What would you expect to get out of a $24 lunch? To indulge yourself with crab cakes and a glass of wine? A wagyu burger? Duck?
At Pure Food and Wine in New York, your $24 dish would consist of kelp, bok choy, mushrooms, cashews and sauce. You might leave a little dismayed and likely still hungry. But you may have rubbed elbows with Bill Clinton, Tom Brady and Alec Baldwin. Welcome to veganism.
The Vegetarian Resource Group reports that there has been a “marked increase” in veganism over the last decade. And it’s likely to rise. To what do they attribute its success? Well, for one: trendiness.
Celebrity endorsers, including Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, have transformed the image of who the vegan is, and with it transformed the public’s perception of veganism. What the Old Spice guy did for Old Spice, Bill Clinton, et al. have done for veganism.
Vegan chef Tal Ronnen, who has worked for Winfrey and Portia de Rossi, remarks, “I have never seen such a shift…It’s not hippies preaching peace and love…You have a crossover of mainstream business people and good-looking celebrities.”
Sarma Melngailis, the owner of Pure, echoes the same sentiment: “We’ve moved away from that crunchy image. You won’t see that here.”
Ok. So we’ve established veganism is now cool. This might cause some to flock to the lifestyle, in the same way some converted to Kabbalah because Madonnna started sporting the religion’s signature red string bracelet.
And thanks to trendy restaurants like Pure, we’ve also now established that it can be appetizing as well. As Ronnen states, “It’s no longer seen as a diet of hummus and alfalfa sprouts on some really dry healthy bread.” But, does a scrumptious vegan meal come at a premium? One that’s unrealistic for many Americans? Not every American, working full-time for an average salary to support a family of five, can afford a $24 plate of kelp and bok choy.
Portia de Rossi has become a champion of veganism, convincing her wife, Ellen DeGeneres, to convert. In fact, chef Tal Ronnen catered their wedding. The couple has even invested in a vegan restaurant chain, and all of the cooking segments on DeGeneres’ show are vegan.
But when faced with the argument that the price of the vegan lifestyle may deter some, de Rossi cites “foods like beans and rice” as affordable staples, an alternative that I assume many (including myself) don’t find particularly appealing. Her counterargument is nearly insulting. While she is employing vegan chefs to construct gourmet meals, it’s as if she expects average Americans to welcome veganism with open arms, fully accepting that it comes at the cost of enjoyment. At least try to convince us, Portia.
Champions of veganism would more successfully gain converts by communicating the health benefits of the lifestyle, while teaching how it can be delicious and affordable as well.
De Rossi goes on to state, “The more we can demystify the word ‘vegan,’ the better.” The celebrity demystification campaign has been successful in some ways. It’s not for “uncool hippies with no taste buds” anymore. Veganism is now the lifestyle of the rich and beautiful.
But if they want to Americans to really see it as a viable option, they ought to “demystify” the image of veganism as being a lifestyle exclusively for the elite.