March 27, 2012

Eating my way through Seattle Vegfest one sample at a time | Dr. Neal Barnard

Could barely keep up with demand.
I spent the better part of the weekend at Seattle Vegfest. Saturday we went to wander around and eat samples, and to hear Dr. Neal Barnard speak, and Sunday we had a volunteer shift. If you want to make four hours feel like four days, just stand behind a table and pour Silk beverages into tiny cups while hundreds of people snatch them away. I did manage to taste a couple of flavors because I got kind of hungry. The light chocolate soy milk — sweetened with stevia — is pretty good, as is the unsweetened, organic soy milk. I thought the Fruit&Protein drink was too sweet, with a bubblegum aftertaste. Everyone else seemed to love it, though, so don't listen to me. I didn't try the coconut milk.

I happen to be a fan of Mary's Gone Crackers
In years past, I pretty much tasted anything that was vegan and reasonably healthy. I gobbled Field Roast sliders and sun-dried tomato focaccia  with abandon. I never could bring myself to sample vegan seafood, but everything else was fair game. This year, since I'm not eating gluten, I didn't expect to be able to taste much, but was I ever wrong. I'd never paid much attention to whether or not the proffered samples were GF, so I can't speak to past events, but this year's Vegfest was a vegan, gluten-free tasters paradise.

The first time I passed by the White Mountain tamales, I barely glanced at them, assuming they were glutenous, but as I was heading back from the Amy's table, the "gluten-free" label caught my eye, and I tried the spicy, chipotle-mushroom version. I thought they were really tasty, and a small chunk speared on a toothpick with a grape tomato might make a nice hors d'oevre. Speaking of the Amy's offerings, I didn't realize at first that they, too, were gluten-free.

I had lasagna followed by chocolate cake, and both were delicious. In reality, I don't buy very many prepared meals — just about none — but I'm offering my opinion in case anyone is looking for delicious meals to keep on hand in the freezer. No one would guess they were GF, either.

If you live in the Seattle area and like kosher pickles, you've got to track down some of Britt's naturally fermented sour and half-sour pickles, which come in a variety of flavors. I can personally testify that each variety is delicious. This is a new product that is gradually making its way into more and more local stores. It's not cheap, but it's excellent.

Another new, local product I tried was Búcha, a new kombucha that is supposed to appeal to everyone — even those who don't like kombucha. To me it seemed slightly bland, and not fizzy enough, but that may be exactly why kombucha haters will enjoy it. I would certainly drink it. It comes in seven interesting flavors like raspberry pomegranate, lemongrass ginger and blood orange, is organic, GF and vegan, with 48 calories per serving. If kombucha has always seemed too sharp or sour to you, this might be the one you like.

I'll never tell how many Coconut Bliss samples I tried, even if you torture me. In fact, I probably don't even know. But who can resist Coconut Bliss? And it had nothing to do with the British guy on the left. Nothing. Mostly nothing.

Food for Life had two gluten-free products available for tasting — bread and English muffins. I tried, and liked, both. I'm not a big consumer of bread, but every so often I get an urge for a piece of toast or a grilled sandwich. Now, if my future attempts at bread baking don't work out, I'll know what to do.

Popchips are pretty interesting — they're made from potato flakes and are kind of like potato chips, but are neither baked nor fried. They are popped. Go figure. Some of the flavors are vegan and all are certified gluten-free. They taste really good, and though they have half the fat of potato chips, they aren't something you'd eat to get your vitamins and minerals, just to satisfy a tasty, crunchy, salty snack attack. I love them!

One last product I'm going to share is Kallari chocolate, which I found to be most delicious. Not only is it delicious, it's fair trade, ethically produced, fantastic chocolate. Try some.

Bad phone-pic from the back of the room
I said at the beginning of the post that we attended a talk by Dr. Neal Barnard. Basically he spoke about the connections between diet and health, and laid out the benefits of a plant-based diet. He dispelled what he believes is misinformation about soy, and described what a healthy diet looks like. His approach to dietary change seemed reasonable and supportive, and he convinced me that if I weren't already a vegan, I should become one. His talk was informative and also entertaining, as he relayed personal anecdotes about his family's conversion to a vegan diet. He invited everyone to join his free 21-day vegan kickstart program, and I might, just to see what it's like. If you've been trying to change your diet to a plant-based eating style, you might want to consider the vegan kickstart.

