You'd think the American Vegan Society would be headquartered in some hip hotspot like Los Angeles or, maybe, Seattle.

You'd be wrong.

For more than half a century the society, which promotes a diet devoid of any animal products, has been based off a rural backroad in Malaga, Gloucester County.

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That's where Freya Dinshah, the group's current president and wife of its late founder H. Jay Dinshah, lives and works to promote awareness of the benefits of the vegan lifestyle.

That work includes editing the group's nationally distributed magazine, preparing literature and arranging events with vegan menus, like two Full Moon Banquet Dinners to be held at the Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing on Monday and Tuesday.

The dinners are part of a regular series of events the society schedules at the school's student-run restaurant, Careme's.

The fact that the society is now holding two dinners on back-to-back nights - and that both those dinners are already sold out with waiting lists - demonstrates the increasing interest in a lifestyle that first gained a name and identity in post-war England.

"It is definitely growing," said Dinshah, 72. "Back in the 1970s it was considered dangerous and rather irresponsible to be vegan. But now there is so much evidence that it is good for your health and good for the environment that it is coming into favor."

Dinshah is quick to add that folks who are interested in learning more about veganism shouldn't be disappointed about missing the meal at Careme's. The group is planning a May 25 garden party at its headquarters where the interested are invited to stop by. Group members also will be attending various health and environmental fairs in the coming months to distribute literature and answer questions from the curious.

"It's very important that we get out to these events. This is how we bring in new people," Dinshah said. "That is where we meet and talk to people."

Attending these events has become easier in recent years as more people have looked to improve their diets, she said.

"People know the word vegan now. Previously, they would walk past our table and say 'Oh no, I have to have my meat and potatoes.' Now many are trying vegan meals and they definitely have members of their families who are vegan."

The vegan movement began in Britain in 1944, when a group of people who shunned using animal products got together and formed the first vegan society. They chose the word vegan to describe their lifestyle - which also includes not using animal-based products in clothing and other aspects of their lives - from a list that included such choices as sanivore, according to Dinshah.

While there is a growing interest in reducing the consumption of meat, actual vegans still only make up about 1 percent of the population, Dinshah said.

The vegan society president has praise for the staff at the culinary academy. The partnership between the two organizations began about five years ago when Dinshah attended a function at the academy and attempted to eat a meal at Careme's.

She learned she'd need a reservation for the 65-seat restaurant, but got into a conversation with staff, who said they could supply a menu for a vegan event.

The group now tries to hold events in February April, September and December.

All are well-attended, Dinshah said.

"The dinners are popular with different groups of people: People who are members of the society just love going somewhere and getting a full, balanced vegan meal. It's a real treat for us. They treat us like royalty there," she said. "The curious from the community come because they are interested in seeing what a vegan meal is like."

In addition to dinner, guests can also browse the group's selection of vegan cookbooks and get literature on the vegan diet and lifestyle.

The dinner, and events like the garden party, are important because one of the big stumbling blocks for those interested in veganism is the social inconvenience of embracing a diet without any animal products, Dinshah said.

"There are lot of people who enjoy vegan food when they have the opportunity to eat it," Dinshah said. "Restaurants could do very well if they could just put on the menu a good lentil soup that didn't have meat or chicken stock."

Contact Steven V. Cronin:


For more information

To learn about the American Vegan Society's upcoming garden party or how to be placed on a waiting list for the Full Moon Banquet Dinner, visit


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