Two new groups that have set up shop in the city are aiming to make Portland more vegan-friendly. V for All is working to increase the number of vegan items on restaurant menus, and Plant IQ is spreading the word about the health benefits of plant-based food.

Over Memorial Day weekend, V for All held its first vegan takeover dinner at Munjoy Hill restaurant Blue Spoon. Guests had to buy tickets in advance, and the tickets sold out in less than 24 hours.

“I wasn’t surprised it sold out,” said Blue Spoon chef David Iovino, who noted his restaurant seats only 16, and the dinner was limited to two seatings. Also, V for All had assured him it has a network of many vegans.

Showing chefs the demand that exists for vegan food is part of V for All’s strategy.

Artist and vegan Deborah Gordon of Cape Porpoise, one of the founders of V for All, said the group hopes the dinners will help chefs and restaurateurs understand the “very significant and growing number of us who will go out to eat.”

Tara Rich, another founding member of V for All, came up with the idea as “a vegan amidst a bunch of friends who aren’t vegan.” She and her friends eat out a lot, frequently at restaurants without vegan choices on the menu. Rich, a lawyer who lives in Portland, said chefs will often prepare off-menu vegan dishes for her. The takeover dinners are a way for other vegans to experience these dishes too, she said.

Iovino said he agreed to host a V for All dinner to challenge himself. “It’s not what I normally do.” While the dinner hasn’t prompted him to add vegan dishes to his regular menu, he said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility, either.

“The fregola dish I would very easily sell and the caponata is something I do a couple times a year,” Iovino said, referring to two of his V for All entrees: saffron and asparagus fregola in garlic and lemon broth with pine nuts, and Jerusalem artichoke caponata with olives, dates, red pepper and fennel, served with polenta.

Rich said many vegans are reluctant to try restaurants without vegan choices on their regular menus. Restaurant marketing experts even have a name for this phenomenon – the veto vote – and say restaurants without plant-based options lose business because of it.

“We hope that some of these dishes that are made for the takeover nights will make their way onto the menus,” Rich said.

While V for All wants more vegan dishes on restaurant menus, Plant IQ wants to increase the number of diners who will order them.

Plant IQ is the local pod created last March as a result of the documentary “PlantPure Nation,” released last summer. The film contends that the medical establishment and the government have failed to educate the public about the “overwhelming evidence” that a plant-based diet reverses chronic disease and maintains health. The film urges viewers to form local groups to spread this knowledge in a grassroots fashion.

“The goal of Plant IQ is to help our community learn about the many benefits of whole food, plant-based nutrition,” said Karen Coker of Cape Elizabeth, who works in communications and is one of the group’s founders. Though affiliated with the national organization, “we have complete independence in choosing our own outreach and what activities we do.”

Their activities thus far include a monthly potluck held on the last Thursday of each month and an educational program, Introduction to Plant-Based Eating, offered for free to community groups.

“Our mission is to introduce new people to this way of eating and have them experience how delicious the food can be,” said Kirsten Scarcelli of Portland, Plant IQ’s other founder and a health and nutrition coach.

Coker said she and Scarcelli have been “delighted by the attendance at the potlucks.” Just three potlucks in, they’re attracting more than 20 people to the gatherings.

While vegan food is anything made without animal products, the Plant IQ group promotes the kind of vegan eating backed by medical research – a diet centered on whole grains, beans and vegetables, with no added oils or salt and limited amounts of unrefined sweeteners, and including certain high fat foods, such as nuts, seeds and avocados.

“A vegan diet alone is not a guarantee of a healthy diet since it can include doughnuts, ice cream, fried foods and processed foods,” Coker said. “The health-promoting elements of this way of eating are colorful fruits and vegetables along with legumes, grains and nuts. This diet is incredible for weight loss. If you do it correctly, you can eat as much as you want of the right foods.”

The Plant IQ potlucks allow aspiring plant-based cooks to experiment with their own cooking and try recipes made by others.

Dishes at recent potlucks have included Indian lentil stew, enchilada casserole, bean burgers and quinoa salad.

“It looks really yummy when you get there because of the array of colors,” Scarcelli said. “And it’s very, very tasty because we encourage people to use a lot of spices and herbs.”

In addition to potlucks and educational seminars, Plant IQ hopes to follow in the footsteps of other PlantPure pods working with hospitals and health-care institutions to align their menus with healthy vegan diets.

Unlike the Plant IQ potlucks, the V for All dinners aren’t restricted to the healthful side of vegan eating – as evidenced by the vegan chocolate cake with ganache and bourbon-rhubarb sauce at the Blue Spoon dinner. However, the V for All team does hope to make them, like Plant IQ’s potlucks, a regular affair.

Iovino at Blue Spoon said he’d consider doing another in the fall, and Hugo’s has expressed interest, too.

Rich also has a long list of restaurants in her sights.

“My big goal is to do a dinner at Fore Street and get them to put vegan items on the menu,” Rich said. “For me, it’s totally selfish: I want to go out and eat these awesome vegan meals.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


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