Shortly after giving up meat in 1995, Jessica Lindsey took a cross-country trip that gave her a taste of what eating out was going to be like. “Vegetarianism was still so fringe then that hardly anyone outside of California knew what it meant,” she says. “At one restaurant, the waitress told me that the soups were vegetarian. She said that the broth was from beef, and it contained chicken pieces, but no meat!”
Today Lindsey rarely has such strange encounters. Vegetarianism is steadily becoming more mainstream. Roughly 6 to 8 million Americans are vegetarians, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group–up from a half million to 2 million in 1994. And they have gotten smarter about their dining choices.
A generation ago, vegetarian meals were often built around leaden nut loaves or uninspired brown-rice casseroles. Today, many vegetarians consider themselves foodies and relish the challenge of finding recipes that showcase fresh vegetables as a delicious main course, flavored with herbs and spices. More than 50 vegan cookbooks are set to be published this year alone. “Vegetables are becoming culinary rock stars,” says Amanda Cohen, owner of the vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy in New York City.
As these four women show, there are many potential benefits to eating vegetarian. Read on…