Vegan in NJ: VegFest returns to feed thousands at the Meadowlands Expo Center

by Alex Biese

In just four years, the New Jersey Vegan Food Festival has evolved into a cultural force across the Garden State, advocating for a plant-based lifestyle.

It’s launched events in cities from Secaucus to Atlantic City, drawing thousands of attendees and featuring appearances by vegan luminaries such as Democratic New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Wu-Tang Clan mastermind RZA and record-breaking ultramarathon runner Scott Jurek.

Watch a video of Cory Booker’s appearance at an Asbury Park vegan pop-up in the player at the top of this story.

But it all started with a simple goal: “I really just wanted something to eat,” said co-founder Kendra Arnold.

Based in Morristown, Arnold and her co-founder, Marisa Sweeney, launched their endeavor as a one-day, 30-vendor gathering at a Morristown hotel in 2016. When the event returns to the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus on Saturday, Nov. 16, and Sunday, Nov. 17, there will be approximately 170 vendors and thousands of attendees.

The big weekend, the largest event in the organization’s history, is set to include food and drink vendors from across the region as well as live music from Buntopia and the Ocean Avenue Stompers, tunes from DJs Candace V and Chef Rootsie, and screenings of Simon Amstell’s mockumentary “Carnage.” There will be trail hikes, a women’s networking event, a kids area and more.

“As veganism has grown and that curiosity and that awareness has grown, it’s allowed our event to grow,” said Sweeney, noting that planing for the Meadowlands gathering is a year-round process.

Sweeney said she and Arnold work toward being “accommodating to what people are really looking for. People are looking for more local vendors and they’re looking for health food and comfort food and they’re looking for drinks and they’re looking for lifestyle products.”

The booming popularity of Arnold and Sweeney’s operation, which included an epic July festival in Atlantic City, is part of a movement toward greater accessibility and interest in vegan products.

These days, it’s easy to find the meatless Impossible Burger at Burger King or a Beyond Sausage Sandwich at Dunkin’, and there are hundreds of plant-based options coming to Disney’s theme parks.

“Once a choice is put in front of (people), like at Burger King, if they can have a vegan burger or a regular burger, it sounds like a lot of people are going for the vegan burgers just because it’s an option,” said Arnold. “Before you didn’t have that choice, and now you do — so people are opting to make that choice and seeing more and more places have it, it’s pretty exciting.”

New Jersey VegFest
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, and Sunday, Nov. 17

Where: Meadowlands Exposition Center, 355 Plaza Drive, Secaucus

Tickets: $15 per day, $20 for a weekend pass if purchased by Friday, Nov. 15, $20 per day and $30 for the weekend at the door, kids 13 and under free.


Originally published in the Asbury Park Press.

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