Robin Fetter had considered herself a “lazy vegetarian” since the age of 13. Until, that is, a few months after her wedding in 2008, when an episode of Morgan Spurlock’s “30 Days” changed her diet (and mindset) forever.
In the episode, a hunter from North Carolina was tasked with spending 30 days with a vegan family in Los Angeles. In one scene, the hunter teamed up with an animal rescuer to save a baby calf left for dead on the side of the road by a dairy farm. Meanwhile, another scene showed farm workers pulling baby calves onto a truck by their tails.
“I think the combo of those two moments on the show really made me rethink my choices,” Fetter said. “Here I was not eating any meat and thinking I was doing so much good. But seeing the stuff that occurs on a dairy farm, I felt like a hypocrite.”
When her husband came home from work, Fetter had him watch the episode. “The first thing he said was, ‘I can do anything for 30 days!’” Their 30-day vegan experiment turned into 12 years (and counting).
Three years after seeing that episode, Fetter started a blog, The Real Vegan Housewife, where she cooked her way through Rip Esselstyn’s popular plant-based diet book, The Engine 2 Diet. The leader of the Charlottesville Whole Foods’ Healthy Eating group, where Fetter learned about Esselstyn, wrote to the author with a link to Fetter’s blog.
“I guess Rip was pretty pleased and shared it with his followers,” she says. “My blog took off.” Even well after she’d finished cooking her way through the book, she continued to receive emails (and reality TV show offers!). That was enough evidence to keep her motivated, and in 2013 she launched the Charlottesville Veg Parents Network, to help vegan (and vegetarian) families find local resources, from vegan-friendly playdate locations and doctors to the best vegan restaurants for families with small kids.
She’s been a recipe tester and contributing writer for various vegan books and magazines and a speaker at national vegan conferences and on radio shows, and through her blog and the Charlottesville Vegans Facebook group, continues to serve as a resource in our local community.
Speaking of which, Fetter is quick to defend Charlottesville as a vegan-friendly city, despite having only one truly vegan restaurant.
“Many of my friends who visit me from out of town are often impressed with how easy it is to eat a memorable vegan meal here that goes well beyond a mere veggie burger and hummus plate,” Fetter says. But there’s still room for improvement.
“If I had a chance to reach out and say something to the local chefs and restaurant owners in the area, it would be to make a better effort to mark which items on the menu are vegan or can be made vegan by request,” she says. And she has advice for local vegans, too.
“Just show up!” she says. “The more visible vegans are at these establishments, the more these places will take notice. When they need to change up a menu or do a daily special, they’ll be more inclined to do so with the local vegan community in mind.”
Try, try vegan
Robin Fetter says it’s not difficult to eat vegan in Charlottesville—you just have to know where to look. Here’s a list of (some of) her favorite local dishes.
Iron Paffles and Coffee
I am a sucker for the vegan paffle specials, which change every week. I come in here weekly just so I don’t miss out on any of Kathryn’s new creations.
Now and Zen
You can’t lose with the tofu balls, Galapagos roll, or vegan ramen. Also the tempura is vegan, so make sure you load up on any tempura veggies on the menu.
Thai Cuisine and Noodle House
If you have room, they offer an amazing mango sticky rice and Thai coconut pudding that is to die for.
Doma Korean Kitchen
My personal faves are the Tteokbokki (rice cake skewers covered in gochujang sauce), Goguma Twigim (fried sweet potato rounds with a sweet sauce), and Bibimbap with tofu (ask for no egg and it’s vegan!).
I cannot leave this place without ordering the vegan totchos with cashew cheese—it’s addictive!
My husband would kill me if I didn’t mention how freakin’ amazing the tofu banh mi is.
Pearl Island Catering
My go-to has always been the Creole Bean Platter that comes with rice and pigeon peas, fried plantains, and a really pretty-looking kale salad and a side of “pikliz.”
They have a vegetarian plate that you can request a vegan version of, and it is amazing! Also I cannot express how much I love the Koz Patlican appetizer.
Citizen Burger Bar
I always order the house vegan burger with random toppings, and usually pair it with the truffle fries (omit the cheese). I also like the grilled shishito peppers appetizer (omit the ranch dressing).
Every summer they have chili mango sorbet and cucumber mint. I get a small scoop of each and eat them together like it was a match made in heaven all along.
Nearly all of the bagels are vegan (except for the wheat bagels). My go-to is hummus, sprouts, tomato, cucumber, hot pepper spread on an everything bagel. It’s also worth mentioning that the potato salad, shoepeg corn salad, and tabouli salad are all vegan.