FOR IDEAS as well as for individuals, New Year's is big-picture time: Where have we been, and where do we hope to go? As for the cause of animal-free eating, now that it's moved from weirdo fringe to an almost-mainstream concept, it's a good time to ask: Is this idea finally catching on?

Maybe that's wishful thinking, but 2011 was a pretty big year for the plant-based diet:

* A new study indicated that twice as many people are eating vegan compared with a couple of years ago.

* Oprah Winfrey and her 378 staffers went vegan for a week, and other talk shows had strong coverage as well.

* Martha Stewart herself did a vegan show, with "Veganist" Kathy Freston and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone.

Healthwise, the movie "Forks Over Knives" and ex-President Bill Clinton (who went "vegan" yet with occasional fish or turkey) acquainted people with the heart benefits of a low-fat vegan diet espoused by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and his son Rip "Engine 2" Esselstyn.

Earthwise, the Environmental Working Group urged Americans to cut back on meat and cheese, noting that if everyone did without for one day a week, it would be equal to the country driving 91 billion fewer miles a year.

Locally, there were also strides in animal-free eating, topped with the opening (finally!) of Vedge Restaurant - the new and, yes, improved Horizons. Less attention-grabbing was the steady progress of the veggie cheesesteak at eateries across the Delaware Valley. Frank Olivieri Jr.'s newfound interest in healthy eats and animal issues has some wondering if he might be the first among local cheesesteak royalty to go there.

Regardless, we've got more veg options coming in 2012, with new food trucks like the vegan-friendly Kung Fu Hoagies; new restaurants such as the vegan Miss Rachel's Pantry, the East Passyunk headquarters and dining room for the well-known, well-loved catering and lunch-delivery biz; and HipCityVeg, another vegan restaurant off Rittenhouse Square.

So is veganism catching on? With so many tasty varieties of plant-based dishes around Philly, help "V for Veg" seek out the possibilities, and let's make 2012 a veg-powered adventure!

Here's how: If you see the word "Vegan" on a venue sign in town (or a menu posted in the window - as long as it's visible from outside) snap a pic and send it to VforVeg@phillynews.com. I'll post them in a philly.com gallery.

 
Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 10-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles the growing trend of plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. Send your veg tips to VforVeg@phillynews.com and follow @V4Veg on Twitter.