Thousands of vegans trekked to the Jacob Javits Convention Center like Muslims to Mecca to sample the exciting new food options available and to hear world-class speakers opine on the future of the plant-based food movement.
Plant-based food sales topped $3.3 billion over the past year with 20% growth as opposed to only 2% growth for all other foods in competing categories. Many vegetarians/vegans decided to avoid tofu and meat substitutes because of concerns about processed GMO soy, but while they were busy chopping up their kale salads an entire industry sprang up around them seemingly overnight.
The first Plant Based World Expo at the Javits Center, orchestrated by Ben Davis of JD Events, was a celebration of the staggering genius and ingenuity that has exploded in the vegan sector.
Companies like Lightlife, Miyoko’s, Good Catch, Good PLANeT, and No Evil have brought a level of culinary sophistication and health consciousness to the table that is undeniably delicious and frankly super exciting, and the rest of the world is finally taking notice. Venture capitalists are scrambling to find the next Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat to invest in.
Impossible Foods has raised $750 million in startup money. Shares of Beyond Meat stock are up 300% since that company’s initial public offering. Both companies, though, are struggling to meet the surging demand for their product.
While the big faux burger craze seems to be the product of scientists in white lab coats busily dissecting and analyzing the flavor profile of beef, there are actual chefs in their kitchens on a mission to prove that “healthy food doesn’t have to taste like s**t,” as chef Chad Sarno has cheekily stated.
Eagle-eyed Lisa Feria of Stray Dog Capital, a venture capital firm committed to removing animals from the food chain, saw the potential in the startup company Good Catch and awarded them $5.5 million in funding. Good Catch, helmed by “Wicked Healthy” brothers Chad and Derek Sarno, makes mind-blowingly great tuna, crabcakes, and fish patties made from lentils, chickpeas, fava beans, and other legumes…yep, it’s magic! Why overfish the ocean, ingest mercury and PCBs, or risk parasites when vegan seafood can be this convincing and delicious?
Pea protein isolate is the ingredient that is having its day. Over and over purveyors cited that as their main ingredient while adding that their products are soy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, and GMO-free. They clearly know what it is that their educated, label-reading consumer wants to hear and they are delivering it. Companies like Lightlife are leading the pack with superior quality for everything from burgers, sausages, and ground beef to all varieties of deli slices. In a room full of free samples we found ourselves returning again and again to the Lightlife booth. Their sausages with a splash of Sir Kensington’s mustard was a true highlight of the day.
Other standouts were the utterly convincing texture, flavor, and meltability of David Israel’s Good PLANeT cheeses, which could fool the most dedicated grilled cheese lover. Sadrah Schadel and Mike Woliansky of No Evil bring their social conscience, hipness, and fierce culinary skills to their juicychicken, flavorful sausage, divine pulled pork, and other products. They win hands down for the absolutely coolest packaging and mission statement.
One who has forged a very successful path in the vegan cheese world is its reigning queen, Miyoko Schinner. She has a cult following of serious devotees who worship her cultured butter, tangy cream cheese, stringy mozzarella, and fancy cheese wheels. There were nearly riots in the streets when her California factory went dark for a few weeks and stores couldn’t get her products. When she isn’t busy making her glorious cheese, she’s caring for the 70 animals who have been given sanctuary at her home, Rancho Compasión.
The perfect complement to that stringy mozzarella would be the turbo-charged marinara called Otamot, which is the brainchild of Andrew Suzuka and James Beard Award-winning culinary expert Maxime Bilet. Otamot is formulated to deliver maximum nutrition by adding a host of antioxidant-rich vegetables and high-quality oils to a tomato base. Every consideration has been given to quality, flavor, and nutrient content, ergo your garden-variety marinara suddenly becomes a powerful superfood.
Another purveyor concerned with purity is literally squeezing every drop of integrity from the humble but mighty olive. Sal Mazzurco’s olive oil is truly raw and unfiltered, boasting nearly 500 mg worth of polyphenols. Sal’s farm in Alcamo, Sicily uses no pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers, and suchattention to detail sets his oil, called Olive From The Raw, far above the competition.
So many people deserve honorable mention: Kerry Song of Abbot’s Butcher and Diego Vidal of Maika Foods are bringing intriguing plant-based meat to the party. The more the merrier, right? More options mean that your meat-loving friend or family member is bound to find something they love.
Having tried numerous versions of jerky at the expo, it seems that Pan’s Mushroom Jerky won the taste testing contest (says discerning jerky connoisseur/photographer Asa Williams). Turns out that the shiitake mushroom is the perfect medium for jerky replication.
The Jackfruit Company keeps it really real by shape-shifting the nutritionally dense tropical jackfruit into a variety of plant-based meals ranging from Thai green chili to teriyaki to a curry bowl.Kudos for wild inventiveness!
Three Trees nut milk is thinking outside the carton with its unsweetened black sesame and pistachio milks.
Every self-respecting vegan knows that like themselves, they know their dog thrives on a V lifestyle. Brands like Wild Earth are coming to market in September 2019 with fungi-powered dog food and treats with protein levels rivaling meat-based dog foods. Goodbye, cans full of mystery meat parts!
In the dessert category, Mom Pops has created a simple, clean, totally satisfying fresh fruit pop with just a dash of agave nectar for the perfect summertime treat.
Abe’s Muffins are really good news for the highly allergic crowd and everyone else. These creations have no soy, dairy, nuts, or seeds and clearly don’t suffer for the lack of it. Utterly sensational!
Attendees were thrilled to walk away with a complimentary copy of Marisa Ignacio Hormel’s huge and glamorous coffee-table book “Bodies On Raw,” which showcases many noted personalities in the raw food pantheon, herself included.
This expo was a raging success and hopefully JD Events will continue to present these incredible creators and thinkers for years to come.
Eat green and clean! Save yourself and Mother Earth!
Article by Jane Webb
Photos by Asa Williams