BENNINGTON -- October, sometimes known as the month that kicks off hunting season, is also dedicated to vegetarian awareness.
While hunters have been feeding their families with deer and other red meat for centuries, vegetarian practices were officially celebrated by the North American Vegetarian Society beginning in 1977.
The dietary practice is intended as a positive way to introduce alternative food choices and improve overall health and well-being.
The busy season for many local restaurants, October can be a good time to try new hearty vegetable soups and sandwiches as well as locally grown produce.
Vegetarian-friendly menu items are available at most restaurants. Locally, vegetarian food options can be found at South Street Cafe, the Blue Benn Diner, Spice and Nice and others.
Lauren and Matt Starkie Kreuder purchased the busy South Street Cafe about five years ago and have expanded the vegetarian-friendly menu with items like their hummus sandwich served with tomato and onion, and popular ‘morning glory bread,' made with carrots, apples, coconut, walnuts and raisins.
"We get questions about vegetarian items all the time," said Lauren, who pays attention when buying foods, in an attempt to purchase ones that are not genetically modified.
October is also Non-GMO month, although the House of Representatives passed GMO labeling law H.112 this year, the Senate isn't expected to take up the bill until sometime in January, according to VPIRG.
"I wish that we had required labeling," said Lauren, noting that the staff at South Street still keep things fairly simple, as they approach the 20th anniversary of the cafe's beginnings.
"It used to be more of a tea and scones type of place," said Lauren.
A lifelong vegetarian, Lauren grew up watching her parents not eat meat, and her two children are following in her footsteps.
"People often worry that vegetarians won't be getting a balanced diet, but it's actually fairly easy if you pay attention."
A safe bet for the traveling vegetarian? One of their homemade soups, served with a slice of fresh bread.
"Most of our soups have beans or legumes in them, so you've got some good proteins," said Lauren, while the bread adds a source of grain. Try the Spicy African stew, served every Tuesday, or a cup of organic spicy hot apple cider made from local home-pressed fresh apples.
Dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, dried fruits and beans are all good sources of iron, according to the North American Vegetarian Society. Other sources include tofu (a bean curd), soy milk, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
If you can't get a spot at a corner sofa, pull up a chair to the oversize table or find a seat outside.
Down the road, the Blue Benn Diner located at 314 North St., opened for business in 1948, and has been serving vegetarian meals since 1974, when Sonny and Marylou Monroe took over the converted railroad dining car.
With a full menu and hand-written additions lining the walls, more choices are offered now than ever, according to Sharon Gavin, who started working with the Monroe family thirty years ago.
"The students would come in and a high percentage of them were veggies," said Gavin, remembering a time in the 1980s when Bennington College didn't offer vegetarian options.
"They would ask us for things and if we didn't know we'd ask them to bring in a recipe," said Gavin. "Then if we liked it, we'd change it around and make it our own."
Heidi Tilley, who has worked at the diner for the past 16 years, estimates that as many as 25 percent of the meals served there today are vegetarian.
Neither Tilley nor Gavin limit themselves to green eating, but they regularly enjoy vegetarian meals at the Blue Benn.
Veggie lasagna, veggie burgers, tofu scramble, black bean omelettes, and salads with their signature Tahini dressing are all favorites, according to Tilley. As well as their signature nut burger.
Ounce per ounce, the protein content of nuts is comparable to meat, according to the North American Vegetarian Society.
"We get asked for our recipies all the time," said Tilley.
But if Rachel Ray has a hard time getting them, it might be a long wait.
"She called one day and wanted the recipe to our crunch berry pancakes," said head line cook Bill Walsh. Eventually the Food Network host was let in on the secret, which involves raspberries and granola.
"Right now it's the pumpkin pancakes that everybody wants," said Walsh, who sometimes makes pumpkin waffles ahead of time for a busy Saturday.
A simple version of the pumpkin recipe from the diner:
Take any basic pancake batter and make extra thin - about 2 quarts.
Add 1 cup, pumpkin puree.
Add 3 Tbsp., pumpkin pie spice (equal parts cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice).
Stir vigorously while adding more batter to thicken.
For apple crisp pancakes you can make at home:
Add apple pie filling to basic pancake batter to taste. After pancakes are made, top with brown sugar and walnuts. Heat under the broiler until sugar begins to dissolve.
If ingredients run short, make a trip to Spice and Nice, located at 223 North St., which has been offering organic produce and supplements to residents of Bennington for more than thirty years.
The oldest natural food store in Vermont, according to staff, the grocery caters in large part to vegetarians but also sells local meats, cheeses and artisan breads.
"People always tell me [eating a vegetarian diet] keeps them away from the doctors and just makes them feel better," said Logan Snow, a store manager.
Snow, 24, has been a vegetarian herself for ten years, and stocks up on non-GMO and organic supplements for the store.
Apart from wanting to support local business, "people also come here to get things they can't anywhere else. We special-order constantly."
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