Okay, so maybe you don’t live in a town with an escalator in your natural foods store. Maybe the healthy food is instead relegated to a tiny, darkly lit area near the pharmacy.
Perhaps the only plant-based dish you can find in your neighborhood restaurant is steamed vegetables over a baked potato. And the closest fully-vegan restaurant is a day’s drive away (or more).
How to make your town more vegan-friendly
By showing grocery store managers, restaurateurs, and local businesses that there’s a demand for compassionate offerings, we can make our towns more vegan-friendly by doing something basic… asking!
1. Ask grocery stores to carry vegan items.
Most grocery stores in most towns have those true vegan staples. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and beans. But sometimes it’s fun to try the newest specialty food.
Sure, we expect to find big cities with large natural food stores to have everything one can imagine. From high-end raw sauerkraut and oatmeal-based cheeses to sprouted chickpeas and coconut milk ice cream.
In smaller towns, sometimes the pickings are a bit slimmer on those items that are new to the market or outside of traditional norms.
But think about it, stores are businesses. They’re based on supply and demand.
If they can eek ahead of the competition by offering something that will get you and potentially other shoppers too to visit their store instead of another local competitor, it’s in their interests to do it.
If you’ll call them up, meet with their manager in person, or use their website to make a request, you’re pretty much handing them the way to appeal to you, the consumer.
So if there’s something you’ve heard about in vegan magazines or read about in the blogosphere, if there’s something that you’ve noticed in cookbooks, or enjoyed in a larger city, by all means ask for it!
The worst that can happen is that they’ll say no. And if that happens, you’re exactly where you are now… ordering specialties online!
Last summer I moved to a smaller city, but I still wanted to enjoy some favorite specialty foods. Without much luck, I asked my local co-op if they were interested in carrying them.
They declined. So then I contacted one of the chain grocery stores instead.
Within a couple of weeks I received an email from them letting me know that my requested items were in stock.
So if there’s something you want, ask. And if at first you get a no, try again somewhere else.
Help them to help themselves get your business!
2. Ask restaurants that you visit to carry more vegan items.
And then at the businesses that already carry vegan items, ask them to clearly mark them on the menu with a symbol or a letter “V.”
It’s so much easier and more relaxing to sit down with a menu and quickly find what’s vegan. Plus, it gives the consumer more confidence that the staff knows what vegan means and won’t bring you a plate of unhappy surprises.
At a favorite Indian restaurant after I emailed them about putting V’s on their menu, they emailed me and let me know that they were going to do it.
I don’t know if I was the only person who contacted them about it, or if they already had plans in the works. But at my next dinner there when I talked to the owner about it, he said that people were pleased to see the V’s on the menu.
Even better, there were more vegan options than I had realized. I didn’t have to get burnt out on the same menu items again and again, because there were more appetizers and entrees that unbeknownst to me were vegan too.
Again, this is a win/win for businesses. I (and other vegans and people with dairy and/or egg allergies) am more apt to visit a restaurant that clearly marks which items are vegan, and that means more business for them.
3. Ask your library to carry a particular vegan cookbook or books about veganism.
I’m blessed in that my local library is kind of amazing, with a whole section of vegan cookbooks. They have books for cookies, cupcakes, raw food, ethnic cuisines, low fat, All American…
Sure, I have a large cookbook collection of my own, but sometimes it’s fun to give a new-to-me cookbook a test run first.
I’ve had books that for whatever reason (and usually not based on the recipes themselves), didn’t excite me. The recipes didn’t get the wheels turning and my hands itching to cook.
Sometimes you don’t know until you sit down with the cookbook, crack it open, and look for the first dish to make.
If the due date arrives and nothing has been made, it’s probably not “the one.” If the due date arrives and I’m still burning through my copy (hopefully not literally), maybe it’s time to purchase it at a local bookstore.
In addition to cookbooks, there are books on veganism popping up all the time, and when you ask your library to carry them, not only does that make them available for you to read, it also means that the ethics and health aspects of veganism are made publically available to people who might not otherwise be exposed to them. It’s a win/win.
I recently asked my library to carry Kris Carr’s newest book, Crazy Sexy Diet. Kris is such an inspiring person, and her film was so moving, I was excited to read it for myself.
I have a hard time justifying buying more books on nutrition at this point. I have a lot of them, but I love reading books about nutrition and veganism in general. Within a matter of a week or two the book was at the library waiting for me.
4. Ask for vegan options when you get lunch orders for work.
If there’s a coffee shop in your office building, ask them to carry soy or rice milk.
The point of the office party is supposed to be a treat to the employees, and so why not ask that you be considered too? Plus, if you’re hitting the coffee shop with any regularity (or would if they carried non-dairy milk), it’s in their interests to think of you and their other vegan, lactose intolerant, or health conscious customers.
My husband used to work at an office where the staff had to work Saturdays on occasion or work late into the nights. To keep morale up, food was often ordered from local restaurants as a perk for the employees.
When my husband was placing the order, of course, plenty of vegan items were on the list. When he wasn’t, his request for at least one option meant that he was fed and that his co-workers were introduced to veganism in a way that can be most compelling – via delicious food. Before long so many non-vegans were scooping up slices of cheeseless pizza, they had to order multiples.
(I always say there are three stages in vegan pizza. First ridicule. “What? That’s not even pizza. They call that bruschetta.” Two, curiosity. “Huh, that actually looks kind of good.” Three, sadness. Because they ate all of your cheeseless pizza, and there’s nothing left for you.)
5. When traveling, consider staying at B&B’s, even if they’re not entirely vegan.
At larger hotels, that “continental breakfast” is often not the most inspired of breakfasts, especially for plant-based eaters. So by visiting smaller home-based businesses, people are more likely to accommodate vegans in a delectable and satisfying manner.
When I’m checking B&B’s in the town I’m going to visit, I send a quick email to the proprietor asking if they can accommodate vegan diets.
I offer to send recipes, and most of the time, they’re happy to do it. Plus, every time I’ve tried it, the food has been really good.
In my experience, most people who go into running a bed and breakfast are pretty decent cooks. Despite some preconceptions many people have, making mouth-watering plant based food isn’t any more difficult than making any other kind of food.
(Not to mention that they’re probably serving a lot of so-called “vegan food” anyway by way of oatmeal, many types of bagels, peanut butter toast, fruit plates, and breakfast potatoes.)
If you’re in an area that’s not particularly vegan-friendly, most owners will provide a packed lunch as well for an additional cost.
When my husband and I traveled to England a couple of years ago, I contacted Wendy at the Old School B&B in the Cotswolds. She’d never hosted vegans before, but with the use of the internet found some recipes in no time.
She made beautiful breakfasts of stuffed tomatoes, fruit and nut oatmeal, and a hearty rice dish. In the afternoon we were greeted with tea and cake.
Wendy seemed excited for a new challenge and a new story.
What’s more, she even called the chef at the local pub to get his gears turning on meal ideas for us when we visited his watering hole. It made the trip more personable and more fun as we got to talk with Wendy and the chef about a favorite topic for all of us… food!
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What are some of the ways that you’ve made your town more vegan-friendly?