Those who choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle have long found the going a bit bumpy in New Orleans. From waitstaff suggesting crab cakes as a meatless option to "vegetable soup" starring big hunks of beef to innocent-sounding side dishes richly imbued with ham hocks, vegetarians may indeed feel like some New Orleans cooks are out to get them.
For those diners, it must be a welcome relief to see the New Orleans Veggie Fest (www.nolaveggiefest.com) on the calendar this weekend, May 12-13. Planned by the Humane Society of Louisiana, the event is a showcase for the vegan lifestyle. Now in its fourth year, it will be at the New Orleans Healing Center (2372 St. Claude Ave., 940-1130; www.neworleanshealingcenter.org), the multi-purpose complex in the Faubourg Marigny that's also home to the New Orleans Food Co-Op. Admission is $9 per day or $15 for a two-day pass, $5/$8 for those under 18.
Veggie Fest includes a slate of national speakers giving presentations on topics like nutrition, fitness and preventative medicine. There will be a screening of the documentary film Vegucated (www.getvegucated.com) on Sunday, and the Taboo Brass Band and dancer Moxie Sazerac of the Slow Burn Burlesque troupe are among the local performers on the bill.
For some though, the strongest draw is the cornucopia of vegan foods Veggie Fest offers. There will be cooking demonstrations and food from New Orleans restaurants, caterers and chefs for hire who specialize in vegan options. The festival also has a bazaar featuring local resources and national suppliers ranging from raw food producers to fair-trade coffee importers. It's a chance to sample vegan ice cream, mock meats and dairy-free dips and to see myriad foods and drinks made from hemp, soy, rice and nuts, including a vegan version of jerky.
Being vegan is about a lot more than just what one chooses to eat, and Veggie Fest takes in the full measure of this lifestyle. But it also puts food front and center, and in this way at least the Veggie Fest format isn't so different from the many other festivals around town. Nothing gets New Orleans out to an event like food, and that seems to be as true for local vegans and vegetarians as it is for the omnivores. For schedules and tickets, see www.nolaveggiefest.com.