When Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson first used the word "vegan" to describe fellow nondairy vegetarians in November 1944, the diet and lifestyle were both decidedly uncool. Unsympathetic vegetarians even refused to associate themselves with the radical movement. Veganism developed a clubby, health-crazed reputation. The diet eventually became popular with countercultural movements -- most notably hippies -- but still maintained its air of exclusivity. Nowadays, many vegans try to play down the self-righteous reputation and promote veganism as a fun and even trendy lifestyle.
Vegan cooking has been, until recently, synonymous with mushy tofu and nutritional yeast. A growing interest in ethnic cooking, however, has made budding chefs realize that many cultures have delicious vegan meals built right into their cuisines. Middle Eastern foods like hummus, tahini and falafel, North African stews and tagines, Indian vegetable curries and adaptable Asian stir-fries let vegans enjoy eating and sharing their plant-based diets with nonvegan friends.
Vegan baking, on the other hand, seems like an impossibility. How do you make cake or cookies without milk, butter or eggs? Soy, rice or almond milks easily replace dairy milk. Ground flax seeds, silken tofu, soy yogurt, a vegan egg substitute or even bananas can stand in for eggs, while unsalted margarine or canola oil can replace butter. Vegan baking also appeals to people with egg allergies or lactose intolerance.
Vegans also abstain from wearing or using animal products -- leather, wool, silk and animal-based glues, dyes, cosmetics and chemicals. Trading in nice leather shoes, silk blouses and wool pants for Payless kicks and earthy-looking hemp shifts used to be one of the major sacrifices of veganism. But now vegan designers and stores cultivate a new aesthetic -- one that is cruelty-free, well-made and chic. The popular fashion designer Stella McCartney, a vegetarian, uses only natural fibers and imitation leather in her clothing.
The vegan lifestyle is transforming from one based on self-sacrifice to one centered on conscientious fun. Potential vegans attracted by the lifestyle's cachet or its ethical, environmental or health benefits should not, however, neglect their research. The diet is still a complicated one that requires professional consultation.
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