Vegan-Friendly: How to make restaurants healthier and more profitable

A humble proposal to bring plant-based food to American cities

A hypothetical mock-up of “Vegan-Friendly” labeling (*logo based on the Israeli version)

There’s a lack of plant-based food options offered at restaurants in America.

In New York City, where I live, less than 2% of the top restaurants have “vegan” or “vegetarian” labeling (based on a casual survey of 50 restaurants).

Meanwhile, over 6.4 million Americans identify as vegan, 16 million identify as vegetarian, and flexitarianism (ie. occasional vegetarians) is trending.

Last year the plant-based food sector experienced 8% overall growth, according to Nielsen, and the plant-based protein market is projected to reach $5 billion USD by 2020.

Restaurants can capitalize on this trend and increase revenue by adding “Vegan-Friendly” options and labeling.

Question:

Could cities offer a “Vegan-Friendly” (or Animal-Free) certification for restaurants and cafes that include plant-based, animal-free options on their menu?

Changing minds and habits:

In situations where the customer’s meal choice is limited to “Chicken vs. fish?”, with no appealing plant-based options, it’s undeniable that customers will stay locked in the mindset that eating meat is the default option. If we don’t offer customers the option, then we don’t give them the power to form habits that are better for the planet, and their health.

At the same time, a growing body of research has shown the harmful effect of eating meat on both the planet, government spending, and our health:

  1. Animal agriculture is the largest contributor to global warming. [1, 2, 3]
  2. Due to animal agriculture’s high per-capita health-care costs, the U.S. could save $180-$250 billion a year by supporting plant-based alternatives (roughly $771 a year per person). [1][2]
  3. The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers there to be strong evidence that meat can cause cancer, and lists it as “carcinogenic to humans.” [1, 2]

Positive effects on people and the planet:

  1. Vegan-Friendly restaurants would be supporting a healthier planet. Furthermore, because of the reduction of greenhouse gases Vegan-Friendly restaurants would be contributing to meeting The Paris Agreement’s 2020 emission goals.
  2. American cities could help bring plant-based and vegan options from a niche to the mainstream — similar to the popularity of the gluten-free movement of the past decade. This would provide a virtuous cycle bringing more plant-based eaters to the market, thereby rewarding Vegan-Friendly restaurants.

Solution:

Restaurants could offer a Vegan-Friendly certification (e.g. a front-door sticker, and listing on the website) for restaurants that meet the Vegan-Friendly criteria. This is inspired by similar movements in Israel and Europe over the past few years where hundreds of restaurants have taken to including a respectable quantity of vegan and vegetarian options on the menu.

Hypothetical Vegan-Friendly label on the door of a restaurant

Next Steps:

With this first-draft of the Vegan-Friendly proposal I’m looking for:

  • Feedback on the proposal itself — what works, what could be improved?
  • Support from local restaurant owners — would you be willing to participate in the Vegan-Friendly certification?
  • Intros and connections to activist, government officials, academics, PR, or anyone who you think I should further discuss this proposal.

More info
*The original Google Doc is editable and printable. — feel free to leave comments. It includes an appendix of citations.

*This document was inspired by Vegan-Friendly Israel, but is not directly associated with their movement.

About me: I’m personally not 100% vegan, I just want to see more plant-based options available on New York City menus. Beyond that, I have no political affiliations, or agenda outside of increased plant-based awareness and education. Follow me on Twitter, or reach out with an email to say hello.