Meatless Monday: DC VegFest Takes Action With a Vegan Food Drive

Sep 23, 2013 | Updated Nov 23, 2013

Exciting signs of life from Washington! Okay, the action isn't happening on Capitol Hill, it's happening at DC VegFest this Saturday. September is Hunger Action Month, and the folks behind DC VegFest want to raise awareness and share the food. Compassion Over Killing, the DC-based animal advocacy nonprofit, has teamed up with Capital Area Food Bank for DC VegFest's first-ever vegan food drive.

According to a new USDA report, 49 million Americans experienced food insecurity last year. That's the official term. That means they went hungry. It's a problem affecting one in eight households in the DC area. Meanwhile, Congress has cut SNAP dollars (formerly known as food stamps) for all recipients. "As hunger increases, the demand for our food also increases," says Page Crosland, Capital Area Food Bank's communications director.

Last year, the food bank fed close to 500,000 people, distributing 45 million pounds of food. Half of it was fresh produce. "We put a big emphasis on nutritious fruits and vegetables," says Crosland. The food bank aims not only to feed people in need, but to nourish them. DC VegFest feels the same way. The vegan food drive is one way to "give back to the community," says Elena Johnson, Compassion Over Killing's special project manager.

Festival attendees can do their part by bringing sealed nonperishable vegan items to donate -- boxes of whole grains, bags of dried beans, cans of vegan soups, jars of nut butters, whatever you have to share.

"The Capital Area Food Bank is going to be providing a truck," says Crosland. Drop off your items at the truck then join the celebration. Check out DC VegFest's amazing lineup of speakers and enjoy a feast of vegan eats. Bring your dogs, bring your kids -- Sticky Fingers' Doron Petersan will even be on hand for kid-friendly vegan treats. The action takes place at Yards Park and the event is free. What more can you ask for? To help those in need, says Compassion Over Killing's Johnson.

"If each attendee just brought one item, we would be able to donate over 8,000 cans, jars and boxes of delicious vegan food to the food bank in one day."


Two nonperishable vegan staples combine for a dish both simple and elemental. The lentils and rice cook together, taking on flavor and qualities greater than themselves. The rice and lentils soak separately before cooking, which brings the tenderness out in the rice and encourages the lentils, which normally require no presoaking, to keep their shape. We should all be so lucky. It's traditionally topped with sauteed onions and makes a meal. Add a few more vegetables, if budget allows.

1 cup brown lentils

1 cup brown rice
4 cups water or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion or two small, sliced thin
1 teaspoon cumin, optional
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Pour lentils into a small bowl. Cover with cold water. Do the same with the rice, in a separate bowl. Leave 'em to soak for 30 minutes at a minimum, for 2 hours, if you've got the time.

The lentils and rice don't need any fussing with, just let them sit.

Bring water or vegetable broth to boil into a large saucepan. Strain lentils into a sieve. Rinse in cold water. Add to broth. Do the same with the brown rice. Toss in bay leaf. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until lentils and rice are soft and fluffy and have soaked up all the liquid. Remove cover, remove from heat and set aside.

Just before serving, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced onion and cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes, until onions start to soften and turn golden and fragrant. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring, another 10 minutes or so, until onions are brown and tender.

Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Stir lentils and rice together gently. Remove bay leaf and season generously with sea salt, fresh ground pepper and optional cumin.

Serve pilaf lavishly topped with onions.

Serves 6 to 8.