Ah, the irony: menu options lacking at the UN Climate Change Conference

Betwa Sharma, a Huffington Post/Times of India journalist attending the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris posted an article about the dismal lack of viable vegetarian options available to attendees and journalists. “Perhaps hunger sharpens your sense of irony. And it’s not easy to miss this one,” she writes. “This is the venue where nearly 200 countries are huddled in a ‘last chance’ attempt to reduce carbon emissions.”

She clarifies with this fact: “According the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), meat in diets pumps more greenhouse gases–carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide–into the atmosphere than either transportation or industry.”

Silvia Dias, a communications expert from Brazil who is also attending the conference, told Sharma that a much smaller climate change session held in Bonn earlier this year offered more vegetarian options, including lentils and rice, vegetarian Moussaka and Mexican dishes.

“It is really disturbing to see that the U.N. Climate Change Conference is going against the recommendations of FAO, which is a U.N. Agency. You would think that at a climate change conference there should be even more vegetarian options than non-vegetarian,” she added.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provided this 2014 statistic on greenhouse gas emissions world-wide:

GHG emissions AFOLU

The IPCC’s own Mitigation for Climate Change Study summary for policy makers [my italic] offers this:

“Demand-side measures, such as changes in diet and reductions
of losses in the food supply chain, have a significant, but uncertain, potential to reduce GHG emissions from food production.”

And yet, with all the planning that went into this important global event, the idea of offering plentiful and viable plant-based menu options didn’t enter the equation. Think of the opportunity that was missed here, not only by catering to a global community, many of whose cultural dietary preferences already lean toward plant-based foods, but also by introducing viable vegetarian options to those who haven’t tried them before. With India and China among principal emission generators, why not emphasize their own plant-based cuisines as examples? Options could’ve included Indian dishes like chana masala (with garbanzo beans) or dal tadka (with lentils), Asian-style tofu dishes and stir fries, as well as falafel sandwiches, veggie burgers, black bean chili . . . the list goes on.

Thomas W. Hertel, a Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, focuses his research on the economy-wide impacts of global trade and environmental policies. On a recent segment of the PBS Newshour, he said this:

“If you look globally and you just compare every sector, I’m talking electric utilities, steel, automobiles, beef, globally, beef is at the top, OK, the highest emissions per dollar of output, higher than electric utilities globally.”

It’s clear that the impact of animal agriculture merits serious attention if the world is to take action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Many environmentalists already understand this and have steered their diet in a plant-based direction. The UN Conference on Climate Change could’ve easily set an important example (and shown integrity in its messaging) by offering a plentiful variety of plant-based menu options for its attendees.

 

PETA’s Top Ten Veg-Friendly MLB parks

You’ll likely get wind of PETA’s Top Ten Veg-Friendly MLB Ballparks for 2015. The list generates a lot of news media (and social media) attention every year. 

We want to provide an important caveat to that list: PETA considers all the suites-only (and club) menu items equally with general concessions when it creates its list. In fact, suites-only items are often what are referenced in their media release (such as the vegan nachos at Dodger Stadium.) It’s great that these options have made it into the suites menu, no doubt, but it’s important to note that this doesn’t reflect general concessions. Veggie Happy wouldn’t rate a ballpark’s veg-friendliness based equally on what’s only available for high-paying suites ticket purchasers. Our focus is primarily on general concessions and what’s available to the average fan. 

For general concessions menu listings, check our MLB Venue Veg Guide.(We were told the Venue Guide link would be added to the PETA release online, so hopefully that has happened by the time you read this.) It provides all the individual ballpark menus (we have a listing for the NFL as well) and contact information so fans can share their menu comments or suggestions directly with each ballpark. We also have volunteer Veggie Happy Managers listed for some of those ballparks. Contact them if you’d like to galvanize local support or join group outings, etc.

It’s great that PETA gets so much media attention around it’s Top Ten Veg-Friendly venue releases and we know from our own interactions that large venues strive to get on the list every year. P.R. incentive is good incentive too. But fans make the most difference by chiming in directly with the ballparks. (See our previous post “Progress, progress, progress” about some of the set-up-to-fail issues surrounding signage, concession worker awareness and stand locations at some ballparks.)

