Kim Dicso was intimidated by veganism, but all it took was one tasty chickpea wrap to eliminate her fears.
Dicso always felt a tension between the meat on her plate and her love of animals, ditching meat once for a few weeks, but never saw a vegan diet as a realistic choice. She had no idea what she would eat as a vegan. Then she met Sue Cag, a vegan of 20 years and counting, who showed her how the switch could expand her diet more than it restricted it.
“I thought vegans just ate greens all the time,” Dicso said. “I had no idea what to do in the grocery store. I was so intimidated. Then Sue started making me amazing vegan meals and I realized there was all of this food out there I hadn’t even tried.”
“I’ll never forget the day I made her a chickpea wrap. I’ve never seen anyone eat so fast,” Cag said.
For Christine Chavez, it was a clean-cut process. Her family watched a YouTube video on how animal products affect human health and by the end they were convinced.
“There were no pictures of sad, tortured animals or anything like that. It didn’t tug at your heartstrings. It was strictly from a health standpoint,” Chavez said. “We went over and looked at all of our cupboards and we went vegan right then, cold turkey, and we haven’t eaten meat for going on four years now.”
Today Cag, Chavez and Dicso work together through Wilmington Vegan to create a support system for a growing community of almost 400 local vegans. The organization kicked off 2014 with projects that make veganism less scary, like a mentor program for newcomers and publication of a dining guide detailing vegan-friendly restaurants across town.
They all remember how overwhelming it seemed in the beginning.
“I grew up on TV dinner-style foods. You have your meat, your starch, your vegetable and that’s a meal. I thought I had no creativity, no imagination. Shopping was difficult,” Chavez said.
It took a few cookbooks and failed experiments with new food for Chavez to figure it out, but Cag enjoyed a smoother transition with early guidance from local food co-ops.
“Every time I moved or traveled I would seek out small, local grocery stores and it always led to unique experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise had,” Cag said.
Karen Stewart, co-owner of Lovey’s Natural Foods and Café, was a vegetarian for years, but now incorporates small servings of local, humanely raised meat into her diet. She said the shelves at Lovey’s are stocked with items requested by customers, many of which are vegan- or vegetarian-friendly.
Stewart said the most requested items are fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and whole grains. She suggested transition foods like mock meats, pasta made from mung beans that packs 25 grams of protein in a two-ounce serving and protein powder made from superfoods like chlorella and spirulina for new vegans and vegetarians who are concerned about protein.
“It can be overwhelming and a little frustrating for people because if they all-of-a-sudden decide they want to change their diet, it can be pretty confusing. We would be glad to help a customer go through the aisles,” Stewart added.
Dr. Douglas Dixon, a vegetarian who occasionally eats seafood, said he sees the shift toward a plant-based diet as healthy. After researching the way the body metabolizes protein, he cut out meat and felt better.
As a physician, Dixon aims to be objective and guide patients toward healthier choices regardless of whether they eat meat. He advises his vegan patients to be conscious of B-12 vitamins, iron and fatty omega acids in addition to complete protein sources.
Chavez encouraged anyone curious about transitioning to a plant-based diet, but still overwhelmed by the change, to get involved with Wilmington Vegan’s mentor program.
“If anyone is thinking about it, even if just for a few days a week they want to go vegan and don’t know what to cook or what to shop for, we’re here,” Chavez said.
Dicso hinted that new efforts like cooking workshops and grocery store tours could be on the horizon.
“A lot of people like the idea of going vegan but are intimidated by the actual process of it: shopping and cooking and making sure you get all the vitamins you need. … We’d like to break it down and make the transition less scary,” Dicso said.