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New York City Vegetarian Food Festival: A Celebration of Problem- Solving

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  • by Zak Shelton

I recently had the incredible privilege of attending one of New York City’s premier food events. The NYC Vegetarian Food Festival™ proves the New York City food scene is being driven by plant-based cuisine, with an emphasis on urban farming and sustainability. 

Set in the heart of downtown of the largest city in the US, NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, held this year on Saturday and Sunday, May 18 and 19, is a reflection of what’s happening in New York veganism. Vegan pierogies, insanely decadent Mexican chocolate marshmallow sundaes, mushroom steakhouse burgers, and vegan “Nutella” made from dates were the stars of the fancy food, but what was ultimately most striking was the urban farming.

Out of the nearly 100 vendors, the fact that there were multiple urban farming projects was a clear message that perhaps the biggest of veganism’s problems is not replacing animal-based products with plants but the way those plants are grown to meet the demand of an already massive and continuously growing population.

I was one of the moderators of the Food Technology panel on Sunday, and what became abundantly clear is that the questions that need to be answered are rooted in the city’s own ability to sustain itself. Shipping vegetables in from all over the world is not the answer, according to Alina Zolotareva, of AeroFarms, the largest vertical farms in the world and located in New York City. Her project seeks to continue to develop new systems and technology for growing greens in quantities that will support the population of the city within the city.

Jonas Guenther discussed We Are the New Farmers, where he works. The company makes a spirulina product and brand that makes the highest-protein version of spirulina on the market, and AKUA, a kelp-based jerky snack are two other examples of technology-driven food, a movement that’s seeking not only to diversify consumer options but also to create products that are sustainable on a massive scale.

Anita Shepherd, a Hot Line MVP on Food52.Com, talked about Anita’s Yogurt: a proprietary probiotic that syncs molecularly with coconut to create a yogurt product that’s equal to dairy. This is also done entirely in New York City, with a few ingredients shipped in from Thailand. This is the first product of its kind and provides parents with the perfect plant-based option for children to enjoy — providing, of course, that they don’t eat it first!

“It’s no coincidence that we are all based in New York City,” Anita said. That statement could not be truer. With a population like the one here, the size of the problems forces the innovations to be just as big.

I’m happy to report that the only thing needed is time. With the right people in place and the right amount of capital, the solutions are well on the way to being found.

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