Celebrating Vegetarianism

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You know that vegetarianism is going mainstream when a meat-loving celebrity chef like Mario Batali says he is hard at work on a vegetarian cookbook,and offers "meatless Monday menus" at all 14 of his restaurants.Or when New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman starts the VB6 ("vegan before 6 pm") craze that takes the foodie community by storm. Of course, the most famous of the recent veg transformations comes from our 42nd president, Bill Clinton, who went vegan after two heart surgeries.

Along with this new public awareness of the benefits of vegetarianism (for the health and well-being of ourselves, our animal friends, and our planet), the seminal magazine for vegetarians for more than 30 years, Vegetarian Times, has grown by leaps and bounds.

In honor of the upcoming World Vegetarian Day (Oct. 1), I spoke with Liz Turner VT's editor-in-chief about the magazine and about her own path to vegetarianism.

Before coming to VT (which is Yoga Journal's sister publication), Turner was an editor with some big glossies, including Shape, Bon Appetit, and most recently, Natural Health. She was living the New York publishing lifestyle: long hours, tons of stress, eating delicious but rich food, drinking two glasses of wine a night.

Six months after taking the helm at VT, Turner was diagnosed with an aggressive, estrogen-sensitive form of breast cancer, which she believes was precipitated by the intense stress and unhealthy lifestyle she was living in New York.

Her doctor insisted she consult with a nutritionist to talk about how she was going to stay healthy. "I was sick. I was bald. And that nutritionist laid out a scary scenario," she told me. The bottom line? Keep her weight down, and lay off meat and alcohol.

"Being at VT was a perfect opportunity to cut out meat altogether and try to have a model vegetarian diet," she says. 

Not only has her diet changed, so has her entire work environment. At Bon Appetit, there was a test kitchen with five chefs working at all times.

"There was a toast station in the morning with bread that had just been baked by the food staff.Twice a day, they'd ring a bell and set formal places for the food editors to try the food and critique it," she says.

At VT, "it's much more egalitarian," she jokes.The test kitchen is off site, and twice a week food is brought in and the staff gathers around a big table to try out the latest recipes. "We each make a plate for ourselves and that's our lunch," she explains. "We rate each dish from 1 to 10.Everybody seems very happy if the recipes are healthy and the food is great."

Her goal for VT was to position vegetarian eating in the same delicious light as food is treated in those other culinary magazines. "I believed that vegetarians deserved to have a beautiful food magazine just like everyone else," she says.

It's working. The publication is boldly forwarding the veg agenda with things like the Veg Boot Camp, an inspired and helpful 28-day vegetarian challenge; my favorite feature, 1 Food 5 Ways; and, true to Turner's vision, beautiful photography of delicious meat-free recipes that are a far cry from the simple stir-fry-and-tofu vegetarian days of yore. The current issue features delectable dishes like chard and tofu wontons in sambal soy sauce, cherry tomato and tapenade tartlets, and butternut squash Indian pudding. Yum.

The VT website mirrors other upscale food websites, with recipes, entertaining menus, a blog, an online recipe box, and more.
If you're looking for great idea to help transition your own or your family's diets to a more healthy, planet-friendly, colorful way of eating, this is the month to do it. And you'll surely get some great ideas from Vegetarian Times.