Phoenix, AZ

As readers know, I was off in Phoenix, Arizona last weekend. I went for the half-marathon, but it didn’t work out for me as planned. If you missed it, you can read about it here. But the trip to Phoenix was not a total bust. We had 4 really great vegan experiences in about 48 hours, so compared to the Twin Cities area, it was a bonanza!

I had not been to Phoenix since the mid-1970s on a family summer vacation road trip through the southwest. Although I know that a lot of older patients of mine winter in the Phoenix area, I hadn’t given the place a lot of thought and was surprised to find that the Phoenix metropolitan area is larger than the Twin Cities. More surprising still, however, was the state of vegan affairs in the Phoenix area. In this regard they are years ahead of us and all of the Midwest cities that I’ve visited.

Soon after getting settled I did a quick Yelp search for vegan restaurants in the area. I was amazed to get at least 15 solid hits and a number of other places that are vegan friendly. In the Twin Cities, as a vegan diner, you are the complete afterthought on the menu. The, let’s put a frozen veggie burger option on the menu in the off chance someone might order it, sort of afterthought. So imagine my surprise and delight at finding a basic cornucopia of dining options!

First off was The Oatmeal Cafe in Tempe. Here we had a long chat with Melissa (“Iss”) the founder. Most of the items are based off her “Magic Mix” oatmeal and the place looks pretty killer for breakfast. We had arrived for lunch, however, and were treated to two Magic Mix based “burgers” that were amazing. The Greek and Hillbilly BBQ. The place had a slow, but steady clientele and, while we were waiting, we discovered that the next day was the first Phoenix Vegan Festival. We, of course, snagged tickets right away. Turns out that Iss and the crew were making preparations for the festival which included packing up a huge supply of oatmeal mixes. I picked up a couple and, if anyone is interested, let me know and I’ll tell you how they are.

For dinner that night we were off to Ruchi. Anyone whose spent much time around me and food knows of my predilection for Indian food and Ruchi was extremely satisfying. If you find yourself in the Phoenix area and are looking for some good veg Indian, the place would be hard to beat. Two words: Vegetable Vindaloo. As you’d expect from a place in the southwest, it left your lips with a good, satisfying tingle.

Saturday afternoon we were off the Vegan Festival. It was outdoors and it was hot, at least 95° (F) and not a cloud in the sky. Relative humidity could not have been over 10%. It amazes me to see people (presumably Phoenix natives) wearing sweaters, jackets, and knit caps on a day like that; I can’t imagine what they would think if we were having a normal winter. There were probably 40-50 open air booths, plenty of products and tasting, and a beer bar with a tremendous line. It was, all in all, well, festive! A real scarcity of hippy types, lots of families and young people, but many older people as well. It struck me that we might be able to garner as large a crowd in the Twin Cities for an event like that, but I don’t think we have the vendors! There were so many vegan places represented and it was really cool to just be there and be surrounded by so many like minded people. I so often feel like an outlier here at home.

Finally, we headed out to Green – New American Vegetarian in Tempe on Saturday night. Green was a great place that is in a odd niche. The entire menu is vegan, but many of the menu items are very familiar to the carnists and less so to the more traditional vegans. It is certainly not the most healthy vegan fare I’ve ever had, but it was quite tasty and a wonderful treat. Mostly, though, it was a place where vegans can take their carnist friends and both enjoy a plant based meal. I can see it as a great stepping stone for those wanting to try the plant-based diet, but worried that it will seem too “weird”.

It’s a little humbling to find that your community is so far behind when it comes to veganism. I suppose that our entrenched former farm families will have a hard time accepting the pressing need to move away from dairy and beef production if not for their own health then to help stave off global warming. But it is also nice to know that others have made the leap and that the movement is alive, well, and flourishing in the desert.