One thing has become increasingly obvious in South Jersey over the last few months — Showboat Hotel has made itself the go-to spot for non-gaming events in Atlantic City. From the transformation of its former casino floor into the East Coast’s largest arcade to the pair of circuses performing under the big top, their formula seems to be working.
The latest event on their schedule is the Atlantic City Vegan Food Festival, a two-day event to be held Saturday and Sunday, July 17 and 18. The festival is presented by The Vegan Local and is a celebration of all things meatless, with over 100 vendors offering up everything from vegan foods to plant-based clothing as well as a beer garden and live music from Ocean Avenue Stompers, Buntopia, DJ Candace and Steve Johnson.
We spoke with Marisa Sweeney, a practicing dietician and co-founder of the festival. Here’s what she had to say:
Ryan Loughlin: For those who may have never attended in the past, tell us what the Atlantic City Vegan Food Festival is all about.
Marisa Sweeney: The festival is a huge vegan food festival, but it does include more than just food. There are lifestyle products, beauty care and clothes, but I think the food is what everyone gets the most excited for! It’s a vegan specialty market, meaning you’re not going to walk around just eating broccoli or salad. There is definitely healthy food there, but there is also stuff like plant-based pizza and ice cream and other things that you don’t see as often, and I think that is the big draw. And it’s all made up of small local vegan and plant-based businesses. We are all about supporting these businesses and giving them a marketplace.
RL: Would you say there is a goal to the festival?
MS: Yeah, the goal is that we want it to be a fun kind of party scene where people who are vegan can come and have some stuff that they wouldn’t normally be able to get and also discover some new things. The more available that we can make plant-based options, the easier plant-based living suddenly becomes. And a lot of these small businesses are right under people’s noses, but they just don’t know about them. And they make really amazing things.
RL: Do many non-vegans come out for an event like this?
MS: Yeah, the festival is not strictly for vegans. It’s also for those who we call veg-curious — the type of people who might want to just want to come and see what it’s all about and see what plant-based living might be like. We have done surveys after our events, and more than half the people who show up are those who don’t identify as vegan anyway.
RL: Will there be a lot of new vendors at the event this year?
MS: Most of the vendors that we have this time around are all newer because COVID changed a lot of things and many of our past vendors that relied on us to have a marketplace were forced into figuring something else out. Some started delivery services, and others simply no longer have it built into their business model to do events like these, so I almost feel like we are kind of ushering in the freshman class here of new businesses that formed over the pandemic.
RL: What made you become vegan?
MS: Well, I’m a registered dietician/nutritionist and the president of the New Jersey Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and I own a wellness center that has 13 locations throughout the tri-state area, so nutrition is my thing, and that is what drew me to it initially. There is not a shred of ill research about eating a plant-based diet. It’s a very simple basic concept of just having more fruits and vegetables and plant-based foods in your diet. But the more I researched into it, I found that the purposes expand much further than that. A lot of people do it for humanitarian reasons and for not wanting to be a part of mass agriculture and even animal farming on a lower level, as well as environmental reasons. Those are the three reasons that resonate with me most.