Vegan cuisine, to some diehard omnivores, is an oxymoron. If there’s no meat or dairy, is it really a meal?
But that’s ignoring the whole notion of the USDA dietary guidelines: After ditching the long-iconic food pyramid in 2011 for a model called MyPlate, fruit and vegetables now make up half of the ideal plate. Protein and grains make up the other half, while dairy sits like a lone glass of milk on the side. Unlike previous pyramids, which denoted a small section for fats, oils, and treats, MyPlate omits the cute little drawings of donuts, cookies, and soft-serve ice cream cones that you may recall from your youth.
That’s right: In the 2010s, junk food is no longer an official food group.
In this sense, a midday Sunday jaunt to St. Paul’s Harriet Island for Veg Fest was like a trip back to the 1990s, when veganism emerged from the murky countercultural shadows and became, if not a mainstream trend, a household term. Substitute meat and dairy products became available in supermarkets. You probably had a friend whose older brother was in a punk band and poured soy milk on his Froot Loops. (Yep, they’re vegan.) Or maybe you heard a rumor that Soft Batch cookies were vegan, which you translated as “healthy” and thus made them a staple of your diet. (Happened to a, ahem, friend of mine.)
See, as I wandered the cheerful booths and tents, hungry for a cool gazpacho or a savory ratatouille or perhaps an egg-free spinach crepe––after all, I’d strategically skipped lunch––I found myself in a sea of nachos, bratwurst, French fries, donuts, cookies, and soft serve.
Where were the vegetables? My kitchen isn't air-conditioned, and I am unlikely to bake a vegetarian moussaka or lasagna or even chop an elaborate salad on a day where the heat index is projected to hover around 100. Grumpily abandoning my fantasy of an all-out fruit and veggie feast, I bought a roll of Bim Bam Boo bamboo toilet paper, munched a delicious zucchini-chocolate brownie sample courtesy of north Minneapolis social enterprise Green Garden Bakery, and resolved to enjoy as much as I could in two hours, vegetable or not. If veganism wanted to take a rogue detour off recommended dietary guidelines to throw a good party, who was I to judge?
Here are 9 of the most delightful things I found:
9. Nachos Supreme from Reverie Mobile Kitchen
The recently reborn Reverie really delivered. What’s not to like about cashew nacho cheese with lime leaf sour cream, dressed with picked jalapenos and onions with cilantro and jackfruit carnitas?
8. Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie from Prairie Vegan Pies
It looks like homemade pie. It tastes like homemade pie. Butter be damned. Vegan ice cream optional.
7. Pumpkin Frozen Yogurt from Fro Yo Soul
My preschooler taste-tested all four varieties of vegan frozen yogurt that the fetching chrome Fro Yo truck had on hand: coconut, key lime, pumpkin, and spicy chai. “I want different ice cream!” he wailed, apparently not fooled by the faux-yo. That is, until he tried the pumpkin, and grabbed the spoon.
6. Kids who eat their veggies
It’s heartening, in an era when the president is a self-professed Big Mac and steak addict, to see legions of families and kids turn up at a festival celebrating a plant-powered lifestyle.
5. T-shirts from Harm Less Threads
The festival was full of positive T-shirts (Fueled by Plants!), which was a nice change from the days when the kids ran around with Meat Is Murder T-shirts. Even the snarky shirts, like this one, were thoughtful and funny, not bitchy.
4. Pineapple Smoothies from Jasmine Deli
The line was so long I couldn’t snag one, but these girls were convincing ambassadors for what was clearly the festival’s most popular drink.
3. Lavender Donut from Sssdude-Nutz
The Compton A$$ Terry (crunchy peanut butter and Oreo) was surprisingly tasty, but it was the Purple Rain (lavender glazed) that reduced me to begrudgingly sharing a donut with a three-year-old.
2. Summer Fruit Cup from Evan’s Organics
For all my kvetching about the relative dearth of fruit and veggies, this tall cup of summer love was a godsend: cool cukes and melon and fresh mint.
1. Vegan Crab Cake with Dill Sauce from Coco and Lala of Keeping Up With Coco and Lala, a weekly Facebook Live show (1:30 Thursdays CST)
This vegan crab cake with dill sauce was, hands down, the best thing I tasted all day. Another runner up was the smoky corn chowder, also from these Twin Cities healthy lifestyle advocates and TV/radio hosts. (Learn more about the best friends and veggie advocates in our recent profile!)