120 Minutes: My Life as a Vegan

As I stepped into Natural Vibrations one evening, my racing mind was oscillating on whether I should be nervous or not. Here I was, a 19 year-old college student that regarded bacon as one of the wonders of the world and thought veganism was just the punch line to a joke, and about to enter a holistic sanctuary where guests centered their lives on health and spiritual energy.

But amidst the welcoming smiles and softly playing reggae, a daunting word startled me—Parasites? I am suddenly transported back to a rickety old church pew on Sunday morning, feeling like a sweaty preacher is screeching about fire and brimstone—or at least the dangers of parasites and how we ALL have them and the ways to rid of bodies of them (two drops of black walnut tincture a day).

Thus began my foray into the world of raw and vegan cooking.

Natural Vibrations—or Natty Vibez to affectionate locals—hosted its second workshop last Thursday; this one led by local vegan chef Akua Divine. Divine explained the trials of transitioning to plant-based livit, or diet, and the benefits of going vegan.

Terrifying microscopic monsters aside, I became acquainted with the importance of a good colon cleanse when beginning your transition, the many benefits of coconut oil and the effect blood type can have on your diet—type O’s love their protein.

The two-hour event is the second of a series of workshops held in the Natty Vibez Community Center. Iley Wildes, co-owner of Natty Vibez and host of the workshop explained, “these workshops are geared toward bringing the community together on a deeper level.” Along with learning to live vegan, I could practice yoga, deep breathing and learn the ways of the Rasta faith.

Under the dim string-lights and the stare of Haile Selassie, we were all comfortably seated in the crowded room. But the abundance of curious minds didn’t cause for problems, just more questions and smaller portions.

While I was more curious how someone could survive without chicken nuggets, guests were wondering if withdrawal symptoms were a thing (they aren’t), how to satisfy a sweet tooth without dairy (dates and sunflower butter) and if vegan cheese can actually taste good (it’s not cheese, period).

I learned the best grocery stores are Trader Joe’s and Kroger but the Rosewood Market is the perfect niche place for all your random ingredient-needs. While there seemed to be some debate over the ethical value of commercial almond milk, the entire group seemed to be in agreement that cauliflower rice was really good.

After an hour of questions and the bone-chilling PSA about parasites, Divine showed us how to make three simple recipes. The first course was “Akua’s Chef Salad,” the simple meal consisted of lettuce, red onion, vegan cheese, nutritional yeast as seasoning, tomatoes and a homemade vinaigrette made with rice vinegar, olive oil and honey. It was a tasty appetizer that had me thinking, “maybe this isn’t so bad.”

The main course was Divine’s “Vegan Caliente Wrap.” Black beans were the protein and we piled quinoa, onions, peppers, tomatoes and more vegan cheese on a jalapeno wrap. It was tasty, spicy and savory, but something was missing. I couldn’t deny I was wishing for some shredded chicken with my quinoa, but it was surprisingly filling.

We had “Divine Energy Bites” for dessert. The delicious little energy balls consisted of rolled oats, Carob Nibs, flaxseed meal, sunflower butter, chia seeds and honey and mixed together and rolled into a mouthwatering treat. It was a completely raw dessert without an abundance of chocolate or dough, something I used to think nearly impossible.

Wildes said Divine’s cooking is “prepared with love” and it was easy to believe it. Divine is a vegan of ten years and has worked with various vegan restaurants in Columbia. Her subdued personality, coupled with her obvious care to help the guests transition, let everyone feel comfortable to ask questions and make comments.

I walked out of Natty Vibez thinking differently. I probably won’t ever be vegan or raw or even vegetarian, but the workshop made me realize all it takes to live a healthier lifestyle is thinking about it.



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