After the talk, I went to ask him a question at the book-signing table. I even had a book. I asked him his opinion of coconut oil, because I really wanted to know what he thought. He said he'd always believed saturated fats were unhealthy, and he didn't know enough about coconut oil to change his mind, but that he was thinking of looking into it. My husband thought he was trying to get rid of me, though I was agreeing with him and not trying to challenge him in any way, but I think he was just being honest in his opinion. I'll be interested to see what he has to say on the subject in the future, because I respect his ideas.

The other speaker we heard was Ellen Jaffe Jones, whose first cookbook, Vegan on $4 a Day, I reviewed here.

Vegfest was its usual crazy, crowded smorgasbord of vegan and vegetarian product samples. The crowd was vast and varied, everyone interested in trying plant-based foods. I tried a few things I considered horrible, and many that were really great. I've only included a few examples here to give you an idea of what was available. Vegfest is much more than food samples; it includes an array of health practitioners, body-care purveyors, animal rights information, cooking demos, etc.

I leave you with an insider tip for Seattleites that I learned about near the close of Vegfest on Sunday. If you dine at Silence-Heart-Nest in Fremont, be sure to request the vegan, GF chocolate pudding. It's not on the menu but is usually available. I was offered some at Vegfest, and it's delish.


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  1. So glad it was GF friendly! I remember 7-8 years ago when I went there wasn't that much I could try, and I hadn't even bothered to go in the past few years because avoiding soy there can be very little too. Good for you for volunteering!

    I have had the Amy's cake, someone brought it to a family even so we'd feel included, which I really appreciated. I like that it's available a "regular" grocery stores and someone could pick it up for you and know it's safe.

    I have a question for you: do you not like coconut? I know you asked Dr. Barnard his opinion and have avoided coconut tasting things in the past (I'll never forget your aversion to Jodee's pies--which probably have tons of coconut oil in them.) There is a lot of research that shows coconut oil is good for you, I've done a lot because I've had it recommended as an antiviral, anti-canidida agent. There's even a whole book on how good it is for you. I am sure Dr. Barnard is all about low fat all the way but the fact he hasn't researched it much is disappointing, since it's gotten big in the health circles.

  2. ps: there is no way to subscribe to replies or future comments anymore on blogger for some reason. is there any way the author can send those out?

  3. Bitt,
    The more things you're trying to avoid, the harder it becomes to find things to taste at events like Vegfest.

    I looked up my Jodee's review and it wasn't negative at all! I just said it took me a while to eat the pie because it was so rich, and I can't handle a lot of fat at one time. I had tiny samples of Jodee's at Vegfest and they were wonderful — and very rich. I don't use a lot of coconut milk, cream, etc., because it's got so much saturated fat, but I like (not love) the flavor. A little coconut goes a long way for my taste buds.

    As for its health benefits, a few years ago when I first started looking for information, the only "health" information I could find came from organizations directly related to coconut product promotion. I couldn't find links to any independent research. It was also being pushed by the WAPF, which I don't consider the best source of nutritional information. Much of the pro-coconut language seemed to be coming from WAPF. I've never been a strict follower of mainstream nutritional advice, obviously, but I'm not yet convinced that coconut oil is the superfood it's being touted as. I could change my mind.

    I asked Dr. Barnard his opinion because I really wanted to know what he thought, as coconut oil is so popular at the moment. I'm hoping he'll look closely at what research exists, and address the subject soon.

    About the comments: I changed my comment settings to one that still supports subscribing, since certain recent Blogger changes disabled it on pop-up comment forms. I also keep trying to turn off the stupid word verification, which is so annoying, but it keeps turning itself back on. Grrrr.

  4. It looks like a fantastic fest and that's so great that they had a lot of gluten free samples! I've always liked Dr. Barnard's books, but that's too bad that he wasn't so friendly.

  5. I am jealous of your visit to Vegfest! I wish there were one around looks amazing. And I think it is so cool that you were able to see Dr. Barnard speak!

    PS I tasted coconut bliss for the first time at Whole Foods over the weekend, and it is amazing. And I don't even like coconut!!

  6. Molly,
    He wasn't exactly unfriendly, but he did seem in a hurry to be done talking to me. We bought his latest book to read, and I may do the vegan challenge so I can hear the lectures. Though, I'm not good about sticking with "plans."

    It was fun, but I wouldn't be upset if I couldn't go. There's a veganfest in Madison ( you could go to if you wanted to, but it's much smaller than Vegfest. :) I'm going to miss it this year.

