Vegan Diets Move Mainstream

February 23/Norfolk, Va./The Virginian-Pilot -- Once mocked as a fringe diet for sandal-wearing health food store workers, veganism is moving from marginal to mainstream in the United States.

The vegan Skinny Bitch diet books are best-sellers; vegan staples like tempeh and tofu can be purchased at just about any supermarket, and some chain restaurants eagerly promote their plant-only menu items. Today's vegans are urban hipsters, suburban moms, college students, even professional athletes.

"It's definitely more diverse. It's not what you would picture 20 years ago, which is kind of hippie, crunchy," said Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author of vegan cookbooks such as the new Appetite for Reduction. She says it is easier being a vegan now because there is more local produce available and more interesting ways of cooking.

"It's not just steamed vegetables anymore and brown rice and lentils," she said.

Veganism is essentially hard-core vegetarianism. While vegetarians might butter their bagels or eat a cake made with eggs, vegans shun all animal products: no meat, no cheese, no eggs, no honey, no mayonnaise.

It is difficult to come up with hard numbers of practicing vegans. There is a blurry line between people who define themselves as vegan and vegetarian, and some eaters dip in and out of plant-only diets. For instance, New York Times writer Mark Bittman has described his "vegan till 6" health plan, in which he becomes more omnivorous in the evening.

In a 2009 survey, advocates at the nonprofit Vegetarian Resource Group reported about 1% of Americans are vegan, roughly a third of the people who reported being vegetarians.

That makes veganism something short of a fad sweeping the nation like low-carb once did. Still, there are plenty of signs that vegans have pushed beyond their old, exclusive cocoon. Exhibit A would be the Skinny Bitch diet books, which provide vegan lifestyle tips in a blunt, girlfriend-on-the-phone style . Actress Alicia Silverstone added a dose of star power to the vegan cause more recently with The Kind Diet, a No. 1 best-seller. Vegan diets also have been touted by other celebrities, including Emily Deschanel of Bones and Lea Michele of Glee.

Veganism has been buoyed by the same health-conscious wave that has drawn Americans in unprecedented numbers to low-fat, vegetarian and organic foods.

Veganism also provides a safe harbor for the growing number of people concerned about where their supermarket meat comes from. Critics of industrial-scale food processing like writer Michael Pollan have been gaining a wider audience in recent years.  

From the February 24, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News
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