NEW YORK (WABC) --Candy bars made with crystallized ginger, dehydrated garlic coconut fries inspired by the garlic fries at Yankee stadium and sushi made with chayote and pickled jalapeno were just some of the vegetarian fare available at this weekend's 5th annual NYC Vegetarian Food Festival.
More than 125 vendors lined the Metropolitan Pavilion where they sampled and sold products to vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians or anyone generally curious about food, said U.S. Veg Corp co-founder Sarah Gross.
Gross has spent more than half her life as a vegan, wanting nothing to do with animal cruelty. Inspired by a similar annual festival already established in Boston, Gross asked herself why New York City couldn't be home to a similar event.
With the idea already stirring in her head, Gross met Nira Paliwoda in the summer of 2009 and the two began planning. Paliwoda, a self-proclaimed "flexitarian," veers toward vegetarian but will eat fish and meat on occasion.
Paliwoda wanted to put her event planning background to use by organizing a large scale event to raise awareness surrounding environmental issues. In preparing for the first festival, she researched vegetarianism and veganism by going online and speaking to doctors.
For the vegan community, Gross said this is the "event of the year," Gross said. "It's a field day of eating anything they can see with no restrictions and it turns into a fun community event where a lot of people might know each other."
Though the event is popular among the vegan community, Gross said it's also a hit with "committed carnivores."
People are often pleasantly surprised to realize that vegan alternatives to meat and dairy often taste like the real thing, Gross said. She named "Gardein" as one company which makes vegan meats, chicken strips and beef tips which very accurately simulate real meat but are entirely plant-based.
One of the highlights of walking around the festival for Paliwoda is learning about new vegan delicacies to incorporate into her daily meals.
One such item was a truffle "Vegenaise," which she described as "so incredible, it's ridiculous." The product, a mayonnaise-substitute, is made from different oils and protein sources, like pea and soy protein.
In the past, the event has attracted 6,000 attendees, and Paliwoda said they continue to bring in new vendors and speakers to accommodate the growing audience.
Paliwoda said she hears consistent feedback from attendees who walk out of the event with a different perspective on plant-based food, and who start incorporating these foods into their diets.
While certain vegan meats may only hint at the taste of real burger, Gross said others almost mimic the real product.
"You might find out that you like that (product) a lot, maybe better," she said. "It's just another alternative that you might want to have once a week."