Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vegaroo: Finding Vegan Food at Bonnaroo

I know I like to make fun of Bonnaroo. It's so easy to make fun, what with all the hippies, the porta-potties, the being out in the middle of a field in Tennessee... but the truth is, I love hippies and I love Bonnaroo too. Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, the stink, oh yeah, and the being out in the middle of a field in TN, it's actually a great time, with a lot of fun people all enjoying some amazing music. But maybe I'm just still feeling good from that contact high. *wink*

So this blog is of course focused on food, and I'll get to that in a minute, but I can't write a post about Bonnaroo without any mention of the shows I saw there. Apologies in advance for the quality of my pics from the festival, I just had my small point-and-shoot and iPhone camera while there. Sadly I didn't get any good pics from my favorite show, which was Chromeo & Daryl Hall, but believe me, that show was amazing. If those guys come to your town, you have to go see them, if only to witness the amazingness of Daryl Hall's hair fan blowing in front of the stage.

Other shows we caught were:

This show was soooo good. We also saw the legendary Jimmy Cliff, but for some inexplicable reason I didn't take a photo at that one.

 If you have been following my blog for any length of time, then you might have noticed that I'm a huge fan of Conan and I find reasons to mention him even though he has no connection to anything vegan. Not only was his show hilarious, but who knew that he could actually sing and play the guitar AND THAT HE HAS CRAZY FUNKY DANCE MOVES?!

I will have to post some video soon, just so you can see the Cone-man breaking it down.

That glowing figure is a living legend, Stevie Wonder. His show was phenomenal, even if he did make the crowd sing most of the lyrics for him.

Jay-Z doing "Empire State of Mind"

The Dave Matthews Band closed out the weekend with a great show. (And I'm saying that as someone who claimed to not like DMB.)

And what music festival would be complete without a smattering of hippie goods for sale?

Is there anything you can't make out of hemp?

Tie-dye galore.

A bunch of other stuff for your drum circle, you hippie.

Oh, and Utilikilts, skirts for the manly man who has tools and stuff to carry around.

And a whole bunch of other stuff you never knew you needed, like a quilted Pac-Man guitar case.

But it's not just all about the tie-dye folks. Bonnaroo's "Planet Roo" area is dedicated to social- and eco-activism. Below is just a small smattering of some of the good people there to help fight the good fights.

The Greenpeace sponsored solar-powered stage.

And finally...about the food. There were definitely some good things going on there, and I have some suggestions about how to make it even better. Are you listening, Bonnaroo?

We'll start with what was great. BBQ tofu sandwiches with grilled onions are GREAT! Yum!

Also great: ginger tofu with swiss chard, squash & zucchini, and fingerling potatoes.
And a fresh juice bar with plenty of fruit & veggies to choose from!

But here's the catch - the food I just showed you above was only available in the VIP/Artist Catering area. We were very fortunate to be able to eat there because of the production we were doing at Bonnaroo, but that food was not available to the general festival-going public. I hate to make the argument that fresh, vegetarian food is elitist, but at Bonnaroo this was somewhat true. I didn't see anywhere else onsite where you could get fresh salad, a plate full of vegetables, or food anywhere near this healthy. The general masses were in an alternate deep-fried, mostly meaty universe.

I'll show you first what was good:

These smoothie stands were like the Starbucks of Bonnaroo - on nearly every corner you saw one. Refreshing AND delicious. My favorite was the Tropical Delight with coconut, pineapple, and banana.

A good deal of the veggie food was of the deep-fried variety. I love samosas and sweet potato fries like nobody's business, but with heat in the 90's, with 90% humidity, it's not the kind of food I'm craving.

As you can see, most of the Asian-food vendors had veg offerings. Again, these places looked pretty good and I'm sure tasted just fine, but out in that kind of insane heat, I just didn't feel like eating a plate full of hot noodles or hot curry.

And now... for the bad. The vast majority of the food available was typical festival food. You would see this kind of stuff in any NY street fair.
I know funnel cakes and corndogs are crowd-pleasers (and they are offering veggie corn dogs) but my arteries seize up when I see so many things going into the deep-fryer.

Chicken, fries, gyros, burritos, pizza...
More fries, cheese fries, and beef burgers...

Meat, meat, and more meat...

Guess what? You're in the middle of TN. How fresh are those oysters and crabs, really? And BP has given a new meaning to "blackened shrimp," by the way. Nothing like deep fried seafood sitting out in the hot sun.

My point is this: I really do admire Bonnaroo for all their green efforts, and the food situation was not terrible. There were some very good things going on there, but there is a lot of room for improvement. I was kind of amazed that I didn't see any veggie hot dog or veggie burger stands. It seems like such a simple idea, that so many people would obviously love. All you entrepreneurs out there: seriously, sell veggie dogs and/or veggie burgers with all the fixin's at Bonnaroo, and I guarantee you'll make a large fortune.

Similarly, there was a ton of pizza, some even coming out of fancy wood-burning ovens, but I didn't see any vegan pizza. Good-quality pizza without the cheese on top, OR with dairy-free cheese like Daiya, either way, would sell like crazy. Or what about RAW pizza? Let's get crazy! I can't tell you how many people would love to see (and eat) some good raw food there.

And not just that, but I also didn't see any vegan sweet treats or baked goods around. I can't even tell you how much money could be made bringing some vegan/raw sweet treats to Bonnaroo. It would be a guaranteed hit. People are hot, many are stoned and have munchies (let's be honest here), and most of them are conscious about eating good-quality, sustainable plant-based food. If the vegan food options were expanded (and the meaty options reduced), it would be good for the festival-goers, good for the environment, good for the animals, and good business, plain and simple. That's what I call a win-win-win-win situation.

I want to emphasize that Bonnaroo really does have a strong commitment to being a "green" festival. There are water-filling stations where you can refill your bottles to cut down on the amount of waste. Everywhere you look there are recycling and even compost bins for trash:

This guy is REALLY passionate about recycling.

But we all know that factory farming and the meat and dairy industries are unsustainable and contribute to the worst kinds of pollution and environmental destruction. And that's not to speak of the cruelty and disgusting conditions that animals suffer from. This just doesn't synch with Bonnaroo's core philosophy. It might be a long shot to get the entire festival to go vegan, but it certainly stands to reason that a much stronger commitment to reducing the meat (and at least insisting on sustainable/local farms for the meat) and increasing the vegan options - with perhaps some vegan outreach? - would make more sense, given the festival's self-proclaimed commitment to being green. Are you ready to hire me as your vegan ambassador, Bonnaroo?


  1. Wow that last picture made me laugh. So unexpected. Sounds like you had a blast. What a variety of stuff for sure!

  2. Excellent post! Great job, Leinana!!

  3. I love that festivals are offering more and more vegan options. Here there will only be 1 or 2 options but it's a start!

    Looks like you had a great time :)

  4. Were the BBQ tofu sammies in the VIP area only? I didn't see anything like this or the ginger tofu, though I did find the Rastafarian booth with mock-meat jerk wraps that were pretty damn good.

  5. Yes the tofu stuff was in the VIP area. Didn't see the Rastafarian jerk wraps, but those sound awesome!

  6. Um, Bonnaroo totally needs to hire you as their vegan ambassador! Am surprised that there weren't any vegan outreach groups/or farm sanctuary/MFA there- seems like a perfect place & if they hooked up a booth with Vegan Treats, that would be the ultimate vegan outreach in that non-vegan dessert desert. Glad you had yummy food though!