You've come a long way, vegan. Once mocked as a fringe diet for sandal-wearing health food store workers, veganism is moving from marginal to mainstream in the United States.

The vegan "Skinny Bitch" diet books are best-sellers, vegan staples like tempeh and tofu can be purchased at just about any supermarket, and some chain restaurants eagerly promote their plant-only menu items. Today's vegans are urban hipsters, suburban moms, college students, even professional athletes.

"It's definitely more diverse. It's not what you would picture 20 years ago, which is kind of hippie, crunchy," said Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author of vegan cookbooks like the new "Appetite for Reduction." She says it's easier being a vegan now because there is more local produce available and more interesting ways of cooking.

"It's not just steamed vegetables anymore and brown rice and lentils," she said.

Veganism is essentially hard-core vegetarianism. While a vegetarian might butter her bagel or eat a cake made with eggs, vegans shun all animal products: No meat, no cheese, no eggs, no honey, no mayonnaise. Ethical vegans have a moral aversion to harming animals for human consumption, be it for a flank steak or leather shoes, though the term often is used to describe people who follow the diet, not the larger philosophy.

In a 2009 survey, advocates at the not-for-profit Vegetarian Resource Group reported about 1 percent of Americans are vegan, roughly a third of the people who reported being vegetarians. A separate survey released last year by the same group found a similar breakdown for Americans from 8 to 18.

That makes veganism something short of a fad sweeping the nation like low-carb once did. Consider that while Kraft Foods reports that it shipped out more Boca Original Vegan Burger Patties and Boca Ground Crumbles last year, the increase was a modest 1 percent. Still, there are plenty of signs that vegans have pushed beyond their old, exclusive cocoon that once inspired celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain to mock them as the "Hezbollah-like splinter faction" of vegetarians.

Exhibit A would be the "Skinny Bitch" diet books, which provide vegan lifestyle tips in a blunt, girlfriend-on-the-phone style (Sample passage: "Soda is liquid Satan. It is the devil."). Actress Alicia Silverstone added a dose of star power to the vegan cause with "The Kind Diet," a No. 1 best-seller. Vegan diets also have been touted by other celebrities, including Emily Deschanel in "Bones" and Lea Michele of "Glee."

The idea of eating lower on the food chain is especially attractive to environmentally conscious consumers, since large-scale meat production is a major source of greenhouse gases.

Veganism also provides a safe harbor for the growing number of people concerned about where their supermarket meat comes from.

Abstaining from animal products is an ancient practice found in cultures worldwide. But veganism never got traction in meat-loving America. Tracye McQuirter, a vegan for 23 years and author of "By Any Greens Necessary," a vegan guide aimed at black women, said things were different until about a decade ago. While she was part of a vegan community in her hometown of Washington, she says there was little understanding beyond it.

That's changed. More than half the 1,500 chefs polled by the National Restaurant Association for its new "What's Hot in 2011" list included vegan entrees as a hot trend.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Roseann Marulli Rodriguez, a blogger for the SuperVegan website, said while there are not many vegan restaurants in her area, her local supermarket has "fake" chicken tenders and "fake" bacon.

"It's definitely widening in scope," said Rodriguez, a recent New York City transplant who has been eating vegan for five years, "and I think that's why more people are doing it, because it's getting easier."

Mediterranean Barley Vegetable Stew

Serves: 6

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 3 cloves garlic, minced

• 2 shallots, finely chopped

• 2 medium yellow onions, diced

• 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted

• 4 cups (1 quart) vegetable broth

• 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced

• 1 1/2 cups pearl barley

• 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into strips

• 5 ounces fresh baby spinach

• 1/2 cup castelvetrano olives, pitted and sliced

• 1 cup water

• Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan over medium, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, shallots and onions and saute until soft and translucent, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, broth, rosemary and barley, then bring to a simmer. Cover and continue to cook until the barley is tender, about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Stir in the roasted red peppers, baby spinach, olives and water. Cook until the spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 338 calories; 73 calories from fat (22 percent of total calories); 8 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 61 g carbohydrate; 9 g protein; 12 g fiber; 947 mg sodium.