Ahhh, February. It’s a month that many single people dread, and one that couples cherish because of one particular holiday: Valentine’s Day. As a single man whose mental backpack was overloaded from stress and angst from midterms, I wasn’t especially receptive and happy to see the sea of people flooding my classes and campus with their red, holiday-themed clothing, posting photos on Instagram stories of them and their partners.

But as the saying goes, love was in the air, and despite what some may say, that holds especially true to those people without a partner. It’s important to show yourself some self-love on holidays like these, because you deserve it. What better way for myself and others to treat ourselves to our well-deserved self-love than to get some delicious food from Isla Vista’s Valentine’s Day Vegan Food Fair.

Organized by the Isla Vista Community Services District, the de facto government body of Isla Vista, the event took place on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, from 3- 6 p.m., boasting free vegan food, soap and flower bouquets. “Isla Vista has so many awesome vegan food options, and we wanted to put on a community event that brought together local vegan food and just promoting local eating in general,” said senior environmental studies major Molly McGee, who worked to organize and execute the event as an event intern for IVCSD. “For a while people have talked about how they want to see a vegan food fair… so we decided to put it together on Valentine’s day”. Eager to fill up our tummies, I invited my friend to join me at the fair expecting good food and free souvenirs. What we didn’t anticipate was how popular the event would prove to be.

Upon entering the Isla Vista Community Center, my friend and I were immediately greeted by vibrant red and pink streamers, heart-shaped cutouts, music and other great decorations in celebration of Valentine’s Day. Vegan food and flower stalls from local Isla Vista businesses like the I.V. Food Co-op and OAKBERRY Açaí, served the event attendees food and fun. The vibrant mess hall lively with people, music and the smell of food was truly amazing to behold given the building’s  unassuming, monotone facade.

My friend and I, excited by what we saw, quickly began to explore the venue. Despite us arriving about an hour late, we were surprised to discover that practically all of the food booths were serving the last morsels of vegan delights they had brought with them to the event. Furthermore, all that remained of the promised flower bouquet station were the lowly husks of discarded flower stems and petals scattered around the floor. Slightly disappointed, but all the more motivated to get some food in our stomachs, my friend and I quickly went around and piled samples from all the stalls that still had food onto our flimsy paper plates, and moved ourselves outside to review our hauls.

We started off strong by devouring an everything bagel from one of I.V.’s newest culinary residences, Yetz’s Bagels. Despite the bagel being cold, my friend and I tore right into it with gusto, savoring each bite. Having partaken in a few bagels since my time in Isla Vista from the .V. Bagel Cafe, I was delighted by the solid taste of the bagel — definitely at least a 7/10. I feel that I need to try a fresh warm bagel from both places before making an informed decision about which one I like more, but as of right now I am still a die-hard I.V. Bagel Cafe loyalist.

I decided to follow up by sampling some vegan cheeses from UCSB’s Advocacy for All Animals (AAA) club. As a skeptic of most vegan dairy substitute products, I was stunned by how good the flavor of the cheese was. Kite Hill’s vegan cream cheese was a solid 8/10 in my book as the flavor was barely discernible from the real thing. I am also giving an 8/10 to the Sharp English Farmhouse cheese from Miyoko’s Creamery which was very soft and tasty — super enjoyable.

I rounded out the fair with some home-made hummus and guacamole from the I.V. Food Co-op booth. A longtime favorite store of mine, I wasn’t let down by the quality that the co-op normally serves as both toppings were bursting with flavor. The hummus was silky smooth and refreshing, whereas the guacamole had a more vibrant taste. I am rating both 8.5/10. All in all, I was very happy with my experience at IVCSD’s Valentine’s Day Vegan Food Fair and will definitely be looking out for similar events in the future. For anyone else interested, IVCSD’s community calendar can be found on their website!

A version of this article appeared on p. 12 of the February 22, 2024 version of the Daily Nexus.