Plant-based lifestyle grows strong in southern Nevada
as Vegas is going vegan as both tourists and locals expand the community with a definite presence this year. In the 20th century, the city was known for carb-filled buffets, $2 steak dinners, and bacon and egg breakfast for 99 cents. Leather furniture, animal-tested cosmetics, and fur clothing were acceptable—even desirable. Today, healthy living and concern for the environment is the benchmark of the city with a growing vegan population.
The vegan lifestyle, whether dietary, ethics-based, or ecofriendly, has always been a part of the culture. What makes it different is the incorporation by mainstream America including embracing a vegan food option—even if it is someone just trying a plant-based burger at a fast food place. As the US and world transform, the new normal continues to grow and expand, embracing what was once considered radical or strange and now accepted as one way to live the best life.
The growing trend also includes clothing, accessories, teeth-whitening products, cosmetics, beauty products, and shoes, all created using plants instead of animal-based elements and byproducts. However, food is the biggest factor, with vegan restaurants flourishing in the valley and other eateries located on and off the Strip offering vegan alternatives.
One of the biggest influences is Chef Mayra (chefmayra.com), also known as Dr. Flavor, reaching out to people through her vegan cuisine for over 20 years. The Latina chef continues her mission to change the culinary landscape, making vegan cuisine even more intriguing. She describes her cooking as gourmet comfort food bursting with flavors.
“I believe that we will see big changes in the food industry this year,” she says. “There are plant-based dairy products and meat. Last year two fast food chains offered vegan burgers as a choice. This is huge, and I see our country moving to eat more plant-based food.”
It was her pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit that led her to open the first 100 percent cruelty-free restaurant, Pura Vida Bakery & Bystro, on July 16, 2011. The small, nondescript building south of downtown attracted diners from all dietary backgrounds. However, with the Department of Transportation’s fast tracking of the area for Project Neon, the building was sold and eventually demolished with Pura Vida Bakery & Bystro serving its last meal on Jan. 7, 2014.
Chef Mayra now consults with restaurateurs and chefs, creating vegan options that fit their cuisine as a favorable dish to offer on their menu. Chef Mayra is also certified in sports nutrition, macrobiotic cooking, holistic, and Feng Shui cuisine. Her personal style merges flavor and fusion from Caribbean and Southwest cuisines.
One obstacle she encounters from chefs is the misconception that the entire commercial kitchen would have to be modified to accommodate vegan food and the cost is exorbitant. According to Chef Mayra, major food distributors offer vegan choices at competitive prices, and anything can be prepared in a commercial kitchen with little or no modification.
“At this time, I believe the best way to reach people about living a vegan lifestyle is to introduce them to vegan food in their favorite restaurant,” she explains.
Another vegan pioneer and game-changer in Vegas is Diana Edelman, founder of Vegans, Baby (vegansbaby.com). Edelman started her company in 2016 after becoming vegan to offer a comprehensive guide to vegan life with a mission is to make being vegan in Las Vegas more accessible and the food approachable to tourists and locals.
Living in Las Vegas off and on since 2005, Edelman became a vegetarian in 2012. “I was living in Thailand doing elephant rescue work, and I witnessed a truck full of pigs driven to slaughter. I have never touched meat after that,” she explains. While working with the elephants in the sanctuary and seeing the way animals are treated, including going undercover to research abuses, she was horrified about the treatment of animals. “I decided to live my life as kind as possible and try to harm as little as possible. I feel that living a vegan lifestyle is good for animals and the environment, and people’s health.”
After living abroad for four years, Edelman went vegan when she returned to the US and launched Vegans, Baby to highlight her vegan finds around the city. When she started Vegans, Baby, there were five vegan restaurants. Today, there are over 20 vegan restaurants with other places that support vegan cuisine.
“I BELIEVE THIS WILL BE A PIVOTAL YEAR FOR THE GROWING VEGAN LIFESTYLE IN LAS VEGAS. THE WORLD IS BECOMING MORE AWARE OF THE VEGAN LIFESTYLE AND CULTURE. THERE ARE SO MANY VEGAN OPTIONS OFFSTRIP, AND MORE CHOICES ARE AVAILABLE ON THE STRIP.” —Diana Edelman of Vegans, Baby
“I believe this will be a pivotal year for the growing vegan lifestyle in Las Vegas,” she says. “The world is becoming more aware of the vegan lifestyle and culture. There are so many vegan options off-Strip, and more choices are available on the Strip. There are numerous factors at play right now in terms of people opting to eat plant-based and restaurants adopting more options on the menu. With the pandemic, there is a wide-spread meat shortage, outbreaks in many farming and processing plants and a growing awareness of the health benefits of removing animal-based products from plates.”
She also believes celebrity is feeding into the vegan lifestyle. “Joaquin Phoenix gave a speech during the Oscars early this year about going vegan. Many of the award shows this season went vegan for their meal being served; high profile people are starting to elevate the lifestyle. It will become more mainstream this year.”
Edelman has taken Vegans, Baby to new heights since its inception. Today, she has become a face of plant-based dining. The vegan entrepreneur has extended her reach thanks to partnerships with the James Beard Foundation and Life is Beautiful, serving as the plant-based curator and highlighting talented chefs creating vegan dishes. She released her third edition of the Las Vegas Vegan Food Guide, spanning over 40 dining categories with 100- plus restaurant recommendations. It is available for purchase on Amazon, the Nook, and iTunes.
Edelman has launched international vegan tours, taking a soldout group of 10 on a 10-day trip through Thailand. She has hosted several local tours, but her passion is traveling, and she is now focused on organizing and hosting international vegan tours.
“I want to take people to different cities around the world and appeal to foodies, regardless of whether or not they are vegan. In February I visited Madrid and Paris, and I literally ate my way through both cities. I am thrilled to show people a different side to vegan living around the world,” she says. “I want to make it easier for people to travel vegan and to showcase the exceptional plant-based cuisine around the world.”
Edelman’s vegan tours are on hold for the time being (she expects Las Vegas tours to return later this year and international tours to start mid-2021). She is currently planning a six-night epicurean tour of Madrid, three-night luxury experience in Sonoma, and 11-night tour of Madrid and Paris, as well as 10-night tour of Morocco and a two-week tour through India. The all-vegan culinary trips hosted by her include lodging, most meals, attractions, activities, local guides, and in-country transport. She is excited about the expansion to show people that being vegan is accepted around the world.
Earlier this year, she took her popular vegan dining month that aligns with the international Veganuary challenge to two new cities—San Diego and Portland. Edelman plans to extend the vegan dining month, which featured over 30 Las Vegas restaurants this year, to more cities and countries.
According to Mintel.com, there has been a ten-fold sales spike in plant-based and vegan food sales in the past two years. Vogue Business (voguebusiness.com) reports that leather is facing competition from vegan alternatives. For consumers who still wear leather, they are looking to purchase responsibility-sourced leather and vegetable tanned hides. Animal testing on cosmetics and beauty products are not acceptable to most people. The desire for greener food and products is demonstrated by demand and sales.
Las Vegas Locals and tourists have embraced the vegan lifestyle as the terrain of the city changes and morphs into a new reality.