Ask a Vegan: Diana Edelman

Diana Edelman, founder of Vegans, Baby, may be based in Las Vegas, but as a plant-based powerhouse, her reach extends far beyond the limits of Sin City. Her site, dedicated to “making vegan life easier and vegan dining more approachable,” offers tips on vegan eating in Vegas and worldwide, but her company has also expanded into a variety of endeavors over the years.

Vegans, Baby, has created a vegan dining month in a trio of cities, and offers various events, food tours, restaurant consulting, and the Las Vegas Vegan Food Guide—among other projects. Edelman has even established an ongoing partnership with the renowned James Beard Foundation, where she curates chef-driven, plant-based dinners at New York City’s famous James Beard House.

Edelman launched her website in May 2016, but she had been involved with animal activism long before then, working at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand in 2012. “Animal activism really took its toll on me, emotionally, so instead, I thought another way to work would be through food, showing people that they could go vegan and make it approachable—because I always thought that I could never do it, either!” Edelman explains. “My goal was to show that vegan food is good, and you’re not missing out on anything—while you’re also saving animals.”

In less than five years since Edelman launched Vegans, Baby, she has been blown away by the amount of changes that have taken place in the vegan space. “It’s incredible to see just how mainstream it’s starting to become,” she marvels. “People used to go vegan for the animals, but now we know our diet plays such a big part within the entire world and what happens in it. People are seeing the benefits of going vegan, in terms of their own health and the environment.”

Q: What do you think are some common misconceptions about vegan consumers and/or vegan diets?

A: There are so many misconceptions. If you ask someone who’s not vegan, they’ll say the food is boring, or you eat only salad, or vegans are militant animal-rights people that throw blood on you or are super judgmental. There are a lot of negative misconceptions about the vegan lifestyle, from what you eat to how you live your life.

When it comes to restaurant owners, they also might think the food is boring or bland, with not a lot of variety, and there’s also the idea that the vegan consumer is hard to please, and they won’t be happy with whatever you do. Plus, owners may be worried about having something else on their menu, like veal or foie gras, that very much goes against the vegan lifestyle.

Vegan food is often an afterthought for restaurants, rather than purposeful dishes. Chefs might think, “Let’s throw a pasta, veggie plate or cauliflower steak on the menu, and we’re done.” That’s not going to get me in your restaurant. I appreciate it, and I’m grateful to have the option, but I’m not going to get excited about it. With money being tighter now, it’s harder to get people to part with their money, and I’m a lot more likely to spend mine on something I can’t make at home.

Q: How can pizzerias and restaurants do a better job of communicating their vegan offerings to customers and reach the vegan community?

A: To be on Vegans, Baby, you have to have at least three dishes that are vegan—not a dish with an asterisk that says “can be made vegan.” People want to know that you understand what vegan is, and if they order a dish, it’s going to come out vegan. The best way to do that is to have actual vegan options, not something that can just be tweaked to be vegan. Say you have a mixed green salad with cheese and bacon; underneath it, list a different salad without the cheese and bacon. It makes the menu look fuller and gives consumers confidence. They’ll support you if you support them, understand them, and make a concerted effort to meet their lifestyle needs. It’s such an easy thing—adjusting your menu is just putting words on a piece of paper!

Social media is also huge. I want to see the food, imagine eating it, and share it with my friends. Do you have a presence on social media, and are you reaching the vegan community there? How are you letting people know about your options? People in the vegan community share the food they eat everywhere.

Do a search, and you’ll see a ton of vegan Facebook groups; there’s at least one for every major city. Being involved in the community and sharing your vegan menu or dishes through posts every now and then in those groups—or sharing on Instagram with the right hashtags and tagging the right people, who have influence in the community—will help you get more customers in the door. Once they trust you and know your food is good, you’ll have repeat customers. Word-of-mouth is so valuable with the vegan community, so reaching them can make or break you.

Q: Do you have any additional advice on how restaurants can better cater to vegan customers?

A: There is plant-based and there’s vegan—and they are different things. The vegan community is often a lot more open to eating mock meats or processed foods, whereas plant-based eaters want whole foods. So having a menu with mock meats and recreations of popular meat dishes will get you some people, but then you’re leaving out the entire sector that wants healthy plant-based dishes. So I think it’s important to have both options on your menu.

In pizzerias specifically, diversity in cheese is really important. Don’t just stick to the tried-and-true, but try new brands that are coming out. We did an event a couple of years ago with the vegan cheese company Numu, and the entire event sold out in two days. Bringing these new, buzzy cheeses in your shop can really increase your business. Get creative and do some homework, see what vegan cheeses are out there, and see what works best for you—don’t just go off what everyone else is using. The vegan community is always looking for cool new cheese that melts and tastes great on pizza. Get samples sent, try a few, and see how they cook in your oven.

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)?

A: I think the lifestyle is only going to get bigger. From 2014 to 2017, the vegan lifestyle jumped 600%, so this isn’t a fad—it’s not going anywhere. There are innovative plant-based products coming out all the time. Consumer consciousness is growing, with people becoming far more conscious consumers now than they’ve ever been. This is here to stay.

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