GATOR GUIDE: Vegan + Vegetarian Friendly Spots in Gainesville

I’ve recently made the transition to a meat free diet, and while it came with plenty of benefits, I can admit that I’ve whined about the lack of convienence. Gone were my days of a habitual trip to the drive through for nuggets. What was I supposed to eat at restaurants? Water and side salad?

Okay, I’m exagerrating. I’m still grieiving my loss of nuggets. Either way, I adapted pretty quickly. I’ve compiled a list of my favorite vegan and vegetarian friendly spots in Gainesville, FL. Whether you’re a local resident or just visiting for the weekend, these restaurants were chosen based on variety, price, and availability to satifsy even the pickiest of vegetarians.

Honorable Mention: Union Street Farmer’s Market
Before I get into the establishments up and running 7 days a week, I wanted to tip my hat towards the Farmer’s Market in Bo Diddley Plaza. Every Wednesday from 4-7, the plaza is filled with vendors selling everything from vegan tacos to fresh produce. While the market leans pricey, especially when I’m shelling out $6 for a small but fresh jar of pecan butter, it’s well worth treating myself at least once a month to fresh, locally made food that caters to every diet.

For the Cafe Lover: Karma Cream
Karma Cream isn’t just vegan friendly, it’s vegan oriented. It derives its name from their organic dairy and vegan ice cream, but they’re also a fantastic place to hang out and get work done while eating your typical baked goods and coffee.

For Diner People: East End Eatery
East End Eatery is the kind of place you don’t expect to wow you from the outside. The white and light blue facade is worn and dated, but the second you step in you feel like you’re in any modern cafe with a laidback feel. East End Eatery not only offers tofu eggs and vegan cheese as a substitute, but I was also asked upfront if I wanted my Huevos Rancheros with them or not. I hate asking for substitutions and vegan/vegetarian options due to some weird embarassment, so it’s nice when a place treats the question as common as “Would you like fries with that?”. They also focus on offering delicious gluten-free options, like their blueberry waffles. Their drinks are standard fare for casual American dining, but they do offer almond and soy milk. I’m hoping for the oat milk wave to reach them soon. Also, their patio (and staff) is very dog friendly and they’ll bring your furry pal a bowl of water.

For Aesthetic Kings and Queens: Vale Food Co.
Ever heard that a healthy plate is a colorful one? While I can’t verify the health benefits of putting sunflower seed butter and dark chocolate chips on your acai bowl, it’s definitely pleasing to the eye. Vale specializes in acai bowls, dragonfruit bowls, poke bowls, and variations on nut and avocado toasts. It’s the kind of food I’ve dubbed “vegetarian 101” (sans poke), and it’s a main staple of my diet. They also offer acai and dragonfruit smoothies, if you’re like me and try to get all your nutrients from liquified meals because you like straws a little too much. Don’t worry, I use reusables ones.

For Build-Your-Own Fanatics: Anybody that eats out more than twice a year knows about some place that’s “like Chipotle, but _____”. Build-Your-Own Meal restaurants have been exploding in popularity for a while, and Bolay is my go-to “like Chipotle, but not awful for you”. Bolay does the assembly line with superfoods like kale salad and vegan friendly options like miso glazed tofu. You can customize a small, large, or kids “bol”, or order a premade “Chef’s bol”. Bonus point for the Vegan Bol already on that list. Unfortunately, they only offer tofu as of right now, and as ridiculously good as it is, it would be nice to have an extra option like a seasoned black bean tempeh.

This is Your Home

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about climate change. I used to be the type of person that dreaded going outside, loved meat and long car rides, and didn’t care about recycling. I never denied the science behind climate change, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it either.
When I was about 8, my elementary school started introducing environmental awareness into the cirriculum. I remember it focusing on water waste. I’m fuzzy on the facts, but all I know is that they told a group of wide-eyed 3rd graders that the amount of fresh water on the planet was running out and we were all going to die, or something. Truthfully, I don’t remember the exact facts or outcomes because telling 8 year olds that they’re going to die isn’t an effective call to action. It’s too much to proccess. Besides, what were we supposed to do? How are children meant to clean up the messes of giants?
Well, I’m trying. Two changes down, plenty to go.
Anyone who knows me knows I mention that I’m Argentinian once every hour. That means I come from a culture of red meat lovers. My dad loves to host weekly dinners with a large spread of chorizo, carne, and morcillo served to 10-15 guests. It’s a beautiful tradition in itself, but it also subconciously taught me that meals must be built around meat. That attitude is hurting us and the planet.
Greenpeace says that the livestock industry “generates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all cars, trucks and automobiles combined.” It’s also led to the decimation of areas of natural carbon absorption, like forests. The mass production of meat isn’t just bad for our planet though. Meat heavy diets increase the risk of obesity, cancer, and heart disease. The food used to feed livestock could feed plenty of starving people. I had the pleasure of speaking with Plamena Slavcheva, Product Manager at The Darwin Challenge. The Darwin Challenge is an app that lets you log your meatless days, and shows you the impact of each meatless day on yourself, other people and animals, and the planet. She asked me what features I like about the app. I told her that as much as we don’t like to admit it, it’s easier to do things when they feel beneficial to us. The app does a great job of emphasizes the personal benefits of meatless days. In the “Loving myself” section of the app, it highlights that cutting out meat for just one day adds 93 cents to your wallet and 45 minutes to your lifespan.
I always felt like vegetarians were asking me to drop meat cold turkey (excuse the pun). I started slowly, and now I treat meat the way we should all treat alcohol or dessert. Something special to be enjoyed in moderation. I’ve gone from chicken nuggets almost ever meal to having chicken twice in the past few months and barely noticing.
I’m not going to pretend moderation is something I’m an expert at. Trying to contribute to the health of planet made me realize how much of my life I live in excess. I cope in extremes. I try to fix a bad day by getting in my car and driving until I don’t know where I am. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of escapism or boredom. Sometimes I just don’t want to go home. No matter what, driving aimlessly is not good for the planet.
Walking is good for your body (and your wallet, if you use apps like Sweatcoin or Walgreens Balance Rewards). Biking is even better, and you look super cool in a Hello Kitty helmet. Public transit is one big carpool, and it’s nice to let go of the wheel sometimes and let yourself relax for a while. Plus, if you’re like me and constantly miss your stop, you can frame it as “exploring your city”.
I wonder sometimes if just partaking in outdoor activities would’ve curbed that urge to drive when I needed to deal with my problems. I’ve defintely reached for my keys less since I’ve started gardening and exploring Gainesville with my dog, on foot.
I know I could be doing more. My plastic use is embarassing, and I’m a bit of a shower and power hog. There are people who are sustainable to the max. I never even thought I’d be here though. Knowing I can readjust a little bit at a time gives me hope when my life or my planet feels hopeless.
The more I hear about the scale of climate change and it’s effects on humanity, the more I feel like I’m 8 years old again. I’m scared and I feel too small to fix such a big world. I can’t turn the tides of entire populations. I’m just one person. However, the lesson I continue to learn in life is that you can’t approach every problem with an all or nothing attitude. You can’t refuse to change a little because you feel like it won’t change a lot. There are steps that you can take today to affect the world in real time, and for one small person, that’s pretty damn powerful.

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