Embracing a Plant Based Diet
Like any American city, food in Gainesville is available in vast variety. Restaurants abound that offer convenient fast food, opulent gourmet fare, a wide array of ethnic choices, frozen yogurt and ice cream and so much more. With all the variety of temptations offered, most compromise to attain a healthy balance. The health conscious avoid high fat, empty carbs and sugar-laden food. But according to a recent study by Wakefield Research, the biggest modern food trend is limiting animal protein. In fact, 55 percent of Americans plan to eat more plant-based foods this year to achieve their health goals, and many choose one form of vegetarianism.
Vegans go a step further, however, and claim hyperawareness in their food choice consumption by eliminating animal protein altogether. Vegans give up all meat, dairy, eggs, gelatin and sometimes even honey for reasons that usually go beyond personal health. They find balance by adding legumes, grains, a variety of vegetables and fruits and use unique preparation methods at home to control their diet.
Ask any vegan why they choose a plant based diet and the reasons they express generally include personal health, the ethical treatment of animals and global sustainability.
Mother of three, Liberty Phoenix, has been a vegan since she was 17 months old. “My siblings saw a fish being killed and convinced my parents that they would never eat meat again. Thankfully my parents were open to the idea and my whole family became and remains vegan.”
She and her entire family are active members of the community and advocates for veganism and its principles. “My main motif action is not hurting another being for any reason. Humans can thrive on a vegan diet.” Phoenix cooks most of her family’s meals at home and utilizes protein rich sources such as tempeh, tofu, lentils, beans, quinoa, nuts, rice, grains and greens, such as spinach and broccoli.
ACCORDING TO THE EXPERTS
University of Florida Health experts on vegetarian and vegan diets say a plant based diet can be a healthy alternative to a traditional American diet, but limiting all animal protein sources can make it harder to get certain vital nutrients essential to good health. So it is important to do it right.
Anne Mathews, PhD, RDN, Assistant Professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, says that following vegetarian or vegan eating pattern is associated with lower rates of many chronic diseases like hypertension, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and obesity. “Vegetarianism can be appropriate for all stages of life, including during pregnancy and for competitive athletes,” she says.
Dr. Mathews says that raising young children on a vegetarian diet can help kids establish healthful eating habits that they will carry forward throughout their lives. “Raising children in a vegan home is also healthful, but particular attention needs to be given to ensuring adequate vitamin B-12, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin D, as clinical or sub-clinical deficiencies can occur, impairing optimal growth and development.” Vitamin B-12 is not present in plant foods, so vegans must consume fortified food products or take regular supplements containing B-12.
She goes on to caution that it is just as easy to be vegetarian and consume junky, nutrient poor foods common in the US, like chips, processed grains and sugar sweetened beverages, so even vegetarians need to plan meals, shop, cook and order wisely.
EATING OUT AS A VEGAN
The trend away from the traditional five food groups is indeed growing, but vegans are still the minority, which makes finding vegan friendly restaurants and menu challenging. However, in Gainesville plant based protein has found its way into plenty of sandwiches, burritos, stir-fries and as main course gourmet staples, turning compromise into jubilation for vegans.
Many local restaurants have discovered the financial rewards of creating an atmosphere of all-inclusiveness. And while it is true that vegans — who primarily eat vegetables — could just order the house salad with oil and vinegar, most would prefer a meal of sustenance, and potentially a choice of one or two options that comprise a filling meal.
Juli Denney, owner of One Love Café, says that even though vegetarian and vegan options can be challenging to create, it is important for her to have options for customers who embrace a healthy lifestyle, whatever that may mean to them as individuals. Denney explains that to her, catering to vegan customers is all about cooking what’s fun and unique and making all her customers happy. Denney says that One Love’s made-from-scratch black bean burger is by far their most popular vegan menu item, but the Good Love Salad, which also qualifies as a complete protein food, with quinoa, beans, pecans, kale and dried fruit is also very popular among all her customers.
Reggae Shack Café occupies one of the most diverse s paces for veganism in the Gainesville community. CEO and Chef Omar Oselimo says, “We have probably introduced vegan food to more people than any organization in Gainesville. We have even had hard core meat-eaters get curious about our vegan options, eventually try it and then slowly convert.”
Chef Omar says he and his staff strive to create a space for people of all eating habits to dine, and is proud to have created unique and authentic platform for people to share and educate one another about their culture and lifestyle. “People always thank us for being gateway to veganism.” Alternatives such as tofu, seitan, tempeh and texturized vegetable protein, as well as curry palm hearts, callaloo and ackee, Jamaica’s national fruit, give plant-based eaters reasons plenty of reasons to keep coming back.
