"As education and awareness about the powerful, life changing effects of a plant-based diet continues to grow, there are many restaurants here in Providence that continue to expand their vegan menu options."
Laura Barlow is president of Rhode Island Vegan Awareness, a nonprofit that works to advocate a meat- and dairy-free lifestyle through film screenings, public outreach and events.
As increased national attention is placed on the marketability of vegan menus within restaurants in order to attract that customer base, Barlow says the Providence area’s hospitality industry has made a lot of progress in this area but that there is plenty of room for improvement.
PBN: There’s a notion that vegans/vegetarians are bad for business because they don’t eat out much and aren’t spending lots of money on expensive meat. Why is that not true?
BARLOW: Vegans and vegetarians are as diverse as the general population [and] many love to eat out and do so frequently while others prefer to eat in. I personally, like many of my vegan and vegetarian friends, love to eat out and so weekly. Vegans are great for business. We are loyal customers who often frequent the same establishments on a regular basis. The fact is that we sometimes spend more money than the typical customer to make sure the food we buy is delicious, healthy and cruelty free.
PBN: There’s been a lot of attention placed recently on the ability of restaurants to cater to both vegans/vegetarians and carnivores. Providence is seen and marketed as a foodie city. Do you feel restaurants here serve the plant-based community well?
BARLOW: As education and awareness about the powerful, life changing effects of a plant-based diet continues to grow, there are many restaurants here in Providence that continue to expand their vegan menu options. We maintain a constantly growing list of local restaurants on our website and are always happy to add more. I have to admit there is still great room for improvement. Adding more vegan options to a restaurant menu is a great way to increase customer flow. Also, never be afraid to speak up and ask restaurant employees about vegan options, even if you do not see any on the menu. Often, restaurants can be very accommodating and I have found this to be the case here in Providence.
PBN: Is there any possibility of working with the Rhode Island Hospitality Association or other organizations to promote increased vegan offerings?
BARLOW: We currently run a restaurant campaign and are constantly urging local restaurants to add more options to their menus. WE focus on writing letters to local restaurants and speaking with local restaurant owners. Many restaurants are learning that vegan options are good for their business. An Associated Press article, “Vegan Diets Becoming More Popular, More Mainstream,” reported that “more than half the 1,500 chefs polled by the National Restaurant Association for its new ‘What’s Hot in 2011’ list included vegan entrees as a hot trend.” We are willing and excited to work with any group that would like to work to promote vegan offerings at local restaurants!
PBN: What are some of the awareness issues you are most heavily promoting right now?
BARLOW: We focus on the fact that choosing vegan is the single most powerful way to reduce suffering and injustice, health the planet and improve your health all at the same time. WE promote [this] through film showings, leafleting, social gatherings, monthly meetings, library displays, free food samplings and cooking demonstrations.
PBN: How strong/large is the vegan community in Rhode Island?
BARLOW: The vegan community here in Rhode Island is certainly keeping up with the rest of the nation in that it is growing every day. We are constantly receiving information requests and seeing friendly new faces at our monthly meetings. We are always looking for new volunteers who are interested in taking an active role in our mission.