Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Interview with Vegan Food Is Everywhere

Even in Austin, it can be tough to find some vegan food on a whim. I often think of my favorite places, but sometimes it's either too late in the evening or probably really crowded. I was recently approached by Caroline Golinski, one of two minds behind Vegan Food Is Everywhere. I was interested in hearing more from her about the project, and how they are working with others across the world.

This is a great way to share and add vegan dishes in your city to help others find plant-based meals on a map. Check out the interview below!

LRJ: Tell me a little bit about Vegan Food Is Everywhere!

Caroline: Vegan Food Is Everywhere is a crowdsourced vegan food map. It's quite literally a map filled with vegan food. It has over 1,600 restaurant dishes mapped so far, all of which have been added by vegan food lovers around the world. Our goal is to map every single vegan dish at every restaurant in the world!

Here's how it works: you take a photo of your food when you go out to eat in a restaurant, and add it to the site. You type in which restaurant you're at, what the dish is called on the menu, and how to order it vegan, if it isn't already vegan. Then vegan food seekers can look at the map and see all the vegan dishes nearby.

You can use the website to spread awareness of just how easy it is to find vegan food, even at non-vegan restaurants; to keep track of your vegan food discoveries; to share secret or little-known vegan menu items with other vegans; and to discover awesome vegan options wherever you happen to be.

LRJ: What inspired you to create this site?

Caroline: We love exploring restaurants in our city, and are constantly finding new places that have great vegan food. Asian, Indian, and Mexican restaurants in particular, tend to have lots of veganizable dishes, and some restaurants even label vegan dishes on their menus. Yet, people of the non-vegan and newly-vegan varieties continue to claim that it's hard to dine out as a vegan.

So we built VFIE to shatter that myth, and show people just how easy it is to be vegan. We want to help new and aspiring vegans find their vegan footing, and stick with being vegan, even when they find themselves in an unfamiliar restaurant. This project makes it easy for vegans to share their knowledge of restaurant food, helping aspiring vegans to learn the ropes. We hope that VFIE will inspire people to go vegan, as they realize that it is within their grasp, because vegan food really is everywhere!

LRJ: What do you envision for Vegan Food Is Everywhere in the next couple of years?

Caroline: We envision an amazing website that's so fun and useful that people can't stop talking about it! We want VFIE to become a household name... in vegan households, anyway. But hey, if we were talked about in non-vegan households, that would be even better!

That will mean getting more dishes mapped on the site, which really depends on the community. There are several cities around the world (e.g. Toronto, Las Vegas) where folks have been doing an amazing job of filling in the map. We'd love to see similar gusto in the other major cities around the world. Although it might take some time, we won't settle for anything less than complete, global coverage of every vegan or veganizable restaurant item.

We will also be dreaming up and building more features for the website. Some features will be purely functional, and some will be downright fun (prizes, anyone?).

We do have other vegan websites we want to build as well, and there's potential that they could connect with VFIE down the road to form a network of websites that inspire people to go vegan.

LRJ: You mentioned on your site that you have some new features that you'll be offering. What are some of those features, and when can users expect them to roll out?

Caroline: Since launching VFIE, we've already released a bunch of new features: a mobile site, user accounts, a list of every dish you've added, a list of dishes you want to try, dish and restaurant comments, and many more.

Currently we're building a location search, so you'll be able to jump straight to a specific city or street. At the same time, we'll be releasing location specific URLs, so folks can share a direct link to their city.

There are a whole slew of other features we want to build as well. We are already planning to build a "vegan food newsfeed", collaborative editing of dishes and restaurants, a rating system, better social features, user rankings, an achievement system, and more. It will also be interesting to eventually incorporate flags for organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, and other food classifications, helping to draw members of those movements towards veganism, while simultaneously drawing vegans into those movements.

The timeline for these features is hard to pin down. Historically, we tend to launch one new feature every 2–4 weeks. We operate on a shoestring budget, with just one developer working on the site who does all of the design and programming, so it's difficult to predict when the new features will be rolling out. We also listen to the community for new feature ideas, and so timeline and priorities are frequently adjusted based on the feedback we're getting.

LRJ: How many people are on the VFIE team?

Caroline: As far as the programming and administration of the site, there are just two of us. Rob does the design and programming, and I handle the communications and marketing. But we do want to stress that this is a community project; we are just the stewards. We consider the VFIE team to consist of everybody who has ever contributed anything to VFIE.

LRJ: What are some of the top cities where you see activity for VFIE?

Caroline: The most active city changes every week, as new people are constantly discovering the website and excitedly mapping their cities. Right now I think the top cities are Toronto, Canada; Los Angeles, CA; Washington, DC; Las Vegas, NV; Galway, Ireland; and Melbourne, Australia.

LRJ: How can vegans around the world help build the map?

Caroline: Add dishes to Vegan Food Is Everywhere every time you go out to eat. Add those food photos from your last vacation. Add those dishes that you've been posting on Twitter and Instagram. Then share the website with everyone you know. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, any forums you frequent, and your local vegan group's site.

If you have a mobile phone, you can install our website as a web app so that you'll remember to use it when you're dining out; instructions for how to do this are on our Facebook page.

We can build all kinds of fancy new features, but ultimately it's the community who we are counting on to take this site, fill it with awesome vegan food, and shout it from the rooftops.

Editorial note: I'm excited to help put more vegan dishes on the map of Austin. We're lucky to have a vegan-friendly city and I know there are lots of dishes that I even I don't know about yet. Check out the Vegan Food Is Everywhere site and see if you have any dishes you would like to add.

Kelsey is a passionate vegan living in Houston, Texas, spreading the word about the benefits of eating a healthy, plant-based diet. She's also a minimalist enthusiast, a self-proclaimed financial guru of her household, and founder of The Little Red Journal.

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