I wouldn’t call myself a food festival frequenter. I love them, and will go if the opportunity arises, but I don’t really seek them out as I usually would rather spend the money on a concert or music festival. However Southwest VegFest was different. Being newly vegan, I am always seeking out vegan restaurants, recipes, and substitutes to replace things that I loved from my former omnivorous diet. When I heard about SW VegFest, I knew I wanted to go to try different vegan fares from several places all in one outing, plus learn more about local vegan restaurants, brands and companies.
When I arrived I dropped in for the last half of a panel about protein. The speakers were nutritionist Lisa Schmidt, plant-based Dr. Benjamin Benulis, vegan bodybuilder Doug Tice, and vegan bodybuilder, author and speaker, Robert Cheeke. While I never really have worries about meeting my own protein intake, it was really interesting to get the perspectives of two body-builders about getting adequate protein on a plant-based diet, plus options for alternative protein sources. Namely they mentioned plants, seeds, nuts and beans, which are staples in my diet, as should be as part of any balanced vegan diet. Honestly after doing the protein calculations for my weight, compared to what I was eating before, I almost would say I now consume MORE protein than I did as an omnivore because I am more conscious of it and sneak in protein wherever possible (seeds on avocado toast, in sauces, smoothies, protein powders, plus through protein-rich vegetables and legumes.)
Next I went in search of the main reason I came — food. I made my rounds around the whole festival probably at least two full times. Salivating because of so many delicious options, and for once, ALL VEGAN!
I decided upon a chickpea chorizo quesadilla from Dilla Libre. Pretty much all through high school and college, namely when I was vegetarian, quesadillas were an unhealthy favorite in my diet and to be honest, sometimes I miss them. So I thought that I would try my luck and the vegan-ified version of my once-favorite food. (Sadly I got no photo —it really did not photograph well.) The chickpea “chorizo” was seasoned to be spicy but not too spicy, and served with salsa, just how I liked it. It was delicious.
While I was eating I wandered over to catch a bit of the cooking demo that was finishing up. While I did not arrive in time to taste their delicious date-based caramel sauce with apples for dipping, I was able to snag the recipe by Jamila Mendoza and am looking forward to whipping this up myself.
After seeing their delicious caramel dip, I was hungry for some sweets. I had spotted raw, vegan, unicorn cheesecake bites from the Coconut Hut’s stand; pair that with their “Majik Pitaya Limeade,” and I was sold.
Now I’m not usually one for lemonade — or limeade —but I knew this wasn’t going to take on the too-sweet-yet-sour artificially produced flavors of it’s counterparts, and I was right. The concoction contained pitaya, lime, agave, and butterfly pea tea (what gave it the blue color) and was DELICIOUS. Perfect tangy, sweet flavor and no guilt from a processed sugary artificially-flavored drink. I honestly did not know what butterfly pea tea was before trying this drink, but upon some research discovered that it’s an herbal tea made from the leaves of a clitoria ternatea plant and dried lemongrass. It’s also full of antioxidants and promotes a variety of health benefits, such as preventing premature aging, alleviating pain and fighting inflammation. Yas!
Now about that cheesecake… “Unicorn” food is not really my thing, but it was the ingredients that really caught my attention. Being a raw vegan treat, it was made from pitaya, cashews, dates, almonds, coconut and blue majik spirulina. The texture was nearly spot-on —it was incredibly creamy and delicious. With ingredients so simple, I’m inspired to try to recreate it myself… BRB googling copycat recipes.
While I sipped my pitaya lemonade I wandered over to listen to the speaker, Connie Spence, aka “Vegan Batgirl.” While I did not know anything about her before, I was captivated by her stories of projecting vegan facts through light onto buildings in cities across the country, her run-ins with the police and standing up for her rights (because what she’s doing is 100% legal, as it’s not considered vandalism). Look at some of what she’s done here, I swear, it’s crazy creative and so cool. My favorite thing to learn was that she has also started the first vegan lobbying group, aimed toward stopping the government from subsidizing the agriculture and dairy industries so heavily by bringing supply and demand back to The Farm Bill. This is important because being vegan, even though our personal dollars are not voting for meat and dairy, our tax dollars are, despite meat and dairy consumption decreasing. Her talk and message were eye opening for me and I’m sure would be for so many others — vegan or not.
Rant over. Now, onto a lighter subject. As I went to the festival alone, I couldn’t help but leave with some treats to bring home for my boyfriend (ahem, me). So I stopped and picked up a four pack of Positively Frosted Plant-Based Cupcakes. These were my first vegan cupcakes that I’ve tried, and they were just as cakey, fluffy and creamy as any cupcake I’ve had, if not better. PLUS they had the most fun flavors! We had margarita, funfetti, chocolate peanut butter and salted caramel. Tanner tried the funfetti and chocolate peanut butter and I got the margarita and salted caramel (and a bit of his chocolate peanut butter). I have to say my absolute favorite was the margarita (of course, it’s also my favorite kind of cocktail!). It was so light and fluffy with a tangy vanilla-lime taste that I have never experienced in a cupcake before. Definitely going to be seeking these out again next time I have the chance!
Despite not being a frequent food festival attendee, my first of the vegan variety was a success. Luckily I live in a city with tons of food festivals all year long, and I know there are more vegan festivals coming up, included AZ Vegan Fest in December, and Phoenix Vegan Festival in February. I now have to say I’ll be making it a priority to attend these events!
Have you ever been to a vegan food festival? What did you think? Did you discover any new dishes or restaurants? Were you inspired to replicate something you saw or tried? Let me know!