SOUTH LOOP — Eating green doesn't have to mean spinach and salads.
That's the message the Alliance for a Greener South Loop hopes to spread with its second annual Meatless Mondays in May initiative, nicknamed "MMM!"
The Alliance for a Greener South Loop includes all of the area's community groups. Last year, several of them asked the coalition's head, Gail Merritt, to present information on how residents can be more environmentally friendly.
When she started researching, Merritt said she, like many people, expected that things like recycling and energy conservation would be at the top of her list.
But what she found was that "eating less meat is in the top three things that we can do personally," Merritt said.
"Most people don't know that. Most people would put recycling up in the top three, and it's like number seven."
So Merritt, herself a vegetarian for more than five years, decided to make it easier for her neighbors to go meat-free one night a week.
She and fellow Alliance member Janelle Myers spent weeks knocking on the doors of "just about every restaurant in the South Loop" asking if they'd be willing to offer a once-a-week discount for a month to diners eating green.
Some offered special menu items on Mondays, others made prix fixe meatless menus at a discount or knocked 10 percent off the tab for MMM! diners.
Merritt was "thrilled" to have 18 restaurants sign on for the 2012 initiative, which she said called a great success, with dozens of South Loop residents taking the pledge to keep all Mondays in May meat-free.
This year's participant list is smaller, but it includes one huge victory Merritt's had her eye on since last year: support from the Printer's Row Hackney's.
Merritt said she was certain the burger-heavy eatery would pass after "thoughtfully rejecting" their invitation last year to participate.
"When we first approached them it was like, 'Have you seen our menu?'" Merritt joked.
This year, Merritt said the restaurant management came to her, and said they'd been impressed with the 2012 initiative and wanted to help. They committed so fully they even cooked up special menu items for the month.
Merritt said partnerships like the one with Hackney's "can help change the way people look at their diets."
"Some people have trouble envisioning a meal without meat as the main course," she said. "Seeing that there's a meat-free menu item at Hackney's can change the way they think about their options."
In addition to trying the special menu items and discounts offered throughout May, the Alliance for a Greener South Loop is encouraging participants to come out together for Meatless Monday meals at the following restaurants this month:
-- Tuesday: Amarit Thai at 600 S. Dearborn St. is offering a 10 percent discount.
-- May 13: Tapas Valencia: at 1530 S. State St. is offering a 10 percent discount.
-- May 20: Brasserie by LM at 800 S. Michigan Ave. is offering a special prix fixe menu.
-- May 27: Zapatista at 1307 S. Wabash Ave. is offering a special prix fixe menu.
For more information and to take the pledge to go meatless each Monday in May, visit the Alliance for a Greener South Loop's website.