PETA’s Top Ten list has been posted to Veggie Happy’s Facebook page with a couple of comments as a caveat. If you’d like to share PETA’s list on social media, please consider sharing it via our Facebook post, so those comments are included. 

Progress, progress, progress

We’ve come a long way when the L.A. Times writes that Dodger Stadium has “upped its food and drink game” by offering vegan cheese on its nachos, among other things. It wasn’t too long ago when the only vegetarian options at a ballpark were literally peanuts. As of today, most MLB stadiums (all, minus four) have vegetarian hot dogs on their menu, and many are now going with popular vegan franks. (Yankee Stadium added them to their menu this season.) Ballparks are also offering veggie burgers and options such as vegan “chicken” or “cheese steak.” Pretty cool.

That’s not to say there isn’t more progress to be made. Some ballparks limit their wonderful vegan options to suites and catering, which let’s face it, probably isn’t as big an issue anyway. It’s general concessions that matters most to us. Folks paying for suites are going to get what they want a lot faster than the many thousands of regular fans paying general admission prices. Like anything in a capitalistic society, money tends to grab business attention first, and if there isn’t much in the way of money, then it’s the amount of people asking that makes the difference. We all count; that is, if we make sure we’re counted. That’s why sharing your menu feedback directly with the ballparks (or on a general level, doing so with any place that calls you a customer) is important. Veggie Happy advocates for fans, but fans need to chime in directly too.

Here’s where progress still needs to be made. When vegan options are on the regular concessions menu, they tend to be limited to one or two stands, sometimes with very little in the way of clear signage or other indications to fans that they’re available at all, or where to find them. Those vegan franks are popular with regular consumers, not just vegetarians or vegans, which is why we advocate for them, but how will most fans know they’re available?  They may not fare as well as they could or should, given true fan interest, and concession managers might take their sales numbers to mean they aren’t popular. That’s not true, the items are just not evident.

Here’s an example of that. It’s an excerpt of an email we received from a Red Sox fan about Fenway Park:

“There is only one vendor in the park selling vegetarian dogs. Its down a dead end alley, on the side of another catering area. In fact, the people in the regular lines for food blocked my sight line to even see the sign.”

The Nationals’ ballpark is a lovely exception. They notified us that veggie dogs are available at 11 total stands there this season.

We continue to contact the ballparks and update our Venue Vegetarian Guide’s MLB listings as they send confirmations of their 2015 menus. Keep checking the Guide for updates and be sure to use the contact information provided there to contact the ballparks directly with any comments or suggestions of your own. They tally fan comments and requests and yours could be the one to make the difference.

Also, for those of you who might like to promote your products, organization, events or causes through Veggie Happy, note that we now also offer select advertising on the website, which averages 6,000 hits a month. This is offered in addition to Affiliation. Contact info@veggiehappy.com if you’d like more information about Affiliation or website advertising opportunities.

Play ball!

At last, the YANKEES!

It’s been a long haul, but at long last, we’re very happy to share that New York’s Yankee Stadium will begin offering vegan frankfurters and burgers effective THIS coming Friday, April 24th!

Keep an eye on the MLB Venue Vegetarian Guide for updated concessions listings and contact information for all MLB stadiums. We’ll update the Yankees listing with the vegan frank and burger stand locations as soon as they’re confirmed.

Please use the Venue Vegetarian Guide as a resource for contacting venues with your own fan feedback. We never tire of beating the drum of advocacy and empowerment. The more fans that chime in directly, supporting and celebrating vegan options, the stronger those menu options become and the greater likelihood they’ll remain on the menu.

Play ball!

 

IKEA rolls out new veggie (vegan) “meatballs”

IKEA_veggie_balls_2IKEA will roll out its new veggie balls or “Gronsaksbullar” throughout its 40 U.S. cafeterias (except in Carson, CA)  starting tomorrow, April 9. Gronsaksbullar are also vegan, as is the sauce being offered with them. The price is $4.49 for 10 balls and a side of veggies. The total caloric plate is 350 calories and the 10 balls alone are 240 calories. They are gluten, soy, dairy and GMO-free and are made from a blend of green peas, carrot, chickpeas, bell peppers, corn, kale, pea starch, seasonings, onion and canola oil.

