As the sun dipped behind a mountain ridge on Sunday, Nov. 2, the Asheville Friends Meeting House began to fill with people, with conversation and with the smell of roasted roots and herbs; savory lentils; sweet, cooked dates and homemade macaroni. Every dish in the room, however, had one thing in common: All were completely free of animal products.
At the monthly potluck hosted by the Asheville Vegan Society, participants are asked to bring their own plates, silverware, cups and a generous vegan dish to share. Though the potluck is strictly vegan, the event is far from exclusive. “All are welcome,” emphasizes Joe Walsh, the founder of the society. “We have a really eclectic group here with every age, race, people who are very conservative and very liberal; and the common bond between us is that [we’re] interested in plant-based eating or are already vegan.”
Once the long community table was filled with food, the casual, buffet-style meal began. Most dishes were homemade and recipes were both planned and written out or simply improvised.
For long-time vegan and community activist Frank Contreras, the gathering is more than a community feast, it’s a way to regularly support and empower individuals in their commitment to a vegan life. “By having the dinner, [people are] able to share their stories and their experiences, and that encourages people to continue on a path that helps animals.”
Contreras works and volunteers at Brother Wolf Animal Rescue. Taking a stand against animal exploitation, Brother Wolf, says Contreras, now offers vegan-only menus at all their fundraising events. At the potluck, he distributed information on regional puppy mills (large-scale breeding facilities where dogs are often mistreated) and about the DuoDuo Animal Welfare Project, which is working to end the annual Dog Meat Festival in China.
Contreras also notes that the Vegan Society is affiliated with the Asheville Voice for Animals, which he describes as “more of an activist arm of the organization,” coordinating demonstrations against circuses and Asheville Horse & Carriage Tours.
For Asheville resident and animal-rights activist Cynthia Sampson, the event is essential to promoting community activism. “It’s a good forum for people on the journey towards veganism and people working for animal rights to link up and work together on different issues.” Sampson is active with organizations that campaign against vivisection (scientific experimentation on live animals).
For others, the gathering is simply for pleasure. “We have been vegan for three years and coming here is social because we are strong, very strong, and it’s no way back,” says Annamaria Bowman, who runs a Chicken Rescue and Sanctuary with her husband Paul. Currently, they have 70 chickens, all of whom have been saved from neglect or abuse. ” Once you have that mindset, it’s that you’re doing this for the animals, for your health, for the environment, for something bigger, it’s no way back.”
The monthly vegan potluck, filled with delicious food and meaningful conversation about how individuals can make a difference in the world, is held on the first Sunday of each month. Come hungry and don’t forget to bring a plate.