Being new(ish) to Canada, and even newer to the world of veganism, this was my first experience of the annual Toronto Veg Food Festival. Now in its 30th year (so, all good things are 30 this year, then?!) it is the largest veg festival in North America, attracting around 40,000 people over the course of the weekend. It takes place at the Toronto Harbourfront Centre, which is coincidentally one of my favourite places in the city as it is, not surprisingly, right by the water. The festival includes cooking demonstrations, talks, many, many vegan vendors, live music and a wealth of information about adopting a compassionate, green lifestyle. And best of all, its free!
In July this year I joined the fundraising and membership development committee for the Toronto Vegetarian Association, and this is how I got involved with the veg fest.
A helping hand
I had two volunteer shifts over the weekend, both were the first shift of the day. The first shift was on Friday at the very start of the festival and so I was fortunate to see the “behind the scenes” of what it looks like when setting up. The festival officially started at 4pm and within minutes it was packed with people and there was a great vibe around the Harbourfront centre. It happened to be one of the hottest days of the year, too, with the humidity reaching 41 degrees, so people were lazing around on the green and taking in the atmosphere.
When I finished my shift at 6.30pm, I was then free to wander the festival and see what was on offer. It was overwhelmingly busy and all the vendors were rushed off their feet. I managed to sample some yummy coconut bacon from YamChops, a new vegan butcher in the city, which was delicious. I also had a sample of some Tofurky sausages and a Simply Protein bar – yum yum.
However, I had my own plan of attack. I decided to scope out all the stalls and decide what I wanted to buy and then I knew I would be back on Sunday for my second shift, so I would buy it all then. (I had my fingers crossed they wouldn’t run out!!)
On Sunday, I headed back for another early shift. The thunderstorms on Friday night had cooled the air massively and the temperature was much more bearable on Sunday. I thought that the festival would be much quieter on Sunday given that it runs for 3 days and I thought most people who would want to go would’ve already been down there. Not so! It was packed again!!
During my role as TVA Ambassador, I spoke to lots of people about the festival. Many were from out of town, some from the USA, who had come to Toronto especially for the festival. Some people were just out for the day, stumbled on the fest and dropped by. Some are die-hard fans who attend every year and would never miss it. And, excitingly for me, there were some people who were not yet veggie or vegan but were thinking about it and had come down wanting more information. It was great to be able to demonstrate that there is such a huge and supportive veggie movement in Toronto and that us herbivores are keen to pass on information and our wisdom in a non-judgemental or overpowering way.
So, my favourites from the weekend are;
Apiecalypse Now – Chicken Pot Pie. OMG! I carried this little piece of pie heaven home so carefully and warmed it up, ready to serve with some mashed potato and vegan mushroom gravy for Sunday dinner. It truly is delicious, the pastry crust is perfectly cooked and the filling is so tasty. I have been pie-ning for another one ever since!
Tori’s Bakeshop – Mojito cupcake. Again, this baby was cradled all the way home, taking care not to tip the box and waste any of the delicious frosting. I (begrudgingly) split it with Matt after dinner, cutting it down the middle so the yummy lime filling oozed out. I honestly defy anyone to be able to say that it isn’t better than any non-vegan cupcake they have tasted. The cake is so moist, I have had Tori’s cupcakes before, although not this particular flavour, and they are always baked to perfection.
Soyatoo – Soy Whip (squirty whipped cream in a can!) When I got home, I discovered in my volunteer goodie bag one of the most exciting things I have seen in a long time. When I first became vegan, I also had a lot of weight to lose and so didn’t indulge in any of the vegan sweet treats which are out there. But now that I am roughly where I want to be weight-wise and training so hard, I can be a little bit more adventurous. I actually squealed in excitement when I saw it. The following day we had some lovely strawberries with the cream on top, it is yummy. So yummy, in fact, that I passed on the strawberries the second time and just squirted it directly into my mouth. What? Like you’ve never done it?!
If you are around in Toronto next September you should certainly put the food festival on your list of things to do. It is quite a long time to wait however, so in the mean time you could check out the official Veg Food Fest website to learn more about it, or even the Toronto Vegetarian Association website. If you are thinking about trying a veggie lifestyle, you could try the 7 day veggie challenge and if you live in Toronto, be sure to get a copy of the Vegetarian Directory with all the great vegan and veggie bakeries, restaurants and stores in the city (and sign up to the TVA for your Veg Card to get great savings!)
And if you don’t live in Toronto, you should search the vegan restaurants and bakeries in your area and give them a try. I am certain you won’t be disappointed.