One Month At A Time

Throwback to the Vegan Potluck

Earlier this week, I wrote about my lengthy vegan adventure and the local Vegan Potluck. I think I’d been a vegan for around a week when I attended.

What I remember was the food was really good, that I ate like a pig and the crowd was more diverse than I expected.

I think I expected everyone to be a yoga instructor or something.

Anyway, the Vegan Potluck is Sunday night from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 520 Kanawha Blvd. W.

Meanwhile, here’s my One Month piece on the potluck.

Editor’s note: Reporter Bill Lynch started the new year on a bold mission: to immerse himself in a different facet of life for a full month — every month — for all of 2016, and write about it along the way. The idea is to take something he knows precious little about, so he started with healthy food and opted to go vegan for January. This is the third weekly installment on how a meat-and-cheese kind of guy goes a month with out a burger. 

For the last three years, on the first Sunday of the month, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Charleston has held a vegan potluck.

Right after I announced I was planning on spending the month of January as a vegan, I got an invitation to come out.

I’ve never been one to turn down free food. So, on a cold Sunday night, I drove to the church on Kanawha Boulevard ready to try just about anything.

In the beginning, the greatest thing I worried about was getting bored. How many beans could I eat? How much tofu?

Generally speaking, I tend to fall into ruts and will make the same three or four dishes over and over with rotating meats being the central part of my meal.

At a glance, the vegan potluck was like almost any other church potluck I’d ever been to.

Inside the meeting room, a wild and varied collection of containers covered a table. Desserts took up a disproportionate amount of space, but there was no shiny, aluminum pan of fried chicken, no plate of blue ribbon-worthy deviled eggs, and no crock pot of store-bought meatballs simmering in barbecue sauce.

Otherwise, it’s about the same.

The people who come to the potluck are not necessarily members of this church or any church, but get together as a loose community of people who’ve arrived, one way or another, at the same conclusion: they don’t have to eat animals.

Nicole Casebolt, who drives from Putnam County for the monthly dinner and said she looked forward to the potluck and being around people like her.

“Well, there’s definitely a stigma to not eating meat. People think you’re an oddball.”

Nobody thought that here, even though the reasons why someone wants to eat only plants varies from person to person.

Some sort of health condition or issue was frequently mentioned.

Becky Kimmons said she has arthritis in her hands. It acts up when she eats meat, but disappears when she goes back to a vegetarian diet.

Others mentioned battles with cancer or worries about the effects of eating factory processed foods from giant company farms.

Nicole Casebolt became a vegan because she wants to protect the environment.

She said, “Sure, there are a lot of health benefits to a vegan diet, but one of the easiest things a person can do to help our troubled planet is to choose not to eat meat or at least greatly reduce intake.”

Factory farms, she said, are terrible polluters, and raising livestock uses up tremendous resources.

“For the grains to feed the animals, as well as water for livestock to drink, 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce a pound of beef,” Casebolt said.

Those are resources that could be more efficiently applied elsewhere.

Beth Segessenman became a vegetarian and then a vegan because of what she heard about factory farming on public radio.

She said, “I heard a report about antibiotics used in livestock, in meat, and I just didn’t want that.”

So, she quit meat, became a pescatarian, someone who eats plants and fish, then a vegetarian, and then vegan.

“It started as a health thing, but then became so much more,” she said.

Eventually, she began moving toward a raw food diet, which for her is still vegan, but uses only foods that aren’t cooked or processed.

Greg Hunt said for him the health benefits of eating plant-based foods were part of a bigger picture.

“It’s cleansing,” he said. “There’s a purity to it that’s spiritual. You have more energy. You’re more creative. You need less.”

Segessenman added that it became hard for her to eat meat and also have a pet, differentiating between animals as companions and animals for slaughter became an impossible dilemma once she saw more similarities than differences between pets and livestock.

“The cognitive dissonance is just too much,” she said.

Caitlin Gaffin became a vegetarian, at least in the beginning, because of music. A volunteer DJ for 88.1 WTSQ The Status Quo, Gaffin spent her elementary and middle school years in California, where she discovered punk music.

“All the bands were activist bands,” she said. “You had to care about something.”

The groups she listened to supported animal welfare and were vegans or vegetarians. So, she became one, too.

After her family moved to Madison, remaining even a vegetarian was a challenge.

“We used to have to drive to Charleston just to get soy milk,” she said.

It got a lot easier after she left Logan and moved to Kanawha County.

Gaffin doesn’t claim to be a purist. Eating only plant-based food is a goal, it’s an ideal, but she acknowledged that she’s sometimes “fallen off the wagon.”

“When I was in Israel, I wanted to try the local food so bad,” she said. “It just smelled amazing.”

There was a lot of meat, which she ate — and paid for it.

“It wrecked my stomach,” Gaffin said.

These days, she does pretty well, but added, “But sometimes we get ice cream from Ellen’s.”

There were different shades of vegetarianism at the potluck, ranging from vegan all the way up to garden variety omnivores who were just OK with skipping the steak or chicken from time to time.

Joanne Anderson quit meat a few months ago, after her daughter Nadia became a vegan last spring.

The WVU freshman said, “I heard the facts, looked at the information and decided I didn’t need it anymore.”

She said her decision had to do with health, animal welfare and the environment.

“We just don’t need it,” she said.

Her father, Tarek, was still coming along.

“I’m working on it,” he said, sheepishly.

Everyone was very friendly and generally game to try a spoon of everything.

There were casseroles and vegetables and a cheesecake made from cashews that Becky Kimmons brought.

People raved about that.

“You have to try this,” Wendy Swiger said.

Swiger brought two crock pots — one was a rice and sausage dish, using veggie protein sausage. The other was a pad thai soup.

The thickened lentils were also a big hit and pretty much vanished.

I ate as much as I could stand — a plate and a half heaped full of potatoes, lentils, squash and everything else. I eat tried quinoa, which didn’t make much of an impression, actually.

The only thing I didn’t have was tofu. There’d only been one small tofu dish.

It turns out, even among vegans and vegetarians, not everyone was a fan of bean curd, which is funny. I’ve never minded it, really.