Some might call it a cosmic injustice. Though many vegans are inspired in part by kindness toward the Earth and its creatures, they are now finding that their diet is very dependent on cheap gas.
"When you're cooking for a vegan person," says Rachel Klein, who runs Miss Rachel's Traveling Fare, a local vegan and vegetarian catering service, "you can't get everything you need from one store. ... I'm going to Whole Foods, I'm going to Trader Joe's, to Wegmans, to ShopRite. I'm going to the Vietnamese market." Gas prices on these errands add up.
Things are especially difficult for restaurants. "People are expecting a certain level of quality that we're not going to sacrifice," says Rich Landau, owner of Horizons restaurant in Bella Vista. "At a restaurant like ours, it's got to be about freshness ... We need trucks in front every day." With new fuel service costs, that can cost Landau an extra $10 to $15 per day — which he is eating, rather than passing along to his customers.
For individual vegans, it's easier to soften the blow. Buying locally is a place to start.
"Try to grow your own as much as you can, and avoid processed, packaged foods," says Allison Geiger, coordinator of the Philadelphia chapter of ClubVEG, a vegetarian education group. "That would reduce the fuel use."
For instance: Because Mount Airy's Weavers Way Co-op has its own farm only a half-mile from its store, its produce prices are nearly unaffected by the price of gas, according to newsletter editor Jon McGoran.
Landau has been buying increasing amounts of produce grown in New Jersey. But for restaurateurs, even this local produce adds up. "If it goes in the truck, you're paying for the gas," he says.
None of this is to say vegans are disproportionately wasteful: Gas usage isn't the only factor in the environmental impact of one's food choices. According to a report released by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock sector produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined — not through fuel consumption, but through biological processes. Cows fart out huge amounts of methane, and manure produces large quantities of nitrous oxide, both of which are considerably more efficient at trapping heat than CO2.
And gas prices haven't spared meat eaters, anyhow. At Gianna's Grille, which has an extensive menu of traditional and vegan cheesesteaks, the price of meat steaks has increased slightly more than the vegan varieties, according to manager Krystle Fitch. "No one's doing well right now," admits Landau.
So what's to be done? Some might point out that, from an environmental perspective, high gas prices could be good — they could force us to burn less fuel. It may just be a cruel irony that, until a local food infrastructure is developed, going green could make veganism less affordable.
But Landau thinks we ought to be able to find a way of going green that does not simultaneously hurt the economy — he wants gas prices to come back down. And Klein beseeches vegans not to abandon their Earth-friendly ways in the meantime.
"Keep on fighting the good fight," she says. Even if it's at a price that's hard to swallow.