Plants turn a new leaf at the Montreal Vegan Festival

An omnivore reports on the faux foods on offer at the weekend event.

vegan fest

The fourth edition of the Montreal Vegan Festival was held over the weekend at Marché Bonsecours in Old Montreal, gathering vendors and purveyors of just about any animal-free product you can think of — from food to cosmetics and clothing — as well as speakers, documentary screenings and a who’s who of the city’s vegan scene.

I’ve always been a fan of the “fake it ‘til you make it” motto. It encourages natural-born bullshitters to thrive as they secretly acquire the skills to do the job right. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that fake meat’s trajectory has followed a similar path. I think back to the veggie dogs of the ’90s fed to me by sadistic parents — I would have chosen a raw carrot over those anytime. (Full disclosure, I’m not vegan, or even vegetarian for that matter. I’m just one of those people who tries to eat less meat.) But nowadays, from jackfruit filling in for pulled pork to a fake burger that actually “bleeds” (it’s beet juice, don’t freak out), vegan cuisine is some of the most innovative forms of cooking out there, and it’s becoming a master of disguise. Montreal faux-meat wizards Gusta had attendees lining up for dogs topped with raw sauerkraut and fried onions for a reason.

When John Harvey Kellogg (yes, the cereal guy) invented the first meatless meat at the turn of the 20th century, he had no clue it would grow to be a nearly $14-billion industry in the United States and become a part of the vegan food movement. The vegan lifestyle often gets a lot of flak. Yes, there are some holier-than-thou supporters out there, but let’s be honest: People mostly rag on vegans because they don’t like anyone making them feel guilty about that cheeseburger dripping with actual meat juices.

Festival guest Chris Cooney of the Vegan Zombie brings a bit of humour to the culture in demos like how to make Zombie-free pizza rolls. He started his project as a YouTube show set during a zombie apocalypse and eventually expanded it with a Kickstarter-launched survival guide cookbook, as veganism gained steam and hungry people were looking for ways to perfect the tofu scramble. Cooney came to Montreal from Syracuse, New York, but there are also a ton of Quebec favourites like cupcake makers Sophie Sucrée and Cloclo Choco cookies pushing their tasty sweets that will make you forget about butter.

Especially impressive was the number of companies acknowledging that soy isn’t the answer to all our plant-based prayers, doing something truly innovative with environmental issues in mind alongside cruelty-free diet ideals. Although I’m not a huge juice fan, Montreal’s Loop uses fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown out to make their cold-pressed juices. Then, the pulp goes to affiliate company Wilder Harrier to get turned into dog treats — an elegant solution to food waste.

Veganism is a non-starter for me because of cheese. I tasted a couple of disappointing samples of look-at-it-and-it’ll-crumble vegan cheese at the festival, but wedges from Nuts for Cheese had me snacking up a storm — sorry if things got a bit vicious at the sample table. Excellent names aside – looking at you Un-brie-lievable – their cashew blue is fermented through the same process as the dairy stuff and it’s worthy of the name. I’m not saying I’m a convert, but there’s room on my cheese plate for a little bit of faking it.