I became a vegetarian long after the days when all vegetarians were considered “hippies” but before vegetarianism was popularized by movie stars and celebrity chefs. I remember how unhip it was to be a vegetarian not too long ago. But vegetarians have a new image and so does the vegetarian diet. In a great new article in the Lansing State Journal, author Michelle Kayal explains in a nicely humorous way, just how mainstream we’re becoming.
As Kayal explains,
Not so long ago, there was a certain image associated with being vegetarian. It usually involved Birkenstocks, lentil loaf and an agenda. There still are plenty of all three in the meatless movement, but a growing number of Americans are finding they can have cauliflower and kale at the center of the plate without a side of ideology.”
Kayal says this is because more people are eating meatless meals in an effort to improve their health, without treating those meals as motherless children. Cooking shows, cookbooks, restaurants and other venues are showcasing vegetarian cooking without making a point of the vegetarian part. Not too long ago, vegetables were considered an accompaniment for meat. Now meat is becoming a garnish for vegetables.
Movements such as “Meatless Mondays,” as well as concerns about food quality and a tighter economy, have more Americans treating meat as the side dish. And it shows in how we shop. The number of farmers markets has more than doubled during the last 10 years, and meat consumption is down 12 percent since 2007.”
Attitudes toward what makes a meal also have an awful lot to do with the vegetarian lifestyle’s new, more mainstream identity.
The idea of a ‘center of the plate’ — a large piece of meat surrounded by a starch and a vegetable — has loosened. Many Americans happily graze on Mediterranean tapas, indulge in sushi or slurp Asian soups like Vietnamese pho, where meat is an afterthought.”
As Kayal explains, this shift in our definition of a meal has also created changes in what is offered in restaurants, cookbooks, food magazines and supermarkets, widening vegetarian options and pushing the market to keep coming up with more delicious, more affordable and more accessible vegetarian fare.
Twenty years ago, vegetarians were hippies. Ten years ago, we were tree huggers. Now we’re trendsetters. I can live with that.