Couscous camaraderie: Diners dish on healthy eating at monthly vegan potlucks

Marian Dorn of Grand Junction holds up a sack of Uncle Eddie’s Vegan Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies as she announces that the dessert is once again available in town. She was attending the Vegetarian Society’s monthly potluck dinner at the Lakeside Community Room.


Editor’s note: We naturally seek out the people with whom we belong, and when we find them we find a kind of home, our group. This story is one in a series by features writer Rachel Sauer about area groups. If you would like to tell us about your group, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 256-4263.

The thing to do when eating food is talk about food.

It’s a conversational inevitability. Sit down to dinner and toss out a topic as random as dark energy, say, or Estonian politics, and eventually the path winds back to food. It begins with commentary on what’s actually being eaten and meanders around to memorable meals, to recipes, to shopping tips, to general knowledge about that which goes in the mouth and down the hatch.

Which leads to overheard fragments of various conversations at a Vegetarian Society of Colorado, Grand Junction Area Branch potluck dinner:

“Eggs are cholesterol grenades.”

“I read up on pineapple and it’s a great food for our joints. Just a super food for joints,” which led to, “Does that mean we can roll it and smoke it?”

“It’s like a Cheeto, only it’s made out of vegetables.”

“A little bit of coconut oil won’t kill you, but a lot will.”

“It’s not that difficult to make tofu. I’ve never actually made it, but it seems like it shouldn’t be that difficult.”

“All these rumors of MSG causing headaches, there’s no evidence of that.”

And so it goes.

Which isn’t to say that food is the only thing that gets discussed, but it is a common denominator when vegetarians and vegans get together. Which this group does monthly for a potluck dinner and in between times for lunches at local restaurants. Plus, there are the informational booths at community events and other volunteer and educational activities.

“We’re an educational organization to inform people about the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle that’s humane, environmentally sound and good for your health,” said Marian Dorn, who leads the local branch. “And we like to eat good food.”

See? All roads circle back to the food.

Each monthly potluck, at 5 p.m. the third Saturday of the month, begins with everyone introducing what they brought. Dishes are vegan — meaning they include no animal products — and ingredient lists are placed beside each one.

Your average American eater, the one who generally tries to be healthy, who avoids excessive amounts of red meat, who at least buys the vegetables (regardless of whether they actually get eaten or just fester in the refrigerator), might be forgiven a little knee-jerk skepticism: Let’s get this straight. The cake contains no eggs, the cookies have no butter, the broccoli salad is sans mayonnaise or bacon and this whole thing is 100 percent cheese-free.


A few cautious nibbles send scales tumbling from reluctant eyes. Are those black olives in the guacamole? Yum! Craisins in the couscous salad? Delish! Apple bars? So moist! So tasty! Let’s have more of that potato dish.

“You don’t think about what you’re not eating, because the food is so good,” said Carole Chowen. “You might think you’re limited in the variety, but you’re really not.”

Dinner is eaten around long tables pushed together, boarding house-style, and everyone has a different story about how they came to their food — and lifestyle — choices. There are explanations of health scares and mounting physical lethargy, of animal mistreatment, of big business attempts to control nourishment, of a simple need for change. There’s no single path to vegetarian choices, and not everyone at the potlucks is completely meat-free, Dorn said.

“We welcome everyone,” she said, adding that the emphasis is on making good health choices and enjoying not just nature’s bounty, but a sense of community.

“The bottom line is,” she said, “we like to eat. And nothing brings people together like food.”

The next potluck will be at 5 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Lakeside Community Room, 3150 Lakeside Drive.

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