I received a media pass to Feast Portland. As always, all opinions are my own.
One festival. Four days. Four main events. One Fun-Sized event. Five after parties. Two Drink Tanks. One media breakfast. One winemaker lunch. Two before parties. One Hospitality Lounge happy hour. One pedicab ride. Zero pairs of Saxx Underwear caught.* That pretty much sums up my Feast Portland 2019.
Many thanks to Feast Portland and Little Green Pickle for the opportunity to experience Feast 2019 with the sweet, sweet perks of a media pass. This was the best Feast yet. In my three years of covering Feast’s official and unofficial events from a vegan perspective, this was the first year where I left any Feast events feeling full. I even missed a couple vegan items. In the past, it was not unusual to find absolutely nothing vegan at many Feast events, and even though Feast 2019 was still meat-centric, there were enough vegan bites for me to put together a #WhatVegansEat at Feast recap.
Here are my post-festival thoughts offering a vegan insider’s look at Feast Portland 2019, the Pacific Northwest’s premier food and drink festival:
1) The “V” Word
Whenever I check in at Hospitality Lounge to pick up my media credentials, at least one person will make some kind of comment after seeing the words “vegan food blogger” next to my name on the media list. In the past, I’ve gotten responses like “Hmm, it must be hard, especially at Feast!” to silent, wide-eyed “you’re crazy” stares, but this year, the response I received was “That’s really cool! I bet there are other vegan bloggers too since Portland is so great for vegan food.” Considering how veganism has gained momentum in recent years, it’s not that surprising to see this shift in attitude, but I have yet to meet another vegan blogger covering Feast. Dairy-free, gluten-free, wellness folks… sure, but not vegan. If you’re a vegan blogger attending Feast, be sure to holla at me in the future.
Interestingly enough, at this year’s Feast, someone walked up to me and said “People have been telling me that I need to talk to you because you’re not just a vegan, but *the vegan* to talk to about promoting anything vegan.” I feel like I’ve unlocked Vegan Level 27. Hurrah!
At an all-inclusive festival like Feast, it’s easy to overindulge on food and drinks. Even more so if you’re attending the industry events too. I mean, there were three industry after parties on the first night, where drinks kept flowing into the wee hours. That said, I appreciate Feast teaming up with Bon Appetit‘s Healthyish to host before parties to get us moving and hydrating before hitting the festival again. This year, I joined in for two morning activities: the city run/walk lead by sober chefs and the vinyasa flow yoga class at Jacobsen HQ. I enjoy my cocktails and wine, but I’m happy to see the zero proof movement and community getting plenty of love at Feast too.
3) “Is this vegan?”
I understand that Feast is an omnivore food festival, so I go into each event assuming that I probably won’t find much that’s vegan. Sometimes, there’s absolutely nothing vegan. I’ve got my strategy down: I dodge the lines and dart from booth to booth for a peek at the description of each dish. (It would help a lot if the signs were labeled with “vegan” or “gluten-free” in the way many restaurant menus do these days. Maybe next year.) Sometimes, a booth reeks of meat or butter from a distance, so I don’t go anywhere near it. Other times, the description makes it clear that it’s vegetarian, and I’ll ask “Is this vegan, by any chance?” If a chef responds with “Yes, completely vegan!,” I let ’em know that’s awesome AF.
What baffles me is when a chef or brand rep doesn’t know how to answer the question. You should know what you’re serving, and “Is this vegan?” is a very simple yes/no question. This year, a chef answered “Yes… almost… it has fish sauce,” and a brand responded with “All vegan! We only sweeten our products with honey.” Umm yeah, even in 2019 and at a major food and drink festival, there still seems to be some confusion as to what vegan means.
4) Vegetables: A Love Story
This year, I had the opportunity to cover a Feast Fun-Sized event for the first time. Vegetables: A Love Story was back for round two, and there was not a trace of meat in sight. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the original Vegetables in 2017 was a veggie-focused event with a little meat among the plants. The dishes at this year’s Vegetables event were 50/50 vegetarian/vegan. Attending Vegetables felt like a breath of fresh air, not just because it was a veggie event, but also because it was nowhere near as overwhelming as the main events. In a Feast first for me, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one asking chefs if their dishes were vegan. This event was a major leap forward for a festival that’s known for being meat-heavy, but it is a real shame that Vegetables did not sell out as a sold out event would indicate demand. From chatting with industry folks, the consensus seems to be that it’s only a matter of time before Feast will host it’s first fully vegan event. My gut is saying Feast 2021. Check back in two years, and let’s see if I’m right.
