Whether you are vegan or vegetarian or just interested in how to eat a healthy plant-based diet, Grand Rapids VegFest is for you. Taking place on Sunday, Oct. 7 from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the DeltaPlex, Grand Rapids VegFest features cooking demonstrations, speakers, a plethora of local vendors and, of course, food.
Grand Rapids VegFest is now in its fourth year. GR|MAG spoke with Erica Wisniewski, one of the organizers, to find out more about the event and how Grand Rapids restaurants are accommodating vegetarian and vegan diners.
GR|MAG: I read that VegFest is a national event with cities participating all around the country. How does Grand Rapids celebrate VegFest?
EW: VegFests happen all over the world, actually, but they are all operated and function independently. Most VegFests are 501c3 nonprofits. We became one last year. Our nonprofit is Plant-Based Roots and Grand Rapids VegFest is our signature event. Most cities have at least one VegFest, and quite a few have more than one.
GR|MAG: I have several vegetarian and vegan friends who have said Grand Rapids has a fair amount options for vegan and vegetarian people. Would you agree and how do you think the area restaurants are catering to different dietary needs and choices?
EW: Absolutely. Most restaurants now offer at least one vegan option and several vegetarian options. Typically, chefs are also very accommodating to people’s dietary needs and preferences. We have restaurant meetups about once a month and we usually pick a restaurant that does not have a large offering of vegan options and they will prepare special meals for our group. I am confident that we will continue to see restaurants offer more and more vegan options.
GR|MAG: Recently, Marie Catrib’s announced its closure and, over the last few years, a few other restaurants known for catering to vegetarian and vegan diners have closed. Is that a concern?
EW: It is a concern because their food was absolutely amazing and we will all miss the food. However, other restaurants have opened in Grand Rapids over the past year, which have great plant-based options as well.
Forty Acres Kitchen, for example, has several vegan soul food options. The vegan community would love an all-vegan restaurant and I believe in the near future that will become a reality. I know that as plant-based eating continues to rise so will restaurants that cater to or offer vegan options.
GR|MAG: One of the things that VegFest does is introduces people to smaller-scale operations—people operating out of commercial kitchen spaces and such. How important are emerging businesses to the vegetarian and vegan food scene in Grand Rapids?
EW: One of the goals at VegFest is creating a space where small businesses have a place to sell their food and showcase their products. Oftentimes, these small businesses are just getting started and VegFest is a great way for them to introduce their products and also make connections with other businesses or event sponsors that are at the event. Plant-based food businesses have exploded on the market over the past years and expos like VegFest are a great way to get your name out there.
Our main event sponsor, Bit Baking Company, is one example of a small vegan business in the community. They have a line of vegan and gluten-free cookies that are amazing and they were able to connect with another vendor at a previous VegFest and now they are selling their product in the store to the general public.
GR|MAG: How would you like to see Grand Rapids evolve in terms of catering to vegan and vegetarian diners?
EW: I would absolutely love to have a couple of restaurants that are completely vegan. Since the close of Bartertown a few years ago, the vegan community has really been anticipating the opening of another all vegan restaurant.
There are quite a few completely vegan restaurants in other cities in Michigan, and I would love that to be a reality in Grand Rapids. I would also like to see chefs and kitchen staff be more educated on what vegan means and how to prepare a larger variety of foods besides the typical hummus plate and black bean veggie burger. There are so many great plant-based dishes that are easy to make and are satisfying and delicious.
GR|MAG: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
EW: Grand Rapids VegFest is an amazing event that is organized completely by volunteers. There is no paid staff and the event takes about 10 months to plan. Our committee is comprised of about eight really dedicated individuals that devote a lot of time and energy into putting this event together every year.
Grand Rapids VegFest takes place on Sunday, Oct. 7 from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the DeltaPlex. Visit the Grand Rapids VegFest website to purchase discounted tickets and to see a full list of participating vendors.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
*Main photo courtesy of Bit Baking Co.