Food, friends and empowerment

POWER MEAL: The Asheville Vegan Society's monthly potlucks function as both community feasts and a support network for activists. Photo by Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt

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.

For details on the next Asheville Vegan Society gathering, visit or



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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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14 thoughts on “Food, friends and empowerment

  1. Thank you for such a great article Aiyanna!
    Below is an easy recipe for Vegan Dog Biscuits that I make with the leftover pulp from juicing wonderful carrots, green apples and beets (organic!). Any pulp is OK as long as the veggies you are using are not harmful to dogs. Always good to double check that!
    Vegan Dog cookie RECIPE

    About 4 cups of juice pulp make sure you don’t include any harmful fruits/veggies) mine had carrots, green apples and beets)
    Ingredients: 1/2 cup all-natural peanut butter (I used freshly ground!); 1 cup oats; 1/4 cup flaxseed meal

    Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
    Shape mixture into 1-inch balls or a size that will be good for your pets.
    Bake on a foil lined baking sheet at 275 degrees for 30 minutes, then remove from oven & press gently with the bottom of a glass to flatten. Return to oven, bake for 30 minutes more, then decrease temp to 200, and bake for about 1 hour, or until crisp.

    Low heat is good for these cookies. The longer you cook them the crispier they will be. I skip the last hour top keep ours a little soft and chewy!! Lots of variations will work with this basic recipe.

    Aunt Karen
    Aunt Karen’s Lucky Dogs
    Dog Training and Behavior Consulting
    Henderson County and Surrounding Areas

    • Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt

      What a fantastic use for juice pulp! Thanks so much for sharing, Karen.

  2. Joe

    Very well written piece on The Asheville Vegan Society recent potluck. People choose to eat plant-strong from many reasons — the environment, spirituality, ethics, their own personal health et cetera. Our group offers support to anyone interested in moving toward a plant-based diet and while most our of our members eat and live a vegan lifestyle, it’s important to note that many are not yet vegan nor do they intend to become vegan (although many move in that direction). In addition to potlucks, we have montly dinners out (at Whole Foods and area restaurants), host visiting and local speakers, table at festivals, sponsor & promote films that encourage folks to consider the effects of dietary and other behavioral chocies and run or particpate in other events & activities that promote veganism. We also will bringing VegFest to Asheville once again in the Spring of 2015.
    -Joe Walsh

    • Jo

      Hi Joe,
      So glad to hear about Asheville’s Vegan Society. I live in Durham and started up a small local company called SPREAD. We make a vegan cheddar cheeze made from almonds. There are presently three flavors: cheddar, smokey cheddar and jalapeno cheddar. Just getting started but now sell in Triangle Whole Foods, Produce Box, two NC co-ops, and Relay foods. We would love to come to VegFest 2015. Wondering if we can get more info on it.

  3. Lauren

    I write a plant based blog with recipes called Edible Musings, and am moving to Asheville soon! I can wait to join the group and host a potluck! Great article.

  4. John

    I enjoy the Sunday evening potluck dinners in Asheville, the food is fantastic and it’s always nice to meet like minded individuals that care about their health, the animals and the planet. Dr. Amy Lanou from UNCA recently completed an online nutrition course that is available for companies to purchase and give to the employees. This training teaches optimal nutrition and promotes a whole food plant-based diet. If you know of any business owners that may be interested, please tell them about the website
    Thank you

    • Joe Walsh

      Fantastic John– it’s a great program that is very cost effective. Amy Lanou is a brilliant and accomplished health educator who is also as nice as can be. Read about her in his week’s Mountain Xpress!

  5. Theodore Zuckerman

    Very nice article. I like how it points out what a diverse group we are. An idea that seems to be popular these days is that all of us are very much the same in regard to everything, but the truth is that we are often very different. All of us don’t eat animals and don’t wear them, because we feel connected with them in a way that causes us not to want to cause harm to them or cause them to suffer – other than that…. We have different personalities too. Some of us hardly take a rest from trying to convert everyone to veganism, others are content to go about living their vegan lives so that others barely notice they are vegan, and there is someone at every step in between.

  6. Frank Contreras

    Great article written by Ayianna addressing the importance issues for vegans of Asheville. As stated in her piece many of us are actively working to make this a more non violent world for humans and animals alike.
    Since working and volunteering for Brother Wolf Animal Resuce, my life has never been more fulfilled. Other projects like DuoDuo need to also be addressed and keep me busy.
    Would like to see more restaurants and other food establishments in Asheville consider adding more plant base items to their menus.
    The Plant currently is the only all vegan restaurant and we have Rosetta’s veg/vegan fun eclectic place and of course The Laughing Seed, veg/vegan (great vegan cookies), there are others. When you think about it, most places are the same but when you look at the above restaurants you think thoughtfulness and creativity.
    I, we encourage Mountain Express to continue the writing of great articles like Ayianna’s that show the diversity of palates and lifestyles in Asheville thank you, Frank Contreras

  7. Naddina

    The Raw Food,Vegetarian and Vegan Meetups in Asheville are a wonderful way to Meet Folks, who are consciously eating in a Loving way!
    I find using Aruvedic Cooking avoiding Garlic and Onions can be used in Vegetarian,Vegan and Raw!
    A way of remedying Food so thats its less harmful from Cooking to the Body! And even offering one’s Food to Krsna our Food becomes Prasadam even more an expression of Love!

  8. Rudy Beharrysingh

    This is great. I hope to see more articles like this in Mountain Express. The Vegans have landed:)

  9. Susan Schindler

    Two years ago, My teenage son and I moved an elderly homeless couple, and about 50 chickens and other assorted small animals, to Florence, SC. Their small income was just enough to cover the low rent of an old mobile home on a piece of land that was donned with a large chicken pen, build by volunteers. Although they’ve been able to make a few friends through our connections, and on facebook, they have found that the location is not as accommodating to their organic vegan lifestyle. We’re now searching for a new home. Asheville seems to be just what we’re all looking for now, as I’m nearing retirement and my son will soon be an adult. I’d really appreciate any input or suggestions on where we might find land to purchase, like an old small farm, or low budget home that we could use to create a cozy sanctuary. It would a dream to have enough room to eventually add a couple of tiny homes for visitors. I’m willing to consider combining sanctuaries for a donation commitment, or using land on an existing farm to put a small home on for them.

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