For area vegans and those sympathetic to plant-based ways, these are truly great days.

Veganism, a lifestyle and way of eating that involves no animal products, has gone increasingly mainstream in recent years. Mainstream brands like Ben and Jerrys have begun offering vegan options, while more fresh and exciting new products seem to be hitting the market every day.

€œI think people definitely get more information thrown their way now than like 20 years ago, but I (also) just think that people like animals,€ said Kendra Arnold, co-organizer of the New Jersey VegFest. €œAnd everybody knows vegans in their family pretty much, and so I just think theyre exposed to it more.€

Following up on last years massively successful, inaugural VegFest at the Hyatt Regency Morristown, Arnold and co-organizer Marisa Sweeney have been organizing monthly pop-up shops and more.

€œI think people are more into trying new foods,€ said Arnold. €œA lot of the people that come to things in Morristown arent vegan but they just want to see what the food is like, and thats fine with me. Any time people are open-minded enough to try something new, you just never know where thats going to end, so I think its pretty exciting.€

Here in New Jersey, theres a lot to be excited about. There is an ever-increasing number of vegan-friendly events, business and products available for our enjoyment across the state. Here is a look at just a few on our radar:

1. New Jersey VegFest

After drawing more than a thousand people to its first event in Morristown last October,New Jersey VegFest moves to the Meadowlands Exposition Center, 355 Plaza Drive in Secaucus, on Oct. 7 and 8. This years scheduled keynote speaker is Gene Baur, co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, who is expected to provide an update on Jon and Traceys Stewarts planned Colts Neck branch of Farm Sanctuary.

More details on speakers, vendors and weekend activities are expected to be announced closer to the event;

Last years gathering featured a staggering array of vegan foods and products available for sample and sale.

€œIts really freeing; I dont think other people who arent vegan known how exciting that is,€ Arnold said. €œWhen we were first planning it, when we were talking to the people at the Hyatt last year, I remember one of the women we were working with was like, €˜Oh, at these events people just come in and they nibble on stuff, theyll probably only be here like half an hour or an hour. I was like, €˜You have never seen a vegan eat when they can eat everything. Theyre going to be here the whole day, and I was kind of right.€

2. Vegan pop-up shops

New Jersey VegFest is also presenting a series of monthly vegan pop-up shops at The Laundromat speakeasy bar, 4 Dehart St. in Morristown, with upcoming get-togethers scheduled for noon to 6 p.m. April 30, June 25 and July 30.

Theres a $5 entrance fee, with a portion of the proceeds in April supporting The Barnyard Sanctuary in Columbia, Warren County, and with June’s shop supporting Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary in Montague, Sussex County. Organizers tell us they are also exploring the possibility of similar pop-up shops in Asbury Park this summer, with more information expected to be announced soon.

3. Dandies Marshmallows

Summer is rapidly approaching, and for far too long vegans and vegetarians have been unable to partake in one of the great seasonal foods: marshmallows, and all of the gooey, delicious campfire smores they can create. After all, traditional marshmallows contain gelatin, an animal product.

Fortunately, theres a company offering a cruelty-free marshmallow alternative these days. Available at area grocery stores, Dandies Marshmallows are a product of Chicago Vegan Foods, a family-owned company that makes its marshmallows without gelatin, any artificial ingredients, high fructose corn syrup or gluten. These tasty delights are vegan and kosher, to boot.

Available in both classic and mini sizes, Dandies serve as proof that plenty of classic Americana traditions can be retained without relying on animal ingredients. (Chicago Vegan Foods also offers vegan ice cream and cheese options).

4. Seed to Sprout Bakery

Since opening in mid-March, Seed to Sprout Bakery has raised the bar on breakfast, brunch and lunch offerings at the Jersey Shore. Located on Wickapecko Drive in the Wanamassa section of Ocean Township, this spot is the latest spin-off of Seed to Sprouts restaurant locations in Avon and Fair Haven.

Offering a wide selection of pastries, drinks and savory goods (may we recommend the spelt bagels and the carrot lox), Seed to Sprout offers quick, casual and irresistible eats sure to please vegans and omnivores alike.

5. Tri-State Vegfest

How big is veganism becoming in New Jersey? The Garden State will host multiple vegan festivals this year. In addition to the aforementioned New Jersey VegFest, the inaugural Tri-State VegFest kicks off at noon on Saturday, June 17 at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center on Sunfield Avenue in Edison.

The all-ages event, offering over 100 exhibitors, is presented by Experience Expos and will feature vendors including Daiya, Harmless Harvest coconut waters and teas, the Vegetarian Society of New Jersey and more.