Sometimes, it feels like my whole year has been spent waiting in line for vegan food. Demand has definitely outstripped supply.

Such lines were very visible in August when the California-based traveling restaurant Southern Fried Vegan came to Definitive Brewing in Portland to offer a pop-up dinner featuring veganized versions of dishes like fried chicken, smoked BBQ beef and mac and cheese. Hundreds showed up. Many would-be diners gave up when they saw the line. Even so, the wait for those of us who stuck around was up to 1½ hours.

It was a similar scene at the veg-friendly Common Ground Fair in Unity, where a new booth selling vegan pad Thai had one of the longest lines. Even vegan food vendors who’ve been coming to the fair for years, such as Falafel Mafia, Heiwa Tofu and the Ellsworth Unitarian-Universalist Church (which makes vegan egg rolls), all had significant lines. The record attendance at the fair probably contributed to those waits.

Biddeford-based Atlantic Sea Farms recently launched two Sea-Veggie Burgers, made with Maine-grown kelp and chickpeas, and available in basil pesto and ginger-sesame flavors. Harbor Fish Market in Portland and more than 300 Sprouts supermarkets across the U.S. already stock the burgers. In October, Bissell Brothers Brewing Three Rivers in Milo responded to rising chicken prices by making plant-based chicken patties from masa and using them in Chump Change, a vegetarian sandwich they serve.

This summer, Vail’s Custom Cakes & Icelandic Bakery in Dover-Foxcroft added a full vegan cake menu, and Gaia’s Plant-Based Kitchen in Brunswick began catering events. Portland restaurant LB Kitchen and Brunswick-based Skordo are partnering to sell spice packs with recipe cards allowing people to recreate LB Kitchen’s dark chocolate spice and coco-mango smoothies, both vegan, at home. Visit skordo.com and click on “recipe kits” to order.

I’ve written many times about the rapid march of vegan doughnuts across Maine. In August a political story in the British weekly newspaper The Economist, of all places, noticed the same, defining Portland as a town of “lobster-and-scallop mousse and vegan doughnuts.”

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In September, The Bayview Hotel in Bar Harbor hosted a series of pop-up, four-course, vegetarian dinners. Hotel owner Kimberly Swan said the dinners were well-received, and she hopes to host similar pop-ups next year.

Also in September British animal rights activist and filmmaker Ed Winters, known as “Earthling Ed,” spoke at Colby College about the connection between climate change and eating animals. The month before, animal activists in Readfield circulated a petition against the Pig Scramble held as part of Readfield Heritage Days, prompting the Readfield Select Board, after the festival, to pass a resolution excluding activities that harm animals, or are perceived to harm them, from future Heritage Days celebrations.

And the hot new item at Hannaford deli counters is not made of pigs but of plants. All 125 stores in the Hannaford supermarket chain now stock multiple varieties of Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli bulk vegan meats, which can be sliced-to-order at the deli counter.

But not everything is coming up vegan deli slices. October brought sad news: The Copper Branch in Portland, part of a vegan chain headquartered in Montréal, went dark and a For Lease sign appeared in the window. The restaurant opened just months before the pandemic hit, and even when the threat of COVID-19 receded, the failure of the office lunch crowds to return downtown surely didn’t augur well. We’ll miss you Copper Branch.

Here’s a look at more cheerful vegan news in Maine:

Midcoast Vegan puts out its sandwich board

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Brunswick company Midcoast Vegan has begun making banh mi sandwiches. Midcoast Vegan photo

National hip-hop artist Sole, who is known off-stage as Tim Holland and lives on a permaculture homestead in Brunswick, has launched Midcoast Vegan, a plant-based sandwich business. Many of the sandwiches use Holland’s small-batch vegan meats and cheeses, including his signature banh mi.

“It’s really a big experiment to find out what people want,” Holland told me. “I’m experimenting and trialing everything through Morning Glory (Natural Foods in Brunswick). This winter I’m hoping to expand to more stores between here and Portland.”

When the Brunswick Winter Market opens for the season on Nov. 10, Midcoast Vegan will have a booth selling sandwiches, breakfast burritos and muffins. Soon, the company will begin supplying Union Bagel in Portland with lacto-fermented cashew cheese and vegan Canadian bacon. Holland also makes and smokes seitan-based roasts, which he slices into deli meat. The meats will star in Midcoast Vegan’s forthcoming ham and cheese sandwich.

You can listen to Holland on Propaganda by the Seed, a monthly podcast he hosts with Aaron Parker of Edgewood Nursery in Falmouth. The podcast  focuses on food forests, foraging, mushrooms, herbal medicine and how to grow unusual plants. Follow Midcoast Vegan on Instagram.

Tootie’s Tempeh starts production

Biddeford-based organic tempeh marker Tootie’s Tempeh has begun shipping to Maine stores and restaurants. Tootie’s Tempeh photo

After emerging as a startup in 2019 and moving twice (now it’s in the food-centric North Dam Mill building no. 10 on the Pepperell Mill complex in Biddeford), Tootie’s Tempeh has, at last, begun shipping pallets of its organic tempeh.

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Production delays (to say nothing of COVID) pushed the launch date back again and again, but the tempeh is finally showing up in stores and restaurants, including Rosemont Market stores, many of the state’s cooperative grocers and Fish and Whistle restaurant in Biddeford. Tootie’s Tempeh is the only commercially available tempeh made in Maine. (After a 15-year run, tempeh maker Lalibela Farms closed its Bowdoinham operation a few months after the pandemic started).

Tootie’s initial product is plain tempeh, made with organic soybeans grown by Aurora Mills and Farm in Linneus. Its packaging uses 50 percent less plastic than competitors, according to the company, which is structured as a worker-owned cooperative. Tootie’s Tempeh hopes to franchise its business concept of locally sourced tempeh, worker ownership and a reduced-plastic production technique (which lessens the amount of plastic needed to ferment cakes of tempeh).

“Our model is scalable because we want this sustainable tempeh to be available across the county,” co-founder and CEO Sarah Speare said. “The idea is to keep it local everywhere.”

Michael LaCharite, formerly with Brewery Extrava, is the company’s production manager. He oversees tempeh fermentation with assistance from sous chef and food safety expert Kate Musser. Speare is the former longtime executive director of the Maine-based Institute for Humane Education.

The company is named for Speare’s mother Tootie, who died 17 years ago. She was an entrepreneur who, starting in the early 1960s, advocated for equal rights and environmental protection. Speare hopes Tootie’s Tempeh will follow in her footsteps.

Students Sheila Cunningham and Allison Pelletier make cookies during a County Roots’ vegan baking class, held at Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle. County Roots photo

County Roots hosts cooking classes

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County Roots, a vegan cafe in Presque Isle, is using the new culinary classroom at Northern Maine Community College to teach a vegan baking series. The classes, which run for six weeks ending Nov. 9, cover everything from cakes, cake decorating, pies and muffins to biscuits, breads, gluten-free breads and Thanksgiving baked goods.

“We want to put it out there that vegan baking and cooking is easy,” said Amy Stedman, the owner of County Roots. She is teaching the classes with Julie Hartley, who is certified in plant-based nutrition.

The series is already sold out, so the instructors are planning more courses, details to come later this winter. Country Roots café on U.S. Route 1 was recently selling vegan peanut butter–frosted chocolate cake, cinnamon rolls and pumpkin–white chocolate chip cookies. Follow County Roots on social media for daily specials and information on upcoming cooking classes.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland and can be reached at [email protected]
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