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As a segment of the larger vegetarian population, the number of vegans is growing rapidly. Vegans—those who eschew dairy, eggs and honey, in addition to meat and seafood—now make up nearly a third of all vegetarians.
Lady Gaga may feel great wearing a meat dress, but millions of Americans aren’t comfortable wearing—or eating—any animal products. “The number of vegetarians in the United States has roughly doubled since we started looking at this in 1994,” and now hovers around 7 million Americans, or 3 percent of the adult population, says John Cunningham, consumer research manager for the Vegetarian Resource Group. “But as a segment of the larger vegetarian population, the number of vegans is growing much more rapidly.” Vegans—those who eschew dairy, eggs and honey, in addition to meat and seafood—now make up nearly a third of all vegetarians.
Counted among them are business mogul Russell Simmons, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, actor Woody Harrelson and, yes, even boxer Mike Tyson, who once famously bit an ear off a mammal—who happened to be human. “Any time [a celebrity] does something that’s considered not traditional, it tends to get a lot more coverage. It heightens people’s awareness of what veganism is and what it means,” says Stephanie Redcross, managing director of Vegan Mainstream, a San Diego-based marketing firm that targets the vegan and vegetarian community.
While celebrity influence may spark a person’s initial interest in veganism, it takes a lot more for that person to commit to the lifestyle. “The decision to become vegan and stick with it is pretty fundamental to a person’s core beliefs,” Cunningham says. Some do it because of concerns for animal and planet welfare, while others are drawn by veganism’s documented health benefits—it’s associated with lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, as well as lower overall cancer rates, according to a 2009 position paper by the American Dietetic Association. For those reasons, Cunningham and others believe it’s not just a fad.