  7. Sounds like a fun VegFest! I always get overanxious about crowds and things at festivals like that but I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's funny that gluten-free seems to be the darling of the culinary world, no matter what type of food you're talking about and finding vegan options can still be so difficult. Vegan AND gluten free is a definite bonus.
    Were there other speakers besides Barnard?

  8. Thanks for reminding me of other products I tried and liked! I was exactly that person who usually hates kombucha (including the other brand I tried this weekend) but really liked Bucha. I wasn't such a fan of the 85% Kallari, but the 70% was fantastic. I think the 85 was just a little too much for me. I have tried and disliked PopChips before, but since I got a bag of the salt-and-vinegar ones with my Vegetarians of Washington membership loot, I tried those--and really liked them. They still seem unnecessarily processed to me, but taste- and texture-wise I thought they were good.

    The area around the tamales/Coconut Bliss/Amy's products was so insanely packed when I was there that I barely saw the first (but liked what I tasted), waited waaaay too long at the second but wasn't about to miss out on a Coconut Bliss sample, and skipped the third entirely because I needed to get to an area with few enough people for my lungs to expand fully. But generally I like Amy's products.

    I wonder if Dr. Barnard appeared unfriendly because he was stressed about the volume of people he needed to accommodate in a short time span? I know I've encountered that at book signings before, and I can imagine that events like this must be incredibly overwhelming. They are to me as a participant, and I'd think the same would apply to speakers and other presenters.

    Thank you for volunteering and helping the event go so well, and thanks for this write-up!

  9. Foodfeud,
    I don't much like crowds, either, but the folks at vegfest are a fairly peaceful and orderly group, so it's not as disturbing as some crowds can be. If tasting lines are too crowded and long, I go taste something else. Not everything, as you point out, is GF AND vegan, as I discovered with half a cookie in my mouth. "This tastes like butter," I said, only to discover it WAS butter. Mistakes happen.

    There were lots of speakers, though only two I've heard of, but too many to mention here. The vegfest Web site has all the speakers and chefs listed.

    Even though the event is huge, I'm sure it pales when compared to the NYC Veg fest.

    Oooo, the 85% Kallari was my favorite. :D Good thing there are so many choices! The best time to try things at Vegfest is around 4:30, when the crowds thin out and you can pretty much walk up to any table you want. I think that's when I got to taste the crowd-inducing three you mentioned.

    I gave Dr. B. the benefit of the doubt for the very reasons you mentioned. His lecture was wonderful and I respect his work tremendously. It was the end of the day and I'm sure he was eager to get away from the event.

    Volunteering at Vegfest is a lot of fun, and I look forward to doing it again next year. Thanks for your comments!

  10. NWherbivore,
    PS. I tried really hard to leave a comment on your blog but Wordpress wouldn't accept any of three email addresses I tried to sign in with. I've had this problem with WP blogs before, and am not sure what to do about it. I'll try again tomorrow.

  11. It looks like it was a fun day! I'm glad that there were still plenty of things for you to sample. I know what you mean about the drudgery of being behind the counter pouring samples. For many years I worked in promotions doing that very thing - handing out samples at events and on the street. It can be surprisingly tedious.

    I don't blame you for getting multiple samples of Coconut Bliss. That would be the ideal learning environment since their cartons can be on the pricey side. On the rare occasion that I buy it, I pretty much stick to my favorite flavor rather than risk disappointment. Did you find a new favorite?

  12. That entire weekend sounds so exciting! I'm excited to see if there are any vegan events in Maryland when I move there soon. Thanks for the reviews!!!

  13. Wow, what a time at VegFest! Of all the samples you've mentioned, I've had the plain soy milk and the pop chips. It's really hard for me to justify spending money on packaged products like those chocolate cakes and lasagna. In order to feed my family's endless belly, I'd have to buy a few boxes, and that would cause me to be Broke Blessed Mama. Interesting about Neal Barnard. If he can be unfriendly to YOU, - and I'm picturing you smiling and being all unchallenging - then I wonder about that smile he always has on in Animal Times. Hmm.

  14. Thank god, I thought I was the only one who felt that the Silk fruit and protein was way too sweet! Totally 100% with you on that. I tasted no fruit, only sugar.

  15. bahahhahaha, the coconut Bliss had nothing to do with the British guy on the left. MOSTLY :)
    Great job on covering Vegfest. I think Daria tipped old Neal off, and said if you see that vegan Andrea come towards you, think to your self, "Neal, here comes trouble!" I am now boycotting Dr. B along with kombucha or is that kabuki I'm boycotting? Either way I'm not going to drink that stuff with heavy white pancake on.

