Meet New Jersey’s Queen of the Vegans, Freya Dinshah

Freya Dinshah is president of the American Vegan Society, whose headquarters are tucked away in Gloucester County.

Freya Dinshah shopping for vegetables

Freya Dinshah, president of the American Vegan Society, calls veganism “far more a philosophy than just a diet.” Photo: Matt Zugale

At a Vineland farm market near her home, Freya Dinshah casts a knowing eye over the offerings, then carefully selects a glossy white eggplant, a couple of vine-ripened Rutgers Jersey tomatoes, and a thick bunch of Italian parsley, while contemplating the casserole she will concoct with them.

To be sure, it will contain no cheese or other dairy products, eggs, meat, seafood, or animal product of any kind. Dinshah is the Garden State’s foremost and most revered vegan. At 81, she’s healthy, vigorous and razor-sharp. Her demeanor couldn’t be more gentle, but it cloaks a steely conviction that veganism is best not only for animals, but for the environment and the health of the human body and mind.

Dinshah is president of the American Vegan Society (AVS), whose headquarters are tucked away on Dinshah Lane in the rural Malaga community of Franklin Township, Gloucester County. She was married for nearly 40 years to the late H. Jay Dinshah, widely considered the father of American veganism, who founded the society in 1960, making it the oldest vegan organization in the country.

The couple were both raised by vegetarian parents, Freya in Epsom, England, and Jay in Malaga. Jay embraced veganism in 1957; Freya, not long afterwards. They were pen pals before marrying in 1960 and becoming parents to daughter Anne and son Daniel. Freya and Anne, a professional rowing coach, have written books. One is Freya’s now-classic cookbook, The Vegan Kitchen, the first American cookbook to use the word vegan in the title.

Dinshah is delighted that, in the past decade, the number of American vegans has more than tripled, according to surveys commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group. By 2025, the surveys suggest the vegan food market in the United States may reach $22 billion, and the Garden State alone may see a compound annual growth rate of 16.1 percent. New Jerseyans are expected to spend $623.3 million on plant-based foods, beverages and goods annually by 2028.

“The average person thinks of veganism in terms of what they can’t eat,” Dinshah acknowledges. “What they don’t realize is that much of the food they already eat is vegan: fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts and grains. To many people, veganism seems a big jump, but it’s not as big as it used to be. Years ago, we had to make our own tofu, plant milks and hummus. Now, they’re available in supermarkets. Most newcomers find they’re far more adventuresome in their choices than they were as carnivores. The key is to eat a balanced diet.”

Established vegans and those curious about the lifestyle are invited to attend the eighth annual New Jersey Vegan Food Festival, scheduled for November 11 and 12 at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus. The festival will feature about 150 vendors offering food plus plant-based beauty supplies, clothing, shoes, candles and self-care products. Speakers will provide the expected 8,000–10,000 visitors with information on maintaining a vigorous vegan life.

Marisa Sweeney and Kendra Arnold, co-owners of the Vegan Local, an online umbrella for their vegan events, created the festival. They’re also the driving forces behind annual vegan festivals in Asbury Park, scheduled for May 18-19, 2024, and Atlantic City, usually held in July.

Dinshah predicts that “at least 50 percent of humans will become totally vegan.” And while she’d love to live in a 100 percent vegan world, she acknowledges that “if it’s ever to happen, it will be driven by economic and environmental forces” rather than a peaceful attitude toward animals.

“I don’t believe in killing animals to eat; it’s not necessary. But veganism is far more a philosophy than just a diet,” says Dinshah. “It involves compassion for all, including animals, our environment and ourselves.”

Myths, like the idea that vegan diets don’t include sufficient nutrition, still circulate. Dinshah’s response: “Old concerns about the adequacy and suitability of vegan diets are being replaced by a growing recognition by health professionals of how avoiding meat and dairy foods and choosing minimally processed vegan foods combat many conditions such as cancer, arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.”

On the Sunday prior to every Memorial Day, the American Vegan Society hosts a ticketed garden party with live music, speakers and an enticing buffet at its Malaga headquarters. But delicious plant-based food is available year-round at more than two dozen 100 percent vegan restaurants throughout the Garden State.

[RELATEDThe 30 Best Restaurants in New Jersey of 2023]

Veggie Heaven, for example, is the Garden State’s oldest extant all-vegan eatery. Founded 25 years ago by Gary Wu, it has locations in Montclair, Denville and Teaneck—and it won this magazine’s 2023 Jersey Choice Restaurant Poll for favorite vegetarian/vegan restaurant in North Jersey.

Wildflower Vegan Café in Millville, established in 2011, is South Jersey’s longest-running plant-based restaurant. Owner Eric Nyman notes that most of his produce is organic and sourced within ten miles of his restaurant.

In Pitman, the Gentle Giant Cafe, now in its fourth year, follows owner Dawn Lucas’s motto: “Serving compassion in thought, word and eats.”

According to a 2021 survey by San Diego State University, New Jersey has far more vegan restaurants than any other state, making it easy to celebrate World Vegan Day on November 1 at a plant-based restaurant near you.

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