City Desk

Three Green Stars Awards: COK Rewards Its Program Partners

You may not believe this, but I love a good vegetarian dish. I regularly order them—and not just to see how much care a kitchen puts into these notoriously neglected plates. Sometimes I order them because I want a break from meat. Sometimes I do it as a symbolic acknowledgment of the environmental problems that livestock farming can cause. But I rarely order them because of some contest like the VegDC.com's Three Green Stars

The Green Stars were handed out last month by Compassion Over Killing (COK), a D.C.-based animal protection group. Some of the winners include Java Green (Best Vegetarian Restaurant), Amsterdam Falafelshop (Best Cheap Vegan Eats), Asylum (Best Vegan Brunch), Sticky Fingers Bakery (Best Vegan Dessert), and Meskerem (Best Ethiopian).  I'll be the first to admit that I've had quality meals at a few of these places, notably Java Green (which manages to impart some nice flavor to its mock meats) and the Falafelshop.

But here's my issue: At least two of the Green Stars winners—Java Green and Asylum—have worked with COK as part of the non-profit's Restaurant Outreach Program. Here's the pertinent paragraph from the ROP page:

COK also works with restaurants to add separate vegan menus—normally including mock meats and vegan soy cheeses—to their selections. Several restaurants, such as Washington Deli, Pumpernickel’s Bagelry, Asylum, and Big Belly Deli now offer vegan menus as a result of working with COK, and Java Green in downtown D.C. reopened as an all-vegetarian (nearly vegan) restaurant!

The Washington Post reported that more than 1,000 people voted in this year's Green Stars contest. It gives no mention whether COK employees and members—folks, in other words, who could possibly reward Restaurant Outreach Program graduates—were allowed to vote. I have sent an e-mail into COK for clarification.

At the very least, the contest gives the impression of rewarding those restaurants that take part in the outreach program, which is fine, I guess, depending on whether the eateries had to pay COK for the program assistance. COK needs to acknowledge such a relationship in its Three Green Stars press release, which it didn't (at least the one I got), and people need to know that there's the potential for favoritism in this contest.

More as I hear it from COK.

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  • dee

    Big deal... so they help places have more veggie meals, and as a result they become veg-friendly restaurants people vote for.

  • Tim Carman

    Dee,

    What if the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which gives out Oscars, helped filmmakers make their pictures better and then voted to give those flicks the top awards. Would that bother you?

    -Tim

  • dee

    As a vegan who knows many other vegans (who were not affiliated with COK) who voted in their 3 green stars, I'm pretty confident that taste was the major factor here, not who COK helped out. I think Asylum's brunch beats out the brunches of eateries owned by vegans; and Java Green is a favorite even amongst non-vegs (many don't know their "meat" isn't!).

    COK goes to as many local eateries as they can and tries to convince all of them to carry vegan food- they've even been encouraging Dunkin' Donuts to carry soymilk.

  • http://www.noeggs.com Gary

    I understand the concern. But is it possible that people voted for these restaurants in part because of their outreach activities, including those with COK?

    Tim, I understand your point, too. If COK was about a million times bigger and for-profit, its employees were raking in big bucks, and the group did not have a great reputation for tireless and dedicated activism, it would be more of a concern.

    Maybe there could be a new rule: Winners cannot be on the slate the following year, at least in the categories in which they won.

  • http://www.noeggs.com Gary

    Just to clarify my first paragraph.... What I mean is that non-COK restaurant patrons may like that the fact that a restaurant not only serves great food but also engages in charity functions that help animals.

    I also agree with Dee's point. I know COK has done area outreach that extends well beyond the green star winners.

  • VeggieTart

    Tim, COK has worked with the restaurants to provide delicious vegan meals, and the restaurants are rewarded with publicity. More publicity means more people eat there. When a group of people goes out to eat, if one or more is vegan, that means the place they go has to have at least one or two vegan options. If it doesn't, restaurants lose that group's business.

    COK has fewer than 10 employees (and no, I'm not one of them), so whether or not they voted for the winning restaurants is immaterial. The Green Stars program is relatively new, so hopefully they can refine the program in future contests.

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