Vegan dining has grown to include new techniques, flavors and better accessibility
Tulsa World | article online
by Jessica Rodrigo
When Cynthia Beavers started practicing a vegan diet, she wasn’t ill or even looking for a way to improve her health. She was already eating healthy, but a book sparked her ah-ha moment.
The book explained how consuming natural foods is better for the body than man-made, processed foods. Everything clicked.
“It just made sense,” said Beavers, owner of Pure Food + Juice in Brookside. “You’re getting all the natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals from your food.”
While most people have heard the term “vegan,” it remains the victim of social stigma, she said. The common misconceptions are that vegan food has no flavor, is just “rabbit food” or that a person who chooses to eat vegan must have some sort of illness or health problem.
So when first-timers come into her restaurant, which specializes in vegan and raw cuisine, she describes the menu as healthy food that doesn’t taste healthy. Beyond salads and smoothies, the menu includes dishes such as pizza, nachos, pad Thai, tacos and lasagna. Vegan cheese is used in lieu of traditional cheese, and, instead of meat, beans and other vegetables serve as fillings.
“It all tastes so good,” Beavers explained about vegan dishes. “It tastes unhealthy, but you end up feeling 10 thousand times better because you’re eating food in its natural state.”
Vegan cuisine has come a long way in the 20 years since Beavers started the diet. Ingredients, such as coconut oil and organic fruits and vegetables, are more accessible and can be found at most grocery stores. Also, an abundance of resources are available for recipes or techniques to create dishes that fit one’s palate.
Ayngel McNall, a manager at SALT Yoga in Utica Square and a local musician, got turned on to vegan food when she was interested in a juice cleanse. She visited Beavers’ former location in downtown Tulsa and ended up following the restaurant to Brookside when it moved to Center 1, 3516 S. Peoria Ave., earlier in 2017.
But before she started drinking the juices and frequenting the restaurant’s grab-and-go fridge to stock her own, her diet was standard for a “Kansas girl” whose family ran a feed lot. She still eats meat and other nonvegan food, but she makes an effort to drink the smoothies and eat vegan dishes when she can fit them into her schedule.
“As someone who doesn’t cook and who gets home at 3 a.m., if I have it in my fridge, I’ll eat it rather than going to Taco Bell,” McNall said.
The convenience helps her eat healthy between work and gigs at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. She admits it can be hard to do all the time, but the way she feels after eating clean is worth the effort.
“I feel lighter,” she said. “I feel like I have more strength and energy. And there’s a stronger sense of clarity, too.”
But eating vegan doesn’t have to be a rigid diet, Beavers said. It’s just a matter of balancing what you’re eating. If she goes out with friends and there’s not a vegan cheese for her enchiladas, she’ll eat the cheese served at the restaurant. The other 90 percent of the time, she’s eating a plant-based diet.
Johnny Price, owner of The Philosophy Tree Strength Training Systems, started practicing the diet in March. As a competitive power lifter, he considered himself healthy before the move to a plant-based lifestyle but said it was more of a spiritual decision.
He was eating healthy, but the transition to the vegan diet was his way of taking it to the next level and becoming a better person. In the nine months since he changed his diet, he’s seen an improvement in his cholesterol levels, blood pressure, other vitals and energy levels. He added that he’s also sleeping better than he used to, and he’s able to focus and concentrate better.
“Being vegan may not be for everyone,” Price admits. “Sometimes, it might come off as having an arrogant attitude, but it’s a personal choice. If it works for you, great. If it doesn’t, at least you gave it a try.”
The accessibility to plant-based foods has expanded to grocery stores and restaurants, including Chimera, Ediblends and more that offer vegan menu options. Price added that if he knows he’s going to a restaurant that may not offer something specific to his diet, he’ll ask for a side or wait until he gets home to eat.
When people find out the 245-pound power lifter is vegan, the first question they ask is about his protein intake.
“I get it all through my vegetables — lentils, split peas and black beans are high in protein. I eat veggie burgers, cashews and walnuts to give me all the protein I need,” Price said.
Education is one of the things Beavers is always sharing with people who come to her restaurant. There’s no shortage of people who come in thinking they won’t like any of the food, but she encourages anyone to try it. Even if it’s just one green smoothie a day.
“People think you have to be sick to eat vegan food, but you don’t,” she said. “Don’t think of it like you’re eating vegan. Think of it as one night you’re going to eat Italian, and another night, you’re going to try vegan cuisine.”