You don’t need a cardboard sign to broadcast a printed message. In Maine, license plates can be billboards, too, and some vegans and vegetarians have embraced these personalized plates as a way to share their philosophy with those around them.

According to a search of vanity license plates provided to the newspaper by the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles, at least 20 Mainers are driving around with veg-positive tags. These include plates that read GOVEGAN, VEGAN, VEGAN1, VEGAN2, VGAN, VEGANX, VEGANZ, AVEGAN, VEGMAMA, VEGGUY, VEGGIES, VEGIES and VEG.

The plate VEGAN has been registered in Maine since at least 2000, the earliest year for which the bureau has data, and 11 people have had the tags on their vehicles during this time. Until 2016, the state would issue the same vanity tag to more than one vehicle at a time as long as each was on a different license plate style, such as in 2014 when the tag VEGAN was issued to three vehicles – one with conservation plates, one with combination plates and one with the standard-issue chickadee plates. Now only one lucky Mainer can claim this license plate at a time.

Photo courtesy of Jean Maclay

At the moment, the VEGAN tag is on the white Subaru Outback owned by Jean Maclay, a retired nurse who recently moved back to Maine and is building a house in Saco. She was surprised when she was able to snag the license plate at the start of the year.

“I am so grateful to get the one that I got,” said Maclay, who picked the animal welfare plates, a popular choice among vegetarians and animal advocates. The extra fee for the animal welfare plates supports the Animal Welfare Auxiliary Fund and the Companion Animal Sterilization Fund. Other common plate choices in veg circles are the conservation plates, which support state parks and the Endangered and Nongame Wildlife Fund; and the agriculture plates, which support school gardens and other agricultural education programs.

Since only one vehicle can have the VEGAN tag now, Mainers need to get creative to communicate their vegan status. Jennifer Traxler, who moved to Maine this year from Virginia, combined VEGAN with a bit of cheekiness and still got the plates she wanted, thanks to Maine’s policy favoring free speech in license plate requests.

“I ordered my Maine VEGANAF plates as soon as I moved here in January,” said Traxler, who works in the business office of a car dealership.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Traxler

“I was shocked when I joked at the BMV window that I couldn’t have the personalization I really wanted and the clerk said “yes you can.” I ordered the same plate in Virginia and they refused and refunded my money.”

The widely used slang suffix AF stands for “as (expletive)” and is used to intensify the meaning of the word it modifies.

Recent news that Maine’s Secretary of State Shenna Bellows is backing a bill to clamp down on license plate obscenity may endanger Traxler’s plate.

However, the specific phrase “Vegan AF” could have a squeaky clean definition. At least condiment company Sir Kensington’s tried to create one in 2019 when it plastered New York City with advertisements for its vegan mayonnaise that read “Vegan AF,” and then attempted to rebrand “AF” as short for “aquafaba,” the magical chickpea liquid that can be whipped into a froth and is an ingredient in Sir Kensington’s vegan mayo.

Registered dietician Amy Taylor Grimm of Cumberland wanted GOVEGAN, but it was already taken, so she dropped the “e” to create GOVGAN. The state offers a search feature online, maine.gov/online/bmv/vanity, that lets anyone check the availability of personalized plates.

“I wanted GO in there because it’s an action word,” Grimm said. “I want it to be activism.”

Photo courtesy of Amy Taylor Grimm

She first registered the GOVGAN plates on her red Toyota 4Runner in 2013, and they’ve generated a lot of reactions over the years.

“I’ve had people go by me on the highway, and they’re waving at me,” Grimm said. “People have crossed in front of me in the Old Port, and they’ve pointed and waved and given me a peace sign.”

Once when she was visiting Halifax, Nova Scotia, “somebody told me that my plate was on a vegan Canadian Facebook or Instagram page. ‘They posted a picture of your car,’ they said. I went on and saw it and there I was with the kids at a tollbooth in Canada. Somebody else on the page (commented): ‘I saw that car at whitewater rafting!’”

Photo courtesy of Diane Denton

People are always telling realtor Diane Denton they saw her car. Her license plates read V-GAN, and Denton told me that when you have personalized plates, “you can’t hide.”

Which is what you hope for with a billboard.

Traxler, who lives in Saco, quickly discovered that the VEGANAF plates on her Jeep Renegade catch people’s attention.

“I sometimes see people getting out their smartphones and taking photos of my license plate,” Traxler said. “I find it pretty amusing, and they seem amused by it, too. I don’t think I’ve experienced any negative reactions from it yet. I hope it shows people that vegans are just everyday folks. We aren’t all the stereotypical vegans, and we come from all walks of life. And I hope it puts a smile on someone’s face.”

She recently ordered the plate VEEEGAN for her Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle and is awaiting delivery.

Maclay said she sees a lot of people looking at her VEGAN license plates and the surrounding vegan bumper stickers on her hatchback. “It’s good. It’s spreading the word,” she said. “I’m a driving advertisement of veganism.”

Not all reactions to vegan messaging in the public sphere will be peace signs and cheery waves.

Maclay said her mobile billboard upset another driver the first time she picked up her grandson from his elementary school. Unsure of where to enter, she momentarily blocked traffic in front of the school. “A guy driving a big truck who had road rage yelled, ‘Eat a cheeseburger!’” as he sped past, Maclay said.

Grimm recalled a time when “this family passed me on the highway and this teenager was glaring at me, slowly shaking his head back and forth.”

Working as a real estate agent, Denton’s vehicle is part of her job. When she drives up to house showings in a Lexus sporting the tags V-GAN, lots of clients notice.

“It prompts people to ask questions,” said Denton, who lives in Saco. Sometimes the conversation during the showing is about veganism as much as it is about the property. Denton is happy to answer questions and share recipes (she’s a former restaurant owner and a standout vegan cook).

“I invite them to join the Vegan Maine (Facebook group) website or offer to send them info,” Denton said. “It’s my little bit of activism to help people along.”

And with all the talk about veganism while touring real estate, Denton has days where she not only sells a house, she also sells another Mainer on the allure of vegan food. That’s the power of a license plate billboard.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


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