NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn gives a weekly rundown of the latest news and trends from the culinary world. Tweet thoughts and suggestions to #NRNFoodInsider.
Customers wait in line at Terri, a vegan restaurant in New York City giving out free food during the Great American Meatout.
Thursday was the 30th annual Great American Meatout, a day of activities loosely coordinated by the Farm Animal Rights Movement to encourage people not to eat meat, at least for a day.
Although FARM has the explicit goal of ending all consumption of animals, the day itself is becoming more mainstream. A dozen jurisdictions, from Beaverton, Ore., to Charlotte, N.C., and Dallas — where several large restaurant chains are headquartered — declared March 20 the Great American Meatout Day.
That makes sense. As Emma Brockes points out in her blog in The Guardian, it has becoming increasingly socially acceptable to be vegetarian or even vegan, unlike years ago when, as Brockes puts it, “the vegans themselves — in popular imagination, at least — were the nearest thing we had to zombies: pale, slow and always moaning.”
Brockes points to Chipotle’s tofu-based Sofritas as one of many indications that it’s now easier to go meatless in restaurants, but says that the movement faces an uphill battle: “Meatout is fighting a recalcitrance which boils down to a simple question: Why be alive at all? Why not sit in a bare room, listening to your own breath and anticipating your next serving of ancient grains, while wondering what else you can cut out of your life? To non-believers, there are few words more depressing in the English language than ‘vegan bakery’.”
She then goes on to criticize vegan food in restaurants, from the high-end, which she says is a rip-off, to the low end, where, at some vegan restaurants, “everything is brown and steaming and straight from the ’70s.” Her recommendation: Consider cutting down on meat at home if you like, but indulge in restaurants.
Not so fast, says Craig Cochran, co-owner of Terri, a vegan restaurant in New York City, who, in order to prove how delicious vegan food can be, gave out up to $10 worth of it per person to anyone who asked for it on the day of the Meatout.
“Food has always been a passion of mine,” he said in a press release. “For me, Terri’s role is to make healthy and delicious plant-based superfoods as accessible as traditional fast food. We change hearts and minds, one bite at a time.”
He also admitted, however, that giving away food is also a strategy for generating repeat business — something those traditional fast food chains have known for years. A spokeswoman for Terri said the restaurant gave free food to 1,200 people on Thursday.
The Philadelphia Daily News marked the occasion by announcing the results of its quest for the best vegan cheesesteak in the city, declaring Blackbird Pizzeria the winner.
The obvious question to ask is why anyone would want to eat a vegan cheesesteak. Writer and competition organizer Vance Lehmkuhl let Blackbird Pizza owner Mark Mebus explain: “Mebus indirectly answered by explaining his motivations. He didn't open a vegan pizzeria so he could eat more vegan pizza. 'A casual spot has a greater impact for the cause' of veganism, he explained, as long as you offer something 'that does justice to the original, that people will try it and say, ‘Hey, this is just as good.’"
Ideally, from his perspective, that will convince omnivores that meatless food can also be delicious.
You don’t have to convince John Fraser of that. The New York-basedand restaurateur, an alum of The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., introduced vegetarian meals on Mondays several years ago at his restaurant Dovetail to drum up business on an otherwise quiet night. The result was not just busier Mondays, but a better understanding on Fraser’s part of the glories of vegetables.
He described that journey to New York Post writer Beth Landman as he explained the origins of his Carrots Wellington, now available at his new restaurant, Narcissa.
This story has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 24, 2014 An earlier version of this story misidentified the newspaper that held the best vegan cheesesteak contest. It was the Philadelphia Daily News.
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