Sarah Florez traces her veganism to a life-altering experience at the age of seven. Florez visited a turkey farm four days before Thanksgiving. As she stood there with the rest of her Girl Scout Troop, eye to eye with the turkeys, something clicked. That night, she went home and put her foot down. "I said 'I'm really sorry, Mom, but I just can't do it. I can't eat turkey this year.'"
Her well-meaning mother called a restaurant and arranged for this budding vegetarian to have a big slab of ham instead. But it was a start.
Today, Florez owns Three Little Figs, a vegan market in Boulder, Colorado. She's famous for her indulgent dairy-free mac 'n cheese and eggless chocolate chip cookie dough. Her store sells everything from spicy curry mix to soy cheese ravioli and creamy strawberry truffles.
For Florez, it's all about the animals. She adopted a vegan lifestyle after an internship at Farm Sanctuary, a shelter for abused poultry and livestock in Watkins Glen, New York.
"I thought I could never live without cheese," she says. "But once I learned about the cruelty that goes on in the egg and dairy industry, it took no effort to give it up."
In fact, People for the Ethical Treat-ment of Animals (PETA) estimates you can save 100 farm animals by switching to a vegan diet. Florez calls it "voting for good with a sandwich."
A Big Commitment
It's not clear how many Americans are vegans. A 2002 Time/CNN poll said 0.2 percent. A 2006 poll by the Vegetarian Resource Group says 1.4 percent follow that diet. Chris Beckley, president of the Colorado Vegetarian Society, cites a one percent figure, and adds that more people are making the switch every day. Many are motivated by environmental concerns.
"It takes an enormous amount of water to make a pound of meat," Beckley says. "It's extremely wasteful from a resource standpoint to eat any kind of animal products."
Give up meat, eggs and milk and you can do your part to prevent erosion, factory farm runoff, global warming and the overuse of antibiotics. Not to mention salmonella and E.coli outbreaks. Eating lower on the food chain also makes more room to feed hungry people in developing countries. And there's an equally convincing reason to go vegan: better health. Studies show vegans have a lower rate of heart disease and diabetes because they eat less fat and more fruits, veggies and fiber. The National Cancer Institute is currently funding research into how vegan diets might help...