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Dennis Bayomi: Founder of VegDining.comHow long have you been a vegan?
I've been a very happy and healthy vegetarian for over eight years, and by all accounts an even happier and healthy vegan for over six years.
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One of the things that fascinates me about vegetarians/vegans is their unique stories for why they became vegetarian/vegan. Everyone seems to have come to vegetarianism from a different place, in a different way and I suppose I was no exception.
I initially became a lacto-ovo vegetarian for ethical reasons after watching a television documentary called the "Sea of Slaughter". It was an expose on industrial-scale fishing, based on a book by the same name by Farley Mowat, one of Canada's best-known nature writers. Halfway through the documentary I vowed that I could no longer be part of the selfish killing of other living creatures and pledged on the spot that I'd become vegetarian.
About two years later, I attended my first ever vegetarian conference, held in Portland, Oregon in the summer of 1993. I suspected going into the conference that I'd likely go in as a lacto-ovo vegetarian and come out a vegan. Sure enough, by the end of the first evening after listening to amazing presentations by vegans like Dr. Michael Klaper and Howard Lyman, I knew that I had become a vegan.
The conference had a profound effect on me in another way. I met many vegetarian activists from local and national vegetarian organizations and I was inspired to return home to start a local vegetarian group. After attending the Toronto Vegetarian Food Fair later that fall, I launched a group in my home city of Winnipeg, Canada and have been active at the local, national and international levels ever since.
How did your friends and family react to your change in diet?
Although most of my family didn't agree with my decision to go vegetarian, they've been very supportive. My friends have been more interested and a number have since become vegetarian. One of the great side-benefits of being a vegetarian group organizer is you get to meet many vegetarians and your circle of acquaintances quickly expands to include a lot of people who think - and eat - like you.
What prompted your decision to create VegDining.com?
A number of things came together all at about the same time. First, I was ready to take my vegetarian activism to a new level. Over the last couple of years, I came to the realization that in addition to grassroots vegetarian activism, if we are to have an impact in mainstream society, we need entrepreneurial vegetarian activism too.
Second, I recognized that one of the most important segments of the vegetarian community that wasn't getting as much support as it needed was vegetarian restaurants. Vegetarians need to give as much of their business as they can to fully vegetarian restaurants. If vegetarian restaurants can succeed and prosper, the vegetarian movement will succeed and prosper.
And finally, I had worked for a number of years as a computer analyst at our medical school and was ready to try something different, combining my computer and vegetarian activism skills in a new venture. The result: VegDining.com
What do you hope to accomplish with VegDining?
I have a number of goals, believe it or not some have already been accomplished.
I'd like to develop VegDining into a viable business and be able to turn a significant portion of the profits back into the vegetarian movement. At VegDining, we're constantly looking for ways to support vegetarian groups by sponsoring special events, offering prizes, promoting their work, and so on.
Our new vegetarian dining discount card - the VegDining Card -- is coming out on May 1 and we're hopeful that it will be very successful.
And of course, I really want to make a positive impact with the restaurants. It would be great to walk into a vegetarian restaurant and hear the manager say "today we had another new guest who heard about us from VegDining".
What's your favorite restaurant, where is it located, and what are your favorite dishes there?
Hmmm, that's a bit of an unfair question, I think you can understand my reluctance to pick one restaurant over the rest. One of the neat things we offer on VegDining.com is a database of over 500 visitor comments - "mini-reviews" if you will - on their favorite restaurants. I've been to dozens and dozens of vegetarian restaurants, suffice to say I've thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them!
What advice do you have for people who are looking for veg-friendly restaurants in their area?
Start with VegDining.com! Although we spotlight fully vegetarian restaurants on our website, we've recently added a secondary and less prominent listing of veg-friendly restaurants and natural food stores (ie at least 50% of their offerings must be vegetarian). I'd also definitely suggest checking the websites of local vegetarian groups as most of them maintain lists of veg-friendly establishments in their areas. Check our Veggie Links section for links to many of those groups.