  16. Cadry,
    Running out of samples doesn't seem to be much of a problem at Vegfest. I'm always surprised, though, at how tiring it is to pour, pour, pour. And those half gallon jugs get heavy after a while.

    My favorite flavor of Coconut Bliss is mint galactica, but all the flavors I tried were yummy.

    You're welcome! It was a fun weekend of tasting lots of things I don't usually buy.

    If it weren't for events like Vegfest, I'd never try the products either. Some of them were pretty good, though.

    I didn't mean to say that Dr. Barnard was unfriendly — I think he was just being truthful about his opinion, and trying to keep our exchange brief in light of the time constraints. Maybe.

    Well, I thought I was the only one who found it too sweet and unfruitlike. I'm glad to know there are two of us!

    Do you know him?
    Dr. Barnard's talk was great! I still like him but maybe I should have sent the question by email.
    You could try drinking kombucha with nothing on. :)

    1. No. No you did the right thing, with Neal! He can be that way. he can get very nervous around crowds. No I don't know him ;)
      Good idea, Andrea.

  17. Ok, in the meantime I'll try to remember to come back, especially when I ask you a question.

    Sorry I mis-remembered your Jodee's post, I only remembered that it took you awhile to eat the pie and couldn't fathom why, but it makes sense if you struggle with high fat foods. Even vegans have different issues, I struggle with carbs and soy, but not fats like coconut and avocado. Interesting that you do like the coconut bliss, sometimes in frozen form coconut is more palatable. I never used to be a coconut fan when younger, because I am not as big on toasted coconut shreds, but raw coconut and creamy coconut? yes please!

    1. Hmmm. I thought the new subscribe thing would be working. I like coconut bliss in very small amounts — I don't eat very much of it. Coconut has never been my favorite, and I am still wary of the saturated fat. Even long before I was vegan, I didn't eat much ice cream, or cream cheese or other high fat foods. They just didn't appeal to me. I was a child who removed frosting from the birthday cake before eating some of the cake.

  18. MMMMMMMM Veganfest! I just volunteered to work at Madison Vegan fest this year - it won't hold a candle to Seattle, but I'll enjoy it al the same! Guess what??? Roya just got a job at Whole Foods!!!! We are very excited.

    1. Well, not exactly VEGANfest, but Vegfest. That's another difference with Madison. (My favorite is still the old North Farm membership event. Now THAT was a party! The good old days, right?) I'm sorry I'm going to miss Mad City's vegan party this year. You'll have to taste things for me.

      Congrats to Roya! I hope she enjoys her stint at WF. I'm sure I'll see her there this summer. Cool.

  19. Sounds like such an amazing event. And wow--I wish we could find that many vegan, GF products here!! In a way, it's better for me that they're not available, because I'm sure I'd do what you used to do and eat everything! ;-)

    1. Ricky,
      I was pretty surprised to see so many vegan, gluten-free products, and I did try most, but not all, of them. One item I didn't photograph, but really liked was Heidi Ho cheeze, from Portland. I might even buy it if I could find any around here.

  20. Oh man I LOVE the vegan scene in Seattle. I heard about the VegFest event and wish I could have been there. Looks like you enjoyed it. :)

    1. Vegfest is always a crazy madhouse of food samples and speakers. It was fun to try everything.

  21. I was there on saturday and it was quite crowded. I cant handle crowds so didnt come in.. looks like there was tons of great stuff! I'd rather use coconut oil than all the mixed up oil, processed butter. We anyway eat very little quantities and like soy the answers for coconut oil keep changing.

    1. The best time to visit Vegfest is after 3:30 p.m. when the crowds slow down. I don't like crowds, either, but we went anyway, and it wasn't as bad as it looked. It's a friendly crowd, at least.

      I haven't really seen anything to convince me that coconut oil is "healthy." I use it occasionally in very small amounts. Same with other fats. Soy is confusing, but I think to me, it seems to be a good thing.

  22. Wow, Seattle really does it up right. Looks like a good experience, and my interest in a few products has been piqued. Would love to know more about what he thinks about coconut oil, too. What did he say about soy?

    1. He said soy is good. He talked about research showing that women with breast cancer had fewer recurrences when they ate soy. He also quoted studies showing soy had positive effects on health. Each "expert" has a different opinion, don't they? I eat soy in moderation, just like the other stuff I eat.


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