As declared by Mayor Muriel Bowser, this week (May 7–14) was Washington, DC’s first-ever Veg Restaurant Week. From a political meet-and-greet over vegan soul food to braised mushroom tacos in Bethesda, more than thirty restaurants participated in some capacity, offering discounts, introducing new menu items, and hosting special events.
Bowser’s intersectional proclamation cited both human and planetary health. She wrote, “[A] global shift toward plant-centric food norms would help lower greenhouse gas emissions, and governments can play a crucial trailblazing role in facilitating such shifts by their citizenry.” The document also referenced last year’s Green Food Purchasing Act, which made DC the nation’s first jurisdiction to establish a specific target for reducing emissions associated with food purchases destined for public facilities (e.g., schools). In issuing the new proclamation, she took a bold step for the city in acknowledging the key role that plant-based foods play in addressing the climate crisis through food policy. The idea, however, is far from unique.
Mayor Bowser is the latest in a string of municipal leaders paving the way for a plant-forward food system. From California to the Carolinas, more and more American cities are using their policymaking power to shift away from animal products. Eugene, Oregon was one of the first, including the need for “climate-friendly” foods in the city’s climate resolution over a decade ago. Denver, Colorado has taken steps toward transforming its executive offices, with the mayor’s Sustainability Advisory Council going DefaultVeg for environmental reasons. Last July, Berkeley’s city council passed a resolution to transfer 50 percent of the city’s spending on meat, dairy, and eggs to plant-based foods. Carrboro, North Carolina set forth a similar goal, while New York City chose to specifically target reduction of red meat. More recently, NYC’s latest mayoral administration has teamed up with the Coalition for Healthy School Food to successfully implement “plant-powered Fridays’’ in the city’s public schools, showcasing a different veggie-centered entree every Friday. The city of Berkeley, meanwhile, opted for its plant-powered day to be Monday, and a dozen cities across the globe have done likewise, with Zagreb, Croatia signing its Green Monday Declaration in 2010.
From San Francisco to Cleveland (and beyond!), municipal governments are realizing that climate policy cannot be considered independent of food policy. Animal agriculture comes with environmental costs, and one of the simplest ways for a city to meet its carbon reduction and public health goals is to reimagine lunchtime, facilitating a diet rich in fruits and veggies.
As DC Veg Restaurant Week comes to a close, we can look forward to more veg weeks in the nation’s capital and elsewhere. Cities are stepping up to the plate and paving the way toward a new, greener dietary norm, one meal at a time.
Help your city chart the course to a sustainable, resilient plant-based default. Join the DefaultVeg ambassador program to unlock tools and trainings to help you get started.
Mikhala Kaseweter is the DefaultVeg Campaigns Fellow at the Better Food Foundation.