Vegetarianism in the U.S.
Hundreds of vegetarian organizations exist in the United States and around the world. The North American Vegetarian Society, founded in 1974, declared October 1 to be World Vegetarian Day and the beginning of Vegetarian Awareness Month. The events promote the health benefits of plant-based diets and ethical vegetarianism.
For many years only independent health food stores carried products catering to vegetarians, but most grocery stores now carry a selection of such products, often as part of a health food department. Other evidence that vegetarianism has become mainstream can be seen in the number of vegetarian entrees now being offered at major restaurant chains and the number of vegetarian restaurants opening up regularly across the country.
Vegetarianism has gained a wide following among celebrities. Actors such as Richard Gere, Michael J. Fox and Daryl Hannah and musicians such as Justin Timberlake, Chrissie Hynde, Natalie Merchant, and Paul McCartney are among the many notable personalities who often lend their name to the vegetarian cause. In addition, PETA recognizes vegetarian celebrities each year with the "Sexiest Vegetarian Award." In 2007, Carrie Underwood and Kevin Eubanks were the winners.
In 2007, PETA also released their list of the top states that cater to vegetarian prison inmates. Among the winning entrées are Pennsylvania's tofu cacciatore, New Hampshire's grilled tofu sandwich, and Idaho's vegan hotcakes. Meanwhile, PETA has also commended colleges and ballparks for being vegetarian-friendly. Critics of PETA claim the organization places a higher value on animal rights than on human rights and that it promotes its cause through biased and offensive propaganda.
As healthy as a plant-based diet may be, there are precautions that should be taken when choosing this route. A 2009 study found that some teenagers adopt a vegetarian diet to mask an eating disorder. Furthermore, supplements may be necessary when practicing some forms of vegetarianism. Many vegetarian diets are low in iodine, especially when people consume sea salt rather than iodine-enriched salt. Iodine deficiency can lead to retardation, goiters, and reproductive problems. Though health problems associated with a vegetarian diet are rare in adults, care should be taken to ensure that vegetarian children receive the appropriate balance of nutrients, especially protein, vitamin D and B12, and calcium.