Few food topics are more polarizing than veganism. The very mention of a vegan lifestyle to most omnivores evokes the culinary equivalent of monasticism, a self-imposed deprivation of some of life’s most tantalizing flavors. Surely a Meatless Monday here or there is tolerable, even for the staunchest meat eaters amongst us. Beyond that, how satisfying could a strict vegan diet possibly be? If you’re sensing a sliver of sarcasm, Big Food has you right where they want you. Congratulations… You are officially V-Curious.
Demand is up and veganism is big business. Fast food chains, food manufacturers, and big box retailers all want a piece of the vegan pie. By way of example, the estimated combined market cap of Beyond Meat, Inc. and Impossible Foods is approaching $20 billion. Their primary demographic? Every meat eater who wants to know if their plant-based “burgers” really taste like meat. A not so little secret – the die-hard vegans are already sold. The sought-after revenue is from the uninitiated, the skeptics and carnivores who are pleasantly surprised once they realize what they’ve been missing.
Those who venture into the world of veganism are often surprised at its diversity. Many in the vegan community choose to self-identify according to the level of their commitment, generally referred to as the “Five Levels of Veganism.” A Level 1 vegan is described as someone who chooses a plant-based diet for health and/or medical reasons, but is not necessarily motivated by ethical or environmental considerations. A Level 5 vegan maintains a diet completely devoid of any animal byproducts and ensures that every product they support has a traceable, cruelty-free supply chain – ideally one that is local and as sustainable as possible.
There are millions of Americans with vegan tendencies, whose open minds fuel their passion to explore plant-based cuisine. Gone are the myths of malnourished waifs whose frail, anemic bodies buckle under the weight of their hemp dresses.
Vegans are Olympians, boxers, and NFL stars. They don’t just eat broccoli; they consume healthy unsaturated fats, like avocado, nuts, and olive oil.
Their protein is derived from legumes, seitan, and mushrooms. Popping probiotics and antacids? Not vegans. Vegetables and fruits are naturally loaded with fiber and good bacteria, which promote a healthy digestive system.
At long last, vegan cuisine is garnering the respect it deserves as a complex genre of gastronomy, worthy of recognition and praise. Chef Claire Vallée, owner of France’s ONA (for origine non-animale), was awarded one Michelin star earlier this year, securing her place in history as the first vegan restaurant to receive this high honor. Vegan programs are now an integral part of every premier culinary program, from Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts to The Culinary Institute of America.
There are many reasons to lean in to veganism, such as the environment, animal well-being, and perhaps the most overlooked reason: expertly prepared vegan cuisine is delicious. In fact, the first women-owned, consumer-oriented, vegan cooking school in the US is right here in spectacular Las Vegas! Vegas Vegan Culinary School & Eatery helps people learn how easy cooking plant-based fare can be. Their instructors include local vegan chefs, cookbook authors, and international experts who specialize in making vegan food accessible to everyone.
No matter your motivation, consider the impact just a few vegan choices can make in your day-to-day life. Get some vegan take-out. Grab your favorite foodie and take a vegan class. Your next favorite bite might not have a shadow in sight.
Alicia Shevetone is a cookbook author, culinary influencer, lifestyle entrepreneur and creator of Dink Cuisine.