V For Veg: Internet makes it easy to go vegetarian

Posted: January 25, 2013

LISTEN, KIDS: Back when I was comin' up, going vegetarian was a challenge. We had no Maoz or HipCityVeg - no Internet, even. By the end of the '90s when I went vegan, there was still no basic, easy way to find other vegans or local vegan food. A tough life!

Nowadays, vegan info and connections are a flick of the wrist away. Do you realize how good we have it?

First off, social networking is huge for vegheads, with Facebook providing constant access to veg-related events, petitions and food sites, and with Twitter generating an info-space where hundreds of other vegheads keep us up on the latest news, views and stews. And VegSource.com, the old-timers' hub of forums and mini-sites, is still buzzing.

The number of vegan recipes on the Web is ginormous. You can search by ingredients, cookbook authors or dishes to get step-by-step instructions instantly.

Maybe the most exciting new capability is the ability to find animal-free food wherever you are. Tools such as Yelp and Foursquare are good for general food-finding, yet they can be spotty on veggie specifics. But there are plenty of resources on vegan food, including mobile apps so you can find that info at the right time - when you're out and hungry!

HappyCow.net is the best-known veggie food-finder, and an iPhone Happy Cow app - probably the most comprehensive - is available for $2.99. But there are free apps as well, some delivering the local goods better than others.

VeganSteven has a simple interface but doesn't seem to overlap categories very well, and you have to pick a category as your first step. Speaking of steps, locations less than a half-mile away are described in terms of yards. Who thinks in terms of yards?

Vegman is more easily used, with a good stock of Philly places that includes descriptions, clearly labeled "Vegi" or "Vegan" (not always accurately, as some vegan places are tagged as vegi) and a quick-loading pushpin map to give a better sense of where they are. But the distance is stated in kilometers! Who thinks in terms of kilometers? You never heard of yards?

For Android, there's Vegan Eating Out , which lists vegan options in chain restaurants, and Animal-Free (also available for iPhone), which lets you check ingredients right in the supermarket - animal-derived or not? Both of these, though, rely on a "browse" interface, and should be more searchable.

Vegan Scanner has you scan products' bar codes to get the inside story, but it has too few items in its database to be very useful.

All in all, the national/international veg-finding sites and apps are understandably variable with their localized results. Wish we had a veg-finder just for Philly?

We will! It was just announced that VegPhilly.com will launch next week, serving Philly vegans with neighborhood-sorted vegan food info, not just from veggie places but "restaurants that offer vegan options," according to a news release.

Supplementing its existing list, VegPhilly will make it easy for local vegans to add their favorite joints and review them: "VegPhilly is only going to get better as people add restaurants, write reviews, and send us their comments," said Jonathan Farbowitz, one of two local vegans who put the site together with a vegan developer from Brooklyn.

Maybe it's just me, but seems like we've turned a corner - and found tasty veggie food there! Yessir, forget the old days; eating vegan daily is easy! Really easy. So . . . what's your excuse?

V for Vim: Local veg-legend Christina Pirello will sign her latest book, I'm Mad as Hell and I'm Not Going to Eat it Anymore, and teach a cooking class Thursday night at 5 p.m. at Whole Foods, 2001 Callowhill St.

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 12-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. VforVeg@phillynews.com or @V4Veg on Twitter.

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