Celebrities like Paul McCartney, Natalie Portman and Ellen Degeneres (whose blog includes vegan recipes likes this one for mac and cheese), have known the value of vegetarian and vegan eating for years, but with mainstream cooking shows like “Cupcake Wars” and “Iron Chef” embracing the cooking style as well, vegetarian and vegan fare are getting some long over due culinary acceptance.

Sticky Fingers Bakery founder Doron Petersan and head baker Jenny Webb proved that fab cupcakes don’t need eggs or butter make when they became the first vegan bakers to win on Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.” Taste some of their goodies for yourself! But how can something be creamy and delicious without the eggs and the butter, you ask?

Creating these alternative goodies is a matter of re-creating texture while maintaining flavor (and a little kitchen science). I can personally vouch for the goodies at Babycakes NYC, which are made with ingredients like flax meal, coconut oil and faux buttermilk (made with soy milk and apple cider vinegar). If you don’t trust me, check out the below videofrom The Wall Street Journal. And its not just vegans and vegetarians saying yes to these clever concoctions. With locations in Los Angeles, Disneyworld and NYC, the demand for healthier sweets is clear. If you’re not lucky enough to live in one of these cities, they also offer a mail order option.

Amanda Cohen, head chef of New York vegetarian eatery Dirt Candy, proved that giving up meat or animal ingredients doesn’t have to mean giving up flavor when she held her own against Iron Chef Morimoto on “Iron Chef America: Battle Broccoli.” Though she didn’t win the battle, she was the first meat-free chef to compete, thereby setting a precedent that you don’t need meat to create a delicious, creative, inspiring meal.

With institutions like Le Cordon Vert teaching the art of flavor for meat-free meals, the herbivore foodie movement shows no signs of slowing down. The school, which opened its doors in 1982, has been growing ever since. It now offers courses for professionals and hobbyists, including workshops like “Vegan Party Food.” Check out the syllabus for ideas!

With the ever growing population of vegans and vegetarians, the demand for quality meat-free eats will continue to rise. According to a 2012 poll conducted by the Vegetarian Resource Group, approximately 4 percent (9 million) U.S. adults were found to be vegetarian and 1 percent (2 million) were found to be vegan. The difference being that vegetarians don’t eat meat, fish or poultry, while vegans also abstain from eating or using animal products including all dairy items, eggs, honey, wool, silk or leather.

If peer pressure isn’t enough to sway you, maybe the health benefits will. A diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol can reduce the risk of heart disease, lower your risk of cancer, and improve blood pressure. Of course, eating vegetarian/vegan also saves the lives of animals and reduces the effects of global warming. In fact, former President Bill Clinton credits his recently adopted vegan diet for his improved heart health.

Soy protein has also been touted as helping to reduce the risks of heat disease, when part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. To most people, soy protein means tofu, but tofu isn’t the only meatless game in town. Health and taste have melded with innovation to create an array of vegan and vegetarian protein options that even pork lovers can appreciate. There are several versions of fake bacon, commonly referred to as “facon.” You might not become such a fanatic you want to marry it, but these flavored tempeh strips (made of a mixture of soy beans and brown rice) offer protein fiber and taste that would satisfy any BLT craving! Take a bite of this recipe provided by reciperenovator.com: TBLT Sandwich Recipe.

Other options like seitan (wheat meat), quorn (made of a mycroprotein from mushroom-like fungus), and soy protein concoctions like chick’n patties, beefless burgers, riblets, and Tofurky, etc., courtesy of companies like Boca, Lightlife, Turtle Island Foods and Gardein offer an array of ready-made products to sub into your old recipes or try new ones. With most alternatives modeled to be reminiscent of their fleshier counterparts, that means diners can still enjoy their old favorites by putting a new twist on old classics like this Philly “Cheese Steak.”

Most meat substitutes are also lower in calories than their animal counterparts, which has been known to aid in weight loss. Sounds believable when you consider the fact that famous fitness gurus Mike Tyson and Bob Harper are vegans.

Whether you switch teams or not, it’s clear that meat-free dining has more to offer than steamed vegetables and bland tofu. Check out some vegetarian/vegan friendly restaurants in your area and see what new gastronomic treasures await.

Photo credit: vegannyc