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Plants-based options as far as the eye can see.

Twin Cities VegFest’s annual vegan festival offered a plethora of cultural food options.
Image by Liam Armstrong
Veg Fest 2021 at Harriet Island Regional Park in St. Paul on Sunday, Sep 9. The event featured many vendors of plant-based foods as well as items for health and wellness.

Reaching the end of the summer spells out melancholy for many Minnesotans, but the largest plant-based festival in the Midwest shined its natural light on vendors and consumers alike.

Twin Cities VegFest, a festival held on Thursday Sept. 19 on Harriet Island in St. Paul, offered a wide variety of cultural foods from dozens of venue owners, catered to vegans and anyone looking to experiment with their taste palette.

Zachary Hurdle, owner of Food by Zachary, is a Black food entrepreneur who specializes in preparing and cooking a multitude of personalized dishes, especially when it comes to sushi.

Hurdle started out as a cottage food producer who made bread, pickles, ferments and kimchi. He continued his chef career as someone who’d cook sushi and experiment with different sushi recipes, which he would offer to people at his pop-ups.

“I’m a former ramen sous-chef and I really like cooking and creating new food options – for example, I’ve been cooking sushi for two years and I’ve been practicing my craft in hopes that I could maybe open up a restaurant,” Hurdle said. “I think it’s important to let Black people know that they could be vegan too.”

Hurdle offered apple miso caramel popcorn at his VegFest station, which was held together by the glazy stickiness that the caramel offers, the popcorn kernels connected to each other in a lego-like cohesion inside of a white paper bag. If a caramel apple could be in popcorn form, apple miso caramel popcorn would be it – the flavor consisted of a honey-like sweetness that offered a crunchy, sticky substance with each bite.

Hurdle has been in the business for three years, and said he plans to continue to cook more sushi and expand his brand throughout the Twin Cities and internationally.

Henry Kisitu, owner of Jajja Wellness Tonic, offers immune boosting beverages that — depending on the specific drink’s ingredients — provide multiple health benefits. Kisitu’s company was started in Uganda by his grandmother Margaret who used “ancient indigenous wisdom, organic fruits and ingredients to create the drinks you see here today,” according to Kisitu.

Kisitu offered a variety of products at VegFest, including hibiscus lemongrass tea, which is meant to promote stress relief and detoxification. The anti-inflammatory drink was tangy, and the sour aftertaste proved to be an acquired taste — yet it’s lack of sugar proved to be a necessity in its healthy elements.

Kisitu also served a baobab turmeric drink that contained skin-improving properties, immune system-boosting properties and curcumin, which helps reduce inflammation. The drink was easy to digest because the flavor was smoother than the hibiscus lemongrass. If the baobab turmeric drink was water, the other would be an Izze.

“I’m grateful that I’ve been able to continue the legacy that my grandmother started,” Kisitu said. “We take pride in the cultural element of this drink and the health benefits it offers.”

Kali Terry, the owner of Life Juices, knows how to concoct ingredients to create beverages that are as tasty as they are healthy.

Life Juices’ drinks contain ingredients like beets, ginger, apple, lime, carrot and more to prioritize nutrition. Terry places an emphasis on incorporating fruits into the drinks because he believes that “healthiness is the key to a long life.”

“I created this brand because I believe that underserved communities deserve nutritious drinks that are good and healthy,” Terry said.

While the event was crowded, it was also clean, largely thanks to the Zero Waste Plan, a Minneapolis initiative aimed at reducing waste. There were trash, recycling and organic bins spread throughout the festival.

Whether people were coming into VegFest, waiting in line, walking en masse on the populated sidewalks to vegan vendors, sitting in the grass or sitting at picnic benches to enjoy their food, people were enjoying the atmosphere.

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