched other movies about the livestock industry and animal welfare, “Earthlings,” and “Forks Over Knives” quickly sealed the deal for the couple.
“It was a pretty easy transition,” says Heather. She and Nick say they’ve never felt physically better, and they’re actually cooking more now as vegans than they did as meat-eaters.
“It’s insanely easy,” says Heather, “and so good.”
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All images Jill Ettinger