A few months ago I enjoyed a whirlwind few days at the Summer Fancy Food Show, which offered plenty of fascinating people and a slew of snacks for this vegetarian to sample. Fancy food-makers, like a growing number of chefs and restaurants, have been creating new vegetarian and vegan offerings to cater to a wider audience.

Vegetarianism and veganism are on the calendar next month as the world celebrates Vegetarian Awareness Month. For starters, the North American Vegetarian Society is once again offering cash prizes for omnivores who pledge to go meatless for the month, in addition to tips on health and a list of reasons why a vegetarian diet is better for us, for animals and for the planet.

Some 5% of Americans identify as vegetarian, according to a 2012 Gallup survey, and only 2% call themselves vegan, but it’s no secret that a growing number of omnivorous Americans are eating less meat than they used to, whether they’re observing Meatless Mondays or taking Mark Bittman’s advice to go “Vegan Before 6.”

The Gallup data show the percentage of Americans who self-identify as vegetarian has remained relatively the same since at least 1999, but that doesn’t mean attitudes about meat haven’t been changing, especially in recent years as our food talk increasingly centers on health and sustainability, and we all figure out what kind of diet makes us feel our best and feel good about ourselves. New York Times food writer Mark Bittman became a vegan by day as a way to comply with his doctor’s advice for losing weight without having to give up his career, as he explained in a Huffington Post interview. His new lifestyle became fodder for a book.

A growing number of Americans are at least trying Meatless Mondays, a concept used during World Wars I and II to encourage families to conserve that was resurrected in 2003 by Sid Lerner, an advertising executive turned health advocate who brought back the concept as a public health awareness campaign.

Some 47% of Americans now eat at least one vegetarian meal per week, according to data from The Vegetarian Resource Group. Restaurants and chefs have been taking notice of the trend for some time, and they’re increasingly raising the bar on meatless offerings — we’ll talk to some of them in this space next month to learn more, and we’ll also hear from some who have gone meatless for other reasons including animal welfare and environmental concerns.

Does your menu boast more meatless meals? Do your patrons want them? Tell us about it in the comments.

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