An instantaneous sense of community surrounds each visitor walking into the United Campus Ministry’s basement as visitors, newcomers and faithful attendees alike are welcomed in for the Vegan Cooking Workshop (VCW).
Every Tuesday night, between 60 and 75 attendees gather for fellowship and vegan cooking love. Coordinators and other volunteers begin cooking at 7 p.m. Then the best part of night begins at 9 p.m. as everyone partakes in the carefully prepared food.
Each night consists of a themed meal ranging from Indian to Ethiopian to Soul Food. Sometimes the cooks benefit from their database of recipes. Other times they adjust recipes to be vegan friendly.
Benjamin Bushwick, a senior studying psychology and sustainability, has never failed to miss a Vegan Cooking Workshop since the program began ten years ago.
Bushwick acknowledges the VCW’s judgement-free atmosphere. The people involved in VCW are non threatening and friendly towards all, even the pet dogs that occasionally come in.
“Growing up, I had a toxic environment. There is no environment like Athens. Vegan Cooking keeps me coming back,” said Bushwick, one of the coordinators of VCW.
The coordinators and volunteers brainstorm menus. Stepping out of their norm in September, the workshop combined efforts with Ohio University’s Spanish Club.
“I love vegan cooking. Any kind of community food event is worth coming to especially since UCM is an awesome organization,” said Sarah Volpenhein, an OU Spanish member.
That evening Volpenhein and other Spanish club members planned a meal of pupusas (an El Salvador tortilla-like dish stuffed with black beans) topped with a cabbage salad, homemade corn salsa, salty chips, churro chips and alot de elote (a warm beverage consisting of corn, cinnamon, water and sugar).
Before each meal, the coordinators chant their slogan.
“Cook, serve, eat, clean. It’s our thing,” Bryan said. There is a community effort in each step of the process.
On another night in October, VCW hosted a Mediterranean night. Dishes prepared were quinoa, a Mediterranean style veggie stir-fry, hummus with pita and a salad with cilantro, basil, carrots and cabbage topped with tahini sauce.
Servers do not skimp on the portions. Plates are piled high with a variety of vegan foods, making it difficult to leave the workshop hungry.
Those who attend are encouraged to bring Tupperware for a bite later and newcomers quickly learn to do so.
Uniquely, the majority of attendees do not follow the vegan lifestyle. Tyler Bryan, one of VCW’s coordinators, states that only a handful of attendees are true vegans.
Dustin Boggs, who has been a vegan for five years, first learned about VCW at the Involvement Fair.
“Literally all I eat is salads at the dining hall, so this is a nice change,” Boggs said.
Dining hall life continues to be a struggle for Boggs because of the lack of vegan options available.
“I wish there would be some cooked vegetables. It is the least healthiest foods available, like fast food,” Boggs said.
VCW regulars assume the event is happening without any reminders. It is a weekly, anticipated Tuesday night ritual.
“We have a solid community gathering. Even without outreach, it happens,” Bushwick said.
VCW exists solely on monetary and food donations. A minimum of a three-dollar donation is requested for each meal. That small contribution is well worth a meal teeming with fresh vegetables compared to the price of a meal on Court Street.
However, many staple members of the group graduated last year. As a result, the group is looking for more hands-on members to do anything from shopping for the food, creating posters and constructing a menu to continue the VCW tradition.
The Vegan Cooking Workshop combines the best features of Athens: community, fresh food and innovation. Non-vegans and vegans alike dine together and also enjoy a uniquely constructed and tasty menu.