Here at the close of 2019, apartment hunting site Rent.com just ranked Portland, Maine’s largest city, No. 6 on its list of the Best American Cities for Vegans, a fitting cap to a year filled with ever-more vegan food and ever-more-powerful criticism of animal agriculture.

For instance:

New York City banned foie gras.

California’s oldest dairy farm switched to growing almonds.

Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, launched the Pure Farmland brand of vegan meats.

Canada dropped milk and meat as stand-alone groups in its food guide and recommended its citizens get most of their calories from plants.

A United Nations report warned catastrophic climate change is on its way unless Westerners drastically reduce our consumption of animals and animal products.

And the national media showered Maine’s own Portland Public Schools with positive press after all the city’s elementary schools added daily vegan hot lunch choices in September.

VEGAN MAINE

A branch of Copper Branch restaurant opened in the Old Port in December. It’s part of a vegan national chain from Canada. Photo courtesy of Copper Branch

Maine’s vegan landscape expanded significantly in 2019 with the arrival of the all-vegan Lovebirds Donuts in Kittery; the all-vegan Sticky Sweet ice cream shop in Portland; the mostly vegan hummus restaurant Nura in Portland’s Monument Square; and the all-vegan fast-food restaurant Copper Branch, which recently opened in Portland’s Old Port, making it the first national vegan chain to set up shop in the Pine Tree State.

Other notable veg-friendly Portland restaurant openings in 2019 included LB Kitchen in the West End (with a vegan-heavy menu similar to the East End original); Monte’s Fine Foods on Washington Avenue (vegan pepperoni pizzas and vegan Italians); Three Dollar Dewey’s reopening in the Old Port (with an expanded vegan menu); the Bayside coffee shop Candy’s (vegan waffles and vegan hot dogs); and Fred’s Fried Dough food cart (vegan late-night snacks in the Old Port).

This year, suddenly every Portland pizza parlor worth its crust was offering vegan cheese and vegan pies, while Cap’n Bill’s Lobster cart added vegan hot dogs and vegan grilled cheese sandwiches; City Deli in the One City Center food court added chicken-fried tofu and plant-based meatball Parmesan; and the Portland Food Co-op added vegan breakfast sandwich The Avery, named after a certain Maine writer you may know.

Yet it was a juice bar in Las Vegas, ColdPress Express, that made headlines for serving something no local eatery has yet attempted: A Maine-style vegan lobster roll.

Just before it closed for good, customers waited in line at Silly’s for one last meal/memory. Courtesy photo

Portland’s vegan dining scene did take some hits in 2019, with Silly’s, Local Sprouts and three juice bars closing. But outside the city, Freeport gained the all-vegan Wanderlust Juicery; Belfast welcomed an all-vegan cafe, The Alchemist; Cornish became home to an all-vegan food cart, The Greenhouse; Auburn got a veg-friendly pizza place, Cibo, that makes its own vegan Alfredo sauce; and Ellsworth’s Provender Kitchen + Bar racked up rave reviews for its large vegan menu.

Also noteworthy: The top dessert, by popular vote, at a 2019 Maine Restaurant Week cocktail party in Portland was a vegan coffee cake from the Black Tie Company.

But 2019 wasn’t all parties and vegan cakes. The year also saw more proposals to build land-based industrial fish farms (and permit their waste discharges) in Maine.

Meanwhile, Cooke Aquaculture, a factory-style salmon farm in Bingham, was the subject of a hidden camera investigation by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Compassion Over Killing, which provided footage to state officials of workers slamming and stomping on live fish. Maine’s Animal Welfare Program is investigating the allegations, and recently the state fined Cooke Aquaculture $150,000 for violating fish crowding limits and failing to test for water pollution as required.

On a brighter note: When the vegan television channel Plant Based Network debuted on Roku devices late in 2019, one of its first featured shows was the Maine-made “Vegan Mashup” cooking series, staring Maine chef Toni Fiore and vegan celebrities such as Miyoko Schinner and Terry Hope Romero.

TRENDSETTERS

Doubtless you know Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, center. for Brexit, but did you know he eats vegan? House of Commons via AP

This year, it was hard to tell whether celebrities were leading the way to vegan eating or trying to keep up. Either way, 2019 saw many prominent people praising plant-based food.

Chef and food personality Eddie Huang went vegan because of the fires in the Amazon; America’s Got Talent judge Simon Cowell went vegan because of his health; and U.K. Prime Minster Boris Johnson went vegan because of his environmentalist girlfriend.

Wherever there was vegan meat in 2019, musician Snoop Dog seemed to be there too, serving vegan burgers at a Grammy’s party or eating them at the newly opened Atlanta restaurant sensation Slutty Vegan. Celtics point guard and vegan Kyrie Irving starred in a TV commercial for Beyond Meat; and New Jersey senator, Democratic presidential hopeful and vegan Cory Booker kept up his plant-based eating even on the campaign trail (including a fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the Iowa State Fair).

