Maine’s prime wedding season won’t be here for months, but planning is well underway for the nuptials and parties that are scheduled for this summer and fall. One request coming up in a lot of pre-event meetings: vegan food.

Catie Fairbanks-Cliffe runs Destination Maine Weddings in Cape Elizabeth and helps her clients from across the country plan and execute their quintessential Maine events.

“Last year, I really saw the change,” Fairbanks-Cliffe said. “At almost every bigger wedding I did last year, we had vegan options. In a couple of cases, either the bride or groom was vegan. Or a couple of their very good friends were vegan.”

Today’s couples are health-conscious, Fairbanks-Cliffe noted, and familiar with plant-based food. While in the past, couples would ask for vegetarian choices; now they request specific vegan options, such as a creamy tofu Napoleon with grilled vegetables or charcoal-blackened peppers.

Maine wedding professionals report working on a handful of exclusively vegan weddings, but the bigger change is that plant-based choices are now on the menu at the majority of non-vegan weddings.

In 2017, Vogue named vegan food a top wedding trend, so I’m not surprised Maine’s wedding professionals have seen a similar spike in demand for vegetable-based party eats. What I was surprised to learn is how quickly vegan wedding choices have gone from a notable trend to the norm.

Amy Alward, who owns the Love Kupcakes bakery (part of the Baristas + Bites restaurant in the Old Port), has tracked the trend.

“I looked up the numbers last night,” Alward said, when she and I chatted earlier this month. “I noticed that almost 90 percent of our brides asked for a vegan and a gluten-free option in 2017.”

The bakery has offered vegan wedding cake choices (such as lemon-blueberry, strawberry-basil and double chocolate) and other vegan treats (cupcakes, mini blueberry pies) since the business began in a food truck. But back then vegan desserts were more of a niche offering, with 30 percent of wedding clients asking for vegan options in 2014, Alward said. This jumped to 50 percent of wedding customers in 2015 and 2016. Alward expects the 2018 wedding season to be on par with 2017.

A Love Kupcake vegan four-layer wedding cake made with Callebaut chocolate and Earth Balance for the buttercream frosting. Photo by Stacey Cramp

At Ahimsa Custom Cakes in Auburn, sculptor Kristi Touchette began creating exclusively vegan couture wedding cakes in 2008. For years, most of her brides and grooms sought out her cakes for their artistry, not their vegan ingredients. But when I spoke with Touchette last week she said she’s also getting more calls from couples who want a vegan cake.

“Some of it is food allergies,” Touchette said. “I do get a lot of customers that have family members who are allergic to dairy and eggs. And in the last few years, there have been quite a few more vegans.”

Craig Williams owns Churchill Events in Portland and has been planning and catering weddings for 22 years. He’s watched the vegan requests add up.

“In 2011 we began hearing rumblings,” Williams said, “And it sort of crept in. Now I’ll be sitting in a planning meeting with bride, groom, mother and others and inevitably one of them will say, “What about Sally and her boyfriend? They’re now vegans.'”

The answer to that question, Williams said, is to offer vegan food choices, such as mini smoothies, carrot soup shooters or vegetable cassoulet with white beans.

“In 2017 there was an increase in requests for healthy menu options and vegetarian and vegan options,’ said Christina DiOrio, catering manager at Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth which specializes in weddings that tread lightly on the Earth. “It’s still increasing for 2018 and 2019 inquiries.”

DiOrio said requests for vegan food have risen most sharply in the past 14 months.

Because of this spike in demand, DiOrio now advises all of her brides and grooms to offer vegan choices, such as seared tempeh with quinoa-stuffed heirloom tomatoes or herb-marinated grilled tofu steak with eggplant puree.

“Over the last five years with buffets, I’ve started making everything vegan and gluten-free where possible,” said Reuben Bell, who owns Blue Elephant Events & Catering in Saco. “A lot of vegetable sides traditionally have butter or chicken stock. I switch that out with olive oil or vegetable stock. Nobody even notices.”

Except the vegans.

While veganizing wedding day vegetables is easy, Bell has spotted a more challenging generation gap when it comes to plant-based food. If his staff tells guests the food is vegan, much less will be eaten.

“The word ‘vegan’ has this weird stigma associated with it,” Bell said. “I tell people who say they want to have a whole vegan wedding, ‘Great. Just don’t tell anybody.’ You could look at this as a transitional period. We’ve got a young generation that’s getting married that has very plant-based thinking, and their parents and grandparents didn’t grow up this way.”

Fairbanks-Cliffe and others agree the word “vegan” isn’t always a dish’s strongest selling point. Instead, she said, the prime attraction is the visual appeal of vegetables and fruits. She said no matter guests’ ages, few can resist beautifully prepared and presented plants.

“Last year, if the brides were vegan, we called on their table first to make sure they went up first,” Fairbanks-Cliffe said, “and if there were any other vegans in the room we would tap them on the shoulder and tell them to go through the buffet line.”

Otherwise all the pretty plant food could be gone by the time the vegans got to the buffet.

Fairbanks-Cliffe now recommends at least two of the passed hors d’oeuvres be vegan at all weddings, and she suggests any charcuterie board be paired with a similar board stocked with hummuses and vegetables.

Openness to vegan food identified as such is “definitely an age-related issue,” said Williams at Churchill Events. “It’s the late 20s and early 30s and people who are into exercise. We’ve had a number of brides and grooms who are big runners, and they’ll have more invitees who are on the vegan track.”

Fairbanks-Cliffe has noticed the same healthy vibe among her clients. Many of the destination weddings she plans involve long weekends at resorts or camps with lots of outdoor activities, where couples invite their guests to join them on “a four-mile run the morning of the wedding. If it’s at a girls’ camp, it’s canoe wars, capture the flag, swimming and bike riding. That’s the way they live their life and they’re very conscious about their food. I mean, they brought us avocado toast.”

And now they’re bringing us vegan wedding food. I’ll raise my glass to that.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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