The news has leek-ed out and it’s official: The third annual SOMD Vegan Restaurant Week will be held Nov 1 to 7.

A total of eight restaurants — four each in Calvert and St. Mary’s counties — will prepare specially made vegan dishes.

The event is the brainchild of Leonardtown resident Alissa Kircher, who is a volunteer for the Agriculture Fairness Alliance, a nonprofit that is lobbying for policies and programs that help farmers transition to climate-smart, lucrative crop production that is healthier and equitable for all.

In an email, Kircher said that according to The Good Food Institute that as of April 2021, the U.S. plant-based foods market is worth $7 billion. Meanwhile, plant-based food sales increased 43% over the last two years, which is more than two times as fast than overall food sales.

“It only makes sense for Southern Maryland restaurants to take advantage of this growing consumer demand,” she said.

Kircher, who is also a contributor to www.VisitLeonardtownMD.com’s SOMD Vegan and Healthy Living pages, answered a few questions from Southern Maryland News about the event.

Southern Maryland News: How excited are you to do this event for another year?

Alissa Kircher: I’m thrilled that several restaurants are eager to participate again, especially during an ongoing pandemic. I know it continues to be a tough time for everyone, so this event provides a great opportunity for all diners to enjoy new dishes while supporting local businesses in Southern Maryland.

SMN: Tell me a bit about the participating restaurants?

AK: I changed it up a bit. I invited the community to dictate which restaurants they wanted to support during this event. Based on a significant amount of feedback, I only reached out to those restaurants that were specifically requested in St. Mary’s and Calvert Counties. My reasoning was to help highlight the ever-growing local demand for healthier, more climate-friendly, animal-free dining options. To create change and progress in this space requires a supportive group of voices and actions. Even though I organize the Vegan Restaurant Week, it requires a community effort to make it happen. And to make it happen successfully.

SMN: Does someone have to be vegan to enjoy this event?

AK: Not at all. In fact, while this is an opportunity for local vegans to enjoy great new dishes, it’s just as much, if not more, of an opportunity for all diners to try food that supports healthier diets, combats climate change and world hunger, preserves natural resources, and extends compassion to all living beings. While local vegan eaters certainly want to see more options at restaurants, I want just as much to see the whole community embrace dining options that help improve the American food system. When the USDA recommends that 50% of our diet consist of fruits and vegetables, yet less than 3% of their spending via farm programs in 2020 supported fruit and vegetable production, there is clearly an imbalance that needs to be rectified. SOMD Vegan Restaurant Week is just one example where we can directly contribute to a win-win food system.

SMN: What should people know about vegan meals?

AK: People need to know — particularly the skeptics — that animal-free food is delicious, satisfying and extremely versatile. I never run out of ideas for meals; rather there simply aren’t enough hours in my lifetime to make and create everything that’s possible especially in 2021. The volume of plant-based meats, cheeses, eggs, dairy and seafood is hard to keep up with. Plus, there are so many myths surrounding vegan food, especially regarding availability and affordability, just to name a couple, so I’m always eager to provide budget-friendly meal ideas and shopping recommendations.

SMN: Why should people take part in this event?

AK: It’s more like, why shouldn’t they? And let’s face it, great food is such a motivator. We’re drawn to it via social interactions, cultural affiliations, traditions, you name it. It’s essentially the center of everything. So why not go enjoy some great food with friends, family, or even while taking some time for yourself — and know that by doing so, you’re spreading a little kindness. The days of veganism being looked down upon are over so we need to stop thinking that it’s radical and just enjoy delicious food while embracing the fact that we’re contributing to a better planet with each animal-free bite.

Twitter: @MichaelSoMdNews

Twitter: @MichaelSoMdNews