Without hesitation, Rehoboth Beach resident and vegan JoAnn Szczepkowski would pick veggies over chicken and dumplings. Add to that list nearly every delicacy for which Delaware—not to mention seafood-and-country-cooking-centric Sussex County—is known.
Steamed crabs? Nope! Fried chicken? Not interested. And let’s not even talk about scrapple.
The retired teacher—and her husband, Don—have been vegans since 2000 and vegetarians since 1992.
Illustration by Tim Foley
For the uninitiated, the distinction between vegan and vegetarian is an important one. Vegans consume only plant-based food, and for most, like Szczepkowski, it’s not about taste; it’s a lifestyle firmly rooted in philosophical principles of healthy living as well as compassion for the Earth and all creatures.
“At the time, (transitioning) I was eating seafood, and I wondered how I would give it up,” she says. “I kept thinking that I wanted to do it more for the animals, so it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.”
But how does a committed vegan survive in the land of a Saturday Boy Scout barbecue chicken fundraiser in nearly every town? Twenty years ago, health food stores and vegan options in restaurants—particularly in Delaware—were a rarity, creating challenges to a vegan lifestyle. Today, Szczepkowski no longer has to do pre-shopping reconnaissance. Supermarkets and restaurants, including chains, recognize the significance of vegan consumers. In addition to the brick-and-mortar stores and restaurants, internet sites, farmers markets and vegan cookbooks abound. Experienced vegan cooks learn to modify traditional recipes; even vegan baked goods are readily accessible.
Then there are friendly, face-to-face resources. She’s joined like-minded VegRehoboth, an organization numbering nearly 800 that hosts events, such as a book club that meets monthly over dinner to discuss books about veganism.
Szczepkowski applauds the growth in vegan-centered happenings in the coastal community. VegFest is a vegