Going Vegan in Cumberland CountyLast Edited:
A handful of Cumberland County eateries have recognized that many diners are seeking out vegan menu options.
I’ve been vegan for going on five years now. Sorry to be a cliche and tell you that I’m vegan right off the bat, but in this case, it couldn’t be helped.
A vegan diet is similar to a vegetarian diet, except you not only avoid consuming meat but also all animal products, like dairy products and eggs. Everyone has their own reason for going vegan; in 2014 I decided to commit to being vegan because I had started researching for a health class project the reasons why people adopt different diets.
As I looked into veganism more and more, I no longer felt comfortable continuing on as I had been. There are a number of things that I’ve come to appreciate about veganism; being vegan has forced me to become a more conscious consumer, both in terms of what I’m buying and what I’m eating, and it’s given me a lot of practice in the kitchen.
One thing that it has made somewhat less enjoyable, though, is dining out. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not super difficult, but it does involve forming a few new habits. One of these is looking up menus online before I commit to eating somewhere, another is changing my idea of what “normal” ordering is (for instance ordering a few sides or appetizers instead of an entree, or asking the chef or server if they can leave off the cheese or make substitutions for certain ingredients). Mainly, you just need to figure out what you like and where you can get it, and always carry snacks.
In comparison, eating out at vegan eateries can make it feel like you have unlimited options. I still remember one of the first times I went to a vegan restaurant; the display case full of vegan doughnuts looked like heaven. In honor of this excitement, I’d like to highlight one vegan restaurant from each of Cumberland County’s three cities: Millville, Bridgeton, and Vineland.
Representing Millville is Wildflower Vegan Cafe, a colorful bistro serving brunch/ lunch and dinner with daily, ever-changing specials. Wildflower has been in business for more than eight years, serving food with a health-conscious slant.
“We are one of the longest-running all-vegan establishments in the state, and are currently expanding and renovating to accommodate additional patrons and an expanded menu,” said Eric Nyman, the owner of Wildflower.
They use many different kinds of fruits, vegetables, and grains, as well as meat alternatives like tofu and seitan, to make their soups, salads, wraps, and smoothies. That isn’t all they offer, though. My idea of a balanced diet includes baked goods, and from the looks of their display case—showcasing cookies, cupcakes, and pie—Wildflower agrees. I can personally attest to the tastiness of their banana bread and pesto pasta.
Regardless of what you order, you can be sure that a great deal of time and attention has been put into your food, as Nyman notes: “We make everything in-house from scratch, extensively source locally grown produce, overwhelmingly utilize organic ingredients, cater to allergen-sensitive diets, and use no artificial or genetically modified ingredients or preservatives.”
This dedication to quality comes in part from Nyman’s own beliefs surrounding veganism, but that doesn’t mean that only vegans will enjoy Wildflower.
“Eating vegan is the easiest and farthest reaching action one can take to better themselves, their community, and their environment,” Nyman says. “Our clientele has always indulged in a diversity of diets, and we pride ourselves on creating food which people from all walks of life and culinary traditions can enjoy on their journeys. Hopefully, one day everyone will be vegan, but until then we will continue to prosper and grow feeding everyone who comes through our doors.”
“Self Love” is another great lunch option for plant-based dining. The name stands for “Serving Everyone Looking For Local Organic Vegan Eating,” and between their food truck and cafe, they do just that. Self Love originally started out in a food truck. Their cafe in Bridgeton, Self Love Vegan Cafe (located inside the nonprofit Hopeloft, on Commerce Street), is a more recent endeavor as it opened in May of 2018. I had the opportunity to try their food at the last Hammonton Food Truck Festival and was not disappointed. The owners of Self Love, Kirsti Snyder and Vinnie Straub, are vegan themselves, citing veganism as a great step to take for one’s health, as well as for the environment and for the animals.
Their patrons, on the other hand, are not always vegan. Although they were pleasantly surprised by how many people in South Jersey were already vegan and how many continue to adopt a vegan lifestyle, “Probably half of our customers are not vegan, but they just enjoy a healthier option and a meat-free meal. We have experienced that if you are serving tastier and healthier options, people will support your business. So in our case, we are happy to serve those who are willing to try something new, whether they are vegan or not.”
Snyder and Straub also credit some of their appeal among non-vegans to the “transitional foods” they offer. Self Love’s menu features plant-based takes on traditionally meat-based dishes, such as “Revolutionary Cheezestake,” “Buffalo Wild Thingz,” and “Sawsage Package,” as well as lighter fare including salads and smoothies.
“We offer comfort food with a very compassionate and understanding approach for anyone who walks through the cafe doors, whether they are seeking information, food, or a friendly smile.”
Moving on to Vineland, we have Shamballah Supreme Deli and Lounge. This is the only restaurant on the list that I have not tried myself as it is currently closed for an equipment update. However, it is very well reviewed and offers a number of attractions different from those of Wildflower and Self Love. Among these are longer hours, as Shamballah serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks, and soul food (delicious soul food, according to the reviews on their facebook page). As if that wasn’t enough, they also put on frequent performance nights, rotating between featured poetry readings and musicians, to stand up and open mic nights.
As veganism continues to gain popularity, the ease with which one can become vegan grows, too. On the American Vegan Society website, americanvegan.org, there are a number of resources for people looking to become vegan, and for vegans looking to become more involved in the vegan community. You can also visit their headquarters in Malaga, New Jersey (although it’s wise to call ahead) and check out the wide variety of helpful publications they have on topics like cooking, nutrition, the environment, and more. Now is a good time to visit, too, as they have a number of books on sale.
The American Vegan Society is hosting a Valentine’s dinner on February 18 and 19 at The Academy of Culinary Arts in Carême’s, the restaurant at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing (see box on page 18). Culinary students prepare and serve the gourmet meal, and it promises to be a very romantic, elegant evening. Guests can expect a five-course vegan meal, including a dessert course of Tiramisu. Spaces fill up fast, so now is a good time to make reservations if you’re interested in attending.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with the American Vegan Society’s president, Freya Dinshah, who touched upon some of their overarching goals.: “The American Vegan Society is about living compassionately without exploiting animals. We care about people, and good health, and happiness. We’re working for positive change and a greener world.”
Dining out isn’t the sole concern of the AVS, but in the interest of sticking with this theme, “We’ve worked with various places to encourage them to carry more vegan items, such as Eric’s place (Restaurant and Pizza on Chestnut Avenue) in Vineland. They make a vegan pizza, hummus platters... They’ve noticed a lot more people wanting vegan options.” Dinshah also mentioned Nature’s Cafe on North Delsea Drive in Vineland as a non-vegan restaurant with a number of vegan options.
Eric’s Restaurant isn’t the only place that has noted an increasing interest in veganism. According to Dinshah, “The Economist recently published a study; this year promises to be the year of the vegan. People ages 24 to 28, about 25 percent are identifying as vegans. Yes, it is growing and people are on the lookout. It needs to grow faster, really...”
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