The NJ Vegan Food Festival returns with empanadas, beer and mission

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A lot can change in six years — just ask Kendra Arnold and Marisa Sweeney.

The Morristown-based duo organized the inaugural New Jersey VegFest as a day-long event at the Hyatt Regency Morristown in October 2016, intended as a humble gathering of about 30 vendors who sold a few hundred pre-sale tickets.

“There didn’t seem to be much of a vegan community in New Jersey, at least from my perspective,” Sweeney recalled. “People were kind of scattered … so it was like cats fighting. It was really difficult to juggle it all.”

Ultimately, the plant-based and vegan-curious community presented itself – 2,000 people came and the gathering had to be moved to the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus. The 2022 New Jersey Vegan Food Festival will be held there on Saturday November 12th and Sunday November 13th.

Under their Vegan Local banner, Arnold and Sweeney present events across the state, with weekend meetups in Asbury Park in the spring, Atlantic City in the summer and Secaucus in the fall.

“When I go to events, I feel like I’m still as concerned that everything will go well as I was at that very first event, even though I’ve been through about 40 events,” Arnold said. “But I think it’s really cool to see how the state and the food scene have changed in New Jersey. It’s very different from five or six years ago when we started.”

The New Jersey Vegan Food Festival returns to the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus on Saturday, November 12th and Sunday, November 13th.

Approximately 80 vendors will be attending this weekend’s event over both days. Available food and beverages include: the announced empanadas from Prospect Park’s Freakin’ Vegan, the frozen treats from Bona Bona Ice Cream of Port Chester, New York, and beer from Icarus Brewing of Lakewood.

Animal welfare organizations such as the Halfway Home Animal Rescue Team and the She Shepherd Conservation Society will be in attendance. There will also be presentations on nutrition from Sweeney, a Registered Dietitian, and a discussion on vegan entrepreneurship from Kurt Biroc, owner of Freakin’ Vegan.

“I think everyone connects to veganism in different ways and is motivated by different things,” Sweeney said. “It’s humanity. It’s environmentally friendly. There’s even an element of social justice, there’s an element of intersectionality. And people come from all walks of life too, so we want to accommodate the best we can.”

Prospect Park's Freakin' Vegan will be among the vendors at the New Jersey Vegan Food Festival.

Walk: New Jersey Vegan Food Festival, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Meadowlands Exposition Center, 355 Plaza Drive, Secaucus, $20 per day or $30 for a weekend pass; theveganlocal.com.

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