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Vegan appetite grows in city

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Brix Pubaria manager Justin Fenner creates a custom vegan pizza Wednesday prior to baking it in a brick oven. Brix Pubaria co-owner Rob Petrella said he has seen increasing interest in vegan dishes, with more orders off the restaurant’s vegan menu.

If you are going to eat with someone who is vegan — someone who shuns animal-based products — finding an eating establishment offering more than a salad may be arduous.

And the probability that you may be dining with a vegan increases yearly.

According to a survey by Public Policy Polling, the number of vegans increased to about 7 percent of the population in 2013 from just 0.5 percent in 2008. That puts the population of self-proclaimed vegans at about 22 million Americans in 2013, up from 1.5 million in 2008.

While local statistics for vegans could not be found, in Cortland there are options for vegan eaters such as Brix Pubaria and The Local Food Market.

Rob Petrella, co-owner of Brix Pubaria, at 60 Main St., said he has seen a rising trend of vegans in the area, noting an increase in people ordering from the restaurant’s vegan menu.

Vegan is a type of vegetarian diet that excludes meat, fish, eggs and dairy products and all types of animal-derived food and ingredients. Some vegans go as far as not eating food processed using animal products, such as white sugar and some wines, according to about.com.

Petrella said he has been vegan for about 16 years,and at times has struggled with his own ethics, owning a restaurant that sells a lot of chicken wings. However, he saw the potential for the business with his business partner, Evan Souzas, and did not want to exclude any group of customers.

So, when Brix opened in 2010, its menu offered vegan cheese — made entirely of plant-based products. Now there is an entire menu offering vegan options. It includes foods such as veggie fries, “wings,” salads, burgers, wraps, calzones, subs and pizza — all made without meat or dairy products.

Petrella did not have an exact accounting of the number of sales from the vegan menu at Brix, but said he has seen a significant increase in people ordering from the menu since it was introduced about three years ago.

“I go back into the kitchen and my cooks say, ‘What is going on? We’re selling so much vegan stuff,’” he said.

There are vegans who come from Ithaca and Binghamton to eat at the restaurant, he said. Brix has even catered all-vegan food for a group in Ithaca, too.

Petrella said he believes the trend of people eating vegan food is growing because they become health conscious and start to care more about animals and the environment. Also, places with vegan options are steadily popping up in more cities.

Many restaurants have vegan options, even if they do not advertise as such and grocery stores are adding more sections for the food, too.

The Local Food Market, at 37 N. Main St. sells a variety of healthy foods, including many vegan options. There is another location of The Local Food Market in Tully and the Oh My Goodness Health Food Store, under the same ownership, is located in Homer.

“Probably about 50 to 60 percent of our options here are vegan,” said Amy Carlson, a holistic nutritionist at the market.

There are vegan “chicken” tenders, cheese, burgers and even mayonnaise. The Whole Heart Cafe, in the Cortland market, offers various vegan options, too, from soups to sandwiches.

Carlson said a lot of local people do come in looking for vegan food, and she suspects one main reason is the market has more vegan options than a bigger grocery store. But she said many who do come in say they hear about “no-meat athletes” and would like to follow their diet.

As a nutritionist, Carlson said she helps those people with the kinds of foods they should be eating, as it would be unhealthy to load up on bread and not balance it out with other foods.

Aside from locals, college students show a large interest in purchasing vegan food from both the market and Brix. Carlson said many students from Cornell University in Ithaca who have taken part in a course about plant-based nutrition have come to the market.

The interest in vegan food is also addressed on the SUNY Cortland campus, as the food court in the Student Life Center offers a couple of different vegan outlets, and so does Neubig Hall.

The variety of food helps to accommodate all students, which Petrella said is one of the main reasons he likes offering vegan food.

“It can be awkward going out to dinner and trying to meet everyone’s food needs,” he said. “Here, you don’t have to ask questions about what is in the food, or have to ask for a specific dish. We give people their own menu to be comfortable.”

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