By Rosalie Fransen
While many Boston University students cherish their daily cheeseburger, smoked ham or chicken wings, some voluntarily pick an entirely different way of life and look to the city of Boston to support them in their choice.
Jennifer Ammerman, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, is one of them, having led a vegan lifestyle for more than eight years. But whereas vegans are sometimes stereotyped as hippies, Ammerman certainly does not fit the bill. The only thing that gives her away is the enthusiasm with which she discusses the reasons behind her dietary choice.
“When I was in middle school I watched a PETA video called ‘Meet Your Mear,’ which talked about factory farming,” Ammerman said. “That got me started on veganism.”
CAS freshman and on-and-off vegetarian Anna Diorio expressed a similar motivation.
“It’s not that I’m against eating animals for food, because people have been doing that for a really long time. It’s more a move against factory farming and the exploitation of animals,” she said.
Others, however, said they are more concerned with the environmental aspect.
“I went vegetarian for the environment,” said School of Education freshman and nearly year-long vegan Rachel Atcheson. “I learned that the most effect you have on global warming is by eating meat. There’s not much we can do as an individual to control the smog that is emitted from factories, but we can definitely reduce our meat intake. ”
Ammerman explained that though people generally understand the reasons behind vegetarianism, they have more difficulty sympathizing with vegans and their motives.
“People always ask, what’s so cruel about milk? You don’t kill the animals,” she said. “They don’t understand that in reality, cows are machine-raped. In order to get them to produce milk they have to be impregnated by machines.”
VEGETABLE FIENDS: WELCOME
The Boston Vegetarian Society, an all-volunteer organization, caters to vegans, vegetarians and anyone interested in sustainable eating. They organize events such as the annual Boston Vegetarian Food Festival – one of the largest vegetarian events in the world – vegan cooking classes, picnics and food tastings, according to their website.
Students describe Boston as a city that welcomes vegans and vegetarians, allowing them to stick to their diets without too much difficulty.
“Boston is extremely vegan-friendly,” Ammerman said. “Probably 80 percent of the restaurants have a vegan option, and a lot of them will have several vegan options. Where I am from in the South, there are no vegan restaurants unless you go to really large cities.”
“I come from a really small town, where being vegetarian is considered weird. In Boston, ‘Are you a vegetarian?’ is a common question,” said Diorio.
As for going out to eat, vegetarian and vegan students said that there is a sufficiently wide variety of options out there. Asian and ethnic restaurants stand out as popular choices.
“Italian restaurants like Bertucci’s usually offer vegetarian pasta dishes, and Asian restaurants are good for tofu dishes,” CAS freshman and six-year vegetarian Lydia Hogan said.
“I like to eat different ethnic foods,” said Ammerman. “I love going out to eat at Thai or Indian restaurants. They usually have different vegan options such as tofu and cater to vegans and vegetarians naturally.”
In addition to traditional restaurants with vegetarian or vegan options on the menu, Boston is home to a small number of exclusively vegan or vegetarian restaurants and cafés.
Peace o’ Pie, a gourmet vegan pizza restaurant located in Allston, is one of these. It is vegan-owned and operated, meaning it uses exclusively vegan ingredients in its dishes.
For instance, it boasts a vegan Hawaiian pizza containing the cheese substitute Daiya, and a Canadian product manufactured with soy as a replacement for the bacon.
Peace o’ Pie aims to not only cater to vegans, but to everyone, by offering good service and well-presented food.
“The goal was for the restaurant to compete as a restaurant, not as a vegan restaurant,” said owner Eric Prescott. “The problem with vegan restaurants in Boston is that they are not inviting to non-vegans, and we wanted to invite everyone in – young, old, from all lifestyles.”
Other vegan restaurants share Prescott’s philosophy, including True Bistro Boston, located in Somerville.
“When I became vegan, I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a nice upscale restaurant in Boston while other major cities had at least one,” co-owner Linda Harrison said. “We wanted to set up a restaurant that vegans and vegetarians could bring their non-vegan friends to, and where the key focus lies on the food.”
True Bistro Boston aims for a more upscale image and atmosphere, and is one of the few vegan restaurants currently in possession of a liquor license.
With the increase in interest for vegan and vegetarian food, competition within the restaurant scene has grown, said Adam Penn, co-owner of Veggie Planet in Harvard Square.
“The competition is getting pretty stiff. Until recently, we had almost a monopoly on the Cambridge and certainly the Harvard Square vegetarian scene,” Penn said. “Now other vegetarian/vegan restaurants have opened up in Harvard Square and Central Square, as well as nearby in Watertown, Allston and Somerville.”
In order to distinguish itself from its competitors, Veggie Planet has to put out a unique product that will appeal to a large audience.
“We try to provide a product appealing to mainstream tastes, as opposed to food that, no matter the quality, might have more limited appeal,” Penn said.
Penn will be opening a new restaurant in Central Square this summer, focusing on vegetarian and vegan diner comfort food.
Despite the array of options available in the domain of meat-, fish- and dairy-free cooking, many of BU’s vegans and vegetarians said they will continue encountering difficulties due to their lifestyle.
“The hardest thing is when you go out to eat, and the waiter thinks they know more than they actually do,” said Ammerman. “For example, they might think that veganism includes eating fish, or that certain broths are vegan when they aren’t. And of course there are those holier-than-thou baristas who think that soy milk is the same as skim milk.”
Atcheson expresses a different type of struggle.
“It’s really hard to let my friends eat what they eat. I see eating meat as something bad, and to them it’s just food. It’s difficult to live a social life without getting into a fight every once in a while.”