It's so hard to believe that it's already that time of year again, but this weekend marked the 27th Annual Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival. Held the second weekend of September every year at the Harbourfront Centre right in the heart of Toronto, this is an event that is a must see for all plant-strong and plant-curious folks. This is evident by the fact that even Paul and I hit the open road and headed into the city, something we don't do very often because we are typical suburbanites who panic over collector lanes and $20.00 parking.
It was our second time attending the event (this was our experience last year) and somehow it managed to be even more chaotic than the first time. First of all, my car is kind of a death trap lately and started making some seriously questionable noises somewhere around Milton. Secondly, our dog is still recuperating from that serious illness that almost took her from us a couple months ago, so we don't like to leave her alone for too long. This means that this year we couldn't stay for lunch and dinner, and instead had to concentrate our efforts around one "meal" halfway through the afternoon. Naturally, this lead to some panic because honestly how do you choose from that many options?
Which takes me to the next chaotic element: the festival itself. It's takes about an hour and a half to get from our front door to the festival and we fill the time by talking about what we are going to eat. I know this sounds insane. But if you are vegan, you understand that we never get to do things like that. All you carnists out there have your ribfests and your lobsterfests and your charity BBQs. It seems like every weekend of every summer features some sort of gorge-fest for carnists. We get one. And it's the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival. And it was this weekend.
The problem is that we get so jacked up for it that once we actually get there we experience a bit of meltdown due to over-stimulation. Seriously! There are so many booths, so many options and you can eat pretty much all of them, except that you can't because you don't have enough time and the pants you are wearing can only stretch to a certain point. And then you freak out thinking about all the food you can't eat, especially if you're like us and you drive in from out of town. So then you find yourself second-guessing the choices that you finally make. When you are limited by both time and digestion, you have to choose carefully or you will be mad at yourself until the next festival comes around.
I let myself panic for a minute, and then I get started. I may not be able to eat everything there but I sure as hell can try.
The festival is this crazy mess of hungry vegetarians running from stand to stand grabbing as much food as their little paws can hold. This is no time to try and operate a camera for blogging purposes. You stop to take one pictures and the next thing you know the stand you're at is all out of butter tarts. This is a tragedy that I have come to know all too well - so bear with me as I share some pictures, but not as many as could have been possible had I hired someone to hold my camera and an extra cupcake while I attempted to navigate the grounds.
Disclaimer: Please note that TIV does not condone eating this much brown, fried, glistening food all in one afternoon on a regular basis. But this is the Veg Food Festival for God's sake and sacrifices will be made. As Paul said as we were getting ready to head out: "This is vegan Christmas. You will not restrict me."
Our first stop was the Green Earth stand.
I got the chow mein (something I haven't had in years, believe it or not!), the Green Earth rotisserie and two chick'un nuggets.
Paul got the fried rice, the Green Earth rotisserie, a chick'un nugget and some spring rolls.
The rotisserie was alarmingly authentic!
Next we found the LPK's Culinary Groove stand.
Where they had peanut butter Nanaimo bars!
And they were making little mini sweet potato donuts right on site!
We may have sampled a sandwich cookie too.
After all that we figured we'd better walk it off a little bit - until we found the wonderful folks from Kindfood in Burlington. It's nice to see they have recovered from our buying their entire restaurant a couple weeks ago.
Paul couldn't resist trying one of their newest creations - the Bounty (like the chocolate bar) cupcake!
Four different people took four different bites out of this cupcake which is weird I suppose but this is just how we roll at the festival. Things move so quickly. There is no time for cutlery or concern over contagious diseases.
During our first spin around the grounds I didn't spot the kebab guy from last year and I was pretty sad about it. But the second time around - there he was! In all his kebab glory! Still as amazing as ever.
I'm not going to lie, at this point I was starting to feel a little bit unwell. This is my own damn fault because there were plenty of non-fried non-dessert options available and I was selecting none of them. Instead we got more fried food via King's Cafe, owners of our beloved Zen Gardens restaurant.
The plan after that King's Cafe plate was to walk around a bit more and then get some of the little tacos we enjoyed so much last year, but by this point in the afternoon I was starting to see spots and my breathing was becoming a bit laboured. It was time to call it a day. But I couldn't. Until I had one more thing.
My beloved Sweets from the Earth carrot cake.
This is a weekend we look forward to all year long, and this year's Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival did not disappoint. The food is obviously the main draw at an event like this and there is something for every type of vegan out there. Paul and I are vegan because we don't want to harm animals, not because we never liked the taste of meat. So for us, the food festival is one weekend a year where we can indulge in our pregan favourites while staying true to our belief that animals exist for their own reasons, none of which are to satiate our human palates. For those vegans that are completely put off by something that even resembles meat, fear not, because there's plenty for you too - fruit and vegetable-based concoctions in all the colours of the rainbow. There are also plenty of cooking demonstrations, presentations and speeches (I really wish we could have stayed to hear at least one of them - hopefully next year).
While the food is what keeps us talking about the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival all year long, it's the experience of being there that contributes greatly to our return every September. It is so very cool to see that many people enjoying veganism that much. It's chaotic and frantic and you end up with icing all over your purse because you confuse which is the cupcake and which is your camera but that's kind of what makes it so awesome - everyone is so enthusiastic about the vegan lifestyle that we just run wild through Harbourfront Centre with our hands outstretched, waiting for the next delicious thing to make its way into our bellies. And the animals get to live.
There is no denying that today is a very difficult day for a lot of people, myself included. I was 17 years old on September 11th, 2001. I was on the brink of adulthood and I was ignorant and self-centered and when the planes hit I didn't get the panic. I just remember my teacher's face drain of colour as she gripped the blackboard ledge and said to the class, "You do know what this means, don't you? Someone is declaring war on the United States." Over the following weeks we came to terms with the fact that the world that we were promised as kids was not the world that we would get to live in. At the time, and for many years afterward, peace and compassion seemed an impossibility.
For me, it's no small coincidence that this vegetarian food festival always seems to coincide with September 11th. Each year as we are inundated with images of that tragic day, when our pulses begin to race, and the anger resurfaces and threatens our compassion, our patience and our understanding - there is the festival, filled with so many people who not only believe that above all else, peace and compassion trump violence, but who also live that philosophy every time they eat, every time they purchase something and every time that they interact with the world around them. It is both humbling and uplifting to interact with these people, particularly at this time of year.
We may not have been able to eat everything that we wanted to at the festival, but we did pick up some goodies to bring home! Just to spread the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival love a bit beyond festival weekend, I'm going to do a little giveaway.
I managed to wrestle these two boxes of New Moon Kitchen cookies and they will be shipped off to one lucky reader of This is Vegan!
There is one box of Chocolate Chip and one box of Ginger Snappers, both 100% vegan and made with organic spelt flour.
Each person can enter up to three times by commenting with the phrase "C IS FOR COOKIE" via...
1) Blog: Comment on this entry with the phrase posted above. You can use your Google/Blogger ID. If you don't have one, comment as "Anonymous" but include your name and a working email address.
2) Facebook: Join the ThisIsVegan.com Facebook Group and post the phrase above on the group wall.
3) Twitter: Post the following on your Twitter: "C IS FOR COOKIE! Enter the @ThisIsVeganBlog @newmoonkitchen cookie giveaway at http://tinyurl.com/6x86q9k".
Contest closes on Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 12pm EST. A winner will be drawn by random number generator and posted shortly afterward. Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. Good luck!