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Vegan diets becoming more popular, more mainstream

Associated Press | 1/11/2011, 11:34 a.m.

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.

And - sign of the times - some famous guys are eating vegan now, too.

Bill Clinton, known for his burger-loving ways when president, has credited his trim build at his daughter Chelsea’s wedding this summer to a “plant-based diet” (though he eats a little fish sometimes). Even former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson has talked up his vegan diet.

And vegan cookbooks, once a niche product, are coming out at such a fast clip that there are now sub-niches. Da Capo Press’ 20 vegan cookbooks in print include one on vegan soul food and another with Latin vegan recipes. A book of vegan recipes containing alcohol, “The Tipsy Vegan” is upcoming.

Abstaining from animal products is an ancient practice found in cultures worldwide. But veganism never got traction in meat-loving America. Tracye McQuirter, a vegan for 23 years and author of “By Any Greens Necessary,” a vegan guide aimed at black women, said things were different until about a decade ago. While she was part of a vegan community in her hometown of Washington, she says there was little understanding beyond it.

“People did not know what it meant,” McQuirter said. “There were not a lot of options in terms of grocery stores. There was no Whole Foods ... We had to basically cook everything for ourselves.”

That’s changed. More than half the 1,500 chefs polled by the National Restaurant Association for its new “What’s Hot in 2011” list included vegan entrees as a hot trend. Vegan entrees came in at No. 71 out of 226 trends (beating out organic beer and drinkable desserts) – that’s far from No. 1, but evidence of veganism making inroads beyond urban strongholds like New York City and Los Angeles. Some chain restaurants like Souplantation and Pizza Fusion even mark vegan items on their menus.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Roseann Marulli Rodriguez, a blogger for the SuperVegan website, said while there are not many vegan restaurants in her area, her local supermarket has “fake” chicken tenders and “fake” bacon.

“It’s definitely widening in scope,” said Rodriguez, a recent New York City transplant who has been eating vegan for five years, “and I think that’s why more people are doing it, because it's getting easier.”

Associated Press