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Sunday Aug 28

Not a Flash in the Pan

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Written by Galia Myron Tuesday, 16 August 2011 09:19


Veganism making its mark as a lifestyle choice, not a short-term trend.

Once considered the fringe diet of animal rights extremists or the nuttiest of health nuts, veganism continues to gain momentum as a popular eating and lifestyle choice, say trend trackers who maintain that vegan choices are popping up in the most unexpected places.

Veganism is not just a trend,” says Jennifer Jensen, editor at Recipe4Living.com. “It is not short-lived, it is a long-lasting way of life and we have more visitors to the site asking for vegan and vegetarian recipes.”

Most popular, she says, are recipes for main dishes and dinner.

Though Jensen says there is a “small percentage” of site visitors who seek vegan options, she adds that “there is a market” for the animal-free way of eating as more people are looking to get healthier.

While women and young people are most likely to seek out vegan eating ideas at Recipe4Living, recently more Baby Boomers have demonstrated an interest in vegan and vegetarian cooking.

The reason, Jensen says, is that “more people are interested in getting healthier as our nation is getting unhealthier.”

Kevin Goldfein, owner of CA-based Rosti Tuscan Kitchen, says he saw the need to offer a vegan menu about a year and half ago.

“So many people were substituting ingredients on menu items for vegan options so it made sense to do the work for them,” he explains, adding that the kitchen staff uses separate knives and cutting boards and takes other measures to ensure that the food is 100 percent vegan, “not just a half-hearted attempt at a meat-free dish.”

“The menu gives guests confidence that all items on the menu are prepared with care and with understanding,” Goldfein adds.

Customers who order from the vegan menu are a “good mix,” he notes, adding that “there is no stereotype.”

“Additionally, many people who order from the menu aren’t ‘completely vegan,” Goldfein says. “Many just want a vegan option. Maybe they are on a vegan diet temporarily, or just feel like eating vegan for that particular meal. Some people are just curious.”

Goldfein cites himself as typical of many Rosti guests who order off the vegan menu. “I am a meat eater and I eat from the vegan menu all the time. Once in a while, I just don’t want to eat meat.”

Eating plant-based foods at home has also gotten easier, as popular frozen foods brand Tandoor Chef has launched a vegan line that includes a variety of dishes that are often difficult to find without any animals products, such as ghee or milk.

Rebecca Gilbert, founder of Yummy Plants, says that there has been a “large shift in mass consciousness” leaning toward plant-based living.

“From increased shelf space for vegan products at grocery stores, to increased media coverage in the media, to increased endorsement by celebrities, we are definitely seeing more attention to a vegan diet,” she maintains.

Vegan living encompasses more than food, as one of the first questions vegans are often asked is, “Are your shoes leather?”

In fact, shoe retailers are recognizing that many customers want vegan items. Just as mainstream restaurants are offering more vegan dishes, fashion lines like milk & honey, an online, custom designed, women’s shoe company offer an entire animal friendly line of shoes.

"We firmly believe that you do not have to sacrifice fashion for compassion!" says Dorian Howard of milk & honey.

Royal Elastics has also responded to customer demand by offering cruelty-free shoes. “I love to support people who are trying to do the right thing,” says Royal Elastics Chief Creative Director John Bondoc. 

Yoga instructor John Calabria, a vegan for 15 years, says that there is more to living animal-free than minding one’s diet, or even one’s shoes.

“It is a subset of the philosophy, of trying to cause as little harm as possible in our lives,” he explains. “Vegans eschew leather, wool, silk, zoos, aquariums, rodeos [and more].”

Calabria says that while the vegan diet has become more popular—in fact, he is “amazed” by how it has caught on—he laments that the bigger picture may be ignored.

“The philosophy lags a bit behind,” he notes. “What is encouraging is that what is good for our health is also good for the health of the environment.”

Calabria says the topic comes up often in his yoga classes and he discusses it on his blog. Overall, he says, interest in veganism is continuing to build.

Charles Stahler, of The Vegetarian Resource Group, reports that 2011 numbers put vegans at two percent of the population, marking a significant increase in people living animal-free lifestyles.

“When I became vegan in 1977, there weren't as many vegetarians as vegans today, veganism was pretty unknown, people had to order soy milk in powdered form through the mail, “ he recalls. “So the number of vegans today is quite amazing.”

Other polls, Stahler notes, may report higher numbers of vegans, since those surveys may ask people to define themselves as vegans or not.

Why has the number of vegans shot up in recent years?

Vegan blogger Walt F.J. Goodridge, author of Living True to Your Self and The Jamaican in China blog , says that Internet access to information about health, wellness, and diet fuels much of the current shift away from meat-centric eating.

Ethics also play a role, Goodridge maintains.

“It is my belief that once a person is set on any of the individual paths of peace, truth, justice, enlightenment, physical health, saving the environment, or personal growth in general, that they will invariably end up finding themselves on the same single path with others, who themselves, may have launched their quests from these different starting points,” he says.

“One cannot be about enlightenment, without eventually seeing the connection and effects their dietary choices have in their health, the suffering of other sentient beings and the environment as a whole,” Goodridge adds. “If they are serious in their commitment, they must reconcile these choices and act in accordance with their professed ideals.”

The shift to a plant-based diet, he adds, is “a natural progression” of acting on these ideals.

Like Goodridge, Lindsay S. Nixon, known in online circles as The Happy Herbivore HappyHerbivore.com, cites the Internet as a factor in veganism’s gaining popularity.

“It is becoming easier than ever to be a vegan, there are support systems online through social media and a vast array of information available to people on the Internet,” Nixon explains.

As a vegan author and blogger, Nixon gets many questions through Twitter or Facebook from people with omnivore-diets, who want to know more about the basics of a vegan lifestyle.

"The future of veganism is bright,” Nixon says. “More and more people are becoming aware of the lifestyle. I see veganism growing and becoming more prevalent, with more restaurants offering vegan food, and more companies taking a cruelty-free approach to making products. Today’s consumer is educated and consumers play a large role in production, as more people experience veganism, maybe even adopt parts of a vegan lifestyle, the marketplace for vegan products will expand."

As all consumers—vegan and non-vegan—become more informed of the impact their purchases make on the world around them, demand for ethically-produced items continues to increase, says Kezia Jauron of Evolotus PR, a public relations agency that specializes in vegan and animal- and eco-friendly clients.

"Vegan products like foods and cosmetics tend to be high quality, healthier for our bodies, and ethically produced, so it's understandable that they would be appealing to a well-heeled, non-vegan consumer," she says.

The media—including the Internet—also influences consumer decisions, she adds.

”Animal cruelty stories, such as undercover investigations in factory farms, are more frequently covered in the news media today, and the ripple effect is that it compels people to consider their own consumer choices,” Jauron says.


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