Is This Restaurant “Woke Vegan”?

Pilgrim’s: The last truly “woke” restaurant I encountered.

“Woke” is a concise and excellent concept that comes from social and cultural activism. Woke means aware, and motivated to fight…injustice, racism, chauvinism.

Without diminishing the central role of the “woke” concept in social activism (I would argue, in any case, that promoting veganism has important social justice and environmental elements), I now find myself mentally applying the concept to veganism whenever I try a new restaurant. I scan the menu looking for things that I can eat, and even more important things that I can and WANT to eat. If I see plenty of tasty vegan options I know think of a restaurant as “woke vegan.” If I see an endless parade of meat and seafood, and find myself ordering a salad (and asking to hold the cheese; there is always cheese on salads. Why?) then that restaurant ain’t woke.

In DC there are not that many woke vegan restaurants. Yesterday my family went to a local place called Millie’s Spring Valley. I ended up ordering a tomato sandwich, hold the mayo, hold the cheese. Even the salads were almost all meat and seafood adorned. Got a cup of coffee, and asked if they had any non-dairy milks? Nope. Definitely a restaurant that is still slumbering.

In contrast, in Ireland this past summer, there were vegan options everywhere (and the best one came from a mobile lunch cart). Many restaurants say they will cater to vegans, or have vegan food. Sometimes that means they will make you a salad (I’m not sure I would label that “catering”). But sometimes they really mean it. We went to a restaurant in nearby Rosscarberry called Pilgrim’s. They had a diverse and local menu that upon appearance is not very vegan. When I asked them if they had vegan options (thinking I was about to hear: “Sure, we can make you a salad”), the waitress said absolutely, and then spent five minutes explaining how, for vegans, they combine different elements of their menu dishes into real dishes that a vegan could love. And I did. That is seriously woke vegan.

You can also have “woke vegetarian” of course, though I like to set the bar high. Anyhow, I explained the concept to my family as we ate yesterday. It got a good eye roll from my social justice warrior daughter, but no real pushback. It’s an irresistible concept, and works perfectly in the food context too.

So here’s to all the woke restaurants out there now, and planning to be out there in the future.

Diet And The Planet

1920px-ecologically_grown_vegetables

After writing about eating seafood more sustainably, my editor at Outside and I figured we might as well go Full Monty and broaden the question to take a hard look at eating more sustainably in general. So I dove into lots of research on how our food choices affect the planet, and you can read the results here.

Key takeaways:

  • your food choices are the easiest way for you to dramatically shrink your environmental footprint
  • eating less or no meat has the biggest impact on dietary sustainability
  • if you want to maximize both your nutrition and the environmental benefits of your diet, eat more pulses/legumes: lentils, beans, etc.
  • we worry way too much about whether we are getting enough protein. We get plenty, even if we are vegetarians, and eating more protein than we need is very costly to the environment
  • going vegetarian can halve your impact on climate, and land and water use; going vegan can reduce it by around three-quarters (I was impressed by the extra environmental bump you get from going from vegetarian to vegan).
  • eating organic has a demonstrable benefit to soils, waterways and climate.
  • one of the biggest environmental tragedies related to diet is food waste–which in the US is a shocking 40%. That also makes reducing food waste in your home a huge opportunity to shrink your environmental impact.

So, to sum up, if you really want to eat more sustainably: Eat less or no meat, and eat  organic and locally whenever possible. Stop eating so much protein, and stop eating so much in general (overeating is costly to the planet and your health). Oh, and stop wasting so much food!

Food Waste = Resource Waste

Following up on my post last week about food waste, hunger and population, here’s a video analysis of all the resources that also get wasted every time food rots or gets thrown out. (h/t Sam10K).

Talk about an updated version of your parents’ old: “Aren’t you going to finish your dinner? There are starving people in PICK YOUR PLACE that would kill for that food.”

It also gives new meaning to the importance and potential of the “sharing economy.”

One Way To Fight Hunger: Stop Wasting Food

As usual, when it comes to waste (or consumption) per capita, North America leads.

Politicians, agricultural experts, and scientists are all fretting about how to feed the 9-10 billion humans that will blanket the planet in 2050. And environmentalists are having nightmares about what it will do the earth.

Here’s one strategy that offers a big head-start on the problem:

The global population is expected to grow from about seven billion today to over nine billion by 2050. Producing enough food for this population will require a 70 percent increase in agricultural production and $83 billion per year of investments in developing country agriculture.

Yet, one third of the food produced globally—about 1.3 billion tons of food per year—is never consumed at all. This food is wasted or lost at some step of the supply chain between when it leaves a farm and when a consumer would typically eat it.

The solution to feeding a growing population is not simply to produce more food, but also to save, preserve, or recycle the food already produced. Cutting current food wastage in half, for example, would yield enough food to feed one billion people—half of the additional population expected by 2050.

Cutting back on waste is a general theme which will serve the human species well over the coming century. Cutting back food loss and waste will also fill some bellies and reduce pressure on the planet.

Now, if only I could get my kids to eat that bruised banana.

 

The Vegan Revolution?

Maybe it’s just me, but it is coming.

Here’s just one small pre-frontal gust.

Live And Let Live:

Live and Let Live is a documentary about our relationship with animals, the history of veganism and the ethical, environmental and health backgrounds that encourage people to live vegan.

Why Doesn’t Mark Bittman Just Come Right Out With It?

NYT writer Mark Bittman writes about food, and has long been troubled by the impact of our food choices on health, the environment, and the animals use in the food production system. He’s got the setup to the problem right, as here:

Nothing affects public health in the United States more than food. Gun violence kills tens of thousands of Americans a year. Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes kill more than a million people a year — nearly half of all deaths — and diet is a root cause of many of those diseases.

And the root of that dangerous diet is our system of hyper-industrial agriculture, the kind that uses 10 times as much energy as it produces.

We must figure out a way to un-invent this food system. It’s been a major contributor to climate change, spawned the obesity crisis, poisoned countless volumes of land and water, wasted energy, tortured billions of animals… I could go on. The point is that “sustainability” is not only possible but essential: only by saving the earth can we save ourselves, and vice versa.

But given his diagnosis of the problem, I keep thinking he will eventually come right out and urge the world to go vegetarian (and he has written an excellent vegetarian cookbook). Yet for some reason he prefers to nibble his way toward that highly logical recommendation, without ever fully voicing it, which is a shame because there are few changes any human can make that match going meatless for beneficial impact on health, the environment, and animal welfare.

For example, after the setup above, Bittman goes on to write:

I believe that the two issues that will have the greatest reverberations in agriculture, health and the environment are reducing the consumption of sugar-laden beverages and improving the living conditions of livestock.

I have no problem with less sugar, which indeed would improve human health and reduce human impact on the environment. But just substitute “and dramatically reducing or eliminating the consumption of meat” for  “and improving the living conditions of livestock” and his sentence (and argument) would make so much more sense.

I am all for attacking the mindblowing animal cruelty embedded in our food production system. But c’mon, Mark. Why not just flat out urge your audience to give up meat? I know it sounds radical, but everything you write about food simply screams for that conclusion.