Meat eaters lead rise in vegetarian options

  • Photo by Meghan Ralston
From the November 8, 2012 edition

White Castle and Wendy’s, the company behind the infamous “Where’s the Beef?” commercials, both call Columbus home, adding further credence to the nickname Cowtown.

But smoldering beneath the city’s farm-based roots is, perhaps, a new slogan: Hold the meat.

With meat consumption in the United States forecasted to be down 12 percent this year from 2007, you can’t simply point to vegetarians and vegans. Meatless dining has branched out to meat eaters.

“If it’s a really nice restaurant, I find the vegetarian meals are a little more creative,” said Christine Rinehart, 33, of Bexley, who regularly eats meatless meals when dining out. “If it’s an average, middle of the road restaurant, sometimes I feel safer choosing a vegetarian option — and I’m not talking about a bad restaurant or a dirty restaurant.”

Diners like Rinehart have led to a slight boon in meatless options at typically meat-heavy restaurants, noted Jennie Scheinbach, owner and founder of Pattycake Bakery, an all-vegan bakery. And they’ve kept her business afloat.

“If we were just catering to vegans we would have closed long ago,” she said, adding that most of her customers are omnivores looking for tasty, slightly healthier treats.

Jay Cheplowitz, owner of the vegan bar Hal & Al’s on the South Side, said he’s taken a similar approach and noticed some of the same clientele patronizing his business, namely meat eaters.

“I don’t want people to come here just because it’s vegan; I want them to come because the food is great and the beer is even better,” he said. “With the exception of a few products, it’s really hard to tell [we’re vegan]. But overall, I’d say meatless eating is definitely more on people’s minds.”

Shannon Barnette, a long-time meatless eater from Columbus, said while there might be fewer vegetarian- or vegan-only restaurants in Columbus than a couple years ago, the local scene has steadily improved.

“It definitely ebbs and flows,” she said. “I’ve been vegetarian for 10 years and there are more accommodating restaurants than there used to be.”

While Columbus might not be leading the way nationally for meatless dining, the city’s offerings are still better than most, said renowned vegan cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

“It’s not Portland, but it’s not Omaha,” Moskowitz said about the city’s vegan food scene. “Having a vegan bakery [Pattycake] goes a long way. You can eat out at so many restaurants that are vegan friendly, but it’s harder to find vegan baked goods.”