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Vegan vs. Vegetarian and Where to Get your Fix

Vegan vs. Vegetarian Durango

What's the difference, and where to go in Durango!

Vegetarian and vegan ideals are becoming a prominent part of society. But what are vegetarians and vegans exactly, and aren’t they kind of the same thing?

Not quite.

Dr. Ashley Lucas from PHD Advanced Nutrition in Durango explains, “Vegetarians avoid animal protein but are usually okay with eggs or dairy.  Some, called pescetarians, still eat fish. Vegans don’t eat or use any animal products.”

Lucas warns that “everyone is different, but very few people should eat only plant foods. About 95 to 98 percent of people thrive when there are animal proteins in their diet.”

Durango registered dietician and nutritionist Mikel Lovel from Peak Wellness and Nutrition explains that the reasons people choose a vegetarian or vegan diet vary from individual to individual.

Sometimes for environmental or animal rights reasons. Sometimes for health reasons,” Lovel said.

Lovel agrees with Lucas that people benefit when they don’t eat only plant-based foods.

“People can absolutely get all the nutrients they need when they eat a vegan diet but when people are vegetarians who still eat dairy and eggs they lower their risk for certain diseases,” she says. “Not as much with Veganism, but I work with individuals to find what works best for them and sometimes that is it.”

The Harris Interactive Service Bureau conducted a survey that showed that 7.3 million, or 3.2 percent of the US population self-identify as a vegetarian, a number that falls within Lucas’s estimate if the number of people that type of diet works for, according to The Vegetarian Times.

The same study shows that another 22 million lean towards vegetarian-inclined diet, still eating animal protein, but enjoying vegetarian based meals sometimes.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Lucas says. “I love vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are very important to nutrition and should be a large part of the diet.”

With 22 million people in the US enjoying plant-based meals, at least some of the time, the demand for vegetarian meal options is an important factor restaurant owners must consider.

Finding Options in Durango

Durango restaurants are fairly accommodating when it comes to offering vegetarian and vegan options on their menus.

Why is this a major consideration for some restaurants in the area?

“Demand. From customers and from staff. It’s what people want in this town,” Jarrod Regan, owner and chef of Raider Ridge Cafe, said.  “We pride ourselves in serving healthy and largely locally sourced food in a fast environment. It's hard to find healthy options on the go, so we try to provide that.”

The restaurant is a laid back, easy find on College and 8th Ave. The food is fast, it’s fresh, and it’s delicious.

Raider Ridge Cafe isn’t all vegetarian; their extensive smoothie, salad, soup, and wrap selection serves up meals with meat too.

But everything is customizable, Regan said. The vegan options are authentically vegan. The staff at Raider Ridge are happy to omit specific items while preparing your meal or substitute those items for other ingredients.

It pays to offer vegetarian options in Durango’s competitive market.

“New restaurants are opening all the time,” Regan says. “We’ve been in business ten years, since October 2006, and we’ve seen our sales grow every year.”

Turtle Lake Refuge is another, unique, vegetarian dining experience.

Gabriella Ramzi has been a chef for seven years at the Turtle Lake Refuge Restaurant.

“We are an education center that promotes healthy eating by growing our own organic plants and harvesting wild plants,” she said. “On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we are open to the public for lunch from 11:11 a.m. to 2:22 p.m.”

Turtle Lake Restaurant is downtown on 3rd Avenue where they serve you in a bright and cheerful room filled with plants, an almost 100% raw, vegan meal.

“Sometimes we use a locally sourced honey, but we’ll inform you first and replace it with something we can make special if you prefer,” Ramzi said.

The Turtle Lake Refuge is unique because they work on a donation base with a suggestion of a $10-$15 donation, or in exchange for a couple hours of volunteering.

Ramzi says they’re doing okay in the local market because there is a steady group of vegetarians that visit. Word of mouth is important, however, and they alway welcome new people to find them.

“We don’t market, and people think we’re way out of town, but that’s our farm. We’re downtown, on 3rd avenue. Our main concern is education,” Ramzi said. “Spreading awareness about locally sourcing, and harvesting wild foods.”

An Insider Take on Dining Veggy-style in Durango

Jimi Giles, from Pagosa Springs, is a self-proclaimed vegan who made the transition from vegetable-inclined to full vegan in November of 2015.

“I was still eating eggs and milk and cheese but after doing a little research I learned that a plant-based diet could be much healthier,” Giles said. “A plant-based diet can prevent diabetes, obesity, and other diseases. “

“After I made the commitment to eat only plant-based meals I just started to feel better,” she said. “I used to feel full and lethargic after meals. Now I feel satisfied but still energetic.”

It’s not just for health reasons, Giles explains. There are other reasons someone might make the decision to live a vegan lifestyle.

“It’s so much better for the environment, not using up valuable resources like land and water. Water to grow the feed to feed the animals that people eat. In many other ways eating animals contributes to harmful greenhouse emissions and climate change,” she said.

“The vegan diet leaves a relatively small footprint compared to an animal diet. Also becoming vegan allows you to live a more compassionate lifestyle,” Giles said. “I can finally live up to everything I’ve always believed in. I’m an animal lover. I believe every living thing wants to live.”

Giles travels to Durango two to three times a week with her band The Robin Davis Duo. She describes Durango as having several options for her when it comes to dining out. Turtle Lake Refuge and Raider Ridge Cafe were high on her list, though she named a few other options as well.

“East by Southwest is a great place to eat out with friends who aren’t vegan. East by Southwest isn’t vegan but they are very good at denoting on their menu what is. Zia is a quick and easy option; there are plenty of options at the taco bar including vegetarian beans and rice, meaning they’re not using animal lard in those. Grassburger is your typical fast food restaurant but with vegan options; they have a black bean burger, vegan fries, and a vegan milkshake made with rice milk. There are some good delis around too--both Nature’s Oasis and Durango Natural Foods Co-op have vegan sandwiches and the option to customize your own smoothies and wraps.”

So when you’re dining out with friends, and you see a vegan option on the menu, how can you be sure that the meal you’re about to order is authentically vegan? Giles reveals her approach:

“It’s not about perfection,” she says. “You have to trust the people who are cooking your food. Ask questions and be vigilant. If something’s not noted as vegan, ask your server if it is, or if it can be. They’re there to accommodate you.”

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