Pick any weekend in New York City and there is sure to be some sort of food festival. Beyond the ever famous Smorgasburg, the city that never sleeps also hosts Chocolate Fest, the Big Apple BBQ Block Party, and even a NYC Hot Sauce Expo. These festivals are an experience every foodie dreams of, yet can pose a challenge for those with dietary restrictions such as following a vegan, vegetarian, or gluten free diet. Eating gluten free and vegetarian myself, when I bought tickets to the NYC Vegetarian Food Fest, I knew I was in for a treat.

beer, tea
Zoe Malin

The 7th annual NYC Vegetarian Food Fest took place on May 20 and 21, 2017 at the Metropolitan Pavilion. The event space was packed with vegetarian and vegan vendors selling apparel, fundraising for various organizations, and of course, cooking up  veggies as far as the eye could see. Chefs, athletes, and bloggers were all in attendance, and many gave speeches or lead demo lessons on all things vegetarian and vegan. The festival was so successful that the line to get in wrapped around the street both days.

tea, coffee, beer, pizza
Zoe Malin

Thinking that the only take away from the NYC Vegetarian Food Fest would be an over-stuffed stomach, I went into the day ready to chow down and meet some fellow veggie-heads. However, from the moment I arrived at the event, I knew I was in for so much more. 

The Vegetarian Food Fest not only highlighted what it means to eat vegan, but what it means to be vegan. I learned more than I ever expected to, specifically about simple ways to adjust my life in order to protect animals and save the environment. I also met dedicated individuals who are all working towards the same goals: 1. Eliminate everything that harms animals and 2. Make being vegan or vegetarian as easy as possible. Not to mention, I also discovered some of the best vegan food and recipes out there. 

Zoe Malin

Below are the top five things I learned about being vegan at the NYC Vegetarian Food Fest. Hopefully after reading this, you will be inspired to join the vegan community in fighting for all animals well-being.

1. Connecting with vegan chefs and bloggers will introduce you to a like-minded community and make following a vegan diet that much easier.

Zoe Malin

Following a vegetarian diet and following a vegan diet are two very different things. Vegetarians eliminate all meat, including fish, from their diet but continue eating dairy products and eggs. Vegans, however, eliminate all animal products from their diet; this includes meat, dairy products, eggs, and even honey. A vegan's diet is made up of vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans/legumes. As you can imagine, becoming a vegan can make eating and cooking a bit of a challenge.

Luckily, for those who chose to follow a vegan diet, there is a community of chefs, bloggers, and "coaches" who love to share their tips and tricks regarding living and eating vegan. This community helps one navigate what to eat, cook, and add to the grocery cart in order to create delicious vegan meals and get the correct amount of nutrients needed to keep the body functioning properly. Not sure what to replace red meat with in order to get your iron fix? Ask a vegan foodie! They'll be glad to give you the rundown on vegetables high in iron, such as spinach and collard greens.

beer, salmon
Zoe Malin

At the NYC Vegetarian Food Fest, I had the pleasure of meeting many individuals who lead the vegan community. The Vegan Mos are a prime example of experts on everything vegan, and I picked up a copy of their cookbook, "The NYC Vegan." Each recipe in the cookbook puts a vegan twist on a classic New York City dish, like General Chow's Chicken, bagels, and pizza. I'm working my way through the cookbook now, and my current favorite recipes are Vegan Mongol Bread and Spiced Carrots. The best part about all of the recipes? Even non-vegans are obsessed with them!

2. The latest fashion trend? Clothing and shoes that are 100% vegan.

wine, beer, coffee, tea, cake
Zoe Malin

For some, being vegan includes not wearing animal products in addition to not eating them. Obvious fashion pieces vegans shy away from include fur coats, snake skin purses, and genuine leather products, all of which are made from cattle, goat, sheep, and/or pig skin. Additionally, brands that test on animals or use any type of non-vegan materials are banned, too. 

beer, coffee
Zoe Malin

Buying clothing and other products that are 100% vegan is now made easy thanks to websites like Unicorn Goods, which is the "worlds largest vegan store." From home goods, to clothing for all ages and genders, to shoes and accessories, Unicorn Goods guarantees that the products sold on their website are cruelty free. Beyond just those who eat vegan, Unicorn Goods is a favored among all animal lovers, especially those who advocate for animal rights and ethics reforms. 

Zoe Malin

Vegan stores, brands, and products are gaining popularity and becoming increasingly accessible to consumers. Well-known brands are publicly advertising being cruelty-free and many animal welfare organizations have released lists of 100% vegan products. With a large number of shoppers now more likely to spend money on products that are guaranteed to be made ethically, odds are that at your favorite local boutique, vegan products are sold. Curious? All you have to do is ask.

3. You can actively protest against animal cruelty by boycotting products tested on animals.

beer, pizza, wine
Zoe Malin

While using animals in research facilities is not outlawed in the United States, there are regulations and protocols intended to promote the ethical treatment of animals as test subjects. However, millions of animals are still being exploited and abused in laboratories. Because of this, vegans and non-vegans alike refuse to purchase products tested on animals. Abandoning products tested on animals makes a statement to companies all over the world, and as a result, the list of cruelty free brands and products is growing. 

In order to allow anyone to actively work on eliminating products tested on animals from their lives, The Beagle Freedom Project has developed an incredible app called "Cruelty Cutter." Download the app to your smartphone or tablet, scan any item, and get an immediate answer about its animal testing policies. Cruelty Cutter is a free app, requires little time, and guarantees instant results. There has simply never been an easier, more convenient way to stand up against animal cruelty.

4. Innovative technology is being developed to increase the production of plants without harming the environment.

Zoe Malin

Instead of clearing land to create crops and potentially damaging land using fertilizers or farming machinery, innovative technology is being developed to increase the production of consumable plants without harming the environment. Technology used to grow plants ranges in complexity, from hydroponic growing to indoor farming with LED lights. But the NYC Vegetarian Food Fest showcased the most user-friendly technology to promote the idea that anyone can increase the production of plants and simultaneously save the environment. 

Vertical planters are on the rise because of their capacity to grow a large quantity of plants in a small space. Vertical planters are used in homes, restaurants, and among food processors as well. They come in many different sizes and styles, and are reasonably priced. Vertical planters not only decrease the amount of land used to produce plants like vegetables and herbs, but give anyone the ability to grow fresh food in their own home.

5. Farms, sanctuaries, and rescues work tirelessly to provide animals with safe havens. 

I am continuously impressed by the organizations whose sole purpose is to make animals lives as comfortable and happy as possible. Beyond animal shelters that rescue puppy mill dogs and rehabilitate feral cats, farms and sanctuaries save species commonly exploited in a variety of industries. Whether it be  horses, cows, pigs, chickens, or goats, organizations like Woodstock Farm Sanctuary and Catskill Animal Sanctuary, with the help of their volunteers and staff, create safe havens for animals in desperate need of hope.

Animals are given homes and families because of the grueling, messy work those who are a part of such organizations do out of the kindness of their hearts. No animal is left behind, and there are people who will fight for all species until animal cruelty is nonexistent.

cake, pizza
Zoe Malin

Attending the NYC Vegetarian Food Fest was a first hand learning experience I was completely unprepared for, which made the lessons I learned that much more impactful. I will forever think about the ways in which I can apply vegan policies to my life in order to participate in the effort to save animals and our environment, and advocate for changes that must be made regarding animal welfare regulations.

Overall, the most important lesson I learned at the NYC Vegetarian Food Fest was that even the smallest action matters. If you save one animal, use one less non-vegan product, or volunteer for one organization, you are making a difference.