Over the past decade, grocery store chains have expanded their organic food sections from a few shelves into entire departments. Farmers’ markets filled with fresh local produce have become a must-have resource for communities nationwide. And meatless cookbooks are making more frequent appearances on the national bestseller lists. It’s clear that for a growing number of Americans, “vegging out” is a good thing.
Although regional cuisine in the Ohio Valley has not traditionally been very vegetarian-friendly, the Wheeling area hosts a thriving community of herbivores. The Ohio Valley Vegetarians and Vegans group has been active since July 2009 and currently boasts over 170 members. Organized through the online social hub Meetup.com, the group exists not just for vegetarians and vegans in the Wheeling area, but for anyone wishing to add more plant-based foods to their diet. Membership is free, and members may participate in as many or as few group activities as they wish.
The organization has hosted free Wheeling showings of a variety of acclaimed diet and nutrition-related films, including “Forks over Knives,” “PlanEat,” and “Food, Inc.” In addition, the group helps publicize health, animal welfare, and environmental events in the Ohio Valley that are not hosted by the organization, but which may be of interest to its supporters.
Partnering with the hunger awareness organization A Well-Fed World, they have made an annual event of celebrating National Peanut Butter & Jelly Day on April 2. During this lighthearted event, group members hand out free PB&J sandwiches and other sustainable snacks to the public, as well as information on how choosing plant-based lunches over typical fast food meals helps conserve energy, water, and carbon emissions. This year’s event will be held in the auditorium of the Ohio County Public Library at 5:30 p.m. and will culminate in a free showing of the documentary “Chow Down.”
Increasingly, the Ohio Valley Vegetarians and Vegans have been focusing upon holding Meetups at Wheeling-based restaurants. Locally owned restaurants in particular have been eager to expand their menus to accommodate a variety of dietary preferences, the group’s members have been happy to discover. Having monthly lunches at local eateries not only confirms the market for meat-free options, but it also highlights the diversity of food options in Wheeling. Wheeling residents are far from a monolithic group; the varied tastes and perspectives we each bring to the table help keep ours a vibrant and relevant place to be. The Ohio Valley Vegetarians and Vegans are yet another example of the diversity that can be found throughout the Friendly City.
For more information on the Ohio Valley Vegetarians and Vegans, visit www.meetup.com/WheelingVeg.