The Rise of Veganism

Veganism is growing. This form of vegetarianism is catching on not just for political reasons but for health as well. What is veganism? It means you eat nothing that comes from an animal. So, that’s not only avoiding meat, but also eggs and dairy.

Vegans have had a bad reputation. They’ve been seen as extremist who look down on the rest of us meat-eaters. They also look down on leather, wool, fur and anything else that comes from an animal. But as this trend is growing, some of the attitude is declining as well.

The one area that still needs improvement is at restaurants. Recently, health and wellness expert Kathy Freston wrote about her experience.

“I went out to dinner last night with friends and came home fairly hungry. If you don’t count the bread I tried not to eat too much of and the olives from my martini, or the little side dish of steamed vegetables, there wasn’t much I could call a meal. I scanned the menu for anything that I could eat, but all I saw was lobster, lamb, fish, steak, chicken, veal, pork, and pastas that had any combination of the aforementioned meats with cheese or cream. Nothing for me but the dreaded Grilled Vegetable Plate.

“I would SO love a hearty dish with a center of the plate protein, with some TLC from the chef — i.e. sauces and garnishes — to make it just as fulfilling as the meat and dairy dishes. I would pay good money for it! And I know a lot of other people would too — and not just vegan people.”

I also have noticed the lack of real vegetarian dishes on most restaurant menus. I’ve also noted that lack at many a backyard barbecue. Too often the fare for those who don’t eat meat is just a collection of side dishes. I’ve also noticed that too many vegetarians are looking for meat replacements like veggie burgers and fake bacon. This is the wrong approach.

We need to be looking at vegan and vegetarian dishes with the same gusto as applied to meat. As Freston put it:

“A meal that looks like what everyone else is enjoying would be so, so gratifying and appreciated! And there are so many ways to make a meal with a vegetarian protein using Gardein (looks and tastes like different meats, high protein, low fat and is available through distributors like Sysco and US Foods ), seitan (wheat protein … made into cutlets or strips), lentils, beans, tofu, chickpeas, tempeh or other high-protein meat alternatives. And on a business note, the profit margin is greater as plant-based protein is cheaper than animal protein, and is how many other cultures get protein.”

So, restaurants, chefs and home cooks need to take another look at vegan and vegetarian meals. When I lived in Chicago, there was a great vegetarian restaurant call The Chicago Diner. They had a five bean chili that was really good. I’m also a big fan of the Moosewood Restaurant’s vegetarian cookbooks. Businesses are coming around, but slowly. Freston says one of her favorite restaurants was a steakhouse. She kept requesting something she could eat other than that grilled vegetable plate. The restaurant, reluctantly at first, took a fish meal and converted it to tofu. When Freston asked how it was doing the manager replied, “I’m shocked, but it’s flying out the door!”

People are eating less meat these days, and that’s a good thing. But you don’t have to settle for a bunch of side dishes. You can have hearty, protein-rich, plant-based food.