There’s New Orleans and Austin, then there’s Berlin, and recently, a lot of praise has been given to Los Angeles for its vegan scene. But among lists of the “top 10 vegan cities in the world,” might there be one overlooked hub? Could Baltimore be the next vegan capital of the world?
[Despite the author’s obvious bias, there might be something there, so hear this out.]
Baltimore used to be a City of Firsts—from the first electric refrigerator (you’re welcome, world) in 1803 and the first animal welfare association (the American Humane Society) in 1878. Lately, however, the city has been left in the dust in … well, just about every arena. When people talk about vegan cities, Baltimore’s likely not on anyone’s lips, but perhaps the city has been underestimated. Particularly in recent years, Baltimore has risen toward the forefront of vegan cities with a robust vegan community, leading vegan start-ups, and (of course) loads of vegan eats!
Baltimore’s a quaint little-big city. It’s often referred to as a “city of neighborhoods,” and there’s even a term for the surprising and unexpected connections among social networks: #Smalltimore. But lest you forget, the city packs a mighty punch.
Baltimore’s vegan climate is not perfect. Yet, while cities that earn a place on “top 10 cities for vegans” lists have established a name for themselves now, they weren’t always the vegan havens they are today. So what’s to say Baltimore won’t top that list in the near future? The fact that Baltimore’s use of the hashtag #baltimorevegan on Instagram trails only slightly to similar tags like #austinvegan or #DCvegan might be an indicator of things to come—that is, if the existing vegan fabric isn’t telling enough.
According to 2015 American Community Survey counts, Baltimore’s population is just over 620,000 residents—less than half the size of Philadelphia. Yet the city continues to make national and international news for vegan happenings, with stories featured in outlets like VegNews, Afro American, The Washington Post, and others. It’s likely just the beginning of many more stories worth sharing. And with recent news that plant-based research firm Vitreon America will be relocating their global headquarters in Baltimore, it’s worth considering where Baltimore’s vegan scene has been and where it’s headed.
The Vegan Community
There’s currently no written history of veganism in Baltimore. So we’re left to speculate how, exactly, the vegan movement began developing in the city. Though the details are missing, one thing’s certain: we’d be nothing without our vegan community. Baltimore’s vegan community is strong and close-knit. Smalltimore gets smaller.
Baltimore is home to a variety of vegan social groups and meetups—some new, but many have strong foundations in the city. The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) is one such group. While the VRG is today well-known throughout the United States—and the world, even—it all started back in Baltimore in 1982.
In 2003, a grassroots group of individuals began organizing animal advocacy events. They later became incorporated as the Open the Cages Alliance (OTCA) in 2011 when they first started offering their Vegan Living Program.
By then, Baltimore Vegan Drinks, which began in 2009, had established itself as a staple in the local vegan community. Most recently, Thrive Baltimore opened as a community resource center and event space. Since opening earlier this year, Thrive Baltimore has hosted potlucks, a Vegan Marketplace, guest talks, and volunteer training.
From Baltimore Vegan Drinks and Thrive, to the VRG and OTCA—not to mention the local EarthSave group, Baltimore’s No Meat Athlete crew, or the many Vegan groups on Meetup.com in addition to Vegan Facebook Groups—Baltimore’s enthusiastic vegan community might be its strongest asset.
Whether someone’s a part of a larger group of vegans or a solitary vegan, there is no shortage of festivities to experience. Whether it’s small-scale pop-up events, workshops, or talks by visiting activists and vegan celebrities, or major vegan festivals, there is plenty for vegans to enjoy in and around Baltimore.
First, there are the veg-fests. The Baltimore VegFest (which is technically in Baltimore County, not Baltimore City), draws vendors and visitors from all along the East Coast and beyond, offering learning opportunities, entertainment, eating, and shopping. Then there’s the Vegan SoulFest, which is a “celebration of veganism and culture” that, according to Andy from The Bearded Vegans podcast and the creator of Compassion Co. Apparel, Baltimore’s Vegan SoulFest is the funnest festival he attends each year (Episode 80)! Andy explains:
It’s just a lot of fun. There’s a vibe and an energy to it compared to a lot of other veg fests that isn’t there.
This, coming from a guy whose job is to attend veg-fests across the country nearly every single week!
