Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Dietary Guide to Dallas' Vegan Culture

My life as a vegan began nearly five years ago—a short time in the eyes of many vegans (as I’m reminded often). And I have no shame in admitting I’m still rather a “newbie” to the cause.

But what is “the cause” exactly?

I have explored the many facets of veganism—working at a popular vegan diner, running in circles with the raw foodists, and mingling with the new wave of “Skinny Bitch” vegans at social events. Each group has its own agenda, be it ethics, personal health, vanity, whatever. And each group is passionate about this chosen lifestyle. However, few of these subcultures of veganism share common food interests. We are all driven by different factors, hence making our dietary choices equally diverse.

During my stint working at Spiral Diner, I met some of the most fascinating vegans in Dallas. The clientele and employees came from all walks of life. Most of my co-workers were young artist types (some pictured above), but a couple of us were older professionals taking on a side gig to connect with the vegan community. It was during my days at the diner that I became aware of just how multifaceted Dallas’ vegan culture really is.

Vegans are roughly defined as people who do not consume animal products of any form, including, but not limited to, dairy, eggs, honey, refined sugars, and animal-based fashions. But as you’ll learn in this dietary guide to Dallas’ vegan culture, gray areas do exist, and the subcultures sometimes intermix...or clash.

This guide is not meant to belittle any one particular group (we all have our individual quirks and charms). It’s simply my response to the many ill-informed writers who continue to get it only half right in their stories.

A Dietary Guide to Dallas’ Vegan Culture

Ethical Vegans
Ethical vegans seem to be the largest group in Dallas’ vegan culture, and the most culinarily diverse. Ethical veganism is defined as a lifestyle that excludes animal products for reasons of exploitation and cruelty to animals. While members of this subculture fall under other categories as well, this group also includes avid yogis, feminists (have you read any Carol Adams?), and members of several religious groups. (If I’ve left anyone out, please don’t be offended—this guide is about food.) Food choices in this category can include any plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, etc.). Some members of this group also consume imitation milks, cheeses, and meats. But ethical vegans who choose to consume faux meat and cheese products are sometimes given flack by omnivores (and even some self-important vegans) for their dietary choices. The idea of eating plant-based foods that taste similar to the animal-based equivalent seems preposterous to some. But not everyone gave up animal foods because they hated the taste of meat and cheese. Some vegans enjoy the taste of a delicious pepperoni pizza…they just don’t want to support the industries offering the “real deal.” And companies like Lightlife, Follow Your Heart, Turtle Island, among many others are making some wonderful faux meat and cheese products available at most grocery stores. Additionally, Spiral Diner has made it really easy for local vegans to enjoy some amazing faux meat and cheese creations in a casual restaurant setting. Amy McNutt and James Johnston, Spiral's founders and executive chefs, are true pioneers!

Members of this group focus on the environmental aspect of veganism. John Robbins’ The Food Revolution explains the environmental effects of the meat and dairy industries in great detail. Eco-vegans have adopted this way of life for such reasons. Many drive eco-friendly vehicles, sport hemp shoes, and are often found volunteering at local clean-up events. Their diets mostly consist of organic produce, bulk organic grains and nuts, and often include house-grown herbs and vegetables.

Health Food Vegans
Many members of this group have adopted veganism for health-related issues like diabetes, obesity, psoriasis, high cholesterol, and other ailments. Some health food vegans follow specific diet regimens (Ornish, McDougall, etc.) that limit sweets, highly processed foods, fats, and other select items depending on their particular diet. Raw vegans fall under this category as well. Raw vegans believe consuming plant-based foods in their purest forms (not heated over 115 degrees) allows the body to heal itself and function more efficiently. The incorporation of superfoods such as raw chocolate, maca (a Peruvian root), and goji berries is said to further enhance those health benefits. Many claim their conversion to the raw foods lifestyle has helped them cure cancers and other ailments where Western medicine had failed. Other benefits touted include weight loss, healthy skin, better sleep, and age reversal. The raw vegan community in Dallas started as a small grassroots venture that has vastly grown over the past couple of years. Local raw confectioners like Hail Merry and Amy’s Raw Chocolate Delights offer tasty alternatives to your everyday vegan chocolate treats. Additionally, Bliss Raw Café & Elixir Bar is set to open next week, and they will offer some truly inspired raw creations that rival some of the big shots in California and New York! Click HERE to read more about Bliss. Some raw vegans call themselves “bee-gans” because they allow themselves to eat foods that contain raw honey and bee pollen.

