Maybe you're a true-blue -- or green -- vegetarian. Maybe you've just been thinking about cutting back on the beef. Maybe you're curious about why so many people are eating vegetarian or vegan diets. There's no better week to answer those questions and celebrate the veggies than U.S. Veg Week, starting this Meatless Monday (April 21) and running through April 27. (Not to be confused with World Vegetarian Day on Oct. 1.)
The backbone of national Veg Week is the seven-day pledge: no meat for one week. Think you want to give it a try? Sign the pledge and you can get a vegetarian starter kit. Just over 5,000 people have signed the pledge -- reportedly among them are Cory Booker and MMA fighter Aaron Simpson (and Esther the Wonder Pig, the official Veg Week mascot).
It's no coincidence that Veg Week is falling the same week as Earth Day. Started in 2009 in Maryland by the nonprofit Compassion Over Killing, Veg Week touts reducing our carbon footprint and creating sustainable food streams as one of the main benefits of a vegetarian diet. In fact, Berkeley combined the two with a Vegan Earth Day celebration this past weekend.
The goal of U.S. Veg Week is to use this seven days to explain to the uninitiated how to become a vegetarian, to dispel many of the concerns people have about going the veggie route, and to eat some tasty veg dishes in the process.
Across the country classes, events, workshops, and festivals are happening to support this goal.
Here in the Bay Area, Oakland is leading the charge with its own Oakland Veg Week. There are vegetarian-inspired events every day from Monday to Sunday: cooking classes and happy hours and an animal sanctuary field trip. The culmination of your week of meat-free living is the Oakland Veg Week Celebration on Sunday, April 27 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Lake Merritt Sailboat House. Check out the full schedule of veg events on the Oakland Veg Week website.
Oakland Veg Week also has its own pledge with variations from the national version. You can pledge to go meat-free on Mondays, try out veganism for seven days, or just indicate your interest in learning more.
Participating restaurants are also giving discounts for Veg Week or preparing special menus. Bellanico Restaurant and Wine Bar will offer a $34 four-course vegetarian tasting menu. Two Momma's Vegan Kitchen will give anyone who brings a non-vegan friend a 10% discount. (Don't ask how they'll enforce that.) And, all Loving Hut locations will offer a 10% discount throughout the week. Check out Oakland Veg Week's full list of Oakland restaurant specials or the U.S. Veg Week's Bay Area list of participating restaurants.
According to The Vegetarian Times a 2008 study found that 7.3 million Americans are vegetarians (just over 3%), with about 1 million of those being vegans. More recent polls have had different results, with a 2012 Gallup poll finding that 7% of people identify as vegetarian or vegan and a 2013 Public Policy Polling survey finding 13% of the population was vegetarian or vegan. The varying statistics might be due to the range of self-definitions that constitute identifying as a vegetarian or vegan. But, there's no denying that numbers have been on the rise in recent years and particularly in places like the Bay Area. If U.S. Veg Week has its way those numbers will continue to skyrocket as more people embrace a vegetarian diet.