In addition to the veg-fests, there are a number of food-centric events. By no means should anyone pass up the Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese Smackdown which, in 2017, was folded into an entire “Vegan Weekend” filled with festivities promoting veganism and offering special vegan menu options at restaurants across the city. February 2017 was the second year of the Smackdown, which was estimated to have been attended by as many as 3,000 people!
“Folks are just ready to try something different. People are ready to get healthier, people are ready to change what they’ve been doing and do something a little different. This whole health movement is really picking up steam in Baltimore right now.” [Brenda Sanders, co-organizer of the Smackdown, quoted in the Baltimore Sun]
Baltimore vegans are also fortunate that the City’s convention center is host of the annual Natural Products Expo East, where attendees can learn about and sample all the latest vegan products from across the nation before they hit stores. And forthcoming, there seem to be some interesting events on the horizon, including Eat + Shop + Vegan (to be held July 29th at the Impact Hub) and also a Baltimore Vegan Restaurant Week (August 18-26, 2017).
When Baltimore vegans aren’t chowing down on food at festivals, they can be found eating at one of Baltimore’s many veg-friendly restaurants. While there are currently only three all-vegan establishments within the City limits, there are 99 veg-friendly restaurants, stores, markets, and services in the Baltimore region (via a search on HappyCow.com; whereas New Orleans only has 93 options at the time this article was written). Most places clearly label vegan items, which sometimes comprise more than half of the menu, even at “omnivorous” restaurants.
The three vegan-establishments within Baltimore’s City limits include Land of Kush, Grind House Juice Bar, and the very recently added The GruB Factory (all three, by the way, are owned by Black entrepreneurs!). While there are only three brick-and-mortar all-vegan establishments, there are a handful other businesses preparing all-vegan food at festivals and markets, such as Vegan Refocused, B-More Alive Falafel, or Love Water & Juice.
As for the remaining 95 veg-friendly establishments in Baltimore … there are too many to name each, specifically, but there are a handful which seem to be community favorites. Of course, there are juice bars (in addition to Grind House, there’s PlantBar, Pure Raw Juice, and Sandy’s Raw Food & Juice Bar, among others). There are establishments that have taken root in Baltimore, like One World Café (from the early 90s) or Red Emma’s (c. 2004), an employee-owned cooperative book store selling vegetarian food. And then there are some more health-conscious options, like Liquid Earth, Naked Lunch at MOM’s Organic Market, and the new Stall 11 in R House. But it would seem that Baltimore’s vegan eats tend to excel in the realm of comfort food. Take, for example, local favorite Golden West Cafe. Golden West, who regularly organizes their own “vegan week” events, offers Americana cuisine and Southwest comfort food in items like “The Riblet”: two vegan riblets smothered in BBQ sauce with mixed greens and tomato. They also love doggos.
To boot, many of the pizza places—some chains, some local—have vegan cheese as an option, or even entire sections of their menu devoted to vegan pies. For pizza kicks, Baltimore vegans can head to Homeslyce, Joe Squared, Johnny Rads, Paulie Gee’s Hampden, Pizza Studio, Toss, and other spots. As for the vegan cheese? Baltimore’s got that covered, too. The Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese Smackdown is organized by PEP Foods, Inc., a vegan collective whose mission is to “increase the demand for vegan cuisine by creating great-tasting, cruelty-free products that anyone can afford.” PEP Foods serves their cheese at restaurants throughout the city (such as Paulie Gee’s and Red Emma’s).
Beyond the restaurants, there are vegan options abound at farmers’ markets, vegan catering from Nourrie Cuisine, Field Roast hot dogs and burgers available at Camden Yards, plus even more variety among specialty establishments. For baked goods, folks can enjoy the fully-gluten-free Harmony Bakery, the sinfully delicious donuts from Donut Alliance, the range of sweets from Hvmble Vegan Kitchen, the trendy croughnuts from Sweet Duke’s Vegan Bakery, and cookies and cakes from Cameran’s Treats, or choose from many others. Baltimore is also the proud home of Pure Chocolate by Jinji as well as the amazingly delicious Charm School Chocolate, winner of the 2016 International Chocolate Awards and the 2015 Good Food Awards! Vegan milk and white chocolate anyone?
