Alison Burgos and Michelle Gaber first started thinking about putting together a plant-based food festival a couple years ago. They were at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival's Burger Bash, and there wasn't anything Alison could eat.
So they started the first-ever Seed Food & Wine Festival, a five-day, veg-friendly festival with no meat, no dairy, no eggs or animal products of any kind. There were a slew of events -- a movie screening, dinners, cocktail parties, and a tasting village full of stuff Alison can eat.
Below, Alison explains why she took on a plant-based diet and how she's hoping the festival can change Miami's reputation as not particularly veg-friendly.
First of all, why isn’t this being called a vegan festival?
Well, I think that the word "vegan" sometimes for some people seems scary and very stringent, and that’s not what we’re about. We’re about better health, animal welfare and… the environment.
What made you feel like this was the right time for a festival like this in South Florida?
I think it was the right time for us [laughs]. It just happened to be the right time in general. I got sick about seven years ago, with rheumatoid arthritis, after many years of not taking good care of myself -- being a foodie and being really into food, and going to dinner with friends, but not understanding that what you put in your body really affects your health.
After working with doctors and being pumped full of lots of medications, including steroids and Methotrexate, after about four years, I had lost the use of my knee, and I was in a wheelchair. And it just seemed like the end of the world to me. So... Michelle and friends, they put together a little dream team to take care of me and try to find a holistic way to improve my future.
So are you totally vegan now?
I think I’m a work in progress like everybody is, and I try to live every day plant-based and balanced. I definitely fall off the wagon on occasion.
What did you eat when you were growing up?
I come from a restaurant family, and I come from a Latin family. My diet consisted of a lot of rice and beans, pork, steak -- palomilla -- arroz con pollo. ... There was no quinoa, wasn’t a ton of kale -- not in the diet, no.
South Florida can be a pretty body-conscious place, but vegetarian and vegan eating just aren’t as popular here as they are in some other places around the country. Why do you think that is?
I think number one, we are probably a little bit more superficially focused. I also believe that our Latin culture has never really connected to plant-based food. You know, we really actually hope that Seed elevates that conversation and changes the reputation we have. People came to me and they’re like, “Oh, but it’s Miami. You should go do that event in San Francisco or Portland or L.A." But to me, it just meant there was an opportunity here.
What are the foods that you miss the most, that you just don’t eat anymore?
I just learned to make an arroz con no pollo, which is a delicious vegan version that I love. I mean, there’s once in a while where I really crave lobster or steak.
The gastropub trend is big in South Florida – like gourmet burgers and pork belly everything. Do you think vegan and vegetarian restaurants can find a place in that world?
Absolutely. I mean just look, last week, Pubbelly, one of our most well known gastropubs, just did a vegan dinner with Chef Paco from Jugofresh. It sold out instantly. It was crazy. A bunch of us all went. It was amazing.
What about people who say they’re thinking about trying to eat like this, but they’re not quite sure? How would you tell them to go about doing it?
I think there’s some people that have the personality where they really wanna jump in 100 percent. But I also think it’s OK to just start by doing Meatless Mondays.
EATING VEG AROUND SOUTH FLORIDA
If you're one of those people, and you want to try that jump, here are some of Alison's go-to plant-based (vegan), vegetarian and veg-friendly South Florida restaurants and cafés:
Choices Organic Kitchen, three locations in Miami
The Honey Tree, 5138 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Mi Vida Café, 7244 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Basil Park, 17608 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles
Green Bar & Kitchen, 3429 Galt Ocean Dr., Fort Lauderdale
The Green Wave, 5221 West Broward Blvd., Plantation
Christopher’s Kitchen, 4783 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens
Darbster, locations in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton