Tampa Bay VegFest: Report!

Today we took a trip downtown for the 2nd Annual Tampa Bay VegFest.  It was myself, Baron and his 12 year old daughter, so I wasn’t quite sure how well this was going to fly as a outing, since the only one really interested in vegetarian and vegan food options was me.  I kept my fingers crossed, and prayed that nobody said anything insensitive or embarrassing while we were there.  I brought my camera, but ended up only taking 2 pictures.  Upon retrospect, I should have taken more, but I always feel like I’m imposing on people when I ask if I can take a picture of them or their displays.  I need to get better about that.

Arriving there, it had a huge turnout.  I mean, much MUCH larger than I had thought.  I thought that something along the lines of a festival of this nature would have a rather niche turnout, but it was surprisingly packed.  Where we parked had us coming into the park right by the food area, at one end of the festival, also where the band played.  I know there wasn’t much space, but having the band right next to the food vendors made ordering a bit difficult, because you couldn’t really hear.  The music was good, upbeat and not too off-putting, good enough to appeal to a variety of age ranges.

We decided to make a circuit of the park first, before settling on getting something to eat.  There were plenty of vendors of information about the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets, cruelty-free living and eating, and animal rescue organizations.  A few tents offered test samples of various products, from cheese spread to sausages, and a few artists and artisans offered their goods up for sale as well.  There were pups, kitties and bunnies up for adoption by a number of groups.  All in all, there was a diverse collection of animal-friendly and animal-free diet and lifestyle related products and organizations that everyone should find something of specific interest to them.

We went back to the “food court” area, and decided to find some food.  Sadly, the Philly Cheesesteaks were all sold out, or I would’ve been on those like a crazy person.  Instead we decided on tacos and burritos from a Tampa fixture:  The Taco Bus.  Baron and I each got a “beef” taco, while his daughter ordered a burrito.  The three plates, plus drink came to $20, which was exorbitant for the amount of food we got (though the drink was pretty big, the tacos were tiny).  They were tasty, but again, small.

After our meager eats, we were still hungry (his daughter didn’t finish the burrito, it was fairly sizable).  I went to another stall and got a slice of “Farmer’s Market Pizza” from Pizza Fusion.  At $1.25 a slice, the price was reasonable, and it was topped with veggies and soy cheese.  Now, I love pizza, and I found it incredibly tasty.  It wasn’t hot or even relatively warm, but it was still nummy.  Baron went to the booth for Loving Hut and got himself some curry and toast.  While not incredibly spicy, he was impressed with it, and he enjoyed the non-meat product they used in it despite considering himself a “meat purist”.  They’re located only about a mile or two from the apartment, so we’ll be checking out their restaurant in the near future.  Our last stop was to Gone Bananas, where his daughter had frozen whipped bananas with chocolate syrup (similar to soft serve), while we continued on to our second circuit of the grounds.

Upon embarking on our second circle of the park, we slowed down to get a better look at the individual tents and what they had to offer.  A number of vegetarian and vegan groups from the Tampa and greater Florida area offered information for beginner vegetarians as well as recipe books and ideas.  We learned about a Tampa based CSA and a local Horse Rescue group.  Baron’s daughter got stickers and pins from an anti-fur group, and we tried new brands of Tofurkey slices and non-dairy cheese spread, as well as another vendor who was giving out taste samples of non-meat sausages.  A few of the groups that stood out were:

  • St. Pete Community Acupuncture – They offer an affordable sliding scale fee, and while a bit of a drive from Tampa, might be a good option for the pain in Baron’s herniated disc.
  • Going Green Tampa – The #1 place to find eco-friendly businesses and events in the greater Tampa area
  • Parbawatiya Kadampa Buddhist Center – I’ve watched them on Facebook for a while now, but always wanted to attend one of their beginner meditation groups.  I’m also interested in their upcoming “Meditation, Lunch and UN-Cooking Class” on October 29th, though I probably won’t be able to make it.
  • Tampa Bay Organics – 100% organic fruits and veg delivered right to your door.
  • Sweetwater Community Farm – Located right here in Tampa, offering Community Supported Agriculture and crop shares.  They also offer educational programs and community building opportunities – since 1995.

I was hoping there would have been more products to sample – specifically Larabars since they were one of the sponsors and I’ve never gotten a chance to try them – but all I managed to come home with was a “Raw Rev 100″.  It’s a Raw Revolution 100 calorie raw organic live food bar.  I was a bit wary of it, since it was chocolate coconut flavour and I don’t normally like coconut, but I found I really liked it and actually finished the whole thing.  I was a bit miffed that the lady giving them out offered other passers-by coupons and didn’t offer one to us.  I wonder why?  The bar itself was chewy and chocolaty, and had good flavour.  I’d like to try out the other flavours as well, because if this was a flavour I don’t normally like, the ones I do should be pretty tasty!

All-in-all, it was a pretty good day.  We had good parking, no parking ticket after our meter ran out, and aside from the thing with the food being too little for too much, the festival I think was a success.  I look forward to next year’s festival, and going to it with a better understanding of what to expect.  Thank you Whole Foods Market and the other sponsors for putting on together a great day for everyone.

Farmer’s Market Surprise: Lychee!

Today we went for our somewhat weekly-ish run to the Farmer’s Market to stock up on a few vegetable staples that we had run out of.  We had been making huge bags of salad and keeping them in the fridge to munch on during the week, and having run out, we were sorely in need of supplies.  Our Market isn’t huge, and most of the venders tend to have the same items over and over.  Rarely do you find something new or interesting.  Today was an exception!

LycheeLychee!

We browsed about and found this funny little red thing with pokie bits sticking out all over.  A lot of the vendors seemed to have them – never seen them there before now – but nobody could give us a name for this quirky little fruit.  I have to admit that part of the problem is the language barrier, as nearly all the vendors speak English as a second language.  Primarily, they speak in and their vendor signs are in Spanish.

Finally, as we were about to leave with our stash in tow, we tried one more vendor to pick up some squash and some orange tomatoes I hadn’t seen at any of the other vendors (I don’t know what kind of tomato they were, there was no sign).  We asked what the odd fruit was, thinking we were just going to get another price blurted out like with the other vendors, but surprisingly, she was very cheerful and eager to help. “It’s Lychee!  Here, try one!  Crack it open!  Here!”

So we cracked it open (it kinda sprayed it’s juices out with glee) and split it between the three of us.  Once we got past it’s spiny shell, it looked like what I’d seen of lychee in pictures, which is kind of like a squishy white ball.  Tearing it apart and eating it though, it was pretty darned tasty!  It reminded me a little bit of a pear in taste, but not in texture.  It was very mild, sweet but not cloying or overpowering.  It had a very soft flavour that I really liked.   Needless to say, we bought them, five for a dollar!

After that, we brought our haul home, having spent $16 on a ton of fresh produce.  What we couldn’t get at the Farmer’s Market had to wait until we hit the grocery store (spinach, grape tomatoes, leaf lettuce).  Looking forward to yummy salads, veggie snacks, and tonight’s dinner of eggplant parmesan!

Tomorrow should be fun, as it’s the 2nd Annual Tampa Bay’s VegFest!  It’s a free event celebrating meat-free food and cruelty-free living, sponsored by Whole Foods Market.  There’s going to be music, art, food, movies, speakers and cooking demonstrations.  I’m really looking forward to having the opportunity to try out some vegetarian and vegan products, and maybe taking some pictures and doing some reviews for the blog!  If you’re going, see you there!