5) Is Feast worth the ticket price?
This question comes up every year, and there is no simple answer. Are you talking about a $200 dinner featuring a collaborative tasting menu by superstar chefs or a $45 Drink Tank with a panel discussion and tasting flight? And what about the Main Events, like Night Market which is notorious for its long lines where you may get stuck in line for an hour? (That happened to me this year.) Or a Fun-Sized event with a smaller venue and fewer chefs, but with a more relaxed vibe? It also depends if you are flying in from out of town and will need to take plane and hotel costs into account. Obviously, most vegans are not going to shell out any amount of money unless Feast can guarantee that an event will be 100% vegan. But back to the question… is Feast worth it? Beyond the food and drinks, it’s important to remember #WhyWeFeast. Feast has raised over $523,000 to support Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, including its Childhood Hunger Prevention program, and Urban Gleaners, which collects fresh food before it goes to waste and gets it to people in need. Your ticket covers your food and drinks, but unlike a regular night out on the town, it helps support two local charity organizations as well. Is that worth it to you?
6) Beyond Feast
Covering Feast and engaging with the Portland food community, not just the vegan community, has brought me an abundance of opportunities in the three years I’ve lived in Portland. For that, I am very grateful.
It can be difficult sometimes, especially when there is still a meathead culture even in an active, health-conscious region like the PNW, but vegans will not accomplish anything by isolating themselves. It’s easy to surround yourself with like-minded friends, shop exclusively at Food Fight Grocery, dine at strictly vegan restaurants. Obviously, it’s incredibly important to have your vegan people and support vegan businesses, but you cannot live in a little vegan bubble. That is not the real world. That is not how you inspire change.
In the Instagram-obsessed world that we live in, the word “influencer” gets thrown around a lot, but if you really want to influence anyone, you need to get out there outside your comfort zone. If I had kept to myself and stayed within the vegan community, Veganizer PDX would have never taken off, I never would have landed the opportunity to be the vegan contributor for Eater PDX, and many of my omnivore foodie friends might have never given vegan restaurants a fair chance.
I realize that some vegans don’t like what I do. The truth is that I have even been shamed by vegans for my, and I quote, “unethical practices” of working with omnivore restaurants and socializing with the omnivore food community, but fuck that shit. (I tried to find a more eloquent way to put that, but I got nothing, lol.) What matters is that what I’m doing is effective at promoting veganism in places that the vegan community may not necessarily be reaching. There are different forms of vegan activism, and considering how many times I’ve been told by an omnivore that I’m the only vegan they know or that I’m the only vegan that they feel can have a real conversation with, I believe what I’m doing is helping the cause little by little.
Bonus post-Feast 2019 thoughts and ramblings…
Smoked is still horrifying. Even omnivore food bloggers have commented “OMG, that was so much meat. I really need some vegetables now.” I worked up the courage to attend Smoked at Feast 2018 because Farm Spirit was making their Feast debut, but I skipped Smoked this year to attend Vegetables: A Love Story, Continued instead. Phew.
Where was the tattoo station at the Hoxton after party?! I’ve seen several photos of a hand drawn sign that said “Flash Tattoos, 100% Real, Tipping Makes It Hurt Less,” but I didn’t see the tattoo station. I probably would have gotten a tattoo if I stumbled across the tattoo station.
Last year, almost everyone dressed up for the 80s vs. 90s theme at the first Main Event. I expected to get some weird looks wearing denim on denim on denim while riding public transit, but no one batted an eye because this is Portland. People didn’t dress up for the East vs. West theme this year. Can we get another dress up event for Feast 2020?
* Per Feast tradition, Chris Cosentino shoots Saxx Underwear out of a t-shirt launcher at the crowd attending the unofficial Feast after party at Jackrabbit. This was the first year I did not catch any underwear.
Note: This post is in collaboration with Feast Portland. I received a media pass to the festival. This was not in exchange for a positive review and all opinions expressed here are my own.