Like any good politically conscious vegan, Kristie Middleton can rattle off all of the usual reasons that reducing meat consumption will make the world a better place — reasons having to do with personal health, animal welfare, and the environment.
But when the second annual Oakland Veg Week — a week-long celebration of vegetarian eating — kicks off next week (April 22 to 28), Middleton, who coordinates the volunteer-run event, said there will be another obvious, if less widely touted, emphasis: that vegetarian and vegan dishes can be just as delicious, and as worthy of being swooned over by picky gourmands, as their meat-laden counterparts. After all, Middleton said, what better way is there to introduce omnivores to the benefits of a plant-based diet than by serving them a whole bunch of tasty vegetarian food?
To help get that message out, Oakland Veg Week will harness the collective crowd-drawing power of two of-the-moment food trends — the pop-up and the gourmet food truck — for events scheduled for next Friday, April 26. First off, the organization is collaborating with Kitchener Oakland (372 24th St.), the Uptown commercial kitchen and food-business incubator, to host a pop-up vegetarian and vegan artisan food market from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. A sampling of vegetarian goodies that will be on offer include veggie burgers from No No Burger, vegan pasteles from Trinidadian street food specialist Mini Trini Bistro, and vegan mini strawberry pies from Bump City Bakery. Admission to the event is free, and there will also be complimentary wine tastings. Most food items will be priced at $5 or less.
Meanwhile, on the other side of downtown Oakland, the Oakland Museum of California location of Off the Grid will have a vegetarian theme for its weekly gourmet food truck gathering (5 p.m. to 9 p.m.). According to Middleton, not all of the trucks will participate, and many will still have meat options available. Nevertheless, several of the trucks will offer special dishes created for the occasion, in addition to highlighting the vegetarian items on their regular menu. Highlights will include a vegetarian version of Streatery's brisket sandwich, featuring roasted portobello mushrooms; a Sweet Garden Sandwich (with grilled eggplant, fried parsnips, and green goddess aioli) from Arki Truck; and several permutations of lemongrass tofu from Little Green Cyclo.
Not surprisingly, there's a bit of an "evangelical" component to the week of festivities, as Middleton conceded that it would be a disappointment if most of the people who came out to the various events were already committed vegetarians.
"We welcome people who are already vegetarian or vegan, and want to provide them with a sense of community and support," Middleton said. "But we also want to welcome people to the fold."
Joining the fold might entail swearing off meat for the week, committing to do so every Monday for the entire year (in keeping with the Meatless Monday movement), or — perhaps less dauntingly — simply coming out to Off the Grid or Kitchener Oakland and eating some tasty vegetarian food. Who's to say that kind of positive experience might not spur even the most determined carnivore to make incremental changes to his or her diet? (For those who'd like to make a formal pledge, there's an online form at OaklandVeg.com.)
In addition to the two foodie-centric events, Oakland Veg Week will host a number of talks and cooking demonstrations, including several held at the Oakland branch of Whole Foods (230 Bay Pl.) — these are free and open to the public, but pre-registration is recommended because of space limitations.
For RSVP details and a full listing of Oakland Veg Week events, visit the organization's website.
Pie for Breakfast
I've written before about the pies that Jaynelle St. Jean is putting out at PieTisserie (444 Oak St., Oakland), the pie shop located inside Mexican restaurant Nido — each one a not-too-sweet, impossibly crisp-bottomed beauty. But here's an inside tip: On weekday mornings, from 8 to 10 a.m., St. Jean serves savory breakfast mini-pies that are worth seeking out in their own right. Five dollars buys a pie and a cup of coffee — in other words, a home-cooked, grab-and-go breakfast for marginally more than you'd pay for a fast-food "value" meal.
PieTisserie's breakfast pies are little individual-portion quiches, basically — rich and substantial, despite their size. The standard filling is made with ham, spinach, herbed tomatoes, Swiss cheese, and pastured eggs. A ham-less vegetarian option is available, and occasionally St. Jean will mix things up by serving a version with béchamel sauce. But the real treat is St. Jean's flaky all-butter crust, which is even better than usual served hot out of the oven.
Most customers seem to order the breakfast pies to go, and they're perfect for that — compact enough to hold in one hand, and not too messy (flaky crust notwithstanding). But if you don't need to rush off to work, it's a nice treat to sit inside the mostly empty restaurant (Nido doesn't open until later in the day) and savor your breakfast properly, with a knife and fork.