SEATTLE - While restaurants in some parts of the nation are just starting to add meatless meals to their menus one day a week for a "Meatless Monday" promotion, Washington has become home to one of the U.S.' largest percentages of vegetarians and vegans.
The state's food preferences are creating new opportunities for restaurants and retailers. Anthony Anton, president of the Washington Restaurant Association, believes it's closely tied to an even hotter new trend: the growing demand for fresh, locally produced foods.
"You're hearing this trend - on local, on great produce - and it's going to drive menu items that we haven't heard of today, that I think for both the vegetarian and the vegan user, they're going to find appealing. And even just people who love great food. It's going to be a fun trend to watch over the next two, three years."
Another factor in the Northwest, Anton says, is the popularity of Asian cuisine, which relies heavily on fresh vegetables. Fifteen percent of Washington restaurants are Asian-themed.
Seattle is ranked as the nation's second-most vegetarian-friendly city, topped only by Portland, Ore.
Stewart Rose, meatless cookbook author and vice president of Vegetarians of Washington, says some people choose a vegetarian diet for religious reasons while others object to the ways food animals are raised.
"Many people feel, since livestock production has become increasingly harsh on the animals and it's not particularly healthy for us, that a vegetarian way to go is a more compassionate lifestyle, maybe a more ethical lifestyle."
More than half the people in a Vegetarian Times survey said they don't eat meat for health reasons. Even those who can't give up a juicy burger or steak now and then, Rose says, could commit to a couple of meat-free days a week.
Statistics from the Vegetarian Resource Group are online at vrg.org. More information on the group Vegetarians of Washington is at vegofwa.org.