If you’re looking to veganize your Jewish food experience in the District of Columbia, things just keep getting easier.
The latest example: Fare Well, a brand new diner that boasts a menu with classic Jewish staples like challah French toast and a bagel platter with cream “cheese” and cured carrot “lox.”
The restaurant is the creation of Doron Petersan, who is known in DC for creating the award-winning Sticky Fingers Bakery and nationally for twice winning Food Network’s Cupcake Wars with vegan cupcakes.
Inspired by the Jewish and Italian diners she grew up with in Queens, New York, the Fare Well menu juxtaposes the potato knish with fettuccini mushroom scampi.
“Growing up in New York and in Queens, food [cultures] overlap all the time,” Petersan says.
Although Petersan’s Jewish and Italian background has played a major role in her mission to make vegan food mainstream, the Fare Well menu isn’t limited to those cuisines. It features an incredible assortment of dishes: southern fried seitan and waffles, western omelets (breakfast is served all day), chilaquiles, buffalo cauliflower dip, Greek salad with tofu feta and red wine vinaigrette, pierogi, truffled pot pies, cookie dough milkshakes and Jenny’s Big Boy (a brownie with hot fudge, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream). The list goes on.
“When it becomes a choice for you to go out to dinner or breakfast, we want to be an option right there along with every other restaurant,” says Petersan. Not because you are someone who is trying to adhere to a vegan diet, but “because the food is absolutely delicious.”
Two months into Fare Well’s grand opening, eating without animal products appears to be well on its way to the mainstream of DC’s food scene.
“The response has been overwhelming,” says Petersan. “The first two weeks, we couldn’t make food fast enough.”
Personally, as a vegan, witnessing the rise of animal-free eating into the mainstream has been incredible. As a Jewish vegan, it’s been extra special. As I learn more about veganism and Judaism, I see how the values behind these two identities are so intertwined.
In fact, you don’t have to read too far into the Torah before arriving at this verse: “And God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit—to you it shall be for food’” (Genesis 1:29).
It’s this exact verse that convinced Jeffrey Cohan, executive director of Jewish Veg, and his wife, to become vegetarians. Upon learning of the verse at shul one day, says Cohan, “My wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘It looks like we’re supposed to be vegetarian.’”
Perhaps the most significant connection between vegetarianism and Judaism is tza’ar ba’alei chayim, a Talmudic mandate based on teachings from the Torah that bans humans from inflicting unnecessary pain on animals.
According to Cohan, the vast majority of kosher meat companies are raised on factory farms. Factory farming is the dominant form of animal agriculture in the US (and globally), and animals are subjected to cruel treatment, including extreme confinement.
“With the exception of some tiny, tiny boutique companies, none of the kosher meat companies raise their own animals. They all buy their animals from the same operations and factory farms that secular meat companies get their meat from,” says Cohan. “There’s no disputing that, in modern animal agriculture, tza’ar ba’alei chayim is being absolutely desecrated.”
Therefore, Cohan says, if the animal was subjected to cruelty prior to arriving at the slaughterhouse—even if it was slaughtered according to kosher law—this treatment violates a basic tenet of Judaism. Because of this connection, says Cohan, several top rabbis across the denominational spectrum are vegetarian and vegan. And the list keeps growing.
As a vegan Jew, I can’t help but look at all of the new vegan restaurants and food options in this context. I’ve previously covered the delicious ways to put together a complete multi-course vegan Rosh Hashanah dinner and make vegan lox for your Yom Kippur break-fast, as well as how Shouk, another new restaurant, is bringing the taste and feel of Israeli and Middle Eastern markets to downtown DC.
But even more than eating delicious animal-free food, I am proud to be a vegan Jew because I feel like I am doing my part in tikkun olam (repairing the world). I am grateful that I can eat delicious food while adhering to my core values.
Top photo: Fare Well’s cashew cheddar, garlic and onion potato pierogi with sauerkraut, sour cream and sautéed seasonal greens. Would you believe they’re vegan?! (All photos courtesy of Fare Well.)