Here’s a not-so-brief interview I conducted by e-mail with organizers putting on a vegetarian food festival (but actually it’s a vegan festival) in New York City in April. I don’t think I agree that the public finds veganism ‘scary’ and it’s a shame to not use the oportunity to raise awareness (otherwise how will the public ever find it less scary?). Nonetheless this festival is free and open to the public so if you are in NYC on April 3 it’s worth a pop by. And if you go, let me know what you think of it!
NYC Vegetarian Food Festival
Sunday April 3, 2011 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Nira Paliwoda and Sarah Gross, Festival Organizers
JM. What inspired you to start this festival and how did the pieces come together for you to get it rolling?
NP & SG. It was just such a no-brainer. Other major cities have been having these kinds of things for years, notably Boston. New York is already so vegetarian and vegan-friendly with many great restaurants and grocery stores that cater to the vegetarian and vegan communities. So a festival highlighting the products and vendors was the missing piece of the puzzle. We can envision it becoming one of the year’s most beloved festivals and the top vegetarian event in the country.
JM. What sorts of topics will your speakers (so far) be talking on?
NP & SG. Some of the topics we’ve got slated so far are: nutrition and healthy diet, the best places to eat in and around New York City, the horrors of modern factory farming, and how to live more sustainably.
JM. How did you as organizers find the means to make the festival free and open to everyone?
NP & SG. We’ve been working night and day to sign up sponsors and vendors. As is the case with most festivals, the vendors pay a fee to rent the space to showcase their wares. We are counting on getting enough participants to cover the basic production costs but must also rely on the generosity of individuals and companies alike to help make this event the best it can be while keeping it free. On our website, http://www.NYCVegFoodFest.com, you can find the different ways a person or company can participate in the festival without having to be an exhibitor, including how to make a donation. No amount is too big or too small and is much appreciated.
JM. Is there anything deliberate in why you have chosen to call it a “vegetarian” festival? It does look like your food choices will be exclusively vegan, is there a reason the festival wasn’t called a ‘vegan’ one?
NP & SG. ‘Vegan’ is a very scary word to the public–we’d only get a fraction of the attendees by using that word. For many people, vegetarianism is the gateway into veganism. It can be a gradual process. Some people never actually make the leap, and they still eat dairy products while cutting out the lamb chops and the filet of sole. Our attitude is: even a little step in the right direction is cause for celebration.
JM. I notice the vendor booth fees are high compared to other festivals ($750 for an exhibitor table). How will this money be used?
NP & SG. The fees are actually comparable to other high-end festivals in NYC. Putting on a festival of this caliber in NYC comes with many expenses. The money we receive from the vendors goes directly towards paying for our production expenses. For one, our venue is centrally located in Manhattan, where rents don’t come cheap. But we wanted such a high-visibility and convenient area so as to encourage as many people as possible to come. One of our objectives is to make this a successful event where the vendors get access to as many people as possible and potentially sell enough product to make back their initial investment plus some.
JM. How many people do you project will come to the event? What sort of publicity are you putting out there to advertise it?
NP & SG. We expect thousands of people attending throughout the day. We have a marketing campaign in place which involves both traditional and digital media and are also doing some local grass roots marketing such as posters, postcards, etc. We have partnered up with some media companies and will also be cross promoting with our participants. Plus, we are submitting press releases to all the print and online media we can think of, and blogging, tweeting, and posting to all of our social networks. Essentially, we are trying to get the word out as much as we can through every method that is available to us.
JM. Sarah, I see that you are the proprietor of a business called Rescue Chocolate, which raises money for animal rescues by selling vegan chocolates. Inspired by a rescued pitbull named Mocha, and driven by your experience creating raw chocolates, your business donates 100% profits back to a featured rescue every month. (And did I read somewhere that Rescue Chocolate is helping sponsor this event?) Your website mentions that you choose Callebaut chocolate for your creations, and that “Callebaut supports the fairtrade initiative.” I’ve been researching about the child slavery involved in producing cheap chocolate, and the importance of choosing fair-trade chocolates for our indulgences. Can you tell me more about the certification of your chocolate supply?
SG. At the moment, Callebaut is not certified as “fair trade” because the certification process is actually quite expensive and therefore puts a lot of small farmers in developing countries out of business. But “supporting the fair trade initiative” means that we take pains to insure that no child laborers are used in production, and that all workers are treated fairly. As such, Rescue Chocolate is not really “cheap” chocolate in any sense of the word. It is an artisan-quality chocolate which is handmade, and which is more expensive than anything you can find in the big-box discount stores. Yes, Rescue Chocolate is proud to be a sponsor of the NYCVFF.
JM. Nira, you are the founder of Two Shes Productions, LLC which handles music management as well as event planning. A law school graduate who decided to start a business promoting artists in the music industry – do you have a special interest in helping events with a cause, such as this vegetarian festival?
NP. I have always tried to support worthwhile causes whenever possible because I feel it’s important on so many levels to do so. A while ago I made a conscious decision to try to put on more events that have a positive message and a philanthropic aspect to them. It’s a great feeling of purpose when something more substantial and lasting comes out of an event than just having put on a fun event. So Sarah and I decided to produce this vegetarian food festival in NYC which will highlight multiple important causes such as learning about proper nutrition, environmental issues, animal rights, and overall health and wellness. Not only will it be educational but fun with free food samples!