Category Archives: Vegetarian Living

Oscars’ Party boosts vegan options

As Hollywood steps up efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, the Oscars’ big Governor’s Ball event will be going greener with an (almost) vegan menu.  The chef, Wolfgang Puck, says the menu will be 70% plant-based this year, including the desserts.  The organizers are pushing for a largely vegan menu at the post-Oscars party, which will cater for around 1500 people, although there will still be caviar, smoked salmon and Japanese beef for the non-vegans.

“We want everybody to be happy,” Puck told journalists during a tour of his kitchen where he was prepping for the extravaganza. “At the end of the day you can make vegan food taste really good and you won’t miss meat or fish.”

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First female Indian vegan climbs Mt Everest

In May 2022, Prakriti Varshney became the first female Indian vegan (possibly the first female vegan worldwide) to successfully scale Mount Everest. She has since scaled three of the highest mountains in Africa, and aims to climb nine more in various countries this year.

Twenty-six year old Prakriti had been vegan for more than five years before starting this climb.  She originally embraced the vegan lifestyle after learning about the impact of the dairy industry on the environment and the animals themselves.  She volunteers with an animal rescue nonprofit and uses social media to encourage people to take care of animals. She brought her sustainability concerns with her during her Everest expedition by being very conscious of what she left behind on the mountain. She was shocked by the amount of garbage left behind by other climbers.

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LinkedIn café offers plant-based by default

The headquarters building of LinkedIn, based in San Francisco, has converted their employee café to be plant-based by default.  The company was looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, and the food they served in their cafeterias provided them with a big opportunity to make a difference. Working with an organization called “Greener by Default” alongside their catering partner, Sodexo-owned Good Eating Company, they were able to gradually move to a 65% plant-based menu and the replacement of cows’ milk with oat milk as the default.

Although they still serve meat dishes, these are limited in number, and they only serve the most carbon-intensive options such as beef or lamb, in one dish per week.  They have worked to create vegan versions of the most popular meat dishes in the café, so that diners will likely choose the most climate-friendly options.  As they made the transition to offering more plant-based options, they carried out regular surveys of the diners to see how they felt about the new choices that were being offered.  As the feedback received was positive, they were able to make more changes over a three-month trial period, and ended with having switched the ratio of foods from five meat meals to three plant-based meals to five plant-based meals and three meat-based at each meal. Other LinkedIn offices will now start working on the same menu transformation.

“When a corporate trendsetter like LinkedIn shows that people are happy to choose plant-based foods when they’re accessible and appealing, it’s a huge leap forward towards a more sustainable food culture,” said Katie Cantrell, CEO of Greener by Default.  Greener by Default works with a range of clients including healthcare facilities, universities, restaurants and more.  They include Harvard University, Stanford Medicine and a global soap manufacturer Dr Bronner, as happy clients alongside LinkedIn.  They present plant-based food as being more sustainable, cost-effective and inclusive. Clients note that by making plant-based meals the default, they also increase the healthfulness of their meals.  They seem to have hit on a winning formula to help businesses make a significant switch to their cafeteria options.

Vegan fast food – steps in the right direction

Fast food is popular – over one third of the population eat at least one fast food meal every day.  We want more people to choose a plant-based meal rather than an animal-based one, so it’s important to ensure that fast food restaurants have some tasty vegan options. 

Many fast food restaurant chains are cautiously dipping their toes into the market to see what the demand is like for plant-based options.  Here are some examples we’ve heard about:

