Every year, the personal finance site WalletHub releases its study of best cities for vegetarians and vegans. The 2022 report is out, and my city of Portland, Oregon tops the list once again. Yes, we are very proud. Now, we’ll unpack this annual U.S. vegetarian/vegan report.
How do they rate these cities?
“Best of” lists are all too often random and subjective. But the folks at WalletHub are transparent about their criteria. They compare the largest 100 cities in the U.S. on 17 key indicators. Each metric scores between 0 and 100, with 100 being tops for vegetarians and vegans. Some factors are weighted higher than others. The most important indicators are cost of groceries for vegetarians, availability of affordable, highly rated restaurants serving vegan and vegetarian options and average meal cost.
Lesser factors included the number per capita of certified organic farms, smoothie bars, veg festivals and veg cooking classes. You can learn about the intricacies by checking out the full study here. The study comes out about this time annually, since October 1 is World Vegetarian Day and November 1 is World Vegan Day. WalletHub reports that 15.5 million U.S. adults currently follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
What’s changed since last year?
The top three cities — Portland, Orlando and Los Angeles — held steady from last year. But there was a major shakeup for the number four spot. Phoenix — not even in the top 10 last year — overtook San Francisco, which dropped like a stone to seventh place. The other top 10 winners were Austin at number five, Seattle in sixth, Tampa in eighth, San Diego in ninth and Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky in 10th. Boise, Idaho slipped out of the top 10 this year, falling from last year’s number five spot to number 11. I must put in a plug here for the vegan ice cream at Sweet Soul in Tampa. No wonder Tampa made the list.
Some of the cities in spots 11 to 20 show that things have really come a long way for vegetarians. El Paso now is in 14th place, and Plano, Texas is in 15th. Bakersfield came in 17th. It would have been rare to find something more vegetarian than a Pizza Hut in any of these places 20 years ago. Now they even have all-vegan restaurants. When I visited Bakersfield earlier this year, I thought I was hallucinating when I saw the cavernous Asian Vegan Bistro with one of the most extensive vegan menus I’d ever encountered. And when I was in El Paso, I was impressed with the vegan Mexican street food restaurant, Lick It Up. It’s a whole new world now for veg folks.
Study fun facts
WalletHub also included some fun trivia, such as their finding that Plano, Texas, has the highest share of restaurants serving vegetarian options at 63.65%. This is 21.6 times higher than in Laredo, Texas, which failed the vegan test. Only 2.95% of Laredo’s restaurants are going to make the plant-based customer happy.
Scottsdale, Arizona was a vegan superstar, with the the highest share of restaurants serving vegan options at 16.26%. That’s 19.6 times higher than North Las Vegas, Nevada’s dismal showing at 0.83%.
And if you like salad shops, Atlanta is your place. It had the highest number of salad shops per capita, while San Bernardino, California had the lowest. Which is a surprise, because doesn’t everybody in the greater L.A. area live on celery sticks? I guess I’ve been misinformed.
Advice from the experts
The study also has a very handy component for people who want to eat more plant-based foods, but need some advice. WalletHub included tips from six experts about how to be veg on a budget, how to transition to veg and tricks to convince children to eat more vegetables.
Robin Tucker, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University, insists that veg on a budget is more than just possible.
“Frozen or canned produce can be more affordable than fresh, especially if you are eating out of season,” she said. “Frozen and canned also keep for much longer, which minimizes costs related to food waste. Making your own meals will cost less than relying on prepackaged meals. Minimally processed proteins like beans, peanut butter, dairy or tofu are less expensive than meat alternatives that are intended to replicate burgers, chicken nuggets and so on.”
Lisa Herzig, a registered dietitian and professor at California State University, Fresno, urges people to shop generics, buy in bulk and avoid expensive and highly processed meat analogs and protein powders. And don’t make the common mistake of switching out meat for eggs and cheese.
“They do not really understand that a mac and cheese vegetarian is no better than bacon and sausage,” she warns. Well, it’s better for the pig. And for your karma. But maybe not that much better for your health.
Check out the study to see where your city ranks.
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