Salt Lake City won the number seven spot on PETA’s Top Vegan-Friendly Cities of 2013 list, adding to the list of vegan food awards already bestowed upon its vegan restaurants.
Last year, VegNews Magazine called Salt Lake City "the next great vegan city."
"Salt Lake City has long been what I would call a ‘vegan-haven,’" Jeremy Beckham, a Salt Lake City resident who works for PETA and played a role in the nomination. Beckham cited City Cakes and Cafe, Sage’s Cafe and Frisch among the city’s vegan restaurants. Others include Agi’s Raw Foods, Buds and Omar’s Rawtopia, Cafe SuperNatural, Vertical Diner and more.
Vegan food cannot contain ingredients derived from animals, including milk, eggs and honey. That means cheese and yogurt are out. Vegans rely solely on plants and plant products for their nutrition, requiring a wide variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.
However, the limitations from a culinary perspective don’t make the food less tasty, but rather force chefs to be more creative.
"It’s great," vegan gourmet chef Ian Brandt said of the vegan diet. "It’s tasty to eat our wide variety of colorful foods."
The faux chicken sandwich at Vertical Diner, a vegan restaurant owned by Brandt, found its way onto a PETA top ten list in 2009. Brandt, who has lived in Salt Lake City for 20 years, also owns the vegan-only Sage’s Cafe and Cafe SuperNatural, as well as Cali’s Natural Foods, a year-round organic foods market.
"When I was getting introduced to vegan food, there wasn’t much here," said Brandt. "Vegan was considered a little extreme at that time." Seeing gourmet vegan-only restaurants in cities like New York inspired him to open his own.
"My thought was to create a product or service ... to make people see that eating [vegan] is not that different from ‘normal eating,’" Brandt said.
People’s motivations for following a vegan diet are as varied as the foods they eat, but often fall under three categories: health, environmental, or animal and worker rights.
Salt Lake City found its way onto PETA’s radar because of its large vegan population, relative to its size, and stayed there after its vegan restaurants began winning awards. City Dogs, a vegan hot dog cart, was a finalist in PETA’s Top Five Veggie Dogs in 2011 for its city dog — "our take on the Chicago dog," owner Breanna Escobar said.
Austin, Texas, took the top spot on PETA’s list this year. Portland, Ore., Los Angeles, Chicago and New York rounded out the top five. Supporters and staff of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals nominate cities for the list. PETA considers the vegan community’s influence in each city and the availability of vegan food at non-vegan restaurants and grocery stores when ranking the cities. The opinions of PETA supporters who travel the country to protest circuses, fur factories and laboratories have the most weight because they experience the food in many cities.
Beckham can see Salt Lake City moving up the list of top vegan-friendly cities in coming years.
"I rarely go to a restaurant without vegan options. ... You see ads for restaurants boasting their vegan options," Beckham said. "It’s impressive, given our size."
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