The cherry on top (quite literally) might be all the delicious ice cream options, including The Charmery, SweetSide Cafe, Little Baby’s Ice Cream, Pitango Gelato, and even root beer floats from Lost City Diner, plus two in-the-works options among Bmore Licks (opening this summer and planning to offer a few vegan options) and Taharka Bros. (who already offers vegan sorbet but is currently working to develop a cashew milk-based line of their famous ice cream).
There’s a lot of vegan energy to be excited about in Baltimore. Baltimore vegans are pumped up about veganism—so much so, that they’re showing their love around the city in unexpected places. From stickers and stencils, to cement carvings and sidewalk chalk drawings, the vegan message is permeating.
It’s Great to Be Vegan in Baltimore
Where Baltimore still has gaps, nearby vegan options aren’t far. It’s not difficult to hop on a train for a day-trip to D.C., Philly, or NYC for a vegan excursion or to enjoy a vegan festival. Additionally, the surrounding counties in Maryland feature nationally-advertised vegan restaurants (Great Sage), vegan travel agencies (Green Earth Travel), magnificent organizations that are protecting and rehabilitating animals (Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary, for one), and vegan-friendly wineries, breweries, and distilleries (Boordy, Basignani, Heavy Seas, Union Craft, Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey, Baltimore Whiskey Company…just to name a few!). Though not in the top ten, Maryland is among the more friendly veg-friendly states in America, according to a recent Health IQ analysis.
If you want something, it’s probably out there. When you find yourself on the inside of the local vegan community, you’ll discover vegan florists, vegan mechanics, vegan coffee roasters, vegan photographers, vegan therapists, and even vegan bike-gear designers. In fact, you’ll probably discover that you can find just about every type of vegan imaginable in Baltimore. Not yet on this inside? Don’t worry, the vegan community in Baltimore is very welcoming!
Okay, so maybe Baltimore’s not yet on the same level as its vegan-friendly metropolitan neighbors like Washington D.C., Philadelphia, or New York City. At the same time, however, it’s important to remember that it took time for those cities to establish their names in the vegan world.
Philadelphia, for example, wasn’t always the vegan destination it is today. Emily Arenberg, co-owner of Donut Alliance, is a Baltimore transplant after living in Philadelphia. “Ten years ago,” Arenberg explains, “Philadelphia’s vegan scene was much like Baltimore’s is now—there really weren’t all the vegan businesses it’s known for today.” Heck, Baltimore might even be more vegan-friendly now than Philadelphia was ten years ago. So it’s not unfathomable that Baltimore might be on a path to becoming one of the next prime vegan destinations.
Baltimore has so much to offer and so much potential, it’s just largely overlooked by the outsider (and sadly, sometimes by insiders, too). Vegan entrepreneurs, however, would be wise to spot the momentum and to invest in Baltimore. Baltimore vegans are hungry for new vegan options—restaurants and shops to services and events. It’s not some trend, either, it’s a movement. Baltimore veganism is happening, and it’s here to stay.
Notes from the author:
1. If you own a vegan-friendly business or organize a vegan-friendly service that’s not mentioned above, please comment below. While this post will not be updated, Crunchy Vegan does maintain a list of vegan businesses and restaurants in Maryland and we’d be happy to add you there!
2. Many thanks to the Baltimore Vegans Facebook group for providing their input for this piece, and to my #BmoreVeganFam and friends, who provided their thoughts about Baltimore’s vegan scene to help shape this post.
In addition to the hyperlinks provided above, the following resources provided information for this piece:
Meehan, S. (2017, February 18). Second annual vegan mac and cheese smackdown grows in Baltimore. Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-vegan-mac-cheese-20170218-story.html
Meehan, S. (2017, June 13). The scoop on non-dairy ice cream. Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/dining/baltimore-diner-blog/bs-fo-non-dairy-ice-cream-20170531-story.html
n.a. (2017, February 6). 2nd annual vegan mac n cheese smackdown & Baltimore vegan weekend. Retrieved from http://www.indiesoulmagazine.com/2nd-annual-vegan-mac-n-cheese-smackdown-baltimore-vegan-weekend/
Starostinetskaya, A. (2017, February 21). Vegan mac n cheese smackdown draws record numbers. Retrieved from http://vegnews.com/articles/page.do?catId=1&pageId=9082