Chef Barry Schenker had an underground vegan supperclub going for years. Invite only and difficult to get an in, it’s said these meals were magic-filled and mind-blowing. The standout of the feasts was always Schenker’s ice cream. To procure it, you basically had to jump through hoops and promise your soul to seitan. But that’s all changed because at this weekend’s 12th annual San Francisco World Veg Festival. Schenker debuted Genuto his all natural nut-based ice cream, which will soon be available in Northern California Whole Foods.
Developed with his physician wife Diana Rebman, Genuto’s probiotic nut emulsion blend is cholesterol-free, antioxidant-rich, and low in saturated fats. It’s also ridiculously delicious.
At the festival, Schenker and Rebman offered up flavors Simply Pistachio, Chai Latte, and Chocolate Cardamom, and I basically had to try them all. Twice. If you held a gun to my head and made me choose a favorite, I’d call the cops, because who does that!? Then, I’d confess that the Crystallized Ginger, which was spicy and rich, with just a touch of sweetness, really spoke to my heart.
Yes, ice cream speaks to my heart and if that’s not the case for you, then maybe you’re not as obsessed with food as your average vegan. You see, we, as a people, have an appreciation for delicious veg food that’s either enthusiastic or psycho fanatic, depending on where you’re standing. Last weekend’s World Veg Festival was a celebration of all things vegan and awesome. Veg vendors, speakers, and non-profits descended upon San Francisco’s County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park, to meet and educate the masses about the glories of a veganism. I attended with a full wallet and empty belly, ready to take in all the sites, sounds, and snacks of the festival.
Before you even enter the building, you are greeted with vendors selling everything from vegan marshmallows to freshly made taquitos. Right off the bat, you’re made aware of the fact that it’s all about the eats.
In addition to Genuto, I discovered Eli’s Earth Bars, the new-ish organic, vegan candy bars from chocolate maker, Sjaak’s.
I sampled the Treasure Bar, which is basically a high quality Butterfinger, taken to the next level with a drizzle of caramel and a chocolate coating. Sure, they’re a little more expensive than your average truck stop candy bar, but they’re organic and Fair trade, so you don’t feel like an asshole when you eat one. Or four.
Another food highlight was Melodi Donahue and her Obsessive Confection Disorder (OCD) Sweets.
Donahue burst onto the scene earlier this year with her insanely-flavored, absolutely irresistible vegan treats. Having previously binged on caramels with crazy flavors—think artichoke and Limoncello; blood orange, ginger, and beet; and sourdough pretzel, IPA—I was excited to see what she cooked up for the fest. Lucky for me, Donahue had some major winners! Her table overflowed with Apple Cider Caramels, Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce, and Caramel ‘Not’ Corn, which are popcorn-sized bites of marshmallow, coconut, rice, corn, caramel, and India Pale Ale, and will grace the goodie bags at next year’s Academy Awards.
Yes, I was eating something that Meryl Streep will eat, and I got to have it before her. Sometimes life is fair! Donahue said that she sold out on Saturday, and had to run home and make more of everything. She’s currently set to take over the nation’s sweet tooth when featured in next month’s O Magazine—we all know that whatever Oprah touches turns to CHA-CHING—so I plan on ordering a metric ton before that happens. She’s currently a one woman operation and I need my magical beer caramels.
Although World Veg festival is primarily about gorging on as many samples as possible, it’s also filled with non-profits like Food Empowerment Project and SaveABunny, both looking to spread the message, recruit volunteers, and save awesome animals. There were also tons of vegan companies peddling everything from message t-shirts proclaiming your love of kale to board games that teach kid compassion for animals. One of my favorites was Roni Seabery’s company, Daisy Wares, which allowed me to stock up on the most marvelous smelling lavender soap I’ve ever almost accidentally eaten.
In the adjoining rooms, the festival’s line-up of vegan-famous speakers tackled a variety of issues, including The Truth About Protein and our role in global depletion. Heavy stuff! Vegan cookbook author extraordinaire, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, gave a talk titled, "From Excuse-itarian to Vegan: Addressing the Blocks and Debunking the Myths that Keep People from Making Changes," which packed the house. Patrick-Goudreau is excellent to hear live, speaking persuasively about food and our relationship to it. She made the fantastic point that, “We flavor our meat with plants with ketchup, mustard, and spices... we're the only animal who flavors our meat,” She continued with, "We do not crave the flesh of an animal, we crave flavor, fullness, fat, and salt."
Through other booths and speakers, I acquired little tidbits of information that I can’t stop thinking about. For example, did you know that the organic label doesn't mean that workers or animals are treated well, it’s just that they're not exposed to chemicals? And that factory farms are always in poor areas, far away from anyone with power or money to be affected by the smell and horrific air and water quality. This is one of the most upsetting things about modern animal agriculture, the fact that it’s so hidden, and its enormous impart on poor communities. As Paul McCartney says, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”
While this weekend World Veg Festival housed its usual high concentration of leather-free Birkenstocks, there was also a few Stella McCartney pumps in the house. The entire event is a nice reminder of where veganism has been, and where it’s headed. We’ve come a long way, baby! I left feeling uplifted, inspired, righteous, and so freaking full.