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Vegan in the Big Apple

(LikeMeat on Unsplash)

By Tiara Brownie

As of April 2021, New York City was the U.S. city with the highest percentage of vegan-friendly restaurants, with around 14.5 percent of all restaurants offering vegan cuisine, according to Statista. With endless tasty vegan food combinations and healthy recipes, the Big Apple is ranked the third most vegan-friendly city in the world by Happy Cow, an online directory of vegan and vegetarian food. The city’s top official Mayor Eric Adams is promoting a plant-based diet for New Yorkers and is implementing vegan-friendly policies in the schools.

What is veganism? According to “The Vegan Society,” veganism is a philosophy and way of life that advocates for the elimination of all animal use for food, clothing, or any other reason, as well as the creation and use of cruelty-free alternatives. When discussing diet, veganism refers to eliminating all animal-based foods and ingredients. Plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and meals produced from plants, make up the foundation of a vegan diet. Vegans abstain from consuming any items that are derived from animals in any form, including dairy products and eggs. Many kinds of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds, beans, and pulses may be included in a vegan diet.

When it comes to vegan and vegetarian meat alternatives, the United States is one of the most developed marketplaces in the world. Traditional vegan foods, such as vegetables, grains, nuts, and fruits, can now be swapped out for healthy vegan fast food. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are now sold in tens of thousands of places in the U.S., including Fatburger, Taco Bell, and Dunkin Donuts. These vegan food items are solely made from plant-based meat and manufactured from meat-free ingredients like soy, pea, wheat gluten, pulses, or even jackfruit.

As the vegan diet becomes increasingly popular, restaurants are serving more than just veggie burgers and salads. With 170 vegan eateries within a 10 km radius of the city, New York’s vegan scene is thriving. For example, take Midtown Manhattan’s brand-new vegan eatery, “Vegan On The Fly,” located at 24 West 45th St. In December 2022, this aesthetically pleasing restaurant celebrated its one-year anniversary. Vegan On The Fly is a family-owned business. The eatery owners are known as the “Alami Brothers,” Nick, 30, Al, 25, and Yas, 23. The oldest brother, Nick Alami, is the founder of Vegan On The Fly in Tampa, Florida, which has been open for five years. The brothers also own a Halah food cart the brothers have owned for four years.

Vegan On The Fly owners with staff: From left, AI Alami (owner), Yas Alami (owner), and Eddy (front of the house).

The inspiration for the family-owned business comes from both Nick and Yas. Yas Alami explains how he would go to the gym with his oldest brother, eat healthy foods, and, overall, practice healthy living habits. “Food is a necessity, but it’s not a necessity to kill animals so that you can feel full,” says Yas.

Yas says Vegan On The Fly stands out from the rest because, unlike other vegan restaurants in New York City that only serve “traditional” vegan food such as tofu, veggies, and salads, it offers a new takes on vegan food, such as its chopped cheese sandwich. “Our menu was made to please vegans, non-vegans, and people who are curious and in between,” said Yas. In order to prepare their tasty, chopped cheese, ground beef is replaced by Impossible Meat, which consists of plant-based products like soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, and sunflower oil. Vegan On The Fly also uses seitan, a plant-based alternative for chicken in both flavor and texture.

Vegan On The Fly posts some of its menu offerings on the site:

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How does Vegan On the Fly make vegan food that tastes good and keeps people coming back for more? “I think anything can taste good as long as it has seasoning and flavor,” said Yas. Three of the sandwiches at the restaurant are named after Nick, the oldest brother. Such as the NcChicken, which is like a McChicken from McDonald’s but made with a vegan chicken patty, vegan mayo, and shredded lettuce on a bun. The NcRib is like that a McRib from McDonald’s, but consists of thickly sliced seitan with pickles, BBQ sauce, and ranch dressing on a hero. The last sandwich is the NcFilA which is similar to a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich with a crispy plant-based chicken patty, pickles, and sauce. Vegan On The Fly provides update on its latest vegan cuisine news on Instagram @votfnyc.

Yas is enthusiastic about Mayor Adam’s Vegan Fridays for the schools, which offer meat-free menus. “I love that he’s doing that,” said Yas. “It’s great to help bring awareness to younger generations.” Adams has promised to assist the Department of Education (DOE) in making schools healthier for students, crediting veganism for helping him reverse his Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. “Plant-based meals are tasty and healthy, so I have called for schools to offer vegetarian and vegan options,” said Adams in a statement. “I’m so happy that all students will now have access to healthy foods that will keep them from getting diseases that make them sick.”

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