After enduring a long cruel winter like this, it’s understandable that we’ve all packed on an extra layer or two for insulation – whether it’s from binge eating during the last blizzard or crying into our whiskey at the sight of another snowfall dusting the block. But with Spring (finally, hopefully) just a couple weeks away, we’re ready to shed the excess baggage winter has us toting around. Yessir, that’s one of the many reasons the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival comes at just the right time of year. And boy, are we ready for some healthy livin’ in the sun.

This weekend, for the fourth year in a row, the 2-day fest takes over the Metropolitan Pavillion in Chelsea to celebrate all sorts of plant-based fare for the herbivores (and the curious meat-eaters) among us. And this year, the all-vegan event is upping the ante with two floors of vendors, samples and chef demonstrations. Co-founders and producers Sarah Gross and Nira Paliwoda took a minute away from their busy day of planning to ply our minds with cashew cheese, vegan pastries and fresh coconut water.

It all began seven years ago on a weekend trip to Boston. Sarah had just moved to New York and found her way into different vegetarian meet-ups around the city. “What we did back then was go to Boston for their vegetarian food festival,” Sarah remembers. “And I thought, why doesn’t New York have one? So my friend said, ‘Well, you’ll have to organize it.’” And it wasn’t long before she did. After meeting Nira at a music event, the two knew it was time to start something big. “She had this can-do attitude, and we decided to tackle the idea of vegetarian food fest,” Sarah says. Four years later, the pair have three successful NYC Vegetarian Food Festivals under their belts, plus other tasty happenings run by their company, U.S. Veg Corp.

The festival today is one of the city’s largest 100% vegan events, but Sarah and Nira insist that hungry carnivores will find something to love, too. “It’s really not just for vegetarians,” Sarah says. “We encourage everyone to come out and try the food. If people find just one dish that they love and incorporate that into their diet, then that’s a success to us.” Nira also emphasizes the learning aspect of the whole thing. “The festival is really geared toward education,” she says. “Educating people about what’s out there. There are new recipes, chefs are demonstrating and we have very knowledgeable speakers that are going to be speaking throughout the weekend.”

This year’s fest also promises to be their biggest yet, with over 120 vendors setting up on the venue’s two floors. “We have some staples that are popular in the vegetarian crowd, but we also have some new ones that are launching new products at our festival,” Nira says.

With all this food on our minds, we had to ask: what are their personal favorite vegetarian foods? “It changes by the moment, but I always like the very simple classic of a peanut butter sandwich,” Sarah says. And Nira recommends a crunchy bite of “kale chips: my new healthy snack.”

For folks looking to go vegetarian or vegan, the duo also offered some helpful advice. “My advice is to go to events such as this so you can learn what products are out there and the nutrition behind them,” Nira says, noting that everyone should consult their doctors before making this kind of lifestyle change. She adds that it’s good to take things slowly. “It’d be great if you could go cold turkey, but it’s usually a gradual process. Go and see what’s out there, what recipes you can make, what restaurants are in your neighborhood, and start incorporating things into your diet, like switching from regular cheese to a non-dairy cheese.”

As for the vendors at the fest, Nira says “to choose a favorite is like talking about your children; you can’t really pick just one.” But here are some new veggie eats that we’ve got our eye on this year:



Taft Foodmasters: What to eat: the Vegetarian Seitan Gyro. “Meatless” need not mean “tastes like the box we bought it in.”

Nuttin' Ordinary: What to eat: the Spicy Cashew Cheese Spread. It’s a vegan way to pig out on cheese and crackers while watching an entire season of House of Cards.

The Kale Company: The Black Truffle Rosemary Raw Kale Chips. ‘Nuff said. (Also good for guiltless munching during TV binge-watching.)

Noelani : What to eat drink? Coconut water straight from the coconut. We anticipate drinking this next to our radiator and desperately pretending we are in the Caribbean.

Ready to spot some samples and snag some sweet vegan pastries? The fest will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday inside the Metropolitan Pavillion at 125 West 18th Street (between 6th and 7th avenues.) A one-day pass is $30, and a two-day pass is $50 for tickets purchased online in advance. Each admission price also entitles you to 2 raffle tickets. At the door, a one-day pass is $40, and a two-day pass is $60. Based on venue capacity, $5 tickets will be available from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day of the festival.