Calling all vegetarians, vegans, and health-food nuts: The Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea will host the fourth annual NYC Vegetarian Food Festival on March 1, which promises vegan fare from over 100 vendors, and features speakers ranging from doctors to comedians.
Sarah Gross, the festival’s co-founder, runs a vegan chocolate company called Rescue Chocolate, which donates its proceeds to animal relief efforts. Gross has been a vegetarian for 18 years and a vegan for 14 years.
“The longer I am a vegetarian, the more reasons I see for it,” said Gross, who started the festival because of her passion for animal welfare and abolishing factory farming.
Gross said that when she first moved to New York, she was surprised that there were few events for the vegetarians. Whenever she wanted to meet up with fellow vegetarians, it meant a trip to Boston, so she had the idea to arrange a festival of her own.
Upon meeting her partner, Nira Paliwoda—a lawyer who started her own event production and marketing company, Two Shes—the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival was born.
At first, Gross and Paliwoda considered a simpler project, like a vegetarian barbecue. Upon evaluation of the market place, however, the two women decided to plan something large-scale, educational, and fun. Gross said they just dived in, deciding that, “This is what we’re doing, and it’s going to be awesome.”
As the event grew beyond the scope that the pair had envisioned, they faced some challenges—including garnering support in the form of backers, vendors, and drawing in participants.
“Like any other project, there are naysayers,” Paliwoda said. “But I just push even more.” Gross and Paliwoda had planned on welcoming about 250 people, but at the inaugural festival in 2011, lines stretched around the block. They couldn’t accommodate everyone who showed up.
The attendee responses and vendor feedbacks to the 2011 festival were overwhelmingly positive. “People asked if we were pumping oxygen into the room because they had such a great feeling,” Gross said.
“The main thing as an event planner is to get people to have a good time,” Paliwoda said.
This year, the event will be even larger, expanding to two floors and hosting more than 100 vendors over two days.
The Natural Gourmet Institute is sponsoring a cooking demonstration with professional chefs as instructors. Two chefs will represent the award-winning vegan restaurant Vedge, bringing their experience all the way from Philadelphia.
The festival will be eco-friendly, with All Good Things, a New York furniture company, donating furniture made entirely of recycled and repurposed wood. Green Mountain Energy will supply eco-friendly electricity to power the event.
Gross and Paliwoda aim for the festival to entertain as well as educate.
“You don’t feel like you are being lectured to,” Paliwoda said. “It’s a fun festival feel.”
For dedicated vegans, the festival offers the opportunity to find a large selection of cutting-edge food products—like Nuttin Ordinary, a vegan cheese company that uses a newly-developed method of making cheese from nuts—but Gross and Paliwoda also see it as a way for non-vegetarians and vegans to learn more about this type of food.
Paliwoda, who is not vegetarian herself, said that the concept appeals to her, seeing as she often won’t buy products that she sees on the shelf simply because she has never tried them.
“We want the skeptics to come and taste everything,” Gross said.