Much More than Salad

Veg It Up! returns to focus Island appetites on vegan cuisine

Vegans, rejoice! If you’re an Island restaurant-goer, you’ve likely seen an uptick in vegan dishes available on menus, but perhaps you’ve been yearning for something bigger and bolder. Well, look no further. The 2nd annual Veg It Up! event, taking place September 22 to 30, offers veg-lovers the opportunity to celebrate the plant-based lifestyle in the same festive manner meat-lovers and fish aficionados have become accustomed to—with flair and a friendly competition

Veg It Up! is a plant-based cooking competition that challenges Island chefs and cooks to create the best gourmet vegan dishes possible, Brittany Boothroyd, one of the event organizers, said. Participating chefs are invited to create vegan entrées that diners can experience and then vote for their favourites online. The event is run by Veg PEI, a non-profit organization that aims to help Islanders explore the possibilities of a plant-based lifestyle.

Veg PEI was initially created with the intention of bringing Veg It Up! into existence, said Boothroyd, however its purpose became even broader once they discovered how much support there was for vegan education and events. “We realized just how many people were passionate about growing the vegan and vegetarian lifestyle, starting the conversation and making people more aware and spreading the word.” To that end, the organization hosts monthly vegan potlucks and provides resources on social media and online, in addition to Veg it Up!

“Our only negative feedback last year was that it was too short,” Boothroyd said of the first Veg It Up! event, which took place over three days. This year the event will take place over nine days due to popular demand.

She hopes at least 20 restaurants will participate this year. Last year saw 16 restaurants joining in on the fun, creating at least one dish suitable for vegans.

The main rule participating restaurants must follow is to present dishes that are 100% vegan. That means no meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, gelatin, or any other animal products.

There are many misconceptions when it comes to vegan food, said Boothroyd, but she’s hoping the event will help put an end to some of those. One common stereotype is that the vegan lifestyle revolves around salads, she said. While salads can be amazingly diverse, they’re only the tip of the iceberg-lettuce when it comes to what’s possible. “We definitely want to showcase that plant-based eating can be gourmet, and can be delicious.”

A new condition this year is that restaurants will have to feature Island produce. “Their main ingredients have to be locally-sourced,” said Boothroyd. This wasn’t a problem last year, but organizers wanted to make sure it’s a focal point going forward.

Eggplant with parsley – vegan-friendly and delicious!

Last year’s Veg It Up! awarded winners in three categories: best appetizer (HopYard), best dessert (Dalvay by the Sea) and best entree (Splendid Essence). “This year, they’re allowed to submit more than one dish, but only one dish (the entree) will be eligible for voting,” Boothroyd said.

Even though the event only has one year under its belt, it’s proven to be a big hit with consumers and restaurants alike, said Boothroyd. “Three locations sold out of their dish on the first night last year. Another restaurant told us that for them to be that busy in September was record-breaking.”

“It brings some restaurants new customers that wouldn’t typically seek out new places to eat because of not knowing the menu. So it definitely brings a new demographic into your restaurant.”

Price ranges for entrees are suggested to the restaurants, but they’re not held to them. It’s suggested that market vendors should price their dish(es) between $5-$10, cafes $7-$12, and dine-in restaurants $14-$22. “We do try to make it so the prices are affordable for the majority of the public,” said Boothroyd.

“The big thing, which has already improved since last year, is getting restaurants to put more vegan and vegetarian options on their menus. The number of vegans and vegetarians is growing very quickly [on PEI], and we just hope that inspires [restaurants] to include vegan dishes [on their menus],” said Boothroyd, regarding the Island’s changing foodscape.

If you’re still not sure whether plant-based eating is for you, Boothroyd has some a simple message: try it out. “Go for one, see if you like it. If you don’t, you don’t, but I think that you’ll be surprised by the kind of meals you can eat that are surprisingly healthy (surprising because they’re also delicious) and plant-based.”

About Evan Ceretti

Evan is a vegetarian foodie and freelancer based in Charlottetown. His two greatest loves are food and travel, which just so happen to be the perfect pairing. A graduate of Holland College’s journalism program, and of UPEI’s print journalism program, Evan enjoys writing about the local food scene as well as writing about gastronomic journeys from the other side of the world. He’s had to luxury of visiting 30 countries and traveling for more than 1,000 days. In Charlottetown, you’ll either see him riding his bicycle, eating curry, taking photos, or playing ultimate frisbee. Follow him on IG @Evanontheroad, and on Facebook at Evan on the Road.

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