Meaty articles for the non-carnivorous

Susan Elkin samples a crop of magazines that cater to vegetarian tastes
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The Independent Online
Vegetarianism, like the protestors at Brightlingsea, refuses to go away. During 1994 it was estimated that 2,000 people a week were giving up meat. With the controversy over the export of calves still raging, that figure will be much higher now. Interest in vegetarianism has been steadily growing for more than 20 years. Vegetarian meals have crept on to supermarket shelves and into restaurant menus. No one knows exactly how many vegetarians there are in the UK today but estimates range between 2million to 5m illion and everyone agrees that the number is rising.

But with all this burgeoning enthusiasm in the subject, where do vegetarians, would-be vegetarians or vegetarian sympathisers find information? One of the main sources seems to be magazines. Of the 10 currently available, the newest and most commercially successful is BBC Vegetarian Good Food, launched in March 1992 as a quarterly spin-off of BBC Good Food, whose readers expressed a wish for more emphasis on vegetarian food. The magazine soon went bi-monthly and has now been monthly for a year, relyingon a mix of recipes and general interest features. Its editor, Mary Gwynn, believes its appeal "lies in the fact that we don't present vegetarianism as a religion. Food without meat is simply an alternative way of eating, like Indian or Chinese cookery.We've tried to be mainstream and we've succeeded."

With circulation at 67,000-plus, BBC Vegetarian Good Food certainly reaches a lot of people, but who are they? Mary Gwynn says: "Around a quarter of our readers are vegetarian; a further quarter are near-vegetarians who may eat fish or a little poultry; the remaining 50 per cent or so lay no claim to vegetarianism - they simply have an eclectic interest in food. Overall, 80 per cent of our readers are women."

If BBC Vegetarian Good Food refuses to proselytise, the attitude of The Vegetarian, at the other end of the spectrum, is what you would expect from the journal of the Vegetarian Society. Here the emphasis is as much on lifestyle, and supporting those whochoose to adopt a minority modus vivendi, as it is on food. The winter issue has a cheerful feature about what various veggie celebrities do at Christmas, another about turkey farming, and some good "Cordon Vert" recipes. Carol Timperley, editor of The Vegetarian, sees the magazine's main purpose as disseminating information, especially to those new to vegetarianism.

"Because the Vegetarian Society is 148 years old, it holds a unique bank of reference material for our 20,000 or so members."

Even further along the proselytes' path are The Vegan and The Jewish Vegetarian, each of which has its own particular "lifestyles" axe to grind. Their circulations are inevitably small but the information they contain - features, food ideas, news, support for the faithful and encouragement for new "converts" - probably deserves to be more widely read.

More open in their approach and marketing are "health" titles, such as the colourfulHere's Health (circulation 31,000), which has been around since 1956. Like the newer Healthy Eating, it is not a vegetarian magazine but much of the food advice and most of the lifestyles material would be relevant to vegetarians.

As well as magazines for sale there are at least three quite informative giveaway titles to be found in health and wholefood shops. One of these, Natural Choice, is published by Media Partners on behalf of Holland and Barrett and is free to their customers. There is a good deal of product promotion in these publications but they also contain general features. And those vegetarians who campaigned for years to be recognised and catered for must be delighted by the curious, politically correct reversal by which the menus in Natural Choice give non-vegetarian alternatives in brackets.

Vegetarians and those who write and publish for them have never had it so good. And if recent developments are anything to go by, their numbers can only continue to grow.