Starting on June 30, Gronsaksbullar will also be available for purchase from the Swedish Food Court (as retail packages.)

IKEA has done a great job of celebrating this new item as “the first step to include a wider variety of nutritious and more sustainable food choices.”  One of its goals in offering this item is to cut carbon emissions by offering plant-based food selections.

“We will continue to serve delicious food, offering a taste of Sweden at affordable prices, but with increasing focus on the aspects of food that are really important to people: health and sustainability,” said Michael La Cour, Managing Director of IKEA Food Services AB. “We have high ambitions, and our journey in this direction has just begun. I am proud that we now take the first step and start serving veggie balls.”

Considering that IKEA sells more than one billion meatballs per year, this is a great first step.

Celebrating Veggie Happy Day

Veggie Happy created Veggie Happy Day as a way to honor and celebrate the power of customer feedback. It’s been our experience that fan feedback at the ballparks played a key role in helping us open the door to vegan options there. Just think if everyone took the time to chime in at the food establishments they frequent (or don’t frequent for that matter, because of the lack of options), what a wave of positive change that could create!

We selected January 10 as Veggie Happy Day (formerly Soy Happy Day) for two reasons:

  1. Major League Baseball stadiums are about to begin the process of reviewing their menus for the coming season, and now is the optimal time for fans to begin chiming in with their suggestions and feedback on vegan food items they want them to either keep, change or add. They’ll be looking at all fan comments and suggestions as part of their considerations starting now through spring training. (Four MLB stadiums remain without a veggie dog/vegan frankfurter on the regular concessions menu as of last season: the Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals.)
  2. It’s a fabulous way to start the new year with a feeling of hope, pride and accomplishment, no matter what food establishments you decide to contact. You might be surprised at the difference your one comment can make!

When you offer your feedback, consider a couple of other things, too. It’s not enough for vegan items to be available; they have to be clearly and easily evident on the menu, and all staff should be aware of their availability and locations. After all, if customers don’t know these options are available, they won’t sell the way they could or should, and are sometimes destined to fail as a result. Veggie Happy has had the unfortunate experience of receiving emails from frustrated fans who know vegan options are supposed to be available at a given stadium (having checked our Venue Vegetarian Guide), but still have a hard time tracking them down. How is that situation going to stimulate any sales?

Recent headlines about McDonalds eschewing veggie burgers because “no one buys them” is another example. They state that they tested veggie burgers in certain markets and didn’t generate adequate sales. First, this was back in 2003, so there’s some catching-up to do, but also, how big a promotion did they create to ensure that customers realized they were available?

Burger King has been offering veggie burgers since 2002 and guess what? Any group of people with a vegetarian in its midst has likely chosen Burger King over McDonalds every time. The Vegetarian Resource Group calls this “the vegetarian veto vote,” and it’s a powerful vote indeed. One person will divert an entire group of diners to another location that offers a viable option for that individual, causing the other establishment to lose out on  “mainstream” customers as well. (It merits noting, by the way, that the BK Veggie Burger is not vegan. It’s a sponsored product, meaning that the brand pays big bucks for the privilege of being named. When sponsorship is involved, it can take a while to change, so all the more reason for them to receive and compile customer requests for a vegan brand instead.)

Chipotle offers a totally different example in its approach to offering vegan options. It has done a fabulous job of actively and widely promoting its new Sofritas menu and ensuring that signage is clear and well positioned so customers recognize it exists. It’s no surprise that their vegan Sofritas are doing well.

The same is true for the ballparks. Seattle’s Safeco Field saw sales of Field Roast vegan frankfurters spike 700% over its previous generic veggie dogs during one season, in part because it promoted the new menu item (including custom vegan topping options) and made sure fans were aware it existed. This should be an example to all ballparks.

Whether you contact a ballpark or another foodservice establishment for Veggie Happy Day, consider these basic questions: Do they offer what you want? If they do, is it easy for all customers to know it’s available? Chime in and let your voice be heard. Sometimes just one fan’s suggestion has made the difference in as large a venue as an MLB or NFL stadium.

Here’s to you, making a difference!