Nationally, VegFests are on the rise, those one- or two-day get-togethers of meat-free eaters over meat-free food, often with speakers and entertainment. And one way Philly is proving its "Vegandelphia" cred is by upping our own vegan-events game.
As August kicks off and our usual crop of late-summer convocations is readied for harvest (see below), one new plant-based event especially stands out: S.E.E.D: Sustainable Everyday Edibles and Drinkables will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. Aug. 14 at SugarHouse Casino. It will showcase vegan foods from Rachel Klein, Vegan Chef Lenka, MomPops, the Soy Cafe, and Sweet Freedom Bakery, among others. And you can wash all those goodies down with a vegan beer from one of 18 participating breweries large and small, ranging from Sam Adams to Weyerbacher Brewing to Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co.
Sharing the festival floor in SugarHouse's new glitzy event space will be vegan-oriented exhibitors such as Bucks County's Grape Cat Vegan Clothing & Accessories and Indraloka Animal Sanctuary in tiny Mehoopany, Pa. There will be two DJs and other entertainment. (Your favorite vegan columnist also will be on hand to deliver opening remarks.)
All attendees will be entered to win a free vegan dinner and tour of the kitchen at Zahav (237 St. James Pl., 215-625-8800).
Organizers Meredith Rebar and Garrett Williams had attended a good number of beer festivals with their company, Home Brewed Events. Said Rebar, a vegetarian, "Whenever we'd go to these events, there's no food to eat" for vegetarians or vegans. "You had to pack your own food," Williams agreed. Riffing on an idea from a vegan friend, the two conceived a fest that would pair beer tasting with veggie food, and when they heard about the new event space at SugarHouse, they decided to take the plunge.
"Our original idea was just to have it vegetarian," said Williams, "but then we thought, why not take it a step further, you know, so that everyone's included?"
They wanted an event where anyone could eat and drink whatever was on offer without having to check labels "or worry about asking someone," as Rebar put it. All the food and all the drink would be animal-free.
"We're looking to push the envelope in what can be done in pairing wine and beer with food," Williams said.
The Home Brewed team wanted to showcase Philly vegan offerings because "there are so many great vegan restaurants opening in Philly, and so many places that aren't vegan but still have great vegan food" said Rebar. They hope the event will connect attendees with dishes and companies "that you might not otherwise know about."
They're calling this the inaugural edition of an annual food and drink festival.
Certainly, a plant-based afternoon at a mainstream Philly casino is a vegan high-water mark, but S.E.E.D. is not alone in pushing the envelope: Already this year (in addition to the Daily News/philly.com-sponsored third annual Best Vegan Cheesesteak in Philly contest in March), we saw the Vegan Mac & Cheese Smackdown in May and the Vegan Flea Market in June. The so-called food duo behind these - Carmella Lanni and Carlo Giardina - plan the Sept. 9 Philly Vegan Homecoming dance. After that, watch for another citywide vegan contest.
Lanni and Giardina will also exhibit at S.E.E.D. under their "V Marks the Shop" brand. Currently based in New York City, the couple say they are looking to relocate to Philadelphia and open a V Marks the Shop vegan convenience store.
Giardina says Philly's growing vegan-friendly scene is "part of the reason this kind of thing [big vegan events] is spreading in this part of the country. And this isn't even to the apex yet," he added, "I think it's going to explode within five years."
These events, from small-town picnic-style to glitzy big-venue extravaganzas, are great networking resources for vegans and vegetarians. For everybody else, it's a chance to dip a toe into animal-free living and perhaps overturn the myth of "vegan" as some weird, extremist realm that only people with superhuman personal convictions (or, depending on whom you ask, superhuman kookiness) can inhabit.
So here's hoping that S.E.E.D. and its sister festivals do indeed plant a seed that will blossom even more fully in years to come.
V FOR "V FOR VEG": One more vegan-oriented event not to miss is the official release party for my new, book-length column collection, V for Veg: The Best of Philly's Vegan Food Column (Sullivan Street Press), which is at 7 p.m. Thursday at Blue Marble Books (551 Carpenter Lane, 215-844-1870). There will be reading, reminiscing, signing, and kale chips, plus a spread from co-sponsor Weavers Way.
Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 15-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia.
VforVeg@phillynews.com or @V4Veg on Twitter.
CLARIFICATION: S.E.E.D. festival organizers are: Ryan Mullins-Hudak (EatYourPHL), Wendy Lambour (Noshhh), Meredith Rebar & Garrett Williams (Home Brewed Events). Rebar cited Mullins-Hudak as "the brains behind the idea for S.E.E.D. He originally thought of the idea for the festival and our team has developed and grown it from there."
Saturday, noon-4 p.m.: Chester County Vegan Festival by CARE. Hoopes Park, West Chester, free, 484-631-7878.
Aug. 14, 3-6 p.m. (VIP, 2-6 p.m.): S.E.E.D. Festival, by Home Brewed Events and Eat Your PHL. SugarHouse Casino Event Center, 1001 N. Delaware Ave., 877-477-3715, $45, VIP $65, Designated Driver, $35. Event is 21+.
Aug. 20, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.: Bethlehem VegFest: Vegan Food & Street Festival. Greenway, South Side Bethlehem, free, 610-739-1775.
Sept. 9, 7-10 p.m.: Philly Vegan Homecoming, by V marks the Shop and the Humane League. The Friends Center, 1501 Cherry St., $25, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sept. 10, all day: Vegstock Vegan Festival, Wildflower Cafe, Millville, N.J., free, 973-945-4285.
Sept. 17, noon-5 p.m.: Phoenixville VegFest by Peace Advocacy Network. (Rain date Sept. 18.). Main and Bridge Streets, Phoenixville, free, 646-648-0370.