Greener Than Thou

Boston’s eco-zealots pick up where the Puritans left off


| November-December 2008



Greener Boston

Image by Rob Dunlavey

The kid at the Italian market across the street scoffed when we told him we were going to Grezzo, Boston’s first full-on, vegan raw-food restaurant. The eatery 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 because to do so destroys their “life force,” also known as “enzymes”—a word repeated so often in Grezzo that it starts to recall “precious bodily fluids” in Dr. Strangelove.

Grezzo’s dining room is painted in autumnal tones, and each table has a tri-fold brochure explaining the benefits of eating raw: “Live food produces live bodies; dead food produces dead bodies.” Good to know. Eager to stave off death, I ordered the “sliders,” falafel-like patties served between slices of tomato, and followed them with the “lasagna,” which consisted of an ungainly, over-seasoned pile of veggies and a cheeselike substance.

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 back into veganism. Some of the dishes were pleasant enough—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 nonalcoholic “mojitos.” With tip, the bill came to 95 dollars. If I hadn’t expensed it, we’d have had no money left to stage a badly needed cannoli raid.

Such is the price of living in Boston these days. Food is but one component of a blossoming mania for all things green, itself a broad-based repudiation of old dirty-water-loving ways. There’s talk of building the world’s greenest skyscraper, of exponentially expanding solar capacity, planting 100,000 trees, and turning Boston Harbor into 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. When the Sox launched a major green initiative, the Boston Globe called it “yet another reason for Red Sox fans to gloat.”

Not surprisingly, Bostonians’ newfound dedication to eco-consciousness is characterized 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. After all, we have history propelling us along. It doesn’t take a carbon-free lifestyle to recognize that the Puritans are among us once again.