South Bethlehem was overrun by a voracious group of people on Saturday, when the town held its seventh annual VegFest, celebrating and promoting a cruelty-free lifestyle and delicious meat- and dairy-free foods.
“VegFest began in 2011 when the Downtown Bethlehem Association staff and board of directors were looking for a new event to host on the south side,” Timothy A. Brooks, DBA manager of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, said. “There are not many vegan festivals in Pennsylvania. I believe that is one reason for the draw. Another reason is the healthy lifestyle of a plant-based diet.”
Some of the biggest hot spots included New York City’s The Cinnamon Snail, Philadelphia’s Kung Fu Hoagies and Bethlehem’s Vegan Treats Bakery.
The Vegan Treats station was mobbed throughout the day, with hundreds of hungry patrons gobbling up a wide variety of rich brownies, giant cookies, sweet-and-savory Fried Chicken and Waffles doughnuts and more — ample proof that a great dessert does not require dairy products.
Couple Megan Driscoll, a vegan-centric social media influencer who goes by hummus_monsta on Instagram, and Rance Kirsch were all about the eats along the Greenway. Although due to have their first child in a few days, Driscoll was amped up and ready to explore the grounds for some favorite foods, whether they were new or tried and true.
“We’re the foodie type vegans,” Driscoll said. “I’ve been vegan for four-and-a-half years. We’re here for The Cinnamon Snail, mostly, since I’ve never tried them. We’ll definitely stop by Vegan Treats, that’s always our go-to.”
Locals swarmed The Cinnamon Snail, with hundreds of people waiting for sandwiches like the Thanksgiving Sandoo, featuring porcini mushroom simmered seitan (a wheat gluten-based meat substitute), parsnip sage bread pudding, cranberry orange relish, marinated kale and roasted garlic aioli on a grilled baguette. Of course, delectable raspberry cheesecake doughnuts and lavender pear turnovers moved quickly, too.
Clearly, gone are the days when a sad, plain veggie burger was the only option available to those who don’t do meat.
Kung Fu Hoagies is a Philadelphia food cart that has opened up the culinary world for Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine. Their signature bánh mì is based on the classic ethnic meal, which traditionally features pork or chicken with pickled veggies, pate and mayonnaise on a baguette-like roll. Kung Fu Hoagies nixes the pate, and swaps out the pork and chicken for vegan alternatives, but the result is flavorful and hearty.
“When we opened six and a half years ago, my partner and I were, and still are, kung fu-practicing vegetarians,” Steven Renzi, who co-owns the business with Paul Davis, said. “The food cart was my partner Paul’s idea, but our teacher, like the style of kung fu that we study, is Chinese-Vietnamese, and encouraged us to serve bánh mì. We happily obliged, and here we are now.”
Renzi said that he estimates around half of his customers eat meat, so while they’re not necessarily in the market to convert people to a plant-based diet, he is happy to spread the word.
“I’d like to think that one of my sandwiches could get somebody to make the switch, but to be honest, I’m happy to just get people thinking about it, and ... show them that there are tasty, affordable options,” he said.
And at $6 for a filling short sandwich, it’s surprisingly cheap as well, blowing away one of the numerous assumptions about the cost, access and difficulty attributed to a vegan lifestyle.
As veganism is a lifestyle, not just a diet, numerous vendors concentrated on promoting positive treatment for animals and cruelty-free products like makeup, clothing and more.
“Along with the diet is the humane aspect of cruelty-free living,” Brooks said. “We have several animal advocacy groups that participate and are popular with VegFest attendees.”
The Pig Placement Network had one of the most interesting setups, featuring a group of talented potbellies who would create art by pressing their noses against wax-paper covered mini-canvasses covered with finger-paint.
The group focuses on helping pigs throughout the area, and member Eileen Wanamaker said that they often find the most compassion for the little guys at get-togethers like VegFest.
“We rescue, rehab, and re-home potbellied pigs. It seems like at any VegFest, whether it’s in Washington, Baltimore, New York, or anywhere, those people have the most appreciation for pigs as companion animals,” she said.
As VegFest proved, there’s always room for compassion, especially when that means creative, delicious plates from all over the world. And it’s not as difficult to live that way as you would imagine, according to just about everyone at the festival.
“It’s not a challenge at all,” longtime vegan Jesse Yannes, who came out for The Cinnamon Snail and Kung Fu Hoagies, said. “It doesn’t have to be more expensive than anything else, and it’s not the painthat people think it is.”