April 6, 2011

Natural Foodie: Vegan food goes mainstream in Portland

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

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Responding to customer requests for plant-based foods, Whole Foods Market in Portland added this salad bar featuring vegan and macrobiotic dishes. Numerous eateries in Portland are puting vegan dishes on their menus as demand for this style of food grows.

Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

As the mountain of peer-reviewed research showing that people who eat a diet centered on plants have better health grows, more people in Maine and across the nation are looking to incorporate foods made without animal products into their dining habits.

On the national stage, the increased focus on plant-based diets and vegan foods is hard to miss.

Rory Freedman's and Kim Barnouin's plainspoken "Skinny Bitch" vegan diet book, published in 2005, has spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times best sellers list. Currently, Kathy Freston's "Veganist" cookbook is a top seller on Amazon.com.

Oprah Winfrey has devoted several shows to the topic, most recently recruiting 378 of her staffers to go vegan for a week.

While Winfrey often promotes vegan foods, she doesn't follow this style of eating exclusively. In contrast, fellow talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres is a vegan, and often brings this up on her show.

Television personality Montel Williams can now be seen in a talk show-style infomercial called "Living Well with Montel," which promotes the health and weight-loss benefits of drinking raw, vegan juices.

Even America's domestic diva, Martha Stewart, hosted an all-vegan show last week.

But likely one of the biggest boosts to the vegan trend came last fall, when former President Clinton told CNN's Wolf Blitzer he'd adopted a plant-based diet.

"I live on beans, legumes, vegetables, fruits; I drink a protein supplement every morning," Clinton told Blitzer. "No dairy. I drink almond milk mixed in with fruit and a protein powder, so I get the protein for the day when I start the day out. And it changed my whole metabolism, and I lost 24 pounds and got back to basically what I weighed in high school."

Clinton, who's undergone quadruple bypass surgery and had two coronary stents implanted, went on to say the weight loss was a welcome side benefit but not what motivated him to change what he eats.

"I did all this research," Clinton continued, "and I saw that 82 percent of the people since 1986 who've gone on a plant-based, no dairy, no meat of any kind, no chicken, turkey -- I eat very little fish. Once in a while, I'll have a little fish, not often. If you can do it, 82 percent of the people who've done that have begun to heal themselves. Their arterial blockage cleans up. The calcium deposit around their heart breaks up."

Such a solid endorsement of a plant-centered diet from a leader whose fondness for hamburgers was legendary can't help but have an impact on others facing similar health challenges. Not to mention those who want to avoid heart disease altogether.

Here in food-conscious Portland, where national culinary trends intersect with Maine's strong locavore movement, you don't need to be a clairvoyant to realize we're bound to see more vegan dishes on restaurant menus in the future.

There can no longer be any doubt: vegan food has officially gone mainstream.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: akamila@pressherald.com

Follow her on Twitter at: Twitter.com/AveryYaleKamila


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