By Veronica Chavez
Photo by Veronica Chavez.
I remember when I first became vegetarian. Going out to eat at most places consisted of skipping the first couple of pages of the menu and ordering two or three side dishes to hold me over. I’d consider it lucky if any of them contained protein.
While at times my indecisiveness rejoices at the fact that my options are more limited, it is nice to see that vegetarianism has risen in popularity over the past decade and is slowly becoming embraced in the restaurant world as well as within the general population. In fact, vegetarianism and veganism are becoming trendy, with many meat-eaters opting for plant-based dishes on at least one day of the week, usually in participation of #meatlessmondays.
A plant-based diet with the occasional inclusion of meat, or “Flexitarianism,” was expected to become a mega-trend toward the end of 2013, and it seems that the predictions were right. Vegetarianism and veganism are now being treated along the same lines as juice cleanses and dietary challenges, which many times are considered a physical or even spiritual awakening. Just look at Beyonce and Jay-Z, who went vegan for 22 days in early 2014. Other high-profile celebrities like Bill Clinton, James Cameron, and Bill Gates have even adopted a full-time vegan diet.
These meatless lifestyles wouldn’t be on the rise if it weren’t for restaurants’ cooperation. Herbivores are finding it easier to dine out nowadays, which in the past has been a huge detractor for aspiring vegetarians and vegans. After all, who doesn’t like going out with friends for dinner without having to bring along additional food? Mediterranean cuisine, for one, has a number of veg-friendly options including hummus, lentils, falafels, and tabbouleh, all delicious and all surprisingly filling. Many Latin restaurants now also offer seitan, or wheat meat, as a meat alternative.
You don’t have to go to a specialty vegan restaurant to enjoy these options either. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s now have a huge selection of mock meat options you can whip up at home, and even big companies like Chipotle are getting on board. In 2014, the popular Mexican grill launched their new meatless delicacy: Sofritas. The spicy soy filling was introduced in a handful of West Coast locations in 2013, and was added to their permanent menu after an overwhelming amount of positive feedback.
I think it’s only a matter of time before other large chains follow suit and I, for one, can’t wait.