By Angelique D’Alessandro
Allison Pick, an 18-year-old college freshman, browses the aisles of her local Stop N Shop, eyeing the variety of products in front of her.
She examines labels, reads ingredients and prices, and ultimately picks items to take home with her and others to return to the shelf, like any other grocery shopper.
The only difference between Pick and the others is that Pick is vegan, and so her basket includes no meat or dairy products.
Instead, it is filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat-substitute products. She explained her transition to veganism as she put a block of soy cheese and carton of vegan ice cream into her shopping cart.
“It’s about the health,” she said, eyeing the organic, vegan foods stacked in the aisles, “Being vegan, I’m the healthiest I have ever been. I would never change that.”
Pick has been vegan for two years, and said her health is directly correlated to her diet change. She is no different than the many other Americans who have also transitioned to veganism in the past few years.
As veganism has become more mainstream, increasing numbers of local residents find themselves turning to the lifestyle, resulting in the expansion of vegan restaurants in the area, and all around the United States.
In New York, veganism has spread rapidly.
According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, New York has the fourth largest number of vegan restaurants in the United States. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals listed New York City as one of the “Top 10 Friendliest Cities to be Vegan” in 2016.
The sale and consumption of vegan food across the country dramatically increased in the past decade, and is continuing its upward trend.
According to Statista, the market value of soy-based, meatless products in the United States has more than tripled from 2014 to projections into 2019, going from $4.6 billion to $16.75 billion.
The percent of people who consumed soy-based foods rose from 24 percent to 31 percent from 2010 to 2014.
This trend is echoed locally, where soy-based food is accessible at newly established vegan stores.
In Williston Park, two of these establishments stand side by side on Hillside Avenue, and each offers residents their own selection of soy and plant based products.
The vegan bakery “Sweet to Lick” uses soy, almond, or coconut milks in its baked goods, creating a variety for Long Island vegans.
Colleen McGovern, a Bayport resident who has been vegan for four years, said her favorite place to pick up vegan food on Long Island is 3 Brothers Vegan Café, a pizzeria with locations in Copiague, Lynbrook, and Farmingdale.
Of the options at the restaurant, McGovern said, “the food is amazing and it’s all comfort foods, like mac and cheese balls, alfredo, and pizza.”
According to the staff at 3 Brothers Vegan Café, which has been providing vegan alternatives to popular dishes since its opening, the vegan food is very popular.
“We make vegan pizza, vegan foods, and most of our customers who come in are looking for the vegan options,” a cashier said; “our top selling dish is the vegan penne a la vodka.”
The spread of veganism on Long Island is no shock to Josephine Green, who has been vegan for four and a half years and is a member of Anonymous for the Voiceless, a New York vegan activist group.
Green said she has noticed an increase in vegan options over the past four years, saying that more vegan restaurants have opened because the voices of vegans are being heard. “Most restaurants won’t change 100 percent, but they are thinking about us because we are a growing community,” Green said.
Of her time with Anonymous for the Voiceless, Green said the protests are peaceful, which she was happy to find out. “I thought joining an organization could be aggressive because of videos I had seen, but they are not like that at all.
They’re some of the best people I’ve ever met.” Anonymous for the Voiceless is “an animal rights organization that specializes in street activism,” and is active all over the world. The group holds frequent demonstrations in Manhattan and Queens to inform civilians about veganism.
To achieve this goal, Anonymous for the Voiceless uses its website to link those interested in veganism to educational materials, such as the documentary “Forks over Knives.”
The film, which was first released in 2011, documents health related illnesses and how easily they can be overcome by a plant-based, vegan diet.
“Forks over Knives” examines health through the eyes of two researchers, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.
The two separately engaged in research throughout their careers. While treating common health issues and diseases afflicting American citizens, such as heart disease, obesity, and cancer, both came to the conclusion that diet was a huge factor in reducing the risk of and curing these illnesses.
Both doctors agreed that a vegan diet was the best way to improve one’s overall health. Although some people call a transition to a fully vegan diet “extreme,” Esselstyn disagrees, saying “with the western diet, this guarantees there’s going to be a half a million people in this country this year who will have to have the front half of their body divided, their heart exposed… some people would call that extreme.”
Esselstyn is referring to common practices in American medicine for treating heart disease or other illness. Throughout the film, a man named Joey Aucoin documents his health journey with Dr. Matt Lederman and Dr. Alona Pulde, two medically trained professionals who encourage their patients to transition to a vegan, plant-based diet to treat illness. Aucoin, a business owner from Tampa, Florida, described his eating habits as “living to eat, not eating to live.”
In 2004, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and declared a candidate for both heart attack and stroke. His doctors prescribed 11 medications, including eight pills and two daily shots administered by needle, to treat the symptoms.
However, Aucoin said that living on multiple pills didn’t “feel normal.” To fix this, he visited Lederman, who, through his unusual practices of helping patients shop, cook, and meal plan, helped Aucoin transition to a plant-based diet.
Lederman also urged Aucoin to stop taking his medications, as he felt the problems could be treated with a lifestyle change.
Six months after transitioning to veganism, Aucoin had lost 28 pounds, remained off his medications, and maintained his healthy lifestyle. His markers for a heart attack had gone down, as well as his blood pressure and cholesterol. Aucoin had begun “eating to live.”
Although doctors like Esselstyn and Lederman support a plant-based, vegan diet, many other physicians and health groups are oppose the change.
The American Heart Association, founded and run by American cardiologists and health professionals, advocates for a diet of “a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products, and skinless poultry and fish.”
In addition, its “recipes for health” section includes meals with pork, bacon, and steak. Dr. John Warner, the president of the organization, advocates for an end to heart disease through predominantly “smoke-free air, CPR training, and systems of care.”
Similarly, the American Cancer Society, an organization that researches and funds treatment for cancer, says milk, eggs, chicken, and seafood are all healthy foods that when added to a diet will reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Its “quick meals” section includes “quick-and-easy chili with extra-lean ground beef or ground turkey breast, canned kidney beans, tomato sauce, chopped onion, canned chopped tomatoes, and chili seasoning packet.”
The diet proposed by these organizations contrasts with that of doctors who support veganism. These organizations advocate that meat and dairy are part of a balanced and healthy American diet.
In New York, there is the same dissent from healthcare organizations. NYC Health, sponsored by the official website of the City of New York, advocates a diet of “beverages that are nutritious, like fat-free or low-fat milk,” and “fish, poultry, lean meats, beans, and eggs.” The website also advocates for “healthy fats, such as canola and olive oils.”
As she heads to the front of the check-out line, Pick placed the contents of her shopping cart onto the conveyer belt slowly inching towards the cashier.
Her final list of items purchased included dairy free cheese and ice cream, meatless chicken made out of soy, three organic apples, celery, a bag of quinoa, white rice, and kale chips. As she began to bag the groceries, Pick placed each one carefully into a reusable sack, and then onto the shopping cart once again.
“I’ve seen this movement grow so much since I began, and I know with time more and more people will see how important it is,” she said, rolling her now emptied shopping cart back onto the sidewalk. “It’s time for people to make a change, for the sake of the planet, and for the sake of themselves.”