Meat-Free Mingling at Saturn Cafe 

Veg Speed Dating connects vegans and vegetarians with like-minded herbivores.

Brian Grupe is an affable, sharp-looking, single 27-year-old. He's also vegan. But he wasn't always that way (vegan, that is). As he described it, just four years ago he was a "beer-drinking, shit-eating" college student. That was before he was handed one of those notoriously graphic anti-meat leaflets — the type filled with pictures of overcrowded chicken coops, lacerated cattle, and other heart-wrenching images that make a person want to forego hamburgers forever. The literature led him to renounce meat, and eventually dairy, for ethical reasons. Today he even works as a regional coordinator for Vegan Outreach, the company that produced the diet-changing pamphlet.

By his own account, when Grupe first went vegan, he also assumed an abrasive, alienating attitude toward meat-eaters. "I was kind of angry at the world," he admitted. "But it was making me unhappy, and making people around me unhappy at times." Grupe has since relaxed his aggressive stance, and while in his "angry vegan" days he restricted his dating pool to other vegans, he said now he's more concerned with finding someone who's open-minded, regardless of what's on the other end of their fork.

Still, he found himself at an event last August built around a series of five-minute dates with twenty or so fellow vegans and vegetarians. Contrary to the images such a scenario may conjure, this was not the makings of some veggie-fueled orgy. Grupe was one of 42 singles who came to the Saturn Cafe (2175 Allston Way, Berkeley) for the debut of Veg Speed Dating, a new dating series for herbivores organized by local event planner Karine Brighten via her eco-friendly event-planning firm, Karine Brighten Events. The events follow the standard speed-dating formula, minus meat: thirty minutes of drinking and mingling followed by a handful of very brief "dates," after which participants mark off potential matches on a form. Grupe said that when Brighten — with whom he'd worked before — invited him to participate, he initially balked at the offer, but ultimately elected to give it a try.

The result: Grupe developed a purely professional relationship with the proprietor of a vegan cookie company, whose products he sometimes brings to the college talks he delivers for his job. He also met one viable veggie prospect, but ceded a second date to his friend, who, he found out later, had also hit it off with her. And while Grupe didn't meet his meat-free match that evening (he said he went more for the experience, anyway), he believes that for anyone for whom meat-eating is a dating deal-breaker, such veggie-centric mixers are a boon. "It's not like there are vegan bars," he said. "And you can't just go into a vegan restaurant, randomly approach someone who's sitting down, and say, 'Hey, I'm Brian. Are you vegan?' That's weird."

The next East Bay round of Veg Speed Dating (there are two upcoming in San Francisco), geared toward heterosexual vegans and vegetarians ages 21 to 40ish, is a Valentine's Day edition held in a private room at the Saturn Cafe on Tuesday, February 14. You may or may not find your soul mate, but you'll definitely find vegan appetizers, desserts, drinks, and a raffle. 7 p.m., $30. 510-269-7252 or (online RSVP required).

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