Reasons For Going Vegan

Whether you just want to try something new and healthy or want to ditch meat and animal products for good, here are some great vegan places in New Hampshire

Pad Thai with tofu from Green Elephant in Portsmouth.

Fast food has been put on trial by the media, food evangelists and good mothers everywhere. It’s not hard to understand that cheeseburgers and fries are not building blocks of the perfect food pyramid. But just taking away the fryolator doesn’t make a healthy diet either. As Angela Malone of Manchester says, “People need to make better, conscious decisions about what they are putting into their bodies.” Yes, what she suggests is avoiding meat. “Even Meatless Monday is a start,” she suggests.

Why would anyone want to eschew delicious burgers, succulent roasts or even chicken broth? There are many roads and reasons folks travel to this less-populated destination.

Malone, also know as the Veggie Babe, is a holistic lifestyle counselor and follows a plant-based diet. She got serious about food during her first pregnancy. She’s not militant about her food choices, but for two simple reasons she follows the straight and narrow path. Simply put, she does it for her health and the health of the planet. “Every little bit helps,” she says. Even her children are happily on board. If they inquire about a pepperoni pizza, she says to them, “Do you really want to eat a dead pig?” For now, they are saying no. One could suppose they would also say no to a dead candy bar.

For others, the vegan lifestyle, which also eliminates dairy products and eggs, may be deeply rooted in religious belief. Connie Paton has worked at Country Life Restaurant in Keene since 1992. It’s strictly vegan and run by Seventh Day Adventists, but open to anyone. She quotes scripture, saying, “And God said, behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” Besides, she feels all the hormones in meat make people aggressive and GMOs in many foods are not recognized by the body. She claims to be part of a long-running independent study with results pointing to increased longevity for Seventh Day Adventists.

Family influence in diet is an important factor — healthy or not so healthy. As adults, two of Paton’s three children are keeping the vegan faith.

In Concord, 30-year-old Willow Mauck is following her family’s lead in diet and business as well. Raised as a vegetarian and later vegan by her parents, she also worked in the family’s vegan restaurant, Susty’s Café in Northwood, much of her young adult life.

In September of 2015, Mauck opened her own vegan café, Willow’s Plant-Based Eatery on Main Street in Concord. It’s a narrow storefront space painted in happy, hippie hues of purple and yellow, and serving up much the same food items she learned from her mother, Norma. You just know Norma was a hippie.

“Plant-based” seems to be the new terminology for vegans because it says more about what they eat than what they don’t. Being a strict vegan tends gets a little cultish, with abstinence from any animal product or animal labor. Even honey is eschewed because the bees are considered slave laborers. And when you think of milk as an animal secretion from a shackled beast, it does sound more appealing to drink carrot juice.

Why do people go down this path? It seems if they are not born into it, exposure to a couple of food industry documentaries opens the door. Once you look past the dairy case for the real source of milk or the shrink-wrapped slabs of bright red beef and look into the world of factory farming, the view can be gut-wrenching and mind-altering. Roughly 2.5 percent of the American population says no-thank-you to animal and poultry meat. For the remainder, it’s barbecue time. It may depend on how deep you look. Malone says, “Sometimes I wish I didn’t know so much.”

A vegan diet can also make you feel better, just in general. Malone suggests an elimination approach to find out what may be bogging you down. First try eliminating meat, then maybe dairy and finally wheat. Even if you don’t think you are sick, a clean diet can make you feel more energized.

Those following a plant-based diet at home can find it difficult to maintain the veggie stream when dining out. Malone says that Republic in Manchester offers a nice selection of meat-free dishes. She also suggests Mint Bistro, just up Elm Street, for their “amazing” shepherd’s pie. Chef Tracey Couture at Funktion Spirits and Spoonfuls, also on Elm Street, offers several vegan dishes on the menu. Many typical restaurants have vegetarian options, but they are usually just pasta dishes loaded with simple carbs.   

Peggy Schauffler took over the Country Life Restaurant in Keene in 2013 and says “I have changed every dish on the menu.”  The vegan food there is served buffet style and you pay by your plate size, but usually around $8 for a full plate. Schauffler replaced the pasta with beans, nuts and grains, and looks to worldly influences for dishes such as  hot tamales, falafel, crêpes and sea cakes.

What holds all this stuff together if they don’t use eggs, or makes it creamy if they don’t use milk? Or more importantly, where does the protein come from if they don’t use beef or chicken or even fish? Is it a matter of “don’t ask, don’t tell”? Well, yes, and no. Turns out cashews make a wonderfully creamy sauce, but as Malone says, a plant-based diet is better if you are not trying to duplicate the taste of a beef hot dog or a chicken wing. She suggests, “Just let the vegetables speak for themselves.”  That being said, vegans have a few meat and egg substitutes in their arsenal to add variety to their diet.

At Willow’s Plant-Based Eatery, Willow Mauck makes her own seitan (SAY-tan), or wheat meat. It’s gluten extracted from wheat and used like beef, as in a shepherd’s pie. Willow says, “People have told me it has the texture of meat. But I don’t know, I’ve never tasted meat.” It is a bit rubbery and takes on the flavors of the sauce quite well. She also uses nutritional yeast in her egg-less egg salad and her cheese-less grilled cheese sandwiches for a surprisingly good taste.

Tempeh (TEM-pay) is another meat-like substitute, made from fermented soybeans and hence gluten-free. At Green Elephant in the Portwalk area of Portsmouth, Chef/owner Dan Sriprasert is following traditional northern Thai cuisine, like his mother taught him. His dishes are Asian-inspired with influences from India, Singapore and Malaysia. He offers wonderful curries with coconut milk including his panang curry vegetable and tempeh with a rainbow of vegetables and garnished with toasted lime leaves. The tempeh is deep-fried to add a bit of crunch to the texture. Again, this meat substitute is  a plain canvas to soak up flavors from the sauce and add protein to the dish. Maybe don’t think of it as a meat substitute; think of it as your alternative choice for better health, a better world and a clearer mind. Sriprasert  also eschews the use of oyster sauce, fish sauces and MSG, which are flavor building blocks at typical Chinese restaurants.

Green Elephant opened this past September, while sister vegetarian restaurant Boda in Portland, Maine, was opened in 2007 by Sriprasert. All dishes served can be prepared vegan or gluten-free, and are clearly marked as such. The inviting space offers new converts, strict vegans and those just going vegan for the day a pleasant dining experience in an upscale, yet comfortable setting of natural wood and stone. There are several local beers on tap and a creative craft cocktail list at the 12-seat bar. But the best is yet to come — it seems vegetarians, especially vegans, are dessert lovers. Deprivation can only go so far.

Green Elephant in Portwalk Place offers a natural materials setting, including chandeliers made from roots.

Green Elephant offers a satisfying vegan organic chocolate mousse and a pumpkin tapioca pudding with shaved coconut and toasted pistachios. Mauck offers her own freshly baked vegan cookies and vegan ice cream from Rock Salt Creamery in Sanbornton. The cookies are not too sweet and you will never miss the cow in the cream.

Strict vegans may be limited in numbers and they may lapse on occasion, but their course is aligned with many age-old cultures. For them, it’s a matter of feeling better and feeling better about their place in the world. Join them for a day or a lifetime. Put on a happy face with potatoes instead of pork roast, tofu instead of turkey or Brussels sprouts instead of brisket. And if you lapse, make that pastured pork or farm-raised beef.  


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