Want to hear something audacious and wonderful? Vegan cuisine is the hottest trend going right now. If you don’t believe it, consider this: When the Slutty Vegan food truck came to Charlotte from Atlanta last week, more than 1,000 people turned out and waited for hours in the hot sun to get food.
The first-ever NC Soul-Full Vegan Fest at Heist Brewery on Memorial Day weekend drew hundreds of visitors who raved about vegan versions of mainstay meals – including ribs, salmon, and best-in-show collards from Cooking with Joya Chef Adjoa Courtney.
Business is so brisk at take-out-only Veltree on North Tryon Street, the owners are looking for a second location.
Are there really that many people willing to totally forego meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy in the pursuit of mindful eating and wellness?
In a word, yes.
Vegans are different from vegetarians who may eat cheese or other animal products, even if those were obtained “humanely.” Setting aside any ethical dilemmas, it’s been proven that people in the U.S. eat too much meat and that correlates to detrimental health outcomes. According to U.S. dietary guidelines, 90 percent of us are deficient in fruits and vegetables.
Going vegan improves both of those problems.
“We’re trying to get in between people and unwise choices they make when they’re too busy to think about food," said Simon. It’s an ongoing process for meat-and-three devotees reluctant to make the shift to a totally plant-based diet. People worry that the food will be mushy and bland, but done right, vegan cuisine is satisfying and so delicious it can astonish you."
For one thing, vegetables are beautiful. Picture gold baby beets, tiny tomatoes the size of grapes, perfectly plated on a bed of bright greens, scattered with toasted pumpkin seeds and drizzled with pomegranate molasses. And that’s just a salad.
Vegan cooking incorporates influences and ingredients from regions where people consume less meat, such as Thailand, the Middle East – and India, where food writer Awanthi Vardaraj is based. We chatted by messenger about the differences in our food habits.
“Our perception of American food isn't helped by our own experiences of travelling to the States and being confronted with huge portions…and the fact that the American diet is rich in meats, processed foods, dairy, and butter,” she said.
One way to make the switch to plant-based eating is with meat substitutes. When they first hit the market, many of them were rubbery, tasteless, and just plain weird. They’re a lot better now, so good in fact that they can lure people to line up at a food truck for a burger slathered with onions and peppers, or chow down on Nourish’s smoked barbecue made from shredded jackfruit and topped with authentic Carolina vinegar sauce.
For home cooks, creating a vegan version of a favorite recipe can be as simple as swapping falafel for chicken tenders in a sandwich or replacing cream with coconut milk in coffee.
A great place to get ideas is The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Meats and Meat Substitutes. If you’ve seen soy-based tempeh or seitan at the health-food store and wondered what to do with it, each thumbnail explanation on this Top Ten list has links to recipes. Add to your repertoire with guidance from experts such as JL Fields; she’s done the legwork in books that include step-by-step guides to meal prep, air fryers, and pressure cookers.
In restaurants, vegan chefs are elevating their meat-free menus in newly imaginative ways, with artistry and alchemy. There’s even a vegan fine-dining scene: Plant in Asheville made Thrillist’s roster of the best in the U.S. (I can vouch for their stunning cheese plate that showcases renditions made from fermented cashews and almond milks.)
Charlotte’s vegan food community is more collaborative than competitive, and its purveyors are planning now for the 8th Annual VegFest on September 7 at Park Expo. It’s free to attend, and will offer cooking demos, goody bags, and lots of activities.
Beyond wanting better health, people who adopt a vegan lifestyle often cite their concerns about animal welfare and the environmental damage caused by industrialized agriculture. Those are excellent reasons to reduce or eliminate meat consumption (and a topic for another story). So for now we’ll simply say this: Whether your motivation is personal, global, or somewhere in between, there’s never been a tastier time to try going vegan.
Amy Rogers writes WFAEats, a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and tackle the meatier side of the food scene in and around Charlotte.