Youth climate change activist (and vegan) Greta Thunberg in September. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Meanwhile, actor Jaden Smith launched a vegan food truck in Los Angeles that gives meals to the homeless, while Swedish teenage activist and vocal vegan Greta Thunberg told the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York, “You are failing us.” Thunberg was later named Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

VEGAN STATS

Policymakers may have spent 2019 fiddling while the planet burned, but others read the news and decided to eat fewer animals and more plants.

A report issued midyear by the Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association found retail sales of vegan foods grew 11 percent in 12 months. At the same time, sales of specific vegan categories grew even faster, refrigerated vegan meats jumping 37 percent and plant-based yogurts spiking 39 percent (sales of the animal-based equivalents grew 2 percent and shrank 3 percent, respectively, according to the same study.

Survey results released by the Vegetarian Research Group revealed that 20 percent of adults always or sometimes eat vegan meals when dining out. At the same time, data released by OnePoll and vegan brand So Delicious Dairy Free found 31 percent of U.S. respondents now call themselves “flexitarians,” and more than half of us are trying to eat more plant-based meals. Meanwhile, consumer insight company Numerator’s InfoScout OmniPanel announced that 80 percent of shoppers report having tried vegan meat.

NATIONAL TRENDS

The year’s news and events reflected these changing tastes.

One 2019 event with an outsized dietary influence was the release of the Netflix documentary “The Game Changers,” which follows athletes who eat vegan to enhance performance. The film generated oodles of headlines ranging from “The Game Changers effect: How a star-studded documentary opened people’s eyes to the power of veganism” to “Erections are 500% Better on a Vegan Diet,” a reference to one of the film’s most talked about segments.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law requiring that hospitals offer vegan food. Associated Press/Hans Pennink

During 2019, Walt Disney World and Disneyland added more than 400 vegan and vegetarian menu items at the restaurants in its theme parks, while Houston hosted a giant Vegan State Fair, and Denver organized its first Vegan Restaurant Week. In December, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law requiring hospitals in the state to offer vegan options at every meal.

Meat-heavy diets also generated arrests and satire in 2019. A skit on Saturday Night Live in March featuring Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon poked fun at people who love some animals while eating others. Then in August, massive raids by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement at seven chicken slaughtering plants in Mississippi led to 680 arrests and highlighted how the meat industry relies on questionable labor practices that encourage illegal immigration.

Yet there’s hope for a better future for workers and birds alike. That’s in part because in 2019, Harvard Law School launched the Animal Law & Policy Clinic to train up-and-coming attorneys in the field of animal rights. The future is unknowable, of course, but I predict 2020 serves up a hearty helping of vegan food news.

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

[email protected]

Black Tie Vegan Date Cake With Vegan Chocolate Ganache

This vegan coffee cake, baked by Black Tie Company catering pastry chef Ashley Small and executive chef Avery Richter, won the popular vote as top dessert at the 2019 Maine Restaurant Week cocktail party in Portland. You will need a kitchen scale to make it.

Yield: 1 single layer 8-inch round cake or an 8- by 8-inch square cake

CAKE:

200 grams pitted Medjool dates

2 tablespoons finely ground coffee

1 1/4 cups full-fat coconut milk

200 grams self-rising flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed

7 liquid ounces extra-virgin olive oil

175 grams brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare the baking tin by spraying generously with canola spray. Line the pan with baking parchment.

Put the dates, coffee and coconut milk in a pot on the stovetop over medium heat. Let the mixture come to a boil, then let it simmer for a couple minutes to soften the dates.

Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt into a bowl that will be big enough to hold all the batter.

When the date mixture is softened, transfer it to a food processor and process until smooth. Add the flaxseed, olive oil and brown sugar. Let this mixture cool to room temperature, then whisk it into the dry ingredients. Don’t overmix or the cake will be gummy. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake for 25 minutes. If there is no liquid batter on a skewer when you insert it in the center of the cake to test for doneness, the cake is ready. If not, bake the cake for 5 more minutes and check again. While the cake cools, make the ganache.

GANACHE:

Use more maple syrup than suggested here if you prefer sweeter icing.

6-9 dates, pitted

1/4-1/2 cup maple syrup

1 (14-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk

250 grams unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cook the dates with the maple syrup and coconut milk for several minutes in a medium-size pot on the stovetop until the dates start to break down. Process the mixture in the food processor until very smooth.

While the date mixture is still warm, add the chocolate and vanilla to the processor and process until chocolate has melted. Stop the processor and scrape down the sides. Run the processor again. Taste. If the mixture needs more maple syrup, add a couple tablespoons.

Pour the ganache over the cooled cake, spread evenly to ice, then refrigerate the cake to firm up.

OPTIONAL: Make a fruit compote with your favorite seasonal fruit, a dash of lemon juice and a little sugar. Combine this mixture in a pot and cook over medium-low heat on the stovetop until the fruit breaks down and resembles loose jam. Serve warm or at room temperature with the cake.


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