On Nov. 10 I had the opportunity to attend a Vegan Cooking Demo Extravaganza.
The event was co-hosted by Thrive Baltimore and the Afro-Vegan Society. Thrive Baltimore is a community center entirely operated by a group of food, environmental and social justice activists and volunteers.
The Extravaganza is one of the many events Thrive Baltimore puts on to promote sustainability and a healthy vegan lifestyle. Among their other events are educational classes, workshops, screenings of films and monthly potlucks offered by Thrive.
One of Thrive’s co-founders, Brenda Sanders, has been a vegan for 21 years. Like many in Baltimore City, she was raised in a community that had few healthy food options.
As the current programming director, Sanders said that combating health disparities is Thrive Baltimore’s main goal.
“Changing the food landscape of Baltimore from being marginalizing to one that helps people and families to thrive is a huge endeavour and Thrive Baltimore has taken that on,” Sanders said.
There were 12 sessions throughout the day, each led by a different chef. The first one I attended was ‘Quick & Easy Vegan Meals.’ Jamila Alfred, the director of community engagement of the Afro-Vegan Society, ran the demo. I walked in just as her mashed sweet potato dish was being passed around. I also sampled a cabbage dish and a rice dish made by Chef Dovetta, the owner of The Little Dove.
Let me clarify, I’m not vegan. I’m attempting to convert to vegetarianism, but it’s a slow transition. This was one of the first times that I sampled vegan foods and I was not disappointed. I found that the foods were flavored with many spices. So I now have the experience to refute any claim that a vegan diet is bland and unexciting.
Actually, the day held a couple of firsts for me. It was also the first time that I got off the JHMI at the Station North stop. It’s a stop so unfrequented by Hopkins students that when I asked a couple of strangers where the bus stop for the JHMI returning to Homewood was, they recommended that I “assert my presence,” for otherwise the driver would pass by. That does not serve as a caution but as an incentive for those looking to truly escape the Hopkins bubble. Don’t be intimidated, be emboldened.
There were people of all ages at the workshop — from retirees seeking fresh flavors to young parents hoping to steer their household’s diets in a healthier direction.
A group of young boys ran around photographing the event. I chatted with one of the photographers, Mason, right after he captured a close-up of the vegan mac and cheese.
Mason, who is 10 years old, accompanied his father to this event. He said that he would not mind transitioning to veganism, especially after he sampled his favorite dishes of the day: vegan grilled cheese and mashed potatoes. Mason said that he heard in school and from his parents that a vegan diet is very healthy. But like the organizers of the event, who offer vegan food choices but don’t force it on anyone, Mason was quick to qualify his statement.
“I know that vegan food is really good for you; it’s a better diet for you than anything else. But it’s your choice, you could do it either way,” Mason said.
Another attendee, Kianna Richardson, went to the workshop with her family, including her toddler.
“My son knows the word ‘vegan,’ and he loves fruits and vegetables but he also loves chicken. We are trying to find chicken substitutes. We did find some easy, quick, good recipes that we going to try to use to convert him,” Richardson said.
At these words, Richardson’s son, who was playing a game on an iPad but was intently listening to every word, looked up and shook his head. I suppose that it will take more than an afternoon of cooking demos and vegan food samples to get that little one to forgo a savory morsel of chicken.
Richardson recently moved to the Station North area, so she also wanted to connect with her new community. According to Sanders, a nurturing community is an important function of Thrive Baltimore.
“The feeling of community is very important when you change your lifestyle so dramatically. When no one else around you does, you feel isolated. I’ve heard that people say that their colleagues make fun of them, their family gets tired of having to cook special stuff for them or they don’t have any support at home. We want to be that support for people,” Sanders said.
The Vegan Cooking Demo Extravaganza is the first of a planned annual event. To those who are looking to make the leap to veganism or vegans who are looking for new recipes, definitely attend the next one. And in the meantime, try out the other events that Thrive holds. Vegan foods are usually served and trust me, it’s worth it.