Greener Than Thou

The kid at the Italian market across the street scoffed when we told him we were going to Grezzo, the city’s first full-on vegan raw-food restaurant, located incongruously in the North End. The eatery, opened by raw-food guru Alissa Cohen, specializes in fare that can only be described using quotation marks. Everything is made from organic, non-animal-derived ingredients, none of which are ever heated above 112 degrees, to preserve their "life force," also known as "enzymes," a word repeated so often in Grezzo that it starts to take on the ring of "precious bodily fluids" in Dr. Strangelove.

Grezzo’s dining room is painted in warm autumnal tones, and each table has a trifold brochure explaining the benefits of eating raw. One of which is "Live food produces live bodies; dead food produces dead bodies." Good to know. Eager to stave off death, I ordered the hamburger-inspired "sliders," tasty falafel-like patties served between slices of tomato, and followed those with the "lasagna," which, while somewhat more difficult to articulate, consisted of an ungainly, overseasoned pile of veggies and a cheeselike substance that was not cheese. However vegan, there was something undeniably carnal about this huge, pungent, sloppy mound glistening on the plate before me.

While I wrangled with that, all around me people talked earnestly about what they were eating, save for a troika of lesbians who talked about lesbianism for a while, before segueing into veganism (because really, what don’t those things have to do with each other?). Some of the dishes were pleasant enough, given the restrictions under which they were produced—but then, taste isn’t the point. This is food as ideology. And it comes at a steep premium. By the end of our meal, my wife and I had worked our way through two entrées, two appetizers, and two non-alcoholic "mojitos." With tip, the bill came to $95. If I hadn’t expensed it to this magazine, we wouldn’t have had any money left to stage a badly needed cannoli raid on the Modern afterward.

But such is the price of living in Boston these days. Food is just one component of the Hub’s blossoming mania for all things green, itself a broad-based repudiation of our old dirty-water-loving ways. The examples are boundless: There’s talk of building the world’s greenest skyscraper and greenest city hall, of exponentially expanding our solar capacity, recycling phone books en masse, planting 100,000 new trees by 2020, and turning Boston Harbor into what the EPA calls a "no-discharge area," basically meaning we’re not allowed to pump toxic crap into it anymore (take that, heritage!). In January, at his annual State of the City address, Mayor Menino beamed as he announced, "We really are turning Beantown into Greentown!" to muted groans in the press area. The following month, after Popular Science ranked Boston third in a weirdly unscientific survey of America’s greenest cities, Menino tried the rallying cry again: "Beantown truly is Greentown!" he said. As the Greentown meme spread, it seemed City Hall might use that phrase as an official slogan for its environmental efforts—at least until Civetta Comunicazioni, a Cambridge PR firm that has specialized in eco-conscious businesses since 1999, beat everyone to it this spring with its "BeanTown Is GreenTown" campaign. ("We did not rip it off from Menino," says Civetta’s Colleen Oteri, noting the firm had actually trademarked the phrase last November. "It’s not a difficult name to come up with," she chuckles. "It’s not super clever.")

It goes on and on. In a few days’ span in May alone, the Boston Business Journal hosted a green business summit; the Massachusetts Bar Association teamed up with the Conservation Law Foundation to honor law firms that have implemented policies aimed at reducing water waste, expanded their recycling, and so forth; and NStar announced it would give customers the option of using wind-generated power for a small surcharge. When the Sox launched a major green initiative, the Globe dubbed it "yet another reason for Red Sox fans to gloat." Newbury Street, which you can’t get down without hacking your way through a veritable underbrush of Greenpeace and MassPIRG canvassers, now boasts two so-called "green chic" boutiques.

Restaurants across town are tripping over themselves to offer organic, locally grown food, and veganism—once thought to be the province of ostentatiously flatulent, hirsute fringe-dwellers is gaining acceptance among the city’s mainstream, with animal-product-free dishes appearing on menus everywhere from Addis Red Sea to Wagamama. Eric Prescott, who cofounded the Boston Vegan Association last fall, says his group has already attracted over 100 members, and the number’s rising. "I’m seeing more people who realize that veganism makes sense," he says. "It’s not just for hippies with a superhuman ability to deny themselves the pleasures of the flesh."

Not surprisingly, Bostonians’ newfound dedication to the cause is characterized as much by an inexhaustible eco-consciousness as it is by an inexhaustible capacity for talking about eco-consciousness. Particularly one’s own. This is a city widely known (and reviled) for possessing an unapologetically liberal worldview generously varnished with moral vanity, so it stands to reason that an issue like this—which hits on politics, the environment, and social justice, and allows us to brag—would be like catnip here. And so it’s been, so much so that there’s reason to believe we may soon be the greenest city in America, as the mayor vowed in the wake of the PopSci honor/snub. After all, we have the full force of history propelling us along. It doesn’t take a hyperascetic, zero-waste, carbon-free lifestyle to recognize that, thanks to our recently discovered fervor for planet-saving, the Puritans—long thought to be irritating, nature-obsessed anachronisms rightfully left bobbing in the wake of modernity—are walking among us once again.