BITE-SIZED

Where's the Beef?

No Meat March shines a light on fruits, veggies and more

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What's 31 days long, full of health benefits and colorful vegetables, and has local community and restaurant support? If you guessed No Meat March, you win. (I probably shouldn't proclaim "winner, winner, chicken dinner!")

Foregoing meat is gaining momentum for a number of reasons, and while many already honor Meatless Monday — dedicating one day a week to conscientious vegetarianism — No Meat March (nomeatmarch.com) encourages Northeast Floridians to take a 31-day pledge to give up meat and seafood. As a participant for the past two years, I found my energy increased and I began craving leafy greens and juicy fruits. Honestly, tempeh and tofu (which, when cooked properly, is quite versatile) are delicious and enabled me to experience one of the best Reuben sandwiches of my life, made with tempeh, sauerkraut and avocado on pressed ciabatta bread.

Local meteorologist Julie Watkins, a vegan all the time (not just Mondays, and not just March), helped found Girls Gone Green in 2007 to bring awareness to the environment, animal welfare and health. "Everything is connected," she says, "and how we look at one greatly impacts the others."

Meat-free for nearly 20 years, Watkins has several favorite places around the area with menu items she recommends. "Happy Cup in Atlantic Beach has the yummiest wraps — the strawberry with hazelnut, almonds and agave is the best," she raves. "And Tapa That [in 5 Points] has mushroom quesadillas that are amazing!"

Looking for easy meat-free options? Hit these spots: any Mellow Mushroom, any Tropical Smoothie (which carries Beyond Meat, chicken-free strips you can substitute in any menu item), Buddha Thai Bistro and any European Street Café.

"No Meat March is a short-term commitment and challenge that will take you out of your box," says Jessica Campbell, co-founder of Jax Vegan Love. "It will inspire you to explore new recipes at home and try new menu items you may have previously overlooked when dining out."

Campbell has been meat-free for three years. JVL was created in March 2013 as a way for her and others to share their passion and enthusiasm for all things meatless on the First Coast. "My goal since day one has always been to work with local restaurants to get more vegan items added — and clearly labeled — on menus," she says.

She loves the Hanna Park sandwich offered at Native Sun Natural Foods, tofu bahn mi at Cafe Freda in Riverside, sautéed string beans and Mongolian tofu from Chef Chan Asian Cuisine in Baymeadows, vegan eggrolls and eggplant pra ram from Buddha Thai Bistro in Jax Beach, 5-Points hummus and tabouli taco at Corner Taco, and the ginger teriyaki tofu bowl served at Burrito Gallery downtown. And who can forget coconut bacon doughnuts at Riverside's Sweet Theory Baking Company? So doughy and delicious — I have to say I'm a huge fan, too.

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