The Health & FItness Issue

Vegans: We come in peace.

The thought of ingesting a morsel of tofu, even when marinated to its most delicious potential, is more terrifying to some than being chased by a bear.

Feared and maligned though they might be, plant-based — and we mean entirely plant-based — diets are now an undeniable aspect of our culture. Despite resistance among the bacon-crazed set that likes to skewer herbivores on social media, we’re a growing force in the food market.

That’s why this week, as part of our annual Health and Fitness Issue, we’re delving into the vegan lifestyle and its many aspects.

First, a definition is in order. Many people think vegan and vegetarian are interchangeable. They are not. Many vegetarians eat cheese and eggs, among other animal-derived products. Vegans eliminate those items as well as insect-derived products like honey. This more or less compels us to be mighty inventive.

As a longtime vegan (17+ years), I can tell you how easy it’s become to find dining options pretty much anywhere. And despite the deeply held assumption that vegans are pallid, muscle-deprived weaklings, many of us are robust, athletic individuals who can outpace nearly anyone. Some are even bodybuilders.

That’s not to say veganism is the easiest thing in the world, especially if you’re in it for reasons that go beyond health.

Shoe shopping, for example, sucks. Same goes for cosmetics, and not just because of animal testing. Even some of the higher-end makeup brands grind up tiny beetles to get their hues to shimmer just right. We don’t buy cars with leather seats. (I’ve even heard of one vegan who refused to go on a date in a car with leather seats, which I think is a little over the top.) We don’t wear wool. We can’t just pop out to Walgreens if we run out of conditioner (though some drugstore brands are okay).

So, yeah, it’s complex.

But it is also of great benefit.

Not only are we avoiding products rendered as a result of cruelty, violence and environmental degradation (products that probably aren’t good for us anyway), we’re also voting with our dollar. And, judging by the wealth of delicious (seriously) vegan products you’ll find at a non-specialty grocery store these days — which, trust me, weren’t there 10 years ago — our votes are being heard.

For many, going the vegan route might seem like an insurmountable challenge, given the vigilance often involved. The time spent researching recipes and cruelty-free products and reading labels is extensive, we admit.

That’s why we’re here to help. Flip through the following pages for everything from tips on eating a balanced diet while vegan (easier than you’d think!) to a list of musicians you might not know are herbivorous to this area’s best bets for delicious vegan fare. Whether your curiosity stems from the diet’s many health benefits or simply from the desire to save the world, there’s something in this issue for you.

And if you’re not thinking vegan, we’ve got lots of other info in the issue to help you get healthier. For instance, a newly minted yogi gives us a first-person account of her inaugural class, and local experts tell us how they’re helping the Tampa Bay area stay fit through the use of new technology.

This issue might make you feel better just by reading it. (But you’ll probably still need to go to the gym.)

—Kate Bradshaw