Gunars Elmuts, founder of New York City-based NUMU, always loved animals, so when he discovered (via some enlightening books and YouTube videos) what implications his diet had on those animals—as well as the environment—he dove into the vegan lifestyle. “One day, I could no longer reconcile the fact that something I claimed to love was on my dinner plate,” he explains. “I made the switch overnight and have never looked back.”
At the time, Elmuts didn’t have any friends who were vegan or even vegetarian. He overcame what he calls “a steep learning curve” to navigate the vegan world on his own, with the assistance of the internet and some PETA pamphlets. But, after gaining more experience, Elmuts was eventually leading his own revolution, introducing a new vegan cheese company in 2016.
"I started NUMU out of my kitchen in Brooklyn,” Elmuts recalls. “Cheese was the thing I missed the most, so I decided to make it myself. I experimented for some time to get a vegan cheese I actually liked. I found a lot of recipes, mostly cashew-based cheese, and went from there, eventually getting into a bit of molecular gastronomy. I made it my own way, and NUMU was born!”
Elmuts’ passion was driven by a desire to prove that even passionate cheese lovers could adopt a vegan lifestyle. “I want to end the cliché—hearing people say, ‘I could never be vegan, I love cheese too much!’” Elmuts says. “I was a cheese addict myself. My goal is to give the vegan community a great cheese to keep them vegan, and also give anyone who is vegan-curious a great cheese to try. I’ve found that if people can try a vegan food they typically consume (like a burger or lasagna) and realize it still tastes great, the jump to veganism is a lot less daunting.”
Q: What do you think are some common misconceptions about vegan consumers and/or vegan diets?
There are so many! Vegans eat at corner pizzerias and go to burger joints, just like everyone else. One common misconception is that vegans eat beans and rice all day, that our food is bland and boring, and, because of that, we are weak and frail. That is not true! There are a ton of bodybuilders and athletes who are plant-based. There is protein in plants, and a lot of it.
Q: How can pizzerias and restaurants do a better job of communicating their vegan offerings to customers and reach the vegan community?
Vegans are a loyal community. If there is a vegan offering, they will find it. It’s surprising that more restaurants don’t have vegan options, because, in my experience, the demand is very high. My asks would be: First, show pictures of your vegan offerings on your social networks. This is a great way to spread awareness, as vegans will share with each other. Second, make your menu easy to read. Have a vegan section or clearly note offerings that are available vegan.
Q: Why do you see vegan eating as not just a trend but a full evolution of our eating habits going forward (even among meat eaters who are incorporating more plant-based foods)?
Eating vegan isn’t a trend. Once you realize how good you feel, you stick with it. In a sense, your taste evolves and your palate changes to crave different things.
Q: What strides have you witnessed in vegan food options over the years, and what do you want to see or predict for the future of this space?
There have been incredible strides in the last few years, especially within the meat space, with brands like Impossible and Beyond. As far as dairy goes, I think we are catching up. I want to be in that same league, and we will get there. All of the bad things that come with the meat industry (deforestation, water usage, carbon emissions) are not sustainable, and investors are realizing this.
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