Meet Sarah Feoli: One of the Two Women Behind the Upcoming NYC Veg Fest
When the world is still coming around to the idea of lady bosses, it is indeed a matter of pride for vegans all across the globe to have vegan women donning the entrepreneurial hat and striving to bring a significant impact to the community. As a majorly women-led vegan company, Raise Vegan can’t help but be in support of such wonderful lady bosses who are determined to spread awareness.
We are incredibly proud to introduce you to Sarah Feoli, co-founder of the U.S. Veg Corp and the founder of Rescue Chocolates. U.S. Veg Corp is a renowned event production and marketing brand, popular for their NYC Veg Fest, which they have been organizing since 2011. NYC Veg fests organized by them, over the recent years, have been receiving overwhelming support and this year they are back with their annual flagship two-day event on May 18-19th. A portion of profits from ticket sales will be donated to the Coalition for Healthy School Food.
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Meet Sarah Feoli: Vegan Businesswoman Determined to Make an Impact
We got a chance to talk to Sarah and here are some excerpts from the interview.
Since starting out with the first NYC veg fest in 2011, you brought veggie festivals coast to coast with New York City, and we are about to witness another Veg Food Fest rocking the megacity. I am curious to know how it all started. Was there a personal epiphany or a particular incident that proved to be the e
ureka moment for you? What motivated you?
There wasn’t a huge eureka with the veg festivals–more of an idea brewing in the back of my mind for a year or two. Since moving to NYC in 2007, my vegan friends and I would take a bus together to the Boston Veg Food Fest every year. We wondered why New York didn’t have its own. One friend joked that I should organize an NYC Veg Food Fest myself. It became a more serious idea when I realized that there would be a summertime lull with my other business: Rescue Chocolate. So I used the summer of 2011 to get to work on the veg fest!
From 2011 to 2019, what changes do you see in response to veggie festivals and vegetarian food in particular? Do you see a shift in preference, from meat to plant-based?
More major conglomerates are taking the plant-based lifestyle seriously. You can’t be a major food brand these days and ignore the plant-based consumer. This is in all areas: dairy, meat, eggs, and even clothing and beauty products. All animal-based foods now have more (and better-tasting!) vegan versions. That’s because there are simply more major players for this dietary type. Consumers are much more educated these days. No one questions what “vegan” means in 2019. So it has become easier and easier to attract people of all culinary persuasions to our festivals. They’ve heard about the benefits for their health and for the environment. There is good information everywhere, including on the internet, in films and books, and from friends and family. People are curious to try the vegan lifestyle firsthand.
Why do you think more and more people are opting for a meat-free diet? Do you envision the sans-meat lifestyle getting increasingly popular?
Our alternatives are becoming better and better. When making the meat-to-plant transition, one doesn’t have to experience missing out on favorite foods anymore. Restaurants are serving up better vegan options. The science doesn’t lie, and more and more studies are coming out to prove the health benefits of veganism. If family and friends have made the switch for their health, or whatever reason, it’s noticeable.
If a compulsive non-vegetarian, curious about shifting to the cruelty-free diet, was to seek you out for that one piece of advice, what would it be?
Go slow. Don’t switch to veganism overnight. Try one new vegan food per day or one vegan meal per week. Gradually experiment with different brands of meat substitutes, and discover which ones float your boat. It will feel natural to make the switch when you have so many good alternatives you know you enjoy.
Arizona Vegetarian Food Festival, California Vegetarian Food Festival, and the upcoming NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, s
uccessfully organizing such large scale events can never be easy, yet you hit the nail right on the head every time. What is the biggest challenge you have to face while organizing fests? How do you overcome it?
We have copycats and other organizers who do not uphold the same moral standards. They may steal our accolades as their own: for example, incorrectly claiming that they are “the first” or “the largest.” They have tried to take over our presenters and vendor lineup, person for person. Which is annoying, but also of course flattering!
We also have a lot to juggle as just a team of two. My business partner, Nira Paliwoda, and I handle almost every single element of each event. It can be hard to continue spreading the word and to do grassroots marketing with zero advertising dollars while creating the event itself each year from scratch. We want to keep it fresh, so that means finding new presenters who will most resonate with our audience at the moment, and all the new companies that crop up in a year, attracting new sponsors, organizing a committed volunteer force, creating kickoff events… The list is always endless.
Rescue Chocolate, the vegan chocolate company you founded in 2010, seems to be doing an amazing job. You donate 100% of the company profits to animal rescue organizations. How did you come up with this sweetest way to save animal lives?
It was all inspired by my rescued pit bull, Mocha. I have always had an affinity for homeless dogs and cats. Back in middle school, I volunteered at the local county shelter, trying to socialize the animals to make them more adoptable.
My passion for fine chocolate came a bit later. So one day while walking Mocha in the park, I got the idea to put my two passions together, and Rescue Chocolate was born. I had no previous experience in the business world. I had actually trained as a ballet dancer and had danced in three professional companies around the country. So diving into chocolate was quite a switch.
You’re a chocolatier. And as a self-declared chocolate lover, I have to ask you which one is your favorite?
It changes every day! Depending on the circumstance, I might need the zing from a coffee-hazelnut bar (“Forever Mocha”) or the calming vibe of a peppermint bar (“Foster-iffic Peppermint”). But if stuck on a desert island with only one option, I’d choose Peanut Butter Pit Bull, my company’s perennial bestseller.
Circling back to NYC Veg fest, you and Nira, co-founded the U.S. Veg Corp. Can you shed some light on U.S. Veg Corp’s role in spreading the awareness about a cruelty-free diet? How did you and Nira conceptualize the company?
Our idea was to create big events and smaller gatherings that would feel welcoming to all. Often vegans get a bad rap as militant killjoys. We wanted to provide a friendly gateway opportunity for people to try out the vegan lifestyle and ask all the questions that they had in a non-judgmental environment. And by focusing on fun, we became the go-to organization for the already-veg crowd. Some of our early events featured aerialists performing over the crowd’s heads, and a ping pong tournament, and cruelty-free fashion shows. Our veg fests feature comedians, circus acts, drag queens…
Do you feel that in present times, it is more the onus of parents to raise children with the empathetic values? Do you think what they eat or wear has a significant role in teaching them compassion?
Absolutely. Children learn by example, and they do what they see. It is up to us parents to model a compassionate lifestyle through our own food and clothing choices. Kids experience how we treat animals AND people in our everyday lives. Sometimes when I’m selling chocolate at various events, people will ask why I don’t donate profits to people in need, implying that people are more important than other animals. But what they fail to realize is that we are all part of the same continuum of life. People who treat dogs or cats cruelly are the same who wind up in jail for committing rapes and murders. And the reverse is also true: if one goes through life with a compassionate outlook toward all, there will be hope for our future.
What is the highlight of this year’s NYC Veg Fest? Any message for Raise Vegan readers?
My new highlight will be the Kumquat Kid’s Area, which we have every year. But this year is the first that my very own child will be in attendance! I have a five-month old vegan son, Leonardo. I’m excited that the Kumquat coordinators, The Coalition for Healthy School Food (CHSF), will have a mother’s nursing station, plus lots of fun activities and story times for children! CHSF is also the festival’s 2019 charity partner, meaning that all proceeds from our raffle will be donated to this great group.
Raise Vegan readers are encouraged to come with the whole family, especially those who are not (yet) plant-based. It is THE perfect place for them to try a variety of vegan foods, learn about amazing nonprofits, hear from top doctors and nutrition experts, watch cooking demos and more! See all the details at nycvegfoodfest.com
Excited to attend NYC Veg Fest 2019? Book your tickets here.