Veggies Rise Up: The growth of veganism in RI

Snacking at the beach (Peps Silvestro)

Let’s set the scene. It’s mid-June and you’re at Narragansett town beach with your friends, getting the best tan of your life. The sound of the waves so gently crashing onto shore, the cool breeze flowing through your hair, nothing can be better than this. Once 5pm hits, you and your friends pack up the car and your growling stomach becomes your personal GPS to dinnertime. You decide to stop by Crazy Burger Cafe and Juice Bar in Narragansett and get a delicious Poco Loco vegan burger. 

After many laughs and a couple drinks, you all head over to The Inside Scoop in North Kingston for some non-dairy chocolate peanut butter ice-cream. After dessert, you drive back home, the radio blasting “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus, thinking about when you can have a day like this again. 

15-20 years ago, however, this day may not have played out the same way. Because while your friends were enjoying their burger and fries, you were stuck with a salad and lemonade… and forget about the ice-cream. You would have likely felt left out and a little bummed that you couldn’t enjoy the same foods your friends were eating. Because you’re vegan, and in the early 2000s there wasn’t much in the way of vegan food for you. Veganism became mainstream in the 2010s, thanks to the emergence of social media and a concern for environmental issues.


Luckily, the tiny little Ocean State has been quick to adapt to the changing food demands and has been a trailblazer in many regards in the vegan movement. According to Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG), Rhode Island was ranked #8 among states with the most vegan restaurants in 2016. Fast forward two years later in 2018 and Rhode Island nearly doubled its list of vegan restaurants! This might coincide with the fact that Rhode Island was ranked the #11 healthiest state in 2017 from a report by the United Health Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving health. 

While Rhode Island may be small in size, we surely know what’s up when it comes to our food. But it wouldn’t be possible without the work of dedicated individuals ready to fight for the issue with their animal-loving hearts. Many vegan restaurants, businesses, and organizations have become cornerstones for the vegan movement of Rhode Island, along with the loyal customers who support them.

One organization dedicated to advocating veganism around the state is Rhode Island Vegan Awareness (RIVA). Founded in 2001, RIVA strives to educate the public on how to live an effective vegan lifestyle. They host events, guest speakers, film screenings, and more. Laura Barlow, RIVA president since 2009, went vegan in highschool and she has seen the shifts in veganism throughout the years.

 “I’m very grateful for how far Rhode Island has come. Being vegan and living in Rhode Island for so long, I’ve seen that we’ve gone from very little options to a lot of options. It’s great that we now have so many vegan places we can go and find options; and also places that are not vegan that are adding options.” The Garden Grille in Pawtucket is one of the many places Barlow mentioned that she has loved from the beginning of her vegan journey. Almost everything on the menu is able to be made vegan and they even catered her high school graduation party in 2002. 

One of the many accommodating resources RIVA offers is a dining guide which highlights all the vegan restaurants in the state and the vegan food(s) they offer. It’s like your own personal Google maps to find all things vegan in the state. From Providence to Block Island, the dining guide covers nearly every corner of the state. It’s available in print, as well as on their website free of charge. RIVA also hosts many exciting events coming up this summer, including the Vegan Chef Challenge and the Vegan Diced Competition in July.

Also worth keeping an eye on: Vegtoberfest, Sat, Sep 23 at the Trinity Beer Garden, now in its third year, it’s sold out the last couple of years, so decide early if it will make it on your menu, and VegOut, an exploration of vegetable-based gluttony. Or responsible eating, if you insist. VegOut by RI Food Fights, also in their third year, takes place in September with participating restaurants across RI.

In the second annual Vegan Chef Challenge and the Vegan Diced Competition, vegan chefs and restaurants battle to be crowned winner. The Vegan Chef Challenge runs the entire month of July and the Vegan Diced Competition will be on July 16th at 2pm at the Aspray Boat House in Warwick. You can follow the Vegan Chef Challenge on Instagram for updates as well as their website for other information on these events and more.

When people think of vegan restaurants in the state, two RI staples come to mind: Plant City and Like No Udder. I had the privilege of meeting with the owners of these two establishments and their charisma and passion for their businesses was easily recognizable. 

Kim Anderson, Plant City owner, has seen the increasing popularity of Plant City and relates it to the ongoing mission she and her staff strive to achieve. “We hope to share with the community what sustainable and compassionate food can look like in an environment that is welcoming to all.” 

With five restaurant concepts and an all-vegan food market, Plant City provides cuisines that are sure to impress. Being 100% plant-based, palm oil free, certified kosher, compostable, and wind-powered, Plant City is also the world’s first all-vegan food market. Anderson expressed her love and admiration for Plant City, the over 250 staff members, and the dedicated customers that make all the hard work worth it. “Our team is amazing. I just meet the coolest people here.”

Providing vegan frozen treats at their brick and mortar location in Providence since 2016, Like No Udder also has made history that solidifies Rhode Island’s reputation as a catalyst in the veganism movement. In 2010, before Like No Udder, owners Karen and Chris launched the world’s first vegan soft serve ice-cream truck. The ice-cream truck, named Betsy Loo, was a huge hit and kickstarted the success that is Like No Udder today. 

Karen, Like No Udder manager, is a native New Yorker and has been in the Ocean State for 25 years. She explains her commitment to her craft and her purpose for running her business: “I don’t want to just be a business, I want to be a place where people love to go and feel like they are here for a reason.” The delicious treats are one of the many things that keep people coming back for more. The shakes, specifically the cookies and cream shake, is a fan favorite, along with Like No Udder’s version of the Blizzard.

While restaurants and organizations undoubtedly have an impact on the public, sometimes it just takes one person to spark change. A dear family friend of mine, Terrie, has been a part of the vegan lifestyle for 15 years. Her dedication and passion for veganism is something that has inspired me for many years. She is a great advocate for the vegan lifestyle. 

Upon seeing something on TV exposing the cruelty involved in producing veal, she was pushed to change her diet. “I knew how veal was procured, but when I saw it right in front of my own eyes, it made me more aware of what I was eating.” The use of television, social media, and the internet has been a huge help in spreading awareness and information regarding veganism. 

Since she started her plant-based journey, Terrie has found many vegan spots in the state. One of her favorites is SoCo Vedge in Narragansett, a ready-to-order system where you order online, pick up, and go. She said she hopes that every restaurant in the state will offer vegan options.

While the days of salad-hunting to find vegan options may be behind us, there’s still plenty of room for the growth in veganism to take us to new and exciting places, and it’s exciting to realize that RI may help lead the way. So take this summer to try new vegan spots, attend exciting events, and learn about what the Ocean State has to offer!

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