Andrea Wilkinson/Nevada Sagebrush
A UNR students orders food from Great Full Gardens in the Joe Crowley Student Union on Monday, Feb. 5. The restaurant is popular for its vegan options.

In recent years, veganism has grown at an exponential rate around the country — and Reno is no exception.

Veganism is the practice of following a diet free of all meat and animal products, including but not limited to milk, eggs, honey, or more depending on how strictly they follow this lifestyle.

University of Nevada, Reno, graduate student and teaching assistant Kathrine Wright chose to pursue a diet free from animal products due to her affection for them.

“I have an attachment to animals and I felt guilty harming animals, so I decided I didn’t want to do this anymore so I made the transition about two years ago,” Wright said.

Cheyenne Culp of San Diego first adopted a meat-free diet after learning of health benefits from popular documentaries, as well as being influenced by her friends.

“I had two friends who were vegan that taught me about veganism, and after watching Cowspiracy on Netflix in 2014, I started cutting out meat and dairy,” Culp said.

Culp and Wright are part of a much larger trend of Americans becoming vegans. While there is debate over whether or not veganism is healthy and sustainable, people do not foresee the diet diminishing among Americans.

According to Plant Based News, the number of Americans following a vegan diet has increased to six times as many in the last three years. In 2017, 6 percent of people described themselves as vegan compared to just 1 percent in 2014.

Vegan options at restaurants and grocery stores have increased along with the rise of veganism.

“We noticed that there was a new customer emerging that was vegan, so we wanted to provide options for them,” said Julianna Scala, president of popular vegan restaurant Great Full Gardens.

When Great Full Gardens was first created, they were just selling their soups in Pathways at the University. Now, they supply 18 different vegan soups and a number of other vegan meals to their three locations, as well as Whole Foods grocery stores in the Reno area.

While veganism is growing, others are turning against the trend.

Shaun Brooks, a powerlifter and personal trainer from Sacramento says a vegan diet would not benefit his lifestyle.

“I definitely considered it, but I do a lot of powerlifting and my goal is to squat 700 pounds. It is just impossible for me to hit that goal without getting the amount of protein that I get from meat,” Brooks said.

Even Culp, who was once a devout vegan, decided eliminating dairy and eggs from her diet was impractical for her lifestyle in late 2016.

“It takes a lot of discipline for some people and for me, it was getting difficult towards the end,” Culp said.

There is also heated debate over whether a vegan diet is actually healthy. Nutrition expert Caroline Kurtz warns people that diets are not one size fits all, and veganism is no exception.

“In the short period of time, if people have preexisting conditions these diets could either exacerbate those conditions or if they have a condition where these habits are helpful, a vegan diet could be helpful,” Kurtz said.

While Culp was still vegan, she noticed that she was substantially healthier than she had been when she was following a standard diet.

“When I was vegan, I was losing weight in a healthy way and I felt much more energetic,” Culp said.

Wright also said that she has found veganism to be a healthy lifestyle for her, as it assisted her chronic migraines.

“As a chronic migraine sufferer, I went from having 15 migraines a month to only five a month when I went vegan,” Wright said.

According to Kurtz, those following a vegan diet should be sure they are obtaining vital nutrients in other ways, either through supplements or introducing new foods to their diets to replace the ones they are eliminating.

Vegans and vegetarians are much more likely to lack nutrients such as zinc, iron, protein, calcium and vitamin D, says research from Reader’s Digest.

Although there is a great amount of skepticism around veganism and whether or not it is a practical diet to follow, people foresee the diet becoming a new constant in American culture.

Culp, who has transitioned back to a vegetarian diet, is attempting to return to a vegan diet as it becomes an easier way to live as more stores and restaurants become accommodating to this diet.

“When I first went vegan, meat substitutes and foods that were made vegan were expensive. Now, there are options almost everywhere and the price of meat substitutes has dropped,” Culp said. “It’s just proving that veganism is more than a trend.”

Scala said that their restaurant’s success was due to how many people are becoming vegan.

“Two of our most popular dishes are vegan. If veganism wasn’t so big, neither would our restaurant,” Scala said.

Despite Kurtz’s view on the health factors of veganism, she agrees that this is becoming more than just a trend.

“Veganism isn’t going anywhere,” Kurtz said. “Had it stopped growing a couple years ago, it could have died out soon but at this point, it’s not a fad diet anymore.”

Olivia Ali can be reached at mpurdue@sagebrush.unr and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.