Apr 28, 2010
This year, Ohio University's Earth Month observation focuses on sustainability issues surrounding the most fundamental of human needs: food. This weekly series seeks to address many aspects of a sustainable food system, including organic, local, vegetarian, and vegan choices.
Choosing to eat fewer or no animal products, known as vegetarianism or veganism, is a choice that has only recently come to be associated with the sustainability movement. The conditions of animals raised on "factory farms," as well as the amount of resources and pollution associated with these large-scale agro-businesses have repositioned a plant-based diet as a centerpiece of sustainable living.
Josh Herzer, junior applied ecology major and resident assistant in Smith House on South Green, has experimented with both vegetarianism and veganism as a way to eat healthier and reduce his ecological footprint. Though Herzer's definition of a sustainable diet has evolved over the past three years, he returns to veganism at least once a week for an off-campus meal known as Vegan Cooking Workshop (VCW).
Herzer discovered VCW during his sophomore year at OHIO and is now part of the team responsible for planning and preparing a collaborative meal served every Tuesday night in the basement of United Campus Ministries. Herzer's original reasons for attending VCW were straightforward and simple.
"The food was really good, it was cheap and it was vegan," he said with a matter-of-fact shrug.
Since then, Herzer has come to appreciate the social, cultural, and educational aspects of the meal as much as the opportunity to cook and eat foods that align with his values.
VCW began seven years ago with a few close friends interested in the Hare Krishna spiritual tradition and a diet that would include less meat. Hare Krishnas view sharing food as a way to expose the public to their vegetarian tradition as well as recruit new members. Boaz Ramos, a member of the New Vrindaban community in West Virginia (described here by students in the Global Leadership Center), brought his vegan experience and principles to the table by leading the workshop through multiple growth spurts. Today, an average of 80 people are served each Tuesday in the basement of United Campus Ministries on College Street.
Ramos' departure from Athens last year brought on a new phase of VCW in which Ohio University students have taken complete responsibility for the event. A core group of five to eight students run the workshop each week, spending two to three hours on each phase of the meal – advertising, planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning up.
The Vegan Cooking Workshop adheres to a strict definition of vegan that includes no animal byproducts of any kind (including ingredients like honey) so as to make it accessible to every variety of vegan, vegetarian or omnivore. Many weekly attendees are neither vegan nor vegetarian but enjoy trying a new style of eating or visiting with friends. Others are committed but busy vegans who appreciate having a diverse and wholesome meal prepared for them each week.
No matter what the definition, the art of vegan cooking, as described by Herzer, involves learning to substitute new ingredients for the meat and dairy you voluntarily remove. A few of Herzer's favorites are quinoa, millet, seitan and wild edibles like dandelion and redbud blossoms.
VCW organizers are making a special effort to buy local and seasonal foods in honor of Earth Month. A recent menu for a breakfast theme night included banana pancakes with homemade maple syrup, scrambled tofu with bell peppers and kale, fruit salad and chai tea. The kale and apples were purchased locally and the tofu was made in West Virginia.
The cooking is supplemented by a reflection night on Thursday of each week, in which many of the participants of VCW come together to discuss life issues and insights. Halie Cousineau, a sophomore photojournalism major who has become a lead menu planner for the
workshop and provided much of the background information about VCW, says this helps the workshop serve as an introduction to a high quality of life that goes beyond just diet.
Herzer's vegan leanings have transcended his own dinner plate to impact the lives of those around him. Before retuning to OHIO after winter break, Herzer purchased a cookbook called "Vegan with a Vengeance." The book never quite made it to Athens, though, adopted instead by his mother as she experiments with new vegan recipes at home.
The Office of Sustainability has partnered with students, faculty, staff, and community members to develop Ohio University's second annual Earth Month. Click here for the 2010 Earth Month schedule.