Business Opinion Reader Contributed

Op-Ed: Plant-Based Flora’s Transition to Chicken Restaurant is a Step in the Wrong Direction

Flora will be transforming to a new concept over the next several weeks. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

West Hartford resident Julia Tannenbaum, shares her thoughts about the transition of Flora.

By Julia Tannenbaum

It was recently announced that Blue Back Square’s only plant-based restaurant Flora will soon be transitioning to Birdie Lounge, a retro, chicken-centric restaurant similar to owner KC Ward’s Newington-based Rooster Co. Although Flora has been a popular destination for vegans and non-vegans alike, Ward felt that the space had more potential as a different concept than its current primarily plant-based one.

But here’s the thing: “plant-based” is more than just a concept, and it is also more than a trendy diet among the likes of keto and paleo. It is an approach to eating that an ever-growing number of people are adopting in an effort to reduce their impact on the environment and the suffering of non-human animals. In the midst of a climate crisis, in which animal agriculture is a top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, it would seem that a socially conscious town like West Hartford should be looking to increase its number of plant-based restaurants, not decrease them from one to none.

On an individual level, adopting a plant-based diet is one of the biggest ways to lower your carbon footprint (along with not flying on airplanes and buying less). Animal agriculture accounts for an estimated 15% of total global greenhouse gas emissions and is the leading contributor to deforestation, with six-billion trees being cleared annually for cattle grazing alone. Many studies have cited a global shift to a plant-based diet as being necessary for keeping planetary warming below 2 degrees Celsius, and a 2023 University of Oxford study into the environmental cost of foods found that the dietary impacts of vegans were a third of those who regularly ate meat.

In our modern-day society, where the majority of us have ample access to plant-based foods and meat alternatives, and where a plant-based diet has been proven time again to be as healthy or – in many cases – healthier than a meat-heavy one, it is entirely unnecessary to farm, exploit, and slaughter billions of animals. Beyond that, it is nonsensical to perpetuate a system that is exacerbating the rapid warming of the planet by pumping copious amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the air, and is poisoning the water and air of communities (often poor and of color) who live near factory farms and slaughterhouses.

Of course, the biggest victims of our food system – and the ones who are too often overlooked – are the animals. Every year, upwards of 80 billion land animals are killed for food, a number that jumps to a staggering 1-2.7 trillion when you include fish. An estimated 70 billion of that former group are chickens, the animal whose dismembered body parts will take center stage on Birdie Lounge’s menu. An estimated 99.9% of broiler (meat) chickens are factory farmed in the United States and live out their entire lives in ammonia-ridden barns packed with tens of thousands of birds. Many die prematurely from starvation, dehydration, or organ failure, and the “survivors” are slaughtered around six weeks old, either by having their throats slit or being gassed to death.

Also gracing the Birdie Lounge menu will be foie gras, or fatty duck liver, a specialty food product that’s process involves shoving foot-long tubes down the throats of ducks and geese and pumping their stomachs with food until their livers have enlarged to 10 times normal size. Foie gras is extremely cruel and highly controversial, and has been banned in several countries as well as two American states.

Cows and pigs aren’t off the hook either; Ward has teased meatballs and pork belly as being “hit” dishes at his newest eatery. Approximately 1.4 billion pigs are slaughtered annually at six months old, while 330 million cows will have their throats slit between 14 and 20 months (with the exceptions of dairy cows, who are subjected to five to seven years of exploitation before being shipped off to slaughter, and veal calves, by-products of dairy who are bolt gunned to death at 18 weeks).

While Flora was not without its faults – the “Viable Fauna Menu” consisting of a half-dozen meat dishes was certainly a questionable choice for a restaurant touting itself as “plant-based” – it was, ultimately, an example of how delicious and elegant vegan food can be. It was a place where vegans could eat comfortably, without concern of cross-contamination or being surrounded by meat, and introduce non-vegan friends and family to the wonderful world of plants. It was a step in the right direction, for the environment, the animals, and West Hartford, a town which asserts on its website its commitment to sustainability and mission to “lead by example.”

“We’re always thinking, ‘How can we be better tomorrow than we are today?’” says Ward in an interview with CT Insider. And I agree that this is a goal that we all, collectively and as individuals, should aspire for. Only, instead of “better” manifesting as opportunities for economic growth that come at the expense of the planet and billions of sentient animals, what if we instead worked on bettering ourselves to be kinder, smarter, and more conscious of our impact on the natural world, and bettering our societies to be greener and more inclusive? What if instead of continuing down the path we are currently on toward ecological collapse, we paved a new path toward a better future for all of us? This future is very possible, and it can begin quite simply with what we put on our plates.

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  • Thanks for writing this! Flora was definitely a unique restaurant in the area, offering a refuge for vegans and vegan-curious. Instead of focusing on improving the menu to better serve this niche and growing market, entering into competition with all the meat-centric restaurants is disappointing. The turn-table concept and changes to atmosphere feels like a gimmick. With recent closings of other vegan establishments, it does appear that cost increases and the lingering covid-effect (people choosing to stay in to avoid crowds) have been putting pressure on restaurant owners.

    I’m vegan for a lot of reasons (all those stated above), but would highlight the impact on health was a surprise. I lost weight, feel better, and for a time became a better runner than I’d been in a decade, actually winning some races. I say this not to boast but to point out the “protein deficiency” argument is garbage.

    I get that some people simply can’t move to an entirely plant-based diet – nut or gluten allergies make things much more challenging. Switching to meat-light, however, also still has its advantages.

    Hartford had their first vegan cook-out this summer, where I learned a number of vegan chefs are on instagram and do only pop-up events. Zone Ziyonne for instance offers a different menu of delicious items two Sundays a month at The Russell Grab n Go location just over the West Hartford border on New Britain Ave.

    So there are other options and hopefully those continue to grow. It feels good to support local businesses that align with our beliefs instead of ordering the one thing on an otherwise meat and dairy menu that aligns with our diet.

  • Shoutout to G-Monkey, a delicious vegan restaurant at 625 New Park Ave in West Hartford! The last few times I’ve been there, the line was out the door. Their business will only be growing now that Flora is done.

  • Bravo 👏🏻
    As a long time vegan (27+), I would go to flora but had reservations about it due the offensive tagline “as vegan as you want to be”. Im not surprised by this. True, a vegan restaurant wont survive BBS rents but I agree with the author on all counts. West Hartford tries to be a progressive urban-suburban town. We need to do better.

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