August 25, 2016 by Alexandra Jones
Philly may not have held a VegFest this year, but in its wake, Home Brewed Events and EatYourPHL presented a new Sustainable Everyday Edibles and Drinkables (S.E.E.D.) festival geared toward the city’s vegan populace. As a Philly vegan myself, I was revved and ready for this event and had been looking forward to it since June.
This was the festival’s first year, so there were bound to be some kinks, but I wasn’t counting on a lack of food being one of them. To comprehend this festival’s shortcomings, you’ll first need to understand vegans. Vegans, for those readers who remain unaware, are individuals who choose not to consume animal products for ethical and environmental reasons. This means no meat, no dairy, no eggs and no honey because we perceive the industries that harvest these products to be cruel and we value the fair treatment of animals. Most of us think about being vegan as a religious choice. One where we’re shoving a shoe into the crotch of society. For justice.
The average omnivore does raise a valid point about veganism, however. It can be difficult to find places we feel comfortable eating. If we go to a restaurant with friends, we usually only have one or two choices. Sometimes we even need to modify things on the menu in order to create a dish that falls within the confines of our diet. We don’t mind this daily strife, but it’s a large reason why vegan festivals, where we can eat whatever we want without inquiring about ingredients, mean the world to us.
I was hype for S.E.E.D. fest. I figured it’d be a ton of tasty vegan food in one area, that I’d encounter a few new restaurants and walk away with a stomachache and a bag of free giveaways. In actuality, what happened Aug. 14 was that I knocked back eight sample-size cups of macaroni like shots and then Ubered off to HipCityVeg to get myself some real food.
The event began at 2 p.m. for V.I.P. guests, an hour before the joint opened to general admission plebeians. My dad and I hustled up to the check-in counter and grabbed our special S.E.E.D. beer-tasting glasses, the Humane League’s 2016 Veg Dining Guide and a map of the venue, which detailed the various vendors’ locations.
At this point, I hadn’t eaten anything that morning and was ready to stuff myself senseless. S.E.E.D. was advertised to vegans as if it would be a smorgasbord with food and drink galore, but unfortunately for me it only had drink.
Unlike my predecessor, editor emeritus Justin Roczniak, I know nothing about beer. Nothing. I was actually drinking a peach sage tonic during the event at one point and had to ask my dad if it was beer. That’s the level of alcohol ineptitude we’re dealing with here. (It shouldn’t be surprising then that I am unable to provide any sort of review for the alcohol portion of the fest.)
The event organizers set up the venue to showcase two little rectangles of beer vendors in the center, all manning their stations from their respective tables. My father, who reacts to beer the way my dog reacts to squirrels, immediately lunged at the Sly Fox Brewery station, eager to check out some sort of brew. He said it was “great stuff,” for what it’s worth and that the place was “an excellent brewing company.”
After five long minutes of chit chat, I yanked him away from the table and we took a lap to look for food.
Shortly thereafter, I spotted Soy Cafe’s stand. Soy Cafe is a cute and colorful little eatery located in Northern Liberties that serves all sorts of vegan food, drinks and desserts. They quickly became my favorite vendor at the event. They served teeny scoops of mac and cheese.
The mac and cheese was going so fast it rarely hit the serving tray. It went from scooper to server to consumer most of the time. Not because the dish was overwhelmingly spectacular or anything, but because it was one of the only stands at which you could get actual food at the event.
Lest I forget, there was also a vendor called Pb&Jams beside them serving “food.” They pushed small Trisket-like crackers with peanut butter and jelly spread on top and thin banana slices covered in 90 percent dark chocolate, a strawberry slice and a bit of mint. It felt to me more like something your mom would make you and your friends after school when she hadn’t gone to the grocery store than something to show off at a booth.
I admit their peanut butter was pretty damn good, and their jam killed it too. It was just such a tiny portion at an event with so little food that it seemed ridiculous.
At the other end of the room were some desserts. Sweet Freedom is a little bakery on the 1400 block of South Street that makes goodies for the most difficult customers imaginable. Their treats are not only vegan, but also gluten-free and kosher. And they somehow make everything without corn, wheat, peanuts or soy. I really can’t wrap my head around what kind of voodoo they must work to get their treats to taste as good as they do. They served up bite-sized samples of their “magic bar,” which was an aptly named piece of chocolate-maple perfection.
MOM’s Organic Market was there to give out free samples of pre-packaged foods. They sent one of their guys to walk around with a crate of bananas like he was selling peanuts at a baseball game, which humored me greatly. Oh, vegans.
There were also cocktails, and beer, and more beer, and this surprisingly good kombucha.
I can’t emphasize enough that the vendors, venue and idea weren’t bad; the overarching flaw was that there was not enough food available for everyone in attendance to sample, let alone get enough to equal a full meal.
Vegans were also a little angry with a few vendors like Angry Orchard and Chocamo Cookie Cups, who offered samples of dishes with animal products in them, as that violates the sanctity of a vegan festival. All Angry Orchard brews have honey in them and Chocamo Cookie Cups offered a version of their cookie cup with milk, making both products vegetarian rather than vegan.
People paid anywhere from 35 to 65 dollars for tickets to this event and when you shell out that much cash, you expect to at least come home on a full stomach.
SugarHouse Casino’s brand new event center, where S.E.E.D. was held, was surprisingly nice. There was no smoke smell and there were balcony views of the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Delaware River that I enjoyed in between macaroni samples.
Although the event ran until six, I could only make it to about 4 p.m. At 3:30, they’d run out of macaroni and I still wasn’t full. There was a line that extended the entire length of the room for slivers — yes, slivers — of vegan cheesesteak.
Full of frustration instead of food, I made the executive decision to flee and after knocking back a few more beers, my dad reluctantly followed.
The silver lining is that a portion of the proceeds from this benefit went to the Humane League of Philadelphia, which works to reduce animal suffering. My question is how big of a portion? And what else did I pay for? Because it certainly wasn’t for dinner.