Going Vegan

MARQUETTE – Negaunee just got a new grocery store, and its selection may surprise you.

The City Green Market’s all-natural food, health and beauty products at discount prices are meant to draw people from surrounding communities to the downtown district. But the products are also part of a cause the store’s owner, Jeff Plummer, has believed in and practiced for 25 years.

He is a vegan – a person who abstains from the use of animal products and eats a plant-based diet instead.

“(The reason) is the animal issue, and I think that’s really the core of veganism,” Plummer said. “Even though it might do a lot of other things for people, their health (and) the environment, ultimately, the core reason the word was coined was to alleviate animal suffering.”

The City Green Market, on the corner of Iron Street and North Pioneer Avenue, is the first all-vegan grocery store in the Midwest and only the sixth in the country, with two more planned in New York City and Austin, Texas. It opened in April, but only started selling groceries about three weeks ago, with plans to significantly expand its selection soon. Eventually, Plummer said he would like to add a deli and coffee bar as well.

The term vegan was first coined in 1944 by Donald Watson when he co-founded the Vegan Society in England, at first to mean “non-dairy vegetarian” and later to refer to “the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals.”

Vegans say there are myriad environmental and health benefits to eating a plant-based diet.

“You don’t have to eat animal products to be healthy,” Plummer said. “In fact, generally they’re finding you’re healthier without them.”

Animal protein consumption has been linked to many of the most prevalent modern diseases. A 40-year-long research study published by T. Colin Campbell, in the book, “The China Study,” is an example of such research, detailing the startling links between nutrition, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

“One thing I hear a lot is it’s too expensive, but if you look at the cost of healthcare…I think it’s better to prevent a disease than to deal with the symptoms,” Plummer said. “I know 30 to 40 hardcore vegans and not one of them is on prescription drugs.”

Plummer said animal agriculture is the largest contributor to climate change, and there would be significantly more food available in the world if diets were predominantly plant-based.

Increasingly, switching to a vegan lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to give up comfort foods either, he said, adding that beer is vegan already. While substitutions can’t be expected to taste identical to the dairy or meat products they imitate, they’ve been designed to satisfy a craving and provide something indulgent, Plummer said.

For instance, he sells vegan ice cream, hot dogs and pizza, among other things.

Vegan practices vary widely, depending on individual preferences and values. Some, like Plummer, don’t eat honey or wear wool.

“If you look into wool, especially commercial wool, they shear (the sheep) in late-winter-early-spring and many animals on commercial sheep farms actually freeze to death, because their coat is the best when they still need it,” Plummer said. “And they mechanically shear sheep, and a lot of times, they’ll cut off nipples, cut folds of skin, cut off ears.”

For many people, going vegan feels too far removed from the social norm, making it inconvenient, to say the least. But the movement has grown significantly in the last 10 years, with many restaurants and grocery stores offering vegan options and more people becoming familiar with the meaning of the term.

The reason there are so few vegan grocery stores may have a lot to do with public perception and the concern the label might alienate some customers, Plummer said. He wants to emphasize that the store is not just for vegans. The products – and prices – can appeal to anyone. But people who are vegan or vegetarian, can shop there without having to scrutinize every label.

Plummer, who grew up downstate in Royal Oak and came to Negaunee 12 years ago, founded the organization Northern Vegans in 2006 with his wife, Carrie, and five other friends as a social outlet – a way to share meals, recipes and camaraderie – but the group has expanded to include education in its mission as well.

“As a group, we’re pretty tame; we don’t get into animal rights banter. We just encourage people to look at the facts and make decisions for themselves,” Plummer said. “What I always recommend to people – if they’re interested – is, for a variety of reasons, just start eating more whole plant foods…and lessening your animal foods. That’s always a good start. You’re going to feel better and you’ll be making a positive impact in a lot of other ways too. It’s daunting, I think, for people to become vegan overnight.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.