By Melissa Kravitz
On a recent episode of their weekly comedy podcast, Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher recount a laughably horrendous experience ordering the two token vegan items on a restaurant menu in Miami: some type of vegan burger (though not served on a vegan bun), and buffalo cauliflower (a whole head of cauliflower served with sauce on top).
The two riff about people not knowing what vegetarians actually eat, and why so-called vegetarian items on menus often have strange ingredients or come from a completely different cuisine than the rest of the restaurant's menu. To anyone who has ever tried to avoid eating meat in a public setting, the concept is highly relatable. A former vegetarian myself, I quickly grew sick of asking if the dishes labeled vegetarian on restaurant menus were prepared with chicken stock or lard or who-knows-what animal part deemed necessary to create purportedly meat-free menu items.
While some cities still struggle with the concept of vegetarianism or veganism (hint: it's just like regular food, but without the animal products) other cities are excelling at becoming dining and lifestyle hubs for meat-free diners. A new study from WalletHub ranks America's best cities for vegans and vegetarians, considering the affordability, diversity, accessibility, quality and overall "vegetarian lifestyle" of the nation's 100 most populated cities. Top of the list: New York City, where non-dairy milk is pretty much a staple in every coffee shop and vegan sushi is commonly found in grocery store refrigerators throughout Manhattan.
Following New York are some other vegetarian hubs: Portland, Oregon; Orlando, Florida (who knew!); San Francisco; Los Angeles; Seattle; DC and Scottsdale, Arizona. Scattered throughout the middle are some famously granola cities like Madison, Wisconsin; Austin, Texas; and Albuquerque, New Mexico, along with some surprises: Anchorage, Alaska, is 39th on the list, and Jersey City, New Jersey, mere minutes from downtown Manhattan, is 63rd. (No other New Jersey cities are ranked).
Obviously, moving to a major city should expand diners' food options beyond America's meat-heavy, fast-food landscape, so it's no surprise that the most diverse city in the country caters to vegans and vegetarians, with similarly diverse cities trailing behind it, but does this list stand up in chefs' eyes?
"Yes and no," said Sean McPaul, executive chef of New York's High Street on Hudson, who notes that "plenty of meat-heavy cuisines" still dominate the New York food scene. "But our job as chefs is to make these vegetarian options truly delicious, not just serviceable."
McPaul hasn't noticed any increase in meat-free orders in his restaurant, but said his vegetarian pasta dish—housemade spaghetti with charred cherry tomatoes, aji dulce peppers and pecorino—is a popular order. McPaul recently added a "vegetarian beet steak" served with lentils, toasted barley and currants to his winter menu, which is fleshed out with beef, chicken and seafood entrees.
"I think [vegetarianism] started as a fad, but is now becoming a concrete cultural shift," McPaul said. "It has to do with restaurants like Blue Hill Stone Barns pioneering great vegetable cookery and the farm-to-table ethos, which is something else that started as a fad, but became a cultural shift and a staple of the restaurant industry. This is how we should be cooking, going to the farmers market and supporting local farmers. It's a big win for the restaurant industry that everyone has embraced farm-to-table cooking and in turn, chefs are excelling at cooking fresh vegetables."
Outside of New York, vegetarian and vegan options may not be common on restaurant menus, but they exist, and a greater interest in eating greens is certainly pervading the country. Charleen Badman, co-owner and chef at Scottdale's FnB felt her city's ranking at number 8 on the list (and fourth for vegetarian lifestyle, higher than New York or San Francisco) was "a little high," though she's proud that several Arizona cities made it onto the list (Phoenix—which is #40, despite being right next to Scottsdale—Mesa, Glendale, Gilbert, Chandler and Tucson), indicating that her state is aligned with her vegetable-forward mentality.
Although the Grand Canyon State may not immediately come to mind when thinking of where to find an excellent kale salad, the state's unique climate makes it ideal for eating vegetables year-round.
"So many people coming to this area just think of steak and potatoes," Badman said. "But Arizona and the Valley of the Sun has such wonderful produce, we have the opportunity to have a lot." While the northeast is bogged down with root vegetables from November to March, Arizona has fresh corn in November and December, newly harvested asparagus and snap peas in January and February and it's "not uncommon to have eggplant from May to December or heirloom tomatoes until February," Badman said.
At FnB, Badman doesn't necessarily cater to vegetarians, but she bases her menu on what she likes to eat, which incidentally, is vegetables. She's noticed an increase in the desire to eat more vegetables in recent years, which she believes is indicative of a national wellness mentality—just look at the abundance of vegetable-driven cookbooks that hit the shelves this past year.
"People are making lifestyle changes, wanting to eat more vegetables and be a lot more conscious of what's on their plate," she said. "I've always had more vegetable options than [meat] entrees on my menu, partially because I want to eat that way but I want to encourage people to eat that way—a vegetable can be your entrée!" FnB sees a lot of business from New York, San Francisco and Chicago—major metropolitan areas that set trends for the rest of the nation—and Badman anticipates the Scottsdale dining scene becoming even more veggie-centric.
Overall, the list's span from the West Coast to the East Coast, through Fort Wayne (#57), Omaha (#85), Tulsa (#97) and a handful of Texan cities, shows that choosing a plant-based diet is not a fringe movement of coastal hippies. Instead, vegetable-focused cuisine is becoming a national movement, with farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs), salad shops and vegetable nurseries represented throughout the country. A recent Harris Poll commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group shows that vegetarians are equally split between the northeast, south, midwest and west; that an equal proportion of men and women report following vegetarian diets; and that while vegetarianism is most popular among 18- to 34-year-olds, the older generations also eat vegetarian at similar rates.
Perhaps, if anything can bring Americans together, it's a widespread, common love of vegetables and a desire to eat less meat.
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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By Beth Ann Mayer
Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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