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More vegans, vegetarians fuel meatless market. Soy burger anyone?

Lifestyle and LeisureDiets and DietingHealthCookingScienceHarris Interactive IncorporatedBurger King

Life may be getting easier for vegans and vegetarians – especially the ones who still crave meat – with more food choices available from manufacturers and restaurants.

Activists participating in a nationwide effort Tuesday to convince consumers of the wonders of a vegan diet will be passing out free samples. The Great American Meatout hopes to serve 30,000 people and hundreds of events around the country, including several across the Southland.

In December, a poll from the Vegetarian Resource Group conducted by Harris Interactive found that 16% of Americans say they don’t eat meat, fish, seafood or poultry at more than half of their meals. Of the 5% of who said they follow the vegetarian lifestyle all the time, roughly half are also vegan and cut out dairy and eggs.

In 2003, a similar poll found that 2.8% of the country’s consumers considered themselves vegetarian.

The slow growth has pushed the market for faux beef, pork and poultry -- which includes brands and products such as Quorn, Boca and tempeh -- into an upswing.

While sales of soy foods such as tofu and soymilk are down 2.1% year over year to $4.5 billion in 2009, revenue from meat alternatives increased 2.4% to $636 million, according to the most recent data from the Soyfoods Assn. of North America.

Non-meat options are increasingly popular at chain restaurants. Burger King has a veggie burger; Johnny Rockets has a vegan one. So do Denny’s, Baker’s, Fatburger and a slew of other major companies.

Among customers who order soy products in U.S. restaurants, soy veggie burgers are the most common choice, according to the United Soybean Board. Last year, 31% of soy-eating customers chose the burgers, up from 20% in 2010.

Scientists are hard at work on cruelty-free alternatives to factory farm meat. Dutch scientist Mark Post is leading a $330,000 project to grow a test-tube burger from a cow’s stem cells, which could be completed by the fall. A Stanford University biochemist is separately working to create meat substitutes from plant materials. 

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