Hipster Vegans
Hipster vegans are just that—hipsters. And veganism is hip, right? You can find these cool kids dancing to the newest beats every Tuesday night at Fallout Lounge’s Disqo Disco, parties at the Annex House, and just about every other offbeat event in the city. Hipster vegans often call themselves “free-gans” because, while they do follow a mostly ethical vegan diet, they never turn down free food. They believe that as long as they are not financially supporting the meat and dairy industries, all food is fair game. Some argue that these kids are not true vegans because after a few beers, they’ll eat just about anything!

“Skinny Bitch” Vegans
If you haven’t heard of Skinny Bitch, you must be living under a rock! The witty book by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin is a guide to “stop eating crap and start looking fabulous!” It promotes a whole-foods vegan diet—light on the prepackaged, chemical-laden stuff found in the frozen aisle. The book became a New York Times Bestseller after Posh Spice was spotted toting around a copy in an L.A. boutique. Some “Skinny Bitch” vegans include Highland Park honeys trying to lose some vanity weight, suburban soccer moms looking for a new project, and urban thirty-somethings jumping on the latest diet trend. Daily food consumption is heavy on fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, and other low-fat/high-fiber vegan eats. Coffee and other forms of caffeine are avoided (yikes!), and only herbal tea and three small servings of fresh fruit are suggested for breakfast.

Now—I’m sure other subcultures do exist. The groups listed above are the ones I encounter most often in Dallas.

But the most interesting thing about our diverse Dallas vegan culture is how some people within the culture judge those that don’t fall into their particular subculture. We all find it irritating when belligerent, preachy sorts try pushing their personal agenda on us, yes? So why do that to each other? Are we not all making a difference?

So to those vegans, I say this:

Why should it matter if rich ladies-who-lunch want to dabble with veganism for a minute because Rory Freedman says it’ll make their asses look better? It might.

Why are hipster vegans given hell for eating a slice of free pizza after a few too many beers? You know they’ll pay for that sloppy mess in the morning.

What’s the big deal if someone wants a box of Spiral brownies (or Raw Carrot Cake Cupcakes) for dinner? They’re good.

And the most ridiculous one yet: WHO CARES whether you’re a Suma Veggie fan or a Veggie Garden fan??? They're both great. (I heard that one this weekend at a party at the Annex House—but trust me…I’m no hipster!)

There’s already plenty of negativity directed at us for our lifestyle choice, folks. Must we add to it by placing judgment on each other? We are all doing our part to make Dallas an urban-green-hip place to live! 

Pictured from the right: Nicholas, Andy, Eli, and Justen (some of my favorite Spiral Diner buddies at a Dirty Birds show).


ChocolateCoveredVegan said...

I didn't know you used to work at Spiral! Maybe I saw you there and didn't even know it!

Adventure Veggie said...

I like your posting! Its true. Why place judgment on each other? Like you said, the judgement is usually about not going far enough or going too far.

Anonymous said...

i can still make fun of 'beegans' and 'freegans', right?! they are confusing everyone about what veganism means!

*steps back into her vegan police car*


Eddie G said...

a.-- you crack me up :D

Veggie Girl said...

I LOVE this post. I can see a natural segue to a facebook quiz..."What kind of vegan are you?" :)

truth_inBeauty said...

Bravo! LOL.