I consider myself an equal-opportunity foodie when it comes to my dietary choices. Succulent honey-baked ham, chicken adobo, fried salmon, catfish, lengua, a rattlesnake and rabbit sausage from a restaurant in Little Tokyo. Wow, I shiver with excitement. I’m seriously a non-Muppet, non-cookie exclusive version of Cookie Monster.
And with Thanksgiving around the corner, I bet our foodie monsters are dying to get out as well. In America, the land of “Let’s shoot a bison on the Oregon Trail,” we’ve grown up on meat and dairy as staple parts of our everyday diet. That’s why the idea of veganism always stumped me. What do you mean you only eat (gasp!) vegetables? Get away from me, food segregationist!
Apparently, I had a lot to learn about what it meant to be vegan. Starting off with the idea that vegetarian and vegan are different things. In essence, vegans eat no animal products, which include milk, eggs and honey.
“Typically, vegetarians eat dairy or eggs. Also vegans don’t wear leather or wool,” says Sheri Wheeler. She started the all-vegan food tour Urban Food Crawl with co-founder Jen Bardekoff.
I was impressed by these two enterprising women. Both had met while working at Nickelodeon and found that living in downtown Los Angeles offered a lot of vegan options that not a lot of people knew about.
“We were looking at food tours. All were not vegan or vegan friendly. We thought we can totally put one on that is [vegan] and that’s awesome for people who are vegan or not,” says Wheeler. Bardekoff adds, “I think a lot of people think that because it’s completely plant based that [veganism] is just fruit and vegetables, but you can be really creative with it. I’ve had vegan versions of many non-vegan dishes, which is another thing we like to show on our tour. Like we had vegan menudo on our tour, and menudo is a very non-vegan dish. It was all based with no animal products.”
The dynamic duo began their food tour in August of this year and have slowly gained a following, getting mentions in both the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly. What really got me was a cupcake competition they recently held which invited more than a dozen bakeries to throw-down the best tasting cupcake without the standard use of eggs and dairy.
As Bardekoff explains, you don’t need eggs to make a great tasting cupcake. Some ingredients like tapioca-based flour can do the trick. But in all my obliviousness, I was still stuck on the fact that the Betty Crocker box always said to add eggs. I admit, I was still a work in progress on the whole vegan thing.
Wheeler understands this perception. She grew up as meat-eater until college, where a little bit of time and research gave her a new perspective.
“For me it was all dietary. I had had a major surgery and had all this time to research, and not eating animal products lowers your risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.”
For Bardekoff, health was also the reason, “For me, it was basically not feeling well after eating a lot of different things. I slowly started to cut things out of my diet to feel better, especially dairy.”
The idea of that veganism equals healthiness makes sense. In fact, their vegan food tour is all about promoting good food and exercise. Two of their biggest attractions on the tour are extremely popular restaurants for non-vegans: Babycakes (which has shops in New York and Florida too) and Pitfire Pizza.
“Pitfire Pizza has a vegan pizza with vegan cheese that melts really well. People on the tour are impressed because they usually think there’s fake cheese on a pizza,” says Bardekoff. She adds that most restaurants offer vegan versions of popular dishes.
The tour goes on Saturdays rain or shine in Downtown and Sundays in Silver Lake, as well as a separate vegan wine and beer tasting tours. For $65 there’s a lot of food to try as well as cool goodie bags of vegan food to take home.
Plus, supporting local businesses is always a plus for any foodie. Meat-eater included.
Article posted on 11/21/2011
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