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[Photographs: Howard Walfish]

This past Sunday was the first annual NYC Vegetarian Food Festival in the Altman Building in Chelsea. It was a combination trade show, restaurant showcase, and educational experience. The doors opened to the public shortly after 10 a.m., and by 11 the place was packed. The line wrapped down 18th Street by 1 p.m., up 7th Avenue, and partway up 19th Street, some people waiting in line for a couple hours just to get in.

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The festival is the brainchild of Sarah Gross (founder of Rescue Chocolate) and Nira Paliwoda who created the event to raise awareness of vegetarian and vegan options, and to prove how exciting the flavors can be.

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Among the many national vendors were plenty of local businesses too. V-Spot, the Park Slope vegan restaurant, was selling a wide variety of empanadas. There were two local kombucha stands: Kombucha Brooklyn and Bao Fresh Kombucha. Bao (pictured at the very top) took the opportunity to introduce its new line of condiments, including ketchup and a tangy vegetable slaw.

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Also on hand was Sacred Chow, a vegan restaurant in the West Village that was selling grilled tofu over fresh kale salad, drenched in a mustard vinaigrette. People kept coming over asking for samples of the kale. Just outside of the venue parked the Cinnamon Snail truck, a vegan food truck based in Hoboken, with a line stretching halfway down the block.

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Williamsburg's Foodswings was serving creamy vegan macaroni and "cheese." Speaking of creamy, the Raw Ice Cream Company was selling their vegan, refined-sugar-free products. Long Island City food vendors were also represented, including Sweet & Sara selling vegan marshmallows.

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There were cooking demos, diet and nutrition presentations, and dance performances. Perhaps the most interesting part was the handful of non-food related exhibitors, like Green Mountain Energy promoting alternative energy. They figured the festivalgoers were also their type of customers. Sarah and Nira are already planning next year's festival.

About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Brooklyn-based Eat to Blog.

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