Did you know there’s a secret Facebook just for vegans? Even better: Maine’s corner of it is booming.
Vegan Facebook is a cruelty-free zone where people talk plant-based cheeses and vegan meats without anyone around to throw shade with comments like “bacon.” The trick is knowing how to get there.
To arrive in this vegan cyberspace, you don’t leave Facebook but you do join the right groups.
Here in Maine a half a dozen Facebook groups are devoted to all-veg eating, including Vegan Maine, Plant-based Portland, Vegans of Portland Maine, Vegans DownEast, Midcoast Maine Vegans and Plant-based Bangor, ME.
The largest vegan Facebook groups are national and international in reach and focus on specific aspects of vegan eating, such as What Broke Vegans Eat, InstatPot Vegan, Kids Vegan Lunchbox, Bad Vegans, New Vegan Support, Aquafaba and The Seitan Appreciation Society.
To get into any of these groups you must ask to join (or be invited by a member), but once you’re accepted you’re in. And if you like what you read (and comment and react accordingly), soon your Facebook feed will fill with mouthwatering pictures of vegan meals.
The largest and fastest-growing vegan Facebook group in the Pine Tree State is Vegan Maine, which had 1,251 members when we went to press. The group’s membership has jumped 89 percent in the past 10 months, according to Facebook’s statistics.
“The group had grown slowly but very steadily over the last few years,” said Alexander Zimmerman of South Portland, who joined as an administrator in 2015 when the group was two years old. “Then sometime in the last half a year the amount of new members, active members, posts and comments all seemed to noticeably increase, and it hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down.”
The Vegan Maine Facebook group which Zimmerman administers is one of two groups with the same name. There’s also a Vegan Maine page. Unlike a Facebook group, where any member can post and non-members can’t see the posts, a Facebook page allows anyone to read the posts but only those who run the page can post to it. The smaller Vegan Maine is run by the national nonprofit Vegan Shift, which administers similar pages in other states.
Reading the posts on these Facebook groups, it’s easy to see why plant-based eating is spreading: Vegan food is gorgeous. This is on full display in these groups where the most frequent posts are snapshots of home-cooked meals, restaurant dishes and grocery store products.
Here’s a peek. During a recent seven-day stretch, members of the larger Vegan Maine group shared photos of the vegan soft-serve at CJ’s Big Dipper in Bar Harbor; the vegan arepas at MAIZ Columbian Street Food in Portland; the Haystack nachos at the all-vegan Olive Branch Cafe in Lewiston; the vegan banana bread at C Salt in Cape Elizabeth; and much more.
In that same week, other members of the Vegan Maine group were in their kitchens sharing one tempting photo after another of homemade vegan creations. Photos of tofu Benedict, Belgian waffles and pomegranate smoothie bowls were among the breakfast photos shared that week. Savory dishes included black bean enchiladas, sushi bowls, and cashew teriyaki with broccoli.
But it wasn’t all health food. There was a vegan riff on McDonald’s Big Mac, a plant-based cheesecake drizzled in wild blueberries, and a sugar-dusted slab of fried dough.
Tracking down vegan eats is another regular feature of these groups, with members posting questions about everything from where to get vegan breakfast near Old Orchard Beach to which grocery stores sell jackfruit and what is the best brand of nutritional yeast.
The Vegans of Portland Maine group was launched in the summer of 2012 by Charles Thomas Stanhope of Portland. Members post about food and events happening in Maine’s largest city, with lots of restaurant-related posts, notices of vegan happenings, grocery store sightings of Beyond Meat products, and regular photos of the latest plant-based ice cream pints.
Stanhope said that the group has quietly grown to more than 300 people. “When I first started the group, it was very small,” Stanhope said. “Just a few friends and I. I never advertised or shared the group at all. Slowly over the years, people found the group and joined.”
Stanhope works full-time alongside vegan expert Savy Menke, who is his partner and the creator of two online vegan diet plans, the MicroVore Diet and Fruit.Fat.Forage. Menke sells ebooks and hosts the Savy Vegan YouTube channel, which has more than 20,000 subscribers.
Victoria Purdum of Orono created the Plant-based Bangor, ME group in 2015 after seeing the 2011 film “Forks Over Knives.”
“I watched that documentary and it was transformational,” Purdum told me. “I said, ‘This is it. I’m not eating meat or dairy ever again.’ Just two days after that I was searching for community and that’s when I created the group.”
Purdum invited a few vegan and vegan-ish friends, and today the group has more than 175 members. She and other members use it as a platform to organize vegan potlucks, which are held the last Thursday of every month at the Wilson Center in Orono.
“It’s a beautiful, organic growth of these groups that are popping up all over Maine,” Purdum said. “Facebook is one of the best tools we have right now.”