Montclair is a town known for its diverse restaurants. An array of cuisine can be found driving down Bloomfield Avenue, Walnut Street or Church Street. Despite the different dishes that are offered for residents and visitors alike, there was one thing that Annette Batson noticed was missing.
“We have hundreds of restaurants here and I thought we’re not known as particularly vegan friendly or more particularly vegetarian friendly, both in the availability, the access, the marketing, everything,” she said.
Batson is the founder of Humane Montclair, a nonprofit animal advocacy organization that started last year. They work to inform people around town on how to care for animals through such activities as training your dog or creating a pollinator garden. The three pillars that the organization prides itself on is implementing change at the government level, getting Montclair certified as a pet-friendly city and community outreach.
Within its first year, the nonprofit accomplished all three.
With the help of Councilman Peter Yacobellis and Councilwoman Robin Schlager, the Montclair Township Council passed an animal welfare package that includes prohibiting the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores.
In January, its second goal was met when Montclair was certified as the second city in New Jersey to be a pet-friendly city.
For Humane Montclair, their third pillar, community outreach, is a continuous effort that is not defined by a specific goal. Their most recent outreach initiative was a collaboration with Planted Society called Plant Based for the Planet that took place in March.
“The more you delve into the issues of animal welfare, how we treat animals, you can see that it’s related to many of our existential problems, like public health, sustainability, climate change, social justice, and it goes on and on,” Batson said.
The lack of plant-based options at restaurants prompted Batson to seek out Britty Mann, the founder of Planted Society.
Mann started Planted Society in 2016 in Austin, Texas. Mann would host events around town at vegan restaurants for other vegans. She quickly ran out of restaurant spaces. With her background in supply-chain engineering in the food service and grocery industry, she decided to put her skills to use for vegans in her community.
She reached out to a local restaurant and partnered with it to make a vegan dish that ended up selling out in a couple of hours. Mann continued, encouraging other restaurants to add vegan dishes to their menus without adding additional costs to the restaurants and consumers.
“We believe that affordability is accessibility,” Mann said.
For Batson, she felt the only thing that could make Montclair restaurants better would be to add more plant-based options to the menus.
“We felt like the restaurants were missing out on an opportunity to do more business and better business because they weren’t promoting plant-based meals,” Batson said. “They weren’t catering for or attracting plant-based eaters,”
Because of this, Humane Montclair and Planted Society partnered to create a month long initiative in March with 13 local , including Egan and Sons, Coffee and Cornbread, and Faubourg.
The restaurants created a minimum of two new plant-based dishes for consumers to try throughout the month. Restaurants, like Mercado on Valley Road, offered four plant-based dishes, including crispy tofu banh mi and a lemongrass lime panna cotta for dessert.
In all, 53 plant-based dishes were created and restaurants, like World Flats, said they saw a 50% increase in revenue.
Though Planted Society has done hundreds of Plant Based for the Planet initiatives, this was their second monthlong event. Support for the initiative stretched far and wide as politicians, like Sen. Cory Booker and Mayor Sean Spiller, spoke out.
“I celebrate this initiative and the restaurants in Montclair that are serving plant-based dishes so the community can have more delicious, healthy meal choices,” Booker said. “Community efforts like this help to raise awareness about the many benefits – both personally and for our climate – of a plant-based diet.”
Spiller said: “I am thrilled to support Plant Based for the Planet. This initiative further demonstrates that Montclair is a food destination that has something for everyone. Adding more plant-based options to our diets is not only a way to improve personal health, but also helps combat climate change.”
The main reason this initiative was held was to show the link between food practices and climate change. Since the challenge ended on March 31, research that Planted Society conducted so far showed that 987,644 gallons of water was saved as a result of plant-based food being integrated into the menus. The restaurants saw major benefits, reporting a combined $76,000 in revenue from the plant-based dishes.
The initiative in Montclair didn’t stop when March ended. The Montclair Office of Environmental Affairs has committed to serving plant-based meals at all its future meetings and including diet-related sustainability information in Montclair’s next Climate Action Plan and lifestyle-related climate data on its webpage.
“It’s all about amplifying our voice and just raising consciousness and awareness,” Batson said. “We just want people to know the facts and know that they can make a difference.”