The vegan diet is having a major moment. From plant-based burgers that taste like the real thing to celebrities making the switch public and with passion. Instagram has played a critical role in all of this -- removing the stigma that vegan food is bland, boring, and restrictive. Food that once fueled cruel jokes about misanthropic skinny vegan animal rights activists is now the movement’s brightest star. And the spotlight shines on some of the best vegan food creations in the world this weekend at the Los Angeles Vegan Street Fair night market, VSF Nights.
Jessica Schoech, the event organizer, grew up in New York City where street fairs were commonplace. “On so many occasions, I’d find myself smack dab in the middle of a random street fair on 8th Avenue or on the Lower East Side without even knowing about it,” she told Organic Authority via email. “Even if I only had 10 minutes to spare on my way to work or school, I’d always stop and get sucked into the incredible community energy on those streets.”
She says the San Genarro festival in Little Italy stayed with her and became the inspiration for VSF. “The music, the energy, the people, the community made any day at that festival better than the last. On those days, everyone was welcomed with open arms to enjoy the culture and the vibe, no matter who they were or what they looked like. Cue Vegan Street Fair.”
A few years ago, Schoech was working on developing an iPhone app (that was local to LA streets) and noticed the abundance of vegan options in the city, “even if I tried, it would probably take me 10 years to eat at every single vegan and vegan friendly location in LA,” she says. And that’s when the idea struck her: “What if I could create an event where they all came to me instead?”
Schoech and her husband Ken hit on something. The veritable interest in vegan food and southern California's perpetually perfect climate make for an ideal festival locale. The couple started back in 2014 with the first Vegan Street Fair – a daytime event that happens in early spring, but there are no less than a dozen other vegan festivals in the area. From Veg Fest to the California Vegetarian Food Festival to the Coachella of vegan food festivals, Eat Drink Vegan, the community shows no lack of interest in celebrating vegan food. The Vegan Street Fair daytime event attracts close to thirty thousand attendees sprawled out over one mile of North Hollywood streets. But the VSF Nights event is more intimate. A nominal fee gets you into the two-night event as opposed to the daytime fair that doesn’t charge for entry.
What’s most inspiring for the Schoechs is that the event attendees tend to not be vegan. “After every single event, we have attendees private message us telling us that they’ve gone vegan thanks to exploring all of the amazing vegan food we had to offer,” says Schoech. “That’s the goal! For us, VSF is a celebration of vegan food and the vegan lifestyle but honestly, its [sic] the non-vegans we want more than anything! We just want to plant as many seeds as we can, you know? And luckily, it seems to be working.”
Even vendors are getting in on the game, says Shoech. Often the vendors aren’t fully vegan restaurants or companies, but the success of the event can lead to a company adding more vegan items to their offerings.
Last spring, when I covered the Eat Drink Vegan festival at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, Mikey McKennedy, co-founder of Portland’s Sizzle Pie (flown in to make pies for the event) touched on why vegan festivals seem to be having such a moment. “Being vegan has come a long way, but it’s still not easy,” he said. “It’s ignored by many restaurant menus or at best just an afterthought. There’s a community that forms because of that.”
Schoech agrees. “As we’ve evolved, we now have other options but our core values remain: make veganism as accessible as possible, make the experience as fun and easy as possible, and facilitate people eating all the vegan things.”
And what’s not to celebrate? Curated by Instagram star @VeganFatKid, Tim Moore, the event’s food selection is eclectic and ever-changing.
“[Moore] aims for about 90% new vendors year after year which means he’s looking for that extra something special when he decides who to invite,” Shoech says. “He is such a force in the vegan world so when Tim says something is good, we know it's legit.”
Moore is exemplary of a successful Instagram feed – a mix of gorgeous food photos (burritos are his muse), motivational posts, and earnest realism make his nearly 190,000 followers incredibly excited about veganism. And more than that, excited about celebrating it.
“Collaborating with other vendors, introducing a new menu item, hitting the scene like a bat outta hell, and/ or being a part of what is trending at the moment in veganism all check the boxes for us,” Schoech says.
“We come into it knowing that we want to constantly elevate our event game and innovate on things that we can control as organizers and I think it really shows in the event itself,” says Shoech. “We facilitate attendees falling in love with the vendors and really take the holistic approach in organizing every minute detail like menu creation, item ideas, social media strategies, and marketing.”
The Shoech’s next goal is to take the event national. Now with a fair in New York, and scores of other vegan festivals already across the country, the plan is to rotate through different cities each year bringing more vegan food and more celebration to as many people as possible. “Veganism is just becoming more mainstream,” says Shoech. “The demand is there and all of these organizers are delivering. The more, the merrier.”
Vegan Street Fair Nights takes place this Friday and Saturday in North Hollywood.
Bling Bling Dumpling
Cha Cha Kombucha
Ridiculous Baking Co
Taqueria La Venganza
The Wild Chive
Word of Mouth Truck
More info at www.veganstreetfair.com.
[Correction 9/5/17: The article was edited to reflect that the Vegan Street Fair's daytime spring event attracts 30,000 attendees, not 10,000.]
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All images via @veganfatkid