Sacramento rising to challenge of meat free eating

Californian city is leading fight for greener food after city council passed Meat Free Monday and vegan resolutions

Avocado dish, burger dish and Paul McCartney-themed menu

After three months, Sacramento is well into the swing of Meat Free Monday. The Californian capital passed a resolution in October signing the city up to MFM’s sister campaign, Meatless Monday. The move was in honour of MFM founder Paul McCartney, who played two gigs in Sacramento that month.

It showed the local authorities with – a bit of nudging – were willing to persuade residents to dine with their health and that of the planet in mind. And yet it was not the first resolution of its kind to encourage greener and healthier eating.

Every October for the past six years the city serves up the Vegan Chef Challenge, a month-long event that throws down the gauntlet to Sacramentan chefs to come up with delicious meals that are free of all animal products.

Matt Masera of Saddle Rock restaurant claimed first place for overall vegan menu of 2016, with a Cauliflower Chowder, Stuffed Acorn Squash with Wild Rice and Roasted Root Vegetables, and a Chocolate Cake to finish. Other winners included Nido cafe for best soup (Dragon Mushroom and Heirloom Bean) and best starter (Seitan Bao) and Evan’s Kitchen, which won top prizes for menu variety, vegan brunch and McCartney-themed menu. See below for the full list of winners.

Getting involved with the challenge has been shown to lead to delicious vegan food being offered throughout the year. Twenty-five restaurants took part in last year’s challenge, of which 19 are still offering meat and dairy-free options, three will rustle up vegan food on request and three are continuing with Meat Free Monday.

Proving the value of the competition in terms of spreading the word, since the Vegan Chef Challenge started in 2011, almost two-thirds of participating restaurants have kept vegan food on the menu. Vegan meals are now also appearing on menus on Valentine’s Day and at the city’s other culinary events in the city, such as this month’s annual Dine Downtown and Beer Week in March. At Sacramento’s annual Earth Day festival, only vegan food is served.

The organiser of the challenge, Bethany Davis, says the goal is to rally more support for this year’s event and to spread the word. “Our next goal is to get back out on the beat with a team of vegan volunteers to recruit more restaurants to at least participate in the Meatless Monday campaign,” she says. “We will be creating a webpage specifically for this campaign and will continue to promote participating restaurants’ featured vegan menus, and so on. We plan to petition the city council for support to print posters and help with recruiting more restaurants, and also petition the local restaurant associations to help us get the word out to recruit more venues.”

She adds, however, that while awareness is growing of the importance of greener eating, there is still work to be done – particularly in keeping the authorities on message and raising awareness of how damaging meat production is to the environment. Sacramento is this year’s Farm to Fork capital, for example, but the campaign to promote local food is very meat-centric. Likewise, in a state hit hard by drought, there is little conversation about the vast amount of water used to raise livestock and grow animal feed, rather than crops for humans.

Countering the focus on meat and livestock will “require a lot of collaboration and diligence on the part of the vegan community,” Davis says. “Having now two city-adopted resolutions in support of a vegan lifestyle is a great start, but without continued follow-through, education, and events to raise awareness via our local vegan community and organisations, the city would not act on them further. We are still moving forward from a grassroots position – and gaining more momentum that way.”

One thing that should certainly help spread the meat free message in future is that two local news reporters and a food journalist are now vegan. So expect plenty of positive coverage, Sacramento!

Check out 2016’s Vegan Chef Challenge menus and winners

Try out recipes for Vegan Pancakes courtesy of Capitol Garage, and Vegan Fish Fry and Pumpkin Spice Cake courtesy of The Porch.