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Veg in the City
Amber McDonald
1/22/2010



PETA Pride.
Although Washington, DC, may have a well-earned reputation as a place where dealmakers gather over steaks and martinis, recent years have seen those steaks replaced with pecan-crusted tofu. On any given day in the nation's capitol, you may stumble across bestselling author Jonathan Safran Foer, a DC native and the author of the vegetarian manifesto, Eating Animals; or bump into retired NBA champ John Salley as he lobbies Congress for vegan lunch options for school children; or, with a keen eye angled toward the White House's South Lawn, view the First Lady tending to her much-celebrated vegetable garden. It's clear: there's a vegetarian revolution afoot in DC.

Katie Arth, DC Organizer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, agrees. "Change is in the air, and we want to be a part of changing the culture." Indeed, perhaps nothing is more representative of the "vegification" of the District than the return of PETA to Washington, DC. PETA moved to DC from Rockville, Maryland, in early 2009, acquiring new digs in Dupont Circle (1536 16th St, NW). The often controversial organization seems to have a kindler, gentler--yet still very public--presence in DC. On July 23, National Hot Dog Day, they made headlines for recruiting Playboy models, scantily clad in lettuce bikinis, to hand out 1,000 soy dogs on Capitol Hill. Far braver volunteers again donned lettuce bikinis in January to urge Washingtonians to "turn over a new leaf" and adopt a vegan lifestyle. PETA's DC presence is quieter, but perhaps more effective, on street corners lining the K Street corridor, where you can pick up a "Vegetarian Starter Kit" from newsstands. The group also regularly welcomes volunteers to its offices for working parties, where enlistees can chat and snack on vegan treats while assembling handouts, most recently candies with the message "Be Sweet to Animals."




RedRocks.
If you prefer to do your socializing with a glass of beer in hand, look no further than Vegan Drinks (dcvegandrinks.org). Held monthly at Bread & Brew, Vegan Drinks is a gathering of vegans, vegetarians, and their veg-curious friends, all of whom enjoy sharing the latest gossip on where to get the best tofu scramble or seitan skewer. The group's only rules are that you be accepting of other viewpoints and tip your friendly bartender.

Continue your drinking into Sunday with the best deal in town: bottomless mimosas for $9 at RedRocks Firebrick Pizzeria . If that's not reason enough to visit RedRocks, consider that their pizza is among the best in the District. Each pie features a hand tossed crust, two types of imported Italian tomatoes, fresh herbs, and can be served with Teese vegan soy cheese.




Mansion on O Street.
Of course, if you would rather enjoy brunch with a touch of otherworldliness, the Mansion On O Street is the place for you to spend your Sunday. Words can hardly do the Mansion justice, but imagine a red tag sale held by a rock 'n roll version of Alice in Wonderland's Queen of Hearts and you might come close to picturing the real thing. The 30,000 square foot Mansion, which features six main kitchens and over 100 rooms behind 32 secret doors, is a restaurant, hotel, and members-only club that opens to the public on Sundays, Mondays, and holidays. Inside, every single thing is for sale, from the original art by Jimi Hendrix hanging on the walls to the furniture in the rooms down to the key chain on which hotel guests get their room key. The Mansion is definitely worth visiting even without indulging in the (room upon room) of food, but the brunch is a vegetarian's dream come true. An entire room is dedicated to desserts. While the vegan options are far fewer, they are helpfully labeled and tasty. The Mansion is also available for private parties of all sizes, and the staff prides itself on arranging unique experiences for every budget and palate.

Surprises of another kind are found at Wolfgang Puck's The Source. While a glance at the menu may belie the restaurant as a decidedly vegetarian-unfriendly establishment, a quick word with a waiter will reveal that The Source has a plethora of vegetarian and vegan delights. Executive Chef Scott Drewno is a culinary genius, whipping up Southeast Asian-inspired delights like samosas in a tamarind reduction, Hunan eggplant with snow peas, pickled vegetable rolls, clay pots of mixed vegetables, and more. Each dish he prepares is impossibly better than the next. Even Michelle Obama has stopped by to enjoy his cooking prowess...but the FLOTUS most enjoyed the restaurant's sliders, which are definitely not vegan. The Source has experienced such success since its 2007 opening that an identical restaurant will be opened in LA's Ritz Carlton.




The Source.
At the opposite end of the culinary spectrum is the ultimate in low-end dining: the jumbo slice. Many consider it a quintessential DC experience to inhale an enormous 1,000-plus calorie slice of pizza as the bars close, and the wars among jumbo slice vendors are fierce: Who was the first to offer the jumbo slice? Whose slice is the biggest? Whose slice tastes the best? But in the vegan jumbo slice war, there's only one competitor and one clear winner: Duccini's Pizza, which offers slices with Daiya vegan cheese. Late night munchers can thank the efforts of Compassion Over Killing, a nonprofit animal advocacy organization based in DC, and their Executive Director Erica Meier (possibly the hardest working lady in faux business). Erica and Compassion Over Killing also convinced nearby Takoma Park, Maryland, to go veg by mayoral proclamation for an entire week.

Of course, the veggie set is just as concerned with what they put in their bodies as what they put on their bodies. This includes leather, fur, feathers...and ink. Most tattoo inks contain glycerin derived from animal fats, and black pigments are typically made by burning animal bones down to charcoal. Vegans looking to get tattooed can head to Britishink Tattoo Studio & Gallery or Tattoo Paradise to request tattoo ink that is free of all animal substances.


Certainly, big things are happening for the veg lovers of DC, and there's at least one more big thing to look forward to: Linda Welch, owner of Green Pets and Dogs by Day & Night, is currently planning a new restaurant: Elements. The restaurant will feature a tri-fold menu of vegetarian, vegan, and raw food options. Decisions regarding the development Elements are determined by consensus of a community of more than 500 participants at elements.groupsite.com. Join now to get a voice in the next step in the vegification of DC. Who knows, you may be making your next big deal over a plate of raw kale at Elements.        

And what bold name DC dealmakers will be foregoing steak to dine on vegan entrees at the tables around you?  Although Michelle enjoyed mini burgers at The Source, the Obamas' first State Dinner celebrated Indian Prime Minister, and vegetarian, Manmohan Singh, and, in his honor, the menu was virtually free of meat. And Maryland Senator Jamie Raskin was so inspired by Takoma Park's Veg Week that he recently decided to eschew meat indefinitely. Then, there's Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who has been a vegan since 1995. In a recent interview, Rep. Kucinich stated that, if he could be dictator of the United States for a day, he would have everyone eat a vegan chocolate chip brownie. At least in DC, the way things are headed, he may get his wish.

(All Photos Courtesy of Courtesy of Gracy Obuchowicz/Houndstooth Photography.)




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