Vegans commune in Duluth
Every first Thursday of the month at the Mount Royal Library, Ellen Vaagen and the Vegan Cookbook Club gather. Sitting in a circle, they share recipes with enthusiasm that fills the library. They entail what veganism has brought to their lives and push one another to try out a new restaurant.
Ellen Vaagen is a UMD graduate. She went from vegetarian to vegan after watching the documentary “Earthlings” in a sociology class.
“I learned about our forceful dominion over animals and how their degraded position in our society is quite harmful to animals, the environment, human health and our collective psyche.” Vaagen said. “I became irrevocably convinced that eating and using animals is wrong from an ethical, moral and commonsense standpoint.”
Vaagen has created a life around being vegan. She writes vegan cookbooks, caters for Duluth events, and is a contract chef for The Juice Pharm, a vegan smoothie and snack bar.
As for the bias against vegans, Vaagen points out that it may be how people grew up.
“People are very attached to the foods they eat and identify the food they grew up eating as healthy and necessary,” Vaagen said. “Often [people] feel very combative when they are confronted with someone who disagrees with and refuses to eat those foods they hold so near and dear.”
Accounting for Duluth’s size Vaagen thinks that the vegan community is appropriate and growing.
“During the ten years I have been a vegan in Duluth the community has grown significantly,” Vaagen said. “Not only am I meeting more vegans, but more people know what the word ‘vegan’ means. More restaurants are creating vegan menu items and grocery stores are carrying more vegan alternative products.”
Vaagen points out that the Duluth News Tribune has started publishing monthly vegan columns by Vegan Cookbook founder Bonnie Ambrosi.
As for tips for new vegans, “learn how to cook,” Vaagen said. “It's very helpful to make big meals to have leftovers on hand or to freeze for a quick meal in a pinch. As you make new meals and gather the required ingredients and supplies, you will suddenly find yourself armed with a well-stocked kitchen and a wealth of new, delicious recipes.”
For a list of accommodating vegan restaurants, recipes, and to see more of Vaagens story visit her blog here.
Eva Weir is a UMD senior who experimented with being vegan a year ago after she was already buying cruelty free makeup.
“One day, I thought ‘I don't want my makeup to be tested on animals,’ but then I'm willing to pay for animals to eat,” Weir said.
After looking through health and environmental benefits of becoming vegan, Weir decided to try it out for two months.
“When January and February rolled around I just figured that I didn't want to change,” Weir said.
“I have a lot more energy everyday, I would also get migraines very often and my stomach would always hurt,” Weir said. “I’ve always had problems with anxiety and depression, and since going vegan those issues have been greatly alleviated.”
From her trips to the grocery store, Weir prepares her favorite vegan dishes like tikka masala, a staple of indian cuisine with almond milk, rice, and lots of veggies. When eating out Weir makes sure to ask for the vegan options at the Duluth Grill, Sara’s Table, and The Tavern.
On campus the resources to stay vegan have been available to Eva thanks in part to a meeting with the campus’s registered dietitian Alyssa Hammitt.
“The dietitian gave me resources as to what I should be eating in a day,” Weir said. “She also mentioned a few places on campus that have vegan friendly options.”
The Northern Shores coffee shop sells soy and almond milk with coffee and they also have fruit cups. The Burger Hub in the food court offers a veggie burger.
Baking Vegan-ly to help community
On long days in late summer Melissa Story and her team walk peacefully through fields of yellow. They forge for goldenrod flowers to make vegan honey an ingredient in their “Honey Bunny” cakes.
Story is the owner of the vegan bakery Cake Bandit in downtown Duluth. She remembers the struggles of being vegan in Spooner, Wisconsin, in the late ‘90s. Before Ben & Jerry’s had almond milk ice cream and corporations made vegan products, Story was baking vegan cupcakes in her kitchen from Duncan Hines’ easy make cupcake boxes.
She started by making special order cupcakes for close friends and family. “Soon, we were filling orders for weddings and grad parties,” Story said. “Then families who needed an affordable allergen-free option started calling and I haven't looked back since.”
Other primarily vegan establishments include Superior Small Batch who make vegan friendly sausages and burgers.
“It's a pretty tight knit [community],” Story said. “We have folks starting ‘Food Not Bombs,’ opening vegan businesses, selling vegan burritos by bike, and connecting on a very real level.”
Story cherishes what Cake Bandit can give back to the community.
“We have been able to give cash and baked goods to great causes like PAVSA & Trans+ who are working hard to create spaces in Duluth that are safe and more inclusive,” Story said. “We plan to work hard to make our baked goods available to all income levels and still have the ability to give back to causes we really care about.”
Cake Bandit is located at 127 E 3rd St, Duluth, MN. For updates check out their instagram.