By Beth Teitell, Globe Staff
Lily Ko wants to go vegan, but please don’t push her to explain why. “I like to tell myself I care about animals,’’ Ko, 26, said on her maiden trip to Peace o’ Pie, a gourmet vegan pizza restaurant in Allston. “But I don’t know if I actually do yet.’’
Here’s what Ko, a research assistant from Quincy, does know: Eating meat is bad for the environment.
“But I don’t know where I got that from,’’ she said, looking at her boyfriend for backup. “Fast Food Nation’’? he suggested, naming the 2001 best-selling takedown of the fast food industry. “Health is a pretty big thing,’’ she added confidently, although a minute later, she turned wistful. “The other way is a lot more convenient. McDonald’s is open 24/7.’’
It’s too soon to declare that America is having a vegan moment. After all, a scant 1.5 percent of the population is vegetarian, at most, according to food researcher Harry Balzer, a senior vice president of the NPD Group, a market research company. And the number of vegetarians who take the no animal flesh diet that much further by shunning dairy and eggs, and sometimes honey or refined sugar, is simply too small to count, he said.
But you wouldn’t know that by looking at cultural indicators. Vegan cookbooks make the bestseller lists (Alicia Silverstone’s “The Kind Diet,’’ and the “Skinny Bitch’’ series). Vegan or anti-big farm documentaries such as “Food, Inc.,’’ “Forks Over Knives,’’ and “Farmageddon’’ grab high-profile attention. Former omnivore Bill Clinton considers himself vegan. So many CEOs have gone vegan (Twitter cofounder Biz Stone, casino magnate Steve Wynn, hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons) that Businessweek identified a new group – “power vegans.’’
Ellen DeGeneres is a vegan, so are Natalie Portman (although she gave it up during her recent pregnancy), Bob Harper, the trainer on “The Biggest Loser,’’ and, rumor has it, even Alec Baldwin (yes, you can be a chubby vegan). In Boston, new vegan or vegan-vegetarian restaurants have opened in the past few years. There’s True Bistro and Pulse Cafe, both in Somerville, Red Lentil in Watertown, and Veggie Galaxy in Cambridge’s Central Square. Even non-vegetarian restaurants are starting to label some items “vegan.’’ A local image consultant, Ginger Burr, has added “vegan consultant’’ to her resume, and she hosts a monthly Internet vegan radio show, “Vegan and the Living Is Easy.’’ (The August guest was a vegan bodybuilder).
In perhaps the ultimate signs that veganism has arrived, there are vegan Groupons and vegan jokes on Twitter. “How to comfort a vegan after a breakup,’’ a recent tweet read. “Don’t worry, there’s more kelp in the sea.’’
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