America is a land where consumers are king, and each day we vote with our dollars to determine what will be stocked on store shelves. In the simplest expression of supply and demand, the things we buy more of (iPhones, gluten-free pizza dough) claim additional retail space, while the things we buy less of (Hummers, New Coke) fade from view.

If you’re a typical American, one thing you’re buying a lot of is meat. The average American eats more than 200 pounds of it each year. Unfortunately, less than 1 percent of this meat comes from small family farms. The rest comes from factory farms, where animals live and die in filthy, painful conditions, and the farms’ routine by-products include pollution and food poisoning.

As more people learn about the realities of eating meat in modern America, some are opting to cut meat from their diets altogether, while others are cutting back on the amount they consume. If you’re interested in shifting your mealtime vote away from factory farms, now is the perfect time.

With the arrival of spring comes the annual Meatout. This international celebration of plant-based meals began in 1985 and has been going strong ever since. Here in Maine, a handful of public events mark the occasion.

At 6 p.m. Saturday, there will be a special Meatout dinner at the Pepperclub in Portland.

“I was able to adapt everything that’s vegetarian on the menu to vegan,” Pepperclub co-owner Mary Paine said of the Meatout dinner menu.

The special menu includes at least five vegan entree choices, plus appetizers and desserts. Those who attend the dinner can select items off the menu a la carte or opt for the restaurant’s 21st-anniversary special of four courses for $21.

As of Monday, more than 40 people had RSVP’ed for the all-vegan meal, and organizer Sarah Conroy is committed to finding seats for anyone else who’d like to attend. The dinner is part of the Maine Vegan Meetup dinners that Conroy coordinates each month; however, this particular meal is open to folks who aren’t members of the Meetup, as long as they reserve a spot in advance.

Conroy is also encouraging vegetarians who attend to bring along an omnivore friend.

“Coming to the Meatout dinner is a great way to be surrounded by people who have great info and tips” about plant-based eating, Conroy said. “You can ask them what they eat, where they shop and what in the heck they do with tofu.”

In addition, she’ll give all who attend vegetarian information kits and free food samples.

Before the dinner, Animal Rights Maine members will be in downtown Portland handing out a pamphlet to passers-by called “Why Vegan?” The group has done similar leafleting in the past and has been pleasantly surprised by the feedback it receives.

“Most people are interested in learning where their food comes from,” organizer Melissa Gates said. “They’re also interested in what vegans have to say about food. That’s the primary reaction. Some people do get defensive, but in Portland, a lot of people say, ‘I’m already vegan’ or ‘I have a friend who’s vegan.’“

On April 2, the Maine Animal Coalition will host a Meatout event with bodybuilder and vegan Robert Cheeke. He’ll give a talk titled “Thriving on a Plant Based Diet — Take Action and Make It Happen” in Luther Bonney Hall at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. The event is free.

Whether or not you attend a Meatout event, you can still do your part to promote a cleaner environment, better health and animal welfare by shifting your dollars away from factory-farmed meat and toward beans and broccoli.

It may not be as sexy as a visit to the ballot box, but shopping-cart voting can be just as good for your conscience (and even better for your waistline).

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]