Photo from Veggie Planet.
Assessing the vegetarian scene
Boston’s affectionate nickname reveals little about the city’s dining scene—at the rate we’re going, tourists might as well change it to “Froyotown” or “Burgertown,” fixtures of the casual dining circuit. But fresh and local food is out there as long as you know where to look for it, said members of Boston’s vegan and vegetarian society. And while Boston’s not totally vegetarian friendly, it’s on its way.
“It’s changing slowly,” said Didi Emmons, founding chef and former Veggie Planet co-owner. “I’ve been around for 24 years now, and back then sort of marked the end of a vegetarian era. There was Open Sesame near Boylston Street, and there was that macrobiotic place in Jamaica Plain, Five Seasons. That kind of all came to a stop and opened up a period of traditional, conservative eating.”
With the demand for more local produce in the past five to eight years, chefs are returning to the ground for flavorful food. Because of an additional explosion of imported foods, items like fresh olives, nicer cheeses, and some Asian specialties are available on the market for less. Even culinary schools, which tend to be highly meat-oriented, can’t ignore the raw food craze.
“I think all that has made vegetarian food more accessible and more fun to create,” Emmons said. “We’ve had the opportunity to celebrate vegetables again.”
Still, Boston—along with most other East Coast cities—never makes the charts as a vegetarian city. GrubHub’s recent release of the top 10 vegetarian-friendly cities includes nothing farther east than Chicago and ranks Seattle as number one. What makes a good vegetarian city is awareness of the vegetarian lifestyle, said Boston Vegetarian Society President Evelyn Kimber.
“I think that Boston has certainly expanded its vegetarian and vegan awareness over the last 10 years or more,” she said.
“I think the marketplace realizes that more and more people are wanting to include plant-based foods in their diet even though they’re not completely vegetarian.”
Boston’s vegetarian growth is eminent in the recent success of the Clover Food Lab food truck fleet and restaurants, which boast all local and organic food, Kimber said. And the Boston Vegetarian Society’s cooking classes are in such demand that a class needs to be rescheduled at least three times.
“I’ll announce it to our list and it’ll be sold out within three hours,” she said. “They’ve been super-popular.”
Vegetarian restaurants’ high traffic of non-vegetarians proves Boston is on its way to becoming more open to vegetarian eating once again. Linda Harrison, co-owner of Somerville’s all-vegan True Bistro, said about 50 percent of the upscale eatery’s business is non-vegetarian.
“They keep coming back because we’ve accomplished our goal of having really good meat-free food, and I think people that come to eat don’t miss the animal products throughout their meal.”
She said she remembers it used to be difficult to even get the few places with vegetarian options to veganize their plates just a few years ago.
Emmons said if she could have, she would have originally chosen a different name for Veggie Planet that focused on good food rather than vegetarianism.
“I don’t think many people would have realized it’s a vegetarian restaurant aside from very traditional eaters,” she said.
But now, as more diners are thinking about the link between excessive meat consumption and poor health, the name Veggie Planet works as a trendy spot to grab vegetarian eats.
“It’s just sort of the perfect storm that’s happening now in the vegetarian restaurant world.”
BOSTON VEGETARIAN FOOD FESTIVAL
SAT 10.27.12-SUN 10.28.12
REGGIE LEWIS ATHLETIC CENTER
1350 TREMONT ST.
SAT 11AM-6PM, SUN 10AM-4PM/ALL AGES/FREE