  • Starbucks is currently doing a limited trial of six new food items in three locations in Washington DC and Virginia, and their oatmeal breakfast item is available nationwide as a staple.  For the first time last Fall, they offered a special vegan-by-default drink, the Apple Crisp Oatmilk Macchiato. 
  • Subway tested a Meatless Meatball Marinara sandwich at 600 locations in the US and Canada in 2019, and that option is now available across Canada, although not in the US yet.
  • McDonalds have signed a 3-year contract with Beyond Meat to test out various plant-based options in European locations.  They are testing the McPlant burger here in the US so we hope they will plan to roll it out nationally soon.
  • Burger King has been offering their Impossible Whopper for several years across the US. They are currently testing a plant-based chicken sandwich at select locations.
  • Chipotle has been offering their plant-based protein, Sofritas (a tofu-based vegan protein) available at all locations for several years now. This year, they are adding two new plant-based options in their Lifestyle Bowls – the Veggie Full Bowl which is based on white rice, black beans and fajita veggies, and the Plant-Powered Bowl which includes supergreens, Sofritas, and fajita veggies, along with the salsa and guacamole. 
  • Taco Bell unveiled its first vegan beef option, called “the real seasoned plant-based protein” in 2021 and has rolled it out to various test locations. Working with Beyond Meat, they have also launched a Beyond Carne Asada Steak, a vegan version of the chain’s marinated steak, at 50 test locations in Ohio.

Let’s hope that the many test products from these various fast food companies are successful, and are rolled out to restaurants nationwide as soon as possible!

WIC program adds vegan options

There’s a game-changing proposal to add dairy-free milk and cheese to the WIC (Women Infants and Children) program. Egg substitutes would also be included.

WIC is an assistance program that aims to safeguard the health of low-income women and children under the age of 5. About 6.2 million women and children participated each month in fiscal year 2021.  Designed to fill in nutrition gaps, the program provides free vouchers for foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk, eggs and cheese. Currently, the only dairy-free alternative the program allows for is soymilk. Through the proposed revisions, WIC would expand the variety of dairy-free milks and egg-free options, including soy yogurt, vegan cheese, and tofu.

We applaud the proposed changes. The Secretary of Agriculture says, “USDA is committed to advancing maternal and child health through WIC, helping mothers, babies, and young kids thrive. These proposed changes will strengthen WIC—already an incredibly powerful program—by ensuring it provides foods that reflect the latest nutrition science to support healthy eating and bright futures.”

Besides protecting women and children from the harmful affects of the saturated fat and cholesterol, plant-based milks protect children who are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the sugar primarily found in milk and dairy products. It is caused by a shortage of lactase in the body, an enzyme active in the small intestine that is needed to digest lactose. It is estimated that 36% of Americans and 68% of the world population have some degree of lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance affects people from certain ethnic populations and races—such as African-Americans, Native Americans, and east Asians.   

Black vegan chefs lead the way

Here’s some great news about the Black vegan chefs who are leading some of the biggest innovations in the vegan world. For many chefs, this new era of interest in plant-based cuisine feels like a timely opportunity to expand vegan fast-food concepts across the US, reaching new, curious consumers.

Lamarr Ingram and crew

For chef Lamarr Ingram, who runs Vegan-ish in Philadelphia, vegan cuisine is an opportunity for Black vegan chefs to share their food through a Black American lens.  Ingram believes that his identity as a Philadelphia native, and his familiarity with the community’s challenges and needs, enables him to better connect with those in his community which talking about the benefits of veganism. “All the benefits that come with a plant-based diet, I’ve been able to experience them in a community I’m from, and where people are suffering from a lot of health issues caused by what we eat” he says.  He points to the high number of chronic illnesses that disproportionately impact the Black community as his motivation to spread the goodness of veganism any way he can.

Toriano Gordon

On the other side of the country in Oakland, California, Toriano Gordon, the owner of a vegan BBQ and soul food restaurant called Vegan Mob, believes that restaurants like his are a gateway to vegan cuisine for customers who want to enjoy a fast meal, without the health risks often associated with traditional fast food. Examples of his food that attracts such a following includes fried lumpia stuffed with Impossible meat, onions and spices; a plant-based nacho cheesesteak: and candied yams brushed with a hint of cinnamon.

And in Dallas, Texas, Jovan Cole is serving vegan fast food like “shrimp” po-boys, cauliflower buffalo wings, and vegan mac and cheese at his pop-up food truck Vegan Vibrationz.  The truck has been so popular at the Dallas Farmers Market, that he’s preparing to open a permanent outpost in the nearby city of Plano.