Another primary reason vegans find solace in Gainesville is the sheer numbers of those who ascribe to the lifestyle. Sally Breedlove is a 31-year-old librarian who stopped eating meat in her second year attending the University of Florida. “I accidentally killed a bird and watching it die, it was heartbreaking. It made me realize that I participate in the killing of animals all the time, though not directly. I felt unable to eat other living beings since then.” She says that since giving up meat she has gained more energy, better sleep, a smaller waistline, lower cholesterol levels, and an appreciation for preparing diverse meals at home.
Breedlove’s sister, who is a nutritionist, helped her calculate how many grams of protein she needs each day. She incorporates a diversity of vegetables, wheat, rice, legumes and vegan protein powder into her diet and says, “A vegan diet has plenty of protein to keep a person healthy whether people realize it or not.”
Breedlove says that initially she stopped eating meat out of compassion for animals. When she started eating a plant based diet, however she began to consider how her choices effected the planet overall. “I want to have less of an environmental impact on our planet. We are capable of producing so much more food on land used for plants than on land used for animals, and, I don’t want animals to suffer and they do, even if you just take their milk or eggs.”
Breedlove shares the environmental fears of Jane Goodall, the 81-year-old environmentalist and world-renowned chimpanzee expert. On April 15, 2016, Goodall summarized why she believes meat is a such a danger to the environment. She told a New York City agribusinesses audience that animal agriculture and deforestation of the Amazon rainforests is to blame for the rapidly shifting weather patterns. Goodall has dedicated her life to animal welfare, environmental preservation and peace. “Without rainforests – the ‘lungs of the earth’,” she says, “the planet’s ability to convert carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, into oxygen is compromised.”
“The average person doesn’t have a clue that the meat they’re eating is causing all this havoc,” she told Gary Null in 2009. “They don’t understand about the effects on the environment or on human cells. The suffering of the animals, they might try to turn away from. So how to make them listen and understand is difficult, but it’s happening.”
TEMPEH: PROTEIN BEYOND MEAT
Tempeh is a meat substitute that is popular on local menus. This humble fermented bean cake has a dense structure and nutty flavor that holds up well to frying and grilling. Made from soybeans, black-eyed peas or black beans, tempeh has been made in Indonesia for over 5,000 years. Gainesville father and son team, Sam and Art Guy opened the first licensed tempeh shop in the state of Florida in 2006.
Their tempeh is now used at 35 restaurants across North Central Florida and available for purchase at Ward’s Supermarket for consumers. Artomoro tempeh is tan in color, oftentimes with black spots, which resemble the veins in blue cheese, coating the outside of the cake. Tempeh is a living food that can withstand high cooking temperatures and still retain living enzymes that are beneficial to digestion. Art says that many chefs claim his black speckled tempeh has a more mushroom-like flavor because of the sporulation it contains. The accessibility of tempeh is one of the primary contributing factors veganism is so popular in Gainesville.
Art says that early on, he found the process of making tempeh extremely peaceful. “Making a product by hand and peddling it in my community is something that has always satisfied me.” He enjoys the symbiotic interaction he has shared with his customers over the past eleven years. “So much of the food industry is a big truck and a long invoice with an anonymous, faceless soul. I feel honored that people buy my hand made tempeh.”
- Watch for products with high salt content.
- Teens and pregnant women should work with a registered dietitian to make sure they are getting enough protein and other key nutrients.
- When following a vegetarian diet, keep in mind you should eat different kinds of foods, including vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy and eggs.
- Choose fortified foods, such as cereals, breads, soy or almond milk, and fruits juices to get a full range of nutrients.
- Limit foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat.
- Do not make up for a missing nutrient by over eating another. For example, do not eat a lot of high-fat cheese to replace meat. Instead, choose protein sources that are low in fat, such as beans.
- If needed, take supplements if your diet lacks certain vitamins and minerals.
- Learn to read the Nutrition Facts Label on food packages.
TOP 10 VEGAN RESTAURANTS
Based on vegan choices, creativity in preparation, and overall taste and reputation among vegans, these local establishments are our top 10 vegan friendly restaurants in Gainesville Florida.
1 VEGAN 2GO
Menu is 100% vegan
7625 W Newberry Road
2 THE TOP
Vegan eats with other options
30 N Main Street
3 REGGAE SHACK CAFÉ
Jamaican with many choices
619 W University Avenue
4 CURIA ON THE DRAG
Plant-based menu 2029 NW 6th Street
5 CHOPSTIX BISTRO
Pan-Asian Vegetarian menu
3600 SW 13th Street
6 BOCA FIESTA
Tex-Mex selections with tempeh
232 SE 1st Street
World food, locally sourced
1511 NW 2nd Street
8 ONE LOVE CAFÉ
Using organic local produce 4989 NW 40th Place
9 ROOT AND PECKER
Chill atmosphere and real good food
5408 NW 8th Avenue
10 SATCHELS PIZZA
Salads, tempeh & many unique toppings
1800 NE 23rd Avenue