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Vegans and Friends: Dining group dedicated to plant-based consumption

From left, guests at the November Vegans and Friends dinner at the Cabin Coffeehouse and Cafe are Bob Whelan, Mark Studer, Stacey Parkos, Noemi Aylesworth, Harry Aylesworth, Cami Hurtado, Tim Smythe, Lydia Smythe, Nancy Studer and Mary Splady. Submitted Photo

Most people know someone who is a vegetarian - a non-meat eater - or are themselves vegetarians.

A new club in Bemidji, Vegans and Friends, takes the meatless angle a further step. The members consume no animal products at all - no dairy, no eggs.

Some adopt the vegan lifestyle for ethical reasons - the moral conviction that animals shouldn't be used by people. Others site religious, spiritual or environmental motives for living solely on plants. But the majority see their way of life as a health benefit.

"It's just about eating healthy," said Mary Splady, one of the organizers of Vegans and Friends.

She said she and her significant other, Bob Whelan, had been vegetarians for a dozen or 15 years, but decided to drop dairy products and eggs after a vacation with vegans to Costa Rica.

"The meals were so enjoyable, so pleasant," she said. "We came back to Bemidji and said we should get together with other vegans."

Now, Vegans and Friends gather the second Monday of the month for a meal at a Bemidji restaurant that prepares vegan food for the group of about 20 diners.

The next gathering will be at 6 p.m. Dec. 13 at Wild Hare Bistro and Coffee House in Bemidji. Anyone interested is invited to join them, Splady said, but should e-mail her before Dec. 1 at so she can let the Wild Hare know how many to prepare for.

"We're trying to get more awareness in the restaurants," Splady said.

The tentative menu for the Wild Hare gathering includes mixed greens salad, black bean vegetable fritters, wild rice and mushroom risotto and chocolate cake with mixed berry ice cream. The cost is $15 per person.

Vegans and Friends have also enjoyed Vegan meals at Tutto Bene, Lueken's Village Foods North and Cabin Coffeehouse and Café.

The vegan movement was started in 1944 in England by people who decided not to use animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. The originator, Donald Watson, coined the world vegan by putting together the first and last syllables of the word vegetarian.

At first, Splady said, cooking vegan takes thought and creativity. But now, she said, shopping is simplified. Basically, she rolls her shopping cart around the produce section of the supermarket, and that's it.

And the eating is good, she said.

"I love to eat; I want to eat a lot of food," she said. "Most meals we have I can put together in half an hour."

Noemi Aylesworth, owner of the Cabin Coffeehouse and a fellow vegan, said people's tastes adjust as they transition into the vegan lifestyle. She also moved from a standard vegetarian lifestyle to vegan. She suggested using meat substitutes such as soy burger and gradually tending toward straight plant-based food.

Aylesworth said she expects the Vegans and Friends club, as well as the movement toward consuming more healthful food, will expand.

"There are more and more people looking for a change," she said.

One of the recipes Aylesworth said she likes to show off to convince people how good vegan eating can be is brownies. Splady said this is also one of her favorites and listed the ingredients.

The recipe consists of one package of Duncan Hines or Gherardelli brownie mix. (She said she names the brands because these contain no dairy products.) Combine the packaged mix with a 15-ounce can of black bean processed with the liquid and bake according to package directions.

"For presentation, you can sprinkle powered sugar on it," Aylesworth said.

"I add nuts," Splady said. "It's absolutely delicious, and no one would guess there's beans in it."