Pinky Cole

One pioneer of fast-food vegan dining is Pinky Cole.  She owns a restaurant chain known as Slutty Vegan, with several locations across Georgia, Alabama and New York, and new locations in the works.  Her success, starting in 2018, is seen as thanks to its fast-food burger and fry offerings, playful menu names, and an unapologetically Black and carefree persona which she promotes on Instagram. Pinky is proud of the gradual change that has occurred in the vegan community since opening her first location.

Finally, in Miami, Christian Bernard draws from his experience of living in Costa Rica, New York and Miami at his restaurant, Eduble Chefs. He serves dishes such as a Still Smokin’ Chili Bowl and a vegan sausage fried rice.  For him, the importance of a vegan diet is in its reduced impact on the environment.

We love that so many creative chefs are developing delicious new ways of eating vegan food.

Climate labels catch on

Let’s label them! Labels signaling the climate or environmental impact of food products have emerged as a potential strategy to promote sustainable food choices in restaurant, cafeteria, and supermarket settings. According to a recent study, climate impact labels on a sample fast food menu influenced participants’ food choices in favor of more climate-friendly items. High-climate-impact labels on burgers increased non-beef choices by 23 percent. Evidence suggests that products labeled as environmentally sustainable may be perceived as healthier as well.

According to one researcher, climate labels are probably most useful in cases when climate-conscious consumers need a reminder nudge, or when climate-conscious consumers lack awareness in the first place. Labeling has become a big issue in the food industry. There are various labels for vegan and kosher just to name a few. For more information on labeling and food shopping see our shopping guide In Pursuit of Great Food.

The restaurant industry has documented increasing consumer demand for vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based items. Several major fast food chain restaurants recently introduced meat-free or meat-alternative menu items, and restaurant industry reports identified increasing sustainability as among the top restaurant menu trends. The climate label adds to other labeling strategies such as the green light, yellow light and red light labels for healthy eating. High–climate-impact labels may easily be adopted in settings like workplaces, universities, hospitals, and other anchor institutions with carbon neutrality commitments.

We’ve written before about the effect meat has on global warming and other environment problems such as water pollution. The climate label has the potential to increase public awareness of the massive impact livestock has on the environment.

Fast food restaurants of the future

The growing interest in plant-based foods is giving rise to new startup restaurant chains on the horizon. For instance, John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods Market, plans to build a plant-based restaurant chain. Mackey is listed as a partner in Healthy America LLC, Bloomberg reports, which aims to launch vegetarian restaurants nationwide. Mackey’s past success scaling a business promoting healthy lifestyles is attracting plenty of investor attention as vegetarian and vegan diets grow in popularity. Several former Whole Foods executives are already joining Mackey in his new endeavor.

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Hotel chain plans to offer full vegan menu at every location

Selina, a hospitality brand specializing in digital nomad-style hotels, is planning to create a plant-based version of every menu item at all its 155 locations worldwide, including the United States, as it sees a growing interest in vegan lifestyles of the Millennial and Gen Z travelers that it often attracts.

They have partnered with an Israel-based vegan meat brand, Redefine Meat, to bring in more plant-based options.  The brand offers whole-cut vegan meats such as beef and lamb flanks, as well as ground meats made using 3D printing and AI technologies.  The brand, which has a goal of becoming the world’s largest meat company, says the new partnership with Selina hotels will help Redefine Meat reach a much broader global audience.

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Congress urges fed facilities to offer a vegetarian option

Congressmen and women want federal agencies to start offering vegetarian food options at all federal facilities—from cafeterias in federal agencies and military bases to museums and national parks.

Thirty two members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to President Biden, to push him to “strongly encourage all federal agencies to make a vegetarian entrée available everywhere that federal government cafeterias are serving meals—from federal agencies, museums and national parks to prisons and military bases.” This would, of course, be for the benefit of federal employees, but the general public might benefit as well. This is because plant-based meals are healthier than meats, so say the lawmakers.

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