Get your Greens on: Plant-based Popularity is on the Rise

A recent piece in The Economist revealed that a startling 25 percent of Americans 25 to 34 years old identify as vegan or vegetarian. As a result of this uptick, U.S. sales of vegan foods rose 10 times faster from January to June 2018 than food sales as a whole. As more and more Americans adopt a plant-based lifestyle, the way in which restaurants and grocery stores serve the public is, by necessity, going to have to adapt.
Unlike their vegetarian counterparts, vegans will neither consume nor use any product that is derived from an animal, living or otherwise; think honey or wool. The list of “forbidden” items contains foods, of course, but it also taps into fabrics, jewelry, and other household items.
Veganism is by no means not a new phenomenon. The term “vegan” was coined in 1944, a hat-tip to its relationship to vegetarianism, but the idea of avoiding animal products can be traced back to ancient Indian and Mediterranean societies.
Vegetarianism is first mentioned by the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras of Samos around 500 BCE. In addition to his theorem about right triangles, Pythagoras promoted benevolence among all species. Additionally, followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism also advocated vegetarianism. (
In 1850, Rev. Sylvester Graham, the inventor of Graham crackers, co-founded the American Vegetarian Society. Graham was a Presbyterian minister and his followers, called Grahamites, obeyed his instructions for a virtuous life: vegetarianism, temperance, abstinence, and frequent bathing.
In November 1944, a British woodworker named Donald Watson announced that because vegetarians ate dairy and eggs, he was going to create a new term called “vegan,” to differentiate people who avoided all animal products from those who did not.
Three months after coining the term, he issued a pronunciation key: “Veegan, not Veejan,” he wrote to the 25 subscribers of his new Vegan Society newsletter. In 2005, Watson died at age 95. That year, 250,000 Britons and two million Americans self-identified as vegans.
American vegetarianism in particular has broken free of its philosophical and religious roots, and is viewed as an individual choice, be it for health, ethics, or both. Veganism, like most -isms, is still eyed with some suspicion by non-practitioners, but as millennials and members of Generation Z adopt the lifestyle in droves, it is becoming decidedly more visible and accessible. It’s likely that you know – or are! – a vegetarian or a vegan, or know someone who is. It’s also likely that plans surrounding a meal out have become more thought-full.
Instead of checking a restaurant menu in advance to make sure the place has something everyone will like, diners are checking menus to make sure that there are offerings for those who have adopted a plant-based lifestyle. Brand-name products like the Boca Burger and the Beyond Burger, are showing up more and more frequently on meus, alongside a host of longtime favorite proteins like seitan (cooked wheat gluten) and tofu (mashed soybean).
Chefs are challenged daily to create flavorful, interesting meals without relying on some of the most basic go-tos, like butter or cheese. One tried-and-true technique for many chefs who are learning to cook for plant-based diets is to create a favorite recipe, swapping out animal products for vegan protein options, and substituting fatty oils – like coconut – for the texture and fullness we humans crave. As the chef’s familiarity with ingredients grows, so will his/her plant-based repertoire.
Here in St. Pete, we are fortunate enough to have a variety of restaurants catering to diners of all lifestyles. Datz, for example, offers vegan meals, vegetarian meals, and is prepared to modify many of its menu items accordingly for those diners in downtown St. Pete. Dr. BBQ, in the Edge district, has thirty-two vegan, vegetarian, or modifiable menu items for its customers to enjoy. Both of these restaurants have consultants who are active members of the vegan community, and rely heavily on research when creating menu items, assuring tastiness and appropriateness of ingredients.
The world is full of diversity. Rather than letting food choices be a stumbling block to togetherness, consider trying a plant-based option the next time you dine out or cook with one of your vegan or vegetarian friends. You don’t have to make a permanent change to your lifestyle, but it’s always interesting to see how skilled chefs can create replica items or entirely new recipes. Let mealtime be a time of exploration and conversation and let food of all kinds bring us together in our quest for companionship, friendship, and love.