Notes from Vegfest 2012

This weekend was Vegfest in Seattle, run by the Vegetarians of Washington. After a daunting-yet-fast-moving line, Jud and I made it in this afternoon, eating our way through the huge exhibition hall at Seattle Center. For a pair of crowd-hating introverts, Vegfest can be something to endure as much as enjoy, but it’s such an unmatched way to try new products that we persevered again this year.

Having just been to the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, I confess feeling a little smug at how favorably Seattle’s Vegfest compares. Far more vendors, better organization of exhibition space to handle the insane numbers of people that both events attracted, and much better organization of the admissions process (I never found out why there was such a delay to get started in NY, but it was very irritating, especially to the people who had paid a bunch extra for VIP tickets that should have gotten them right in). I enjoyed the NYC festival, but I really do have to tip my hat to the Vegetarians of Washington for our spectacular local event.

Even though they upped the admission price this year to $8, it’s still a steal for all the tastes, take-with-you samples, coupons, and access to discounted products that you get. There’s a rest area for people needing a seat away from the sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, a nursing area, a well-stocked book table, and of course row after row of booths with volunteers sampling all kinds of food and beverages.

New things I tried that were notable:

  • Wayfare “Pig Out” bacony bits. Crunchy, smoky, just the right amount of salty. I could definitely see dumping these on salads, baked potatoes, soups, and my outstretched hand. They don’t taste just like bacon, and I think in this case that’s a good thing. They taste remarkably natural, and like they just took all the best elements of bacon and left the rest. Unfortunately, they’re currently available only by mail order. I hope that changes soon! I’d love to pick some up at Sidecar.
  • Heidi Ho Organics nut-based cheezes. I had previously tried and liked the Smoked Gouda flavor, but today I had the chance to try the Monterey Jack and Chipotle Cheddar flavors. Soy-free and gluten-free, these hazelnut-based cheezes are much less processed than some of the more famous ones, like Daiya or Follow Your Heart. On the plus side, they’re…well, less processed, which many people appreciate as its own virtue. On the potential downside, they would not fool anyone trying to imagine they’re eating dairy cheese (some might consider that a plus, also!). They taste and act similar to cheezes you might make out of The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook (which I highly recommend), so you can get some softening/slight melting, but you won’t get the gooeyness that Daiya is famous for. I find that the Jack and Gouda flavors especially have a pretty strong mustard flavor to them. On a sandwich, I think I’d be quite happy with that. On crackers or in a baked recipe I might prefer something without such a pronounced mustard note. The Portland-based company is working on expanding distribution to Seattle.
  • Speaking of Daiya, I tried one of their new Daiya wedges, in the Jalapeno-Garlic Havarti flavor. The texture was creamy and soft, and the flavor was really excellent: some sharp notes balanced with smoother, richer flavors. Maybe it was just the piece I got, but I didn’t notice any of the heat that I would have expected from the Jalapeno (but I prefer it that way). This is one of a very few vegan cheeses I’ve tried that I would eat straight up on crackers. In fact, when I smooshed it onto the caraway-flavored Mary’s Gone Crackers I had picked up across the aisle, it was really a perfect match.
  • I was really excited to try the GardenBar, after reading about it recently via Grant Butler. I have eaten an awful lot of bars in my decade and a half as a vegan, and after all the Clif bars, Lara bars, Odwalla, etc. etc. etc. I have longed for something not sweet. When traveling or hiking I tend to go through a lot of these things, and at some point you are just done with eating sweet food and might like an option other than nuts or sesame sticks–especially when you really are stuck eating one instead of an actual meal. All of which to say…I wanted to like these more than I did. I love the premise, but I felt a little cheated when I found that they are sweetened also. So yes, they’re savory, but savory kind of like teriyaki is: you feel like you’re getting a solid dose of sweetness also. I wouldn’t say I disliked them, and I would like to give each flavor a more thorough try than I got from the little bites today. Honestly, overall I’d say I preferred the Sheffa bars I tried in NYC. Those truly are not sweet at all, and the rosemary flavor in particular was really good. On the other hand, the Sheffa bars are crisp-dry, which makes them messy as they crumble when you eat them, whereas the GardenBars hold together nicely. GardenBars also include actual vegetables, rather than just the legume-grain combo of Sheffas. What I’m hoping is that this is the new fad in convenience foods, and that we’ll see many more varieties of savory snack bars to fill this sadly neglected niche.
  • Mom’s Vegan Kitchen French Toast Mix. I had never heard of this company, but they were sampling the French Toast Mix, and I was very impressed. The batter seemed to do just the right job of flavoring the bread and making a good crust on it as it fried. I see now that the product is gluten free, so if you wanted to use gluten-free bread for your toast this wouldn’t get in your way. Locally, it’s carried at the usual suspects (Karmavore, Sidecar, Oly Vegan, Food Fight, among others), so it’s easy to find. They also make biscuit mix and pancake/waffle mix, which I’d be glad to try also.
  • I finally tried a Field Roast frankfurter, which has been available for several months now. They’re good! Firmer in texture than most vegan franks, but not as firm and smoother in texture (as you’d hope) than the rest of Field Roast’s line of grain meats. Flavor was good, and it hit the spot with some mustard on a bun. They’re significantly more expensive than most vegan dogs, but they’re also a little larger than many and definitely a nicer product. If you’re a hot dog fan, these are probably worth a splurge.

I also got to re-sample quite a few old favorites, like Coconut Bliss, Sunbutter, Biscoff Spread and Mighty-O Donuts.

Did you go to Vegfest this year (or to Portland’s Better Living Show, which also happened this weekend)? What products were your favorites? Anything you are glad to know you don’t want to bother buying?

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This entry was posted in Events, Gluten free, Products, Reviews, Seattle, Soy free and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Notes from Vegfest 2012

  1. emmycooks says:

    I didn’t even know about this event, but thanks for going and sharing your reviews! 🙂

  2. Andrea says:

    I tried the Heidi Ho cheese, too, and thought it tasted really good. As you say, it’s not exactly like dairy cheese, but its taste and texture are pleasing.

    I was surprised to read your comparison of Vegfest to the NYC version. I would have thought Vegfest would be smaller and less flashy. Maybe it’s because of the length of time Vegfest has been in existence, and the great organizational skills of Amanda and Stewart!

    To avoid the crowds, just go later in the day. By 3:30 or 4, there’s lots of room to wander, and a full range of samples to be tried.

    • The festival I went to in NYC is not the only one they have. They also have an event that’s actually called “Vegfest,” which is in October, though that one is also relatively new, apparently heading into its third year. I don’t know whether that one is bigger (or better organized) than the one I went to, but yes–I was also surprised that a city as huge and as vegan-friendly as NYC wouldn’t have a larger or more established event. As you say, though, we’re awfully lucky to have the great skills and experience of our organizers here in Seattle.

      I’ll definitely keep in mind the advantages of going later for next year! This year it was pretty much the only time that worked to visit, but it was really a slog at times.

  3. This truly sounds like it was a vegan food heaven! I wish I were on the opposite coast at times like this… I’ve actually never even been to Seattle before. Maybe I’ll have to plan a trip for next year that overlaps with this event. 🙂

    • That is an excellent idea, and I daresay Seattle does not disappoint as a culinary destination aside from Vegfest.

      Last weekend I tried your peanut-butter brownies and loved them! Such an easy recipe for delicious and nice-looking treats. I look forward to trying more recipes from that book.

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