There will be food from established New Orleans restaurants and emerging pop-ups. There will be local bands on stage, the rapper behind a famous, meatless Thanksgiving anthem and a chef giving light flavors a heavy metal edge. There will be beer, from a nearby craft brewery no less.
What you won’t find at NOLA Veggie Fest on Saturday and Sunday (May 13-14) are any animal products on the menus or among the product offerings. But this party is about what vegan principles bring in rather than what they exclude and showing where they intersect with ideas of health, sustainability and creativity.
That starts with food and drink thats either traditionally vegan or reconfigured to be so. And since being vegan entails a lot more than diet, NOLA Veggie Fest showcases facets of the lifestyle beyond the food booths. Theres entertainment, yoga, pet adoptions and even dating possibilities synced to the event.
The annual event is a project of the Humane Society of Louisiana. Last year, it got a reboot, steering closer to the familiar New Orleans festival format. It was a bid to draw a more diverse crowd, and it worked. The free, two-day outdoor festival returns to Kingsley House, taking over the grassy, oak-shaded grounds of this historic service organization on the edge of the Irish Channel.
€œWe want to draw the average person off the street; thats why its free, and thats why we go with making it a real festival,€ event director Leah Duncan said. €œWe want to make the vegan lifestyle more relatable because, really, it comes down to small changes once you get into the groove.€
Different voices, different flavors
That groove can take on many different styles. One special guest this year is Grey the Vegan Rapper. The Atlanta-based musician became an internet sensation last year for his song €œVegan Thanksgiving.€ Heres a taste of his verses: €œMashed potatoes so good, put your hands in it. String beans and you know we got yams with it. Got cabbage and greens with no ham in it.€
The songs video took off on social media, mixing images of wholesome home cooking and a jamming house party with plenty of twerking but no turkey. Grey is scheduled to appear at NOLA Veggie Fest on Saturday.
Also featured on Saturday is the Vegan Black Metal Chef, whose online video series presents vegan cooking with all the dark theatrics of the heaviest of heavy metal. His cookbook is called €œThe Seitanic Spellbook,€ the name riffing on the wheat gluten product. The tome is full of vegan recipes and gives an idea of this chefs mashup sensibility.
As in the past, NOLA Veggie Fest will have a bazaar of booths for products from local and national suppliers. Some of the local brands are vegan-friendly without being vegan-exclusive. One example is Breads on Oak, the Uptown bakery and cafÃ© that has built a niche with vegan baked goods and sandwiches, while still preparing traditional pastries.
Others represent the growing range of food concepts around New Orleans built from the start to vegan specs. That includes Little Jim Ice Cream, which makes dairy-free frozen desserts and vegan ice cream sandwiches, served up at events from its own old-time vending cart.
NOLA Veggie Fest has also been a natural fit for Girls Gone Vegan, and each year, it serves as a showcase for a growing local bakery that supplies cafes and restaurants around town.
The sisters Hayden and Erinn Aley created Girls Gone Vegan in 2014, starting with old family recipes they reworked to be both vegan and gluten free. Their repertoire keeps expanding as they take on more bakery staples with a tool kit that includes custom gluten-free flours, seasonal fruit, cashew cheese and dark chocolate.
This year, they’re preparing a number of bars and brownies for easy festival portability. That includes a special hummingbird cake, with the flavor profile of the Southern classic rendered as a vegan bar.
Girls Gone Vegan doesnt have a storefront bakery, so appearances at farmers markets and events like NOLA Veggie Fest give the Aley sisters a chance to meet their customers and introduce their baking style to others.
€œIts always best when people can taste our product while we explain it,€ Hayden Aley said. €œWhat it comes down to is good food is good food.€
The festival booths also show some local products at the intersection of vegan-friendly principles and broader health-conscious trends. For instance, one vendor on site will be Big Easy Bucha, the local brewery for kombucha, a fizzy, fermented tea touted for its health and wellness potential. Others are part of event as essential elements of a New Orleans festival. That goes for the beer, this year supplied by NOLA Brewing Co.
Also new this year are sessions for €œveg speed dating€ sessions (on Saturday), with categories for different age groups and orientations. Who knows? If you hit it off at NOLA Veggie Fest your next meal might be tofu for two.
NOLA Veggie Fest
Where: 1600 Constance St.
When: May 13, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; May 14, noon-6 p.m.
Free admission (VIP tickets $20)