This Halloween, I decided to confront one of my fears: straying away from the comforts of dairy and meat.

I’ll admit it, I’ve been a meat eater my entire life. Growing up in the Minnesota, my family fit neatly in the “meat and potatoes Norwegian” mold. Whenever possible, we supplemented our diets with wild game and fish that we legally hunted and caught ourselves. More on that in another post.

Beef – and animal protein in general – is a very carbon-costly conduit for protein. Graph from Hold the Beef.

Cutting meat from my diet never crossed my mind until I started paying more attention to climate change and came across this graph from Hold The Beef.

As you can see animal protein, especially beef, is incredibly costly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. A passage from the World Wildlife Fund/Knorr “Future 50 Foods” report really put things into perspective:

Soy “delivers more protein per hectare than any other crop … Despite its versatility and nutritional value, three-quarters of all soy produced is not for human consumption, but rather for animal feed. It takes a high volume of soy as animal feed to produce only a small amount of meat, which highlights the inefficiency in the food system.”

With that in mind, I headed to Vegan Haven to see how I could cut out the inefficient bovine middle man.

Halloween at Vegan Haven

Tucked neatly on the corner of 55th and University Way NE in Seattle’s University District, Vegan Haven is Washington’s only 100% vegan store. It’s open daily from 10 am to 8 pm and, aside from three managers, is run primarily by volunteers.

I walked in half expecting the staff to instantly recognize me as a carnivore and throw me out. Instead, the two managers, Shelly and Kevin, smiled through their Halloween makeup and asked how they could help.

Good Planet cheese is one of Kevin’s recommendations for those looking to try vegan foods for the first time.

I asked them to pretend I had never eaten vegan and show me what they would suggest for a first timer. They saw right through me, but indulged the scenario anyway. Kevin led me right to the vegan cheeses, recommending products from Good Planet Foods (made in Bellevue) and Violife. Then we checked out the brats from Field Roast, which Vegan Haven sells at a great price since they are sourced locally in Seattle.

Before I visited, I pictured Vegan Haven as a meatless butcher shop/deli, like the ones making news as they open across the country. However, Vegan Haven is nearly 15 years old and more like a grocery store that’s actually fun to be at. Along with vegan meats and dairies, the store is stocked with snacks, condiments, pastas, pet food, tea, cook books – anything you’d expect at a grocery store, all the a vegan stamp of approval.

Vegan Haven is Washington’s only 100% vegan store, carrying products that are hard to find at non-vegan grocery stores.

As Kevin gave me the tour, a steady stream of customers popped in and out. Some of them stopped in for a quick snack, some had full grocery lists, and others were there just to catch up with the staff.

“We have a lot of regular customers,” Shelly said. “Some of them stop here every day for lunch or a snack, some come by once a week. It’s about half vegans and half non-vegans with a few tourists mixed in.”

This sense of community is what allows the store to operate with a volunteer staff. Before becoming a manager, Kevin volunteered at the store for more than a year.

“It kept me sane,” Kevin said. “It’s just a great place to meet other vegans and discover new foods.”

One small bite for Sam, one giant leap for Vegan-kind

I brought home a pound of Beyond Meat “Beyond Beef” ($11.30) and 10 slices of Violife “Smoked Provolone Slices” ($5.45) to make vegan cheeseburgers. I should add that the checkout process at Vegan Haven is Earth-Friendly. The store offers paperless options for receipts and gift cards, and compostable paper bags instead of plastic. (I tried to trick Kevin by asking for a plastic bag. It didn’t work.)

A quarter-pound Beyond Beef burger topped with Violife smoke provolone. It looked and felt just like a beef hamburger with a pleasant new taste.

So I fried up the burgers, melted the cheese on them and my wife and I had a nice vegan meal. The experience wasn’t quite as dramatic as the headline suggests. It took a few bites for my mind and body to register that after 25+ years of beef burgers, this one was different and completely okay. After that, it was business as usual.

Am I on the fast track to strict veganism? Probably not. But, after diving into a vegan burger patty and coming out unscathed (healthier, actually), I’m ready to try more. My wife and I both loved the Violife cheese and agreed we could easily substitute ground beef with Beyond Beef.

At Emeraldology, that’s what it’s all about. Vegan eating is another tool on the Earth-friendly tool belt, and Vegan Haven is the hardware store where people meet to talk shop and pick up a few supplies. For anyone interested in trying vegan food, this is the place to start.

Although it doesn’t show on the surface, Vegan Haven is doing some serious heavy-lifting to push veganism – for the health of humans, animals and the environment – into the mainstream. I’m amazed at what it’s accomplished in its first 15 years and hope it continues to grow in the next 15.

An A-frame sign outside the door read “Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of the Amazon Rainforest destruction. – The Rainforest Foundation.”