Vegan goes mainstream

There's a food trend simmering, but if you want to give it a try, you'll have to revise your grocery list. Meat, poultry, fish? Out. Milk, cheese, eggs, dairy of any kind? Gone. Oh yes, and that bear-shaped container of honey in your cabinet? History.

Instead, you'll be stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts and soy products, all mainstays of a vegan diet. But forget the things you've heard about this type of cooking being boring and tasteless. Vegan gourmet is in, and that's no tofu baloney.

Vegan cookbooks, replete with glossy, gastro-glam pictures and sassy attitude, are sprouting like wheatgrass.

BabyCakes, a high-profile vegan bakery in New York, and other upscale vegan confection shops have propelled the vegan baking movement into the mainstream., a "green" gossip Web site, just named Ellen DeGeneres, Ginnifer Goodwin, Alicia Silverstone, John Salley and Emily Deschanel the "top vegan celebrities" of 2009.

Vegans, it seems, are the latest high-profile foodies.

Donald Watson might be surprised by all the attention.

Convinced that a diet completely free of animal products, including dairy and eggs, was the "beginning and end" of a true vegetarian lifestyle, Watson coined the term "vegan" in 1944. Shortly afterward, the quiet Englishman founded the Vegan Society, a group of about 25 like-minded individuals.

These days, about a million Americans identify themselves as vegan, according to a 2008 Harris Poll commissioned by Vegetarian Times magazine. While contemporary vegans share the same philosophy as Watson and his followers, their diet and message have become more mainstream.

According to Publishers Weekly, interest in eating locally has led to a rise in vegetarian, vegan and veggie-oriented cookbooks.

"We're trying to overcome the crunchy-granola reputation," says Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals and author of "The Best of Vegan Cooking." "Our image needs to be polished. People think that a vegan diet is a sacrifice, that it's tasteless and unappealing. It's not. They think you can't get enough protein, calcium or iron. You can."

In her book, Feral, a former recipe designer for Godiva, explores the diversity of "plant-based cuisine" and includes recipes by New York food columnist Mark Bittman, restaurateur Susan Wu and other high-profile chefs.

The introduction includes a brief explanation of Watson's philosophy of living in harmony with the planet, but the overriding message is one of healthful eating and fresh, well-prepared dishes.

"As recently as five years ago, a vegan diet was considered alternative and radical," says Mary Lawrence, owner of Well On Wheels, a Connecticut-based personal-chef service that provides vegan meals prepared in clients' homes. "Now, with the new emphasis on healthy lifestyles, people are more open and interested."

Lawrence, who also teaches vegan cooking classes, says the availability of ingredients and meat alternatives has made vegan eating an easier choice.

"You can find vegan options at Whole Foods," Lawrence says. "Even restaurants are adding vegan dishes to their menus."

Bill LeBlond, editorial director of food and wine at Chronicle Books, calls the new emphasis "the second wave of veganism."

"We're certainly seeing the second generation of vegan cookbooks," he says. "Less rhetoric and more great recipes.

"If the food is delicious, there's no need to justify or explain," LeBlond says. "We're not looking for foods that taste 'good for vegan cooking.' We're looking for a collection of recipes that are just good, period."

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