Looking to eat less meat? 2016 is shaping up to be a fine time to get in touch with your inner vegan.
And for that you can thank a bevy of celebrities promoting plant-based diets; a growing focus by restaurant chefs — including in the traditionally veg wasteland of the fast-casual scene — on making produce seductive; an onslaught of veg-centric cookbooks that show how eating lower on the food chain can be both appealing and easy; and a surge in high-end grocery items that put your grandmother's tofu cheese to shame.
As with any niche, the vegan movement is edged forward by innovative front-runners. So for a better picture of where the plant-based diet world is headed, we canvassed the scene to see who is worth noting. Here are five prominent vegans worth watching in the coming year.
Fashion designer Lyz Olko
Fashion designer Lyz Olko's line of army jackets dotted with flower appliques, perfectly frayed denim shorts and edgy graphic T-shirts have a downtown vibe and have become staples for young celebs like Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Kristen Stewart and Miley Cyrus. Olko, who personally makes every piece in her namesake collection, is a fan of using recycled materials and sustainable production methods. (All the leather in her collection is repurposed vintage.) The 35-year-old New York City-based designer says her decision to eat a plant-based diet is "about having a larger consciousness of the effect your actions have on people around you."
"Think about other people and how can you help somebody else and not yourself," she said.
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker first gained attention in 2012 when, while serving as mayor of Newark, N.J., he pulled his neighbor from a burning home. He later earned headlines again for rescuing an abandoned dog from a cage in a vacant lot. Since then, the outspoken vegan has been elected to Congress and become a social media darling, boasting some 1.6 million Twitter followers. He has made use of that rostrum to advocate for issues dear to him, particularly on animal welfare.
For example, the 46-year-old Democrat introduced legislation last year that would have required federal facilities that perform research on farm animals to provide basic care as required by the Animal Welfare Act, including adequate food, shelter and veterinary care. Ultimately, an omnibus spending bill passed last month will achieve the same results by threatening to withhold more than $57 million from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service if it fails to update its animal care policies.
"I found that by shining a light on them, we can often change practices that not only make for the more humane treatment of animals, but also protect our safety and health," he said.
Blogger and author Angela Liddon
Angela Liddon, 32, is known to break into spontaneous dance after perfecting one of her plant-based recipes. Her popular vegan website, "Oh She Glows," has built a loyal following with dishes including black bean and sweet potato enchiladas and chocolate walnut brownies. The Canadian blogger's first cookbook, The Oh She Glows Cookbook, was a New York Times bestseller, and her second, Oh She Glows Every Day, will be released this fall. The self-taught cook started a blog documenting her recovery from an eating disorder. "When I eat healthy, I feel balanced, peaceful, energetic and happy," she said.
Vegan cheesemaker Miyoko Schinner
Miyoko Schinner has been perfecting her vegan cheeses for decades. And once she did, she wrote a cookbook, Artisan Vegan Cheese, so others could appreciate them. Except that for many home cooks, the processes for making the outrageously good dairy-free cheeses were a bit too laborious. And that prompted Schinner to launch a company, Miyoko's Kitchen, to produce her cheeses for retail.
Why are the recipes so daunting? The same reason they are so good. Schinner follows the classic cheesemaking process, using live cultures and various fermentation techniques. But instead of dairy, she applies them to a cashew base. Now Miyoko's Kitchen, based in Fairfax, Calif., offers 10 styles of cheese, including an aged sharp English farmhouse cheddar and a soft goatlike cheese wrapped in wine-cured fig leaves.
She has even conquered the elusive vegan mozzarella, with fresh brined balls of cheese that will launch in select Whole Foods Market stores in February. She promises they melt like the real thing.
"I'm in it to save animals," she said. "The best way to do it really is to give people a solution for when they transition to veganism."
Chef Rich Landau
When chef Rich Landau, 48, ran a lunch counter at the back of a health food store in the Philadelphia suburbs more than two decades ago, veganism was practically taboo. Now Landau is one of the leaders in a food revolution that sees mainstream chefs putting vegetables at the center of the plate. His upscale restaurant Vedge, which he co-owns with wife and pastry chef Kate Jacoby, has garnered a reputation for dishes like wood roasted carrots with kimchee "Reuben," pumpernickel sauce and sauerkraut puree. Actor Gwyneth Paltrow raves about the restaurant.
"It's not the actual meat that tastes good, it's what chefs do to it," he says of his similar ability to transform produce. "And more people are waking up to this idea that vegetables taste good and have natural flavor to them. Chefs are not just treating them as a side dish anymore. ... They're finally treating vegetables the way they did meat."
Landau, who loves to roast, smoke, brine, pickle and cure veggies to coax out meaty flavors, hopes to soon open another restaurant — this time a fast-casual concept — in Washington or Philadelphia.
"People are seeing it as cool now. Bad boy chefs are doing it ... and we're doing it in a completely antihippie way," he said.