It seems like 2014 is the year that veganism is set to hit the mainstream: with a plant-based menu at the SAG awards, plus vegan beer and hot dogs being sold at the Super Bowl, being a vegan is set to become cool.
Or at the very least, slightly less weird.
A lot of people don't really understand what veganism is.
It's basically the philosophy that humans should live without exploiting animals. As far as having something to believe in goes, it's pretty inoffensive, and yet opponents become bafflingly irritated by the whole concept.
I became vegan about two years-ago. I have to admit, it was a decision made for health reasons. After suffering from some fairly serious digestive problems over the course of a decade, I was desperate, so I decided to try it. The next day I started a plant-based diet, and though I'm sure I've inadvertently made some mistakes along the way, I haven't diverged from it.
Pretty much instantly, my health changed for the better, with some unexpected side effects. My anaemia disappeared, my hair grew longer and I lost a significant amount of weight. Not to mention getting the anecdotal two-weeks of euphoria when initially cutting animal products from your diet. I read about it, it happened to me, it was awesome.
So...how easy was it?
Honestly - it was very easy. And I say this as someone who loves food, loves cooking, and eats good food.
There are some questions that come up again and again though - so I'll try and address a couple of them here.
The first is the question of protein, and how do vegans get enough.
What a lot of people don't know, is that according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine most Americans actually eat too much protein. If you're having two servings of meat a day, plus dairy, you're getting too much, and that can be a health risk, with an increasing danger of kidney stones, kidney disease and osteoporosis amongst other nasty illnesses.
It's actually very easy to get adequate protein from plant-based sources, in the form of pulses, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, seitan. The list goes on.
The other most common question is: What do you eat?
Personally, I eat a lot of Italian food. You can make a great vegan pasta al pesto Genovese con patate e fagiolini, and any kind of tomato-based sauces are also good. You can make fresh pasta without egg. Obviously I eat a lot of vegetables. Quinoa is good. Risottos are good. Soups and stews are easy to make and tasty. Lots of vegan cooking has a Malaysian influence, as the flavours are very distinctive and it's simple to achieve depth without the use of meat. You can do amazing things with aubergine and liquid smoke. It's even easy to bake, making cakes that are indistinguishable from non-vegan, and slightly healthier too. It's a literally endless list. I'm personally not a big fan of 'fake' food - meat substitutions, for example, but they are there in spades should you want them.
There's even a growing bunch of artisanal vegan 'cheese' makers, who mainly work with cashews and almonds.
The other side of veganism is the lifestyle. Although I started just with diet, I personally found that one followed the other, and now I don't buy leather or wool products, any products containing lanolin or other animal-derived ingredients, and I check that any products (both cosmetic and household cleaning) have not been tested on animals.
This may sound inconvenient, but once I found products that were on the level, I stuck to them. There's a proliferation of information on the internet so to those of us gifted with the ability to read, it's very easy.
I believe that many consumers are unaware of the amount of testing that goes into most cosmetics and cleaning products, and how gruesome most of this testing is. Companies are, unsurprisingly, secretive with this information. I think that a lot of people would choose cruelty-free products if we had a labelling system that was more comprehensive. Although one of the most stupid things I've ever heard someone say was that it would be "hypocritical" of her to buy cruelty-free cosmetics as she is a meat eater. I disagree. Why not go cruelty-free cosmetics-wise? It's easy enough, and it doesn't have to impinge on your eating habits.
Probably the worst thing about being vegan is the assumptions people make: that you must be militant, annoying and smug. If there are vegans like this, giving everyone else a bad name it's a shame, because most of them aren't.
In my experience, it's quite the opposite.
I can't tell you how many times I've been forced to defend my habits against a horse burger-wielding omnivore. (Seriously, if you can't have any respect for anyone else, at least have some respect for yourself, and stop eating unidentified mashed-up quadruped).
At the end of the day, there's no single perfect choice for everyone, but it would be good if the vegan lifestyle could be seen as accessible, and easy, rather than intimidating and weird.
With concepts such as "Veganuary" alongside better consumer knowledge of factory farming and growing evidence about the health benefits of a plant-based diet, as well as the environmental benefits, this certainly looks like a possibility.