(KLFY) — Nina Charles, owner of the food truck Nina Creole, remembers a customer who thanked her for at least trying to have a vegan option during Food Truck Fridays at Moncus Park, when none of the other trucks had those choices.
Even though she is not vegan and her food truck specializes in gourmet egg rolls with different stuffings, many of which contain meat, Charles added a vegan roll to her menu after someone requested it at a previous stop.
“There’s not any food trucks that specialize in vegan foods so I like to have something that is inclusive at the places I visit,” Charles said. “With that conversation it gave me some insight on just how hard it is to find vegan food amongst food trucks in Acadiana and events where food trucks are the only option.”
Shrimp etouffee, po-boys, seafood gumbo, boudin and jambalaya with andouille and chicken are all typical dishes associated with Cajun and Creole culture. You’re guaranteed to see these delicacies at many local restaurants, festivals and celebrations, but Acadiana’s food culture is continuously expanding with the variety of dietary lifestyles, including veganism.
Vegans remove animals from their diets, with some going as deep as not wearing clothing derived from animals, like leather. People choose this for a number of reasons, to eat healthier or to protect animals and the environment.
Compared to larger places with more plant-based eateries and options, Acadiana poses more of a challenge finding vegan foods. Charles grew up in Acadiana, and has lived in Dallas for 15 years before coming back to Lafayette. She has seen growth in Dallas’ vegan scene, but she’s not seeing the same in south Louisiana.
“Here in Acadiana, we don’t associate good eating with eating vegan,” she said. “We’d rather have a good gumbo with meat.”
Alyssa Banks wanted to spread awareness of making tasty food that didn’t involve harming animals. She used to run Vegan Angel, a strictly vegan business in Karma Collective in Lafayette, but now believes there’s not enough of a market in Acadiana to own and operate an exclusively plant-based restaurant.
Even though she saw some success in her business before shutting it down, the inconsistency made it challenging for her to keep it going.
“The periods of highs and lows were too constant to realistically maintain a fully functioning all-vegan restaurant,” Banks said. “While the busy days were so inspiring, I never knew when it would get super busy or not. So keeping food on hand and within expiration was difficult, meaning sometimes I was actually losing money.”
Some business owners felt differently about the potential vegan market in Acadiana and were actively trying to build their business up to meet those demands.
Acadiana has few, if any, strictly-vegan brick and mortar restaurants, but some business owners see potential. The journey to find a building for their businesses is a bit more challenging.
Taylor Stokes is a Pilates instructor and has been committed to the vegan lifestyle for more than 16 years. Stokes has been selling raw kale chips with sunflower seeds and other vegan foods at Whole Foods, markets and online for seven years with her business Taylor Made Eats, but when she wanted to develop and expand, she found it difficult securing a business loan or grant despite the success she saw.
“The scarcity of such establishments largely stems from the challenge of securing funding,” she said. “It seems that people are hesitant to take the risk, even though there’s a significant untapped market here.”
There are some Acadiana restaurants that offer vegan options on their menus such as Masala, Scratch Kitchen, Taco Sisters and Pimon Thai, but some can find it hard to eat vegan foods in restaurants simply because of the potential of cross contamination with animal ingredients —leading more people to want strict boundaries.
“I find myself mistakenly served dishes that contain meat, cheese or dairy, either because these ingredients aren’t clearly listed in the menu descriptions or because people may not fully grasp the concept of veganism,” Stokes said.
Vegan pop-up shops are common in Acadiana, especially since there aren’t many exclusively plant-based restaurants.
Tyra Miller of Eat Mo Sexy sells healthy plant-based food at the Oil Center in Lafayette. She also works in healthcare and has noticed that although there are people who are interested in becoming vegan, they’re not committed to actually following through fully with a lifestyle change.
“I do believe the vegan population here in Acadiana is probably bigger than I am aware of but I also know that there is an even larger number that isn’t because they don’t want to give up their old eating habits,” Miller said.
With Acadiana’s adherence to traditional foods that contain meat, it seems harder for those to find what they need to change their diet. For some, vegan foods help them preserve their health.
Charity Lewis is the market manager for Maggie’s Organic Market as well as the owner of Sweet Magnolia’s Creamery, the only soft-serve ice cream and frozen yogurt shop in Acadiana that carries a complete line of gluten-free and vegan soft-serve options.
Although Lewis is not a vegan, she suffers from Celiac Disease and must stick to a strict gluten-free diet. Many of the meals that she eats on a daily basis are dairy-free or vegan and help her limit inflammation.
Lewis believes, based on the feedback she gets from her businesses, that Acadiana should provide more vegan options, as it seems hard for them to keep eating only plant-based items.
“I can attest to there being a lack of vegan options as many of our repeat customers praise us for offering dessert that aligns with their diet and lifestyle by expressing that they are disheartened with the inability to be able indulge in dessert in many of the local restaurants and eateries,” Lewis said.
“Stay motivated by the reason you chose to make a lifestyle choice and change your eating habits,” she added.
Although Acadiana seems limited when it comes to offering vegan options, Stokes said there’s still hope for a more plant-based future.
“It’s my belief that here in Acadiana, we create some of the most exceptional food globally, and we possess the potential to offer world-class vegan cuisine,” Stokes said. “It’s like a hidden treasure waiting to be unearthed.”
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