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Restaurants Should Get With the Times and Add Some Good Vegan Food to the Menu

People are eating less meat and dairy and they want more vegetarian and vegan options when they're eating out.

First off, let me tell you that I'm a friendly vegan! I'm not judgmental, and I truly believe that it's not my business to tell anyone what they should or shouldn't eat. I grew up in the South, greatly enjoying chicken-fried steak and barbecued ribs, and every kind of cheesy thing I could get my hands on. I loved meat; never thought about it. Until I thought about it. After a few years of transitioning, I've been vegan for seven years. And it seems I'm not alone.

I went out to dinner last night with friends and came home fairly hungry. If you don't count the bread I tried not to eat too much of and the olives from my martini, or the little side dish of steamed vegetables, there wasn't much I could call a meal. I scanned the menu for anything that I could eat, but all I saw was lobster, lamb, fish, steak, chicken, veal, pork, and pastas that had any combination of the aforementioned meats with cheese or cream. Nothing for me but the dreaded Grilled Vegetable Plate.

I would SO love a hearty dish with a center of the plate protein, with some TLC from the chef -- i.e. sauces and garnishes -- to make it just as fulfilling as the meat and dairy dishes. I would pay good money for it! And I know a lot of other people would too -- and not just vegan people.

Eating vegan(ish) or vegetarian is mainstream now, and growing ever more so. Oprah, Ellen and Martha each devoted shows to eating vegan. "Good Morning America," "Extra" and "Dr. Oz" have also dedicated segments to the growing popularity of eating less meat and more plant-based food, and you will find in just about every major magazine or newspaper, there are features about the ever increasing vegan trend. Natalie Portman, Tobey McGuire, Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Mike Tyson, Bill Clinton, Larry Page, Biz Stone, Ricky Williams and Tony Gonzales are all vegan (or veganish!); these folks are the trendsetters -- actors, athletes, business and thought leaders.

I realize that vegan is not how the majority of people eat, and restaurants are in the business of giving their customers what they want, but the trend is quite assuredly moving toward reducing and replacing meat. In fact, I've noticed that when I can finagle something interesting from the chef (assuming the waiter bothers to approach him with the request) that is both hearty and healthy, nine out of ten times most of the people at the table will say, "I'll have what she's having."

Whether it's because someone wants a break from animal protein three meals a day every day, or they are concerned with their health or weight, or they want to be conscious eaters for the environment, a vegan option is extremely appealing when presented well.

The problem is, restaurants are generally not presenting them well. A plate of vegetables situated next to a baked potato is okay in a pinch, but I wouldn't want to pay a lot for it, nor would I return to that restaurant for it. I would choose another place that everyone would be happy, where my husband could get fish and I could get something plant-based (and not just pasta with tomato sauce ... too many carbs, and boring).

A meal that looks like what everyone else is enjoying would be so, so gratifying and appreciated! And there are so many ways to make a meal with a vegetarian protein using Gardein (looks and tastes like different meats, high protein, low fat and is available through distributors like Sysco and US Foods ), seitan (wheat protein ... made into cutlets or strips), lentils, beans, tofu, chickpeas, tempeh or other high-protein meat alternatives. And on a business note, the profit margin is greater as plant-based protein is cheaper than animal protein, and is how many other cultures get protein.

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