I’ve been a vegetarian on and off since I was 15; the last time I ate meat was in 1995. After seeing the movie Babe, that was it for me eating animals!
On April 4, 2015, I attended the Conscious Eating Conference in Berkeley. I am not even sure how I knew about the conference. It might have been something I saw in connection with my explorations into the subjects of compassion and humane education. It was a life changing moment for me. As a vegetarian, I consumed dairy, convinced I couldn’t live without milk in my coffee or cheese on my plate. After having my eyes opened to the reality of the dairy industry, I quickly learned that I could live without those things. There are also great vegan alternatives (I actually like soy milk) and new vegan cheese makers putting out delicious nut-based cheeses.
I avoid Whole Foods Market, and Berkeley Bowl is too crowded and chaotic for my claustrophobic tastes. It is impossible to park at the local Trader Joe’s. But little Village Market near where I live has a fair amount of vegan selections considering the size of the store.
Here are some examples of the tempting treats I found last trip there: the most beautiful chocolates I’ve ever seen, made by Moonstruck, a vegan cheese spread from The Cultured Kitchen that must be good because they were sold out of all 3 flavors, and ice cream sandwiches (yes, ice cream sandwiches) from Green Girl Bakeshop.
If you are in Berkeley slogging through traffic on University Avenue, stop by Animal Place’s Vegan Republic at number 1624, the vegan grocery run to benefit the animals at the sanctuary. You get yummy groceries and help the rescue animals at the same time; it’s a win-win!
Eating out can be more of a challenge, but I am discovering a whole world of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, or restaurants that offer vegan options, as well as groups of excited vegans who want to share their discoveries. I have been to a couple of dinners now through the Meet Up group Berkeley Vegan Dinner Meet Up (http://www.meetup.com/Berkeley-Vegan-Dinner/). There are also the groups Oakland Vegan Cooking Classes and Events (http://www.meetup.com/Oakland-vegan-cooking-classes-and-events/) and Bay Area Vegan Food Lovers (http://www.meetup.com/bay-area-vegan-food-lovers/).
I have been to two meet ups now, one to Cafe Romanat (Ethiopian; 462 Santa Clara Avenue, Oakland) and one to Taste of the Himalayas (1700 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley). Neither restaurant is vegan/vegetarian, but they offer vegan options and both restaurants were very accommodating to our group. In Ethiopian dining, of which I have done very little, the fun part is scooping up the various dishes using injera, the sour flat bread made from teff flour, and bypassing the use of forks.
At Taste of the Himalayas, the 8 of us sampled several vegan dishes, including the pakora, samosas,and momo (dumplings) for appetizers, and my favorite of the vegetable dishes, bhindi tarkari, a spicy okra dish. If you think okra is gross and slimy, you haven’t eaten it prepared the right way!
A new friend recently invited me to meet her for Sunday brunch at Two Mammas Vegan Kitchen (370 E. 12th Street, Suite 1D, Oakland). I drove up to the address and wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but inside was a warm, cheerful, welcoming spot with some of the best brunch food, vegan or not, I’ve had in a long time. I can’t wait to try their lunch menu. And the magic words–bottomless cup of coffee!
When the renowned vegan fine-dining Millennium closed in its San Francisco location after twenty years, I was really sad never to have made it there. Even though I hadn’t eaten there, I have their cookbook proudly displayed on my cookbook shelves. Lo and behold, they reopened in Oakland, 5912 College Avenue in Rockridge to be specific, so now I can go whenever finances permit.
I don’t drink, so I can’t speak to the wine bar side of the operation, but Encuentro (550 2nd Street, Jack London Square, Oakland), which started as a “cafe and wine bar”, is now a full-fledged restaurant highlighting vegetarian and vegan food. The space is beautiful; nice for a date or to relax and hang out with friends. Jack London Square continues in its growth as a food destination!
On the more casual side, and home to what I hear is an amazing vegan milkshake, is Saturn Cafe in Berkeley (2175 Allston Way). They offer a mix of vegan and vegetarian “diner” style food (burgers, fries, shakes) in a retro atmosphere between downtown Berkeley and the UC Berkeley campus. Sometimes you just need a (vegan) burger and fries.
If Japanese food is more your style, you can get that too. In North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto (1686 Shattuck) is Cha-Ya. Noodle bowls, sushi–you want them, you can have them! It’s small and it can be hard to get a table at lunch, but be patient. You’ll leave happy!
Herbivore: The Earthly Grill has 3 locations in the Bay Area, 1 in Berkeley (2451 Shattuck Avenue). The menu has almost too many “comfort food” options for someone like me who has trouble making decisions! Soups, wraps, sandwiches, salads, pasta, nachos plus a breakfast menu–something for everyone.
There are some places I haven’t made it to yet: Cinnaholic, Sanctuary Bistro, and Cafe Gratitude in Oakland; Souley Vegan and Pepples Donuts in Oakland.
If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments. I’m always happy to add a new spot to my must-try list. As James Beard said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” Sharing good food around a table is a wonderful way to connect with friends and loved ones. And there is so much more to eat as a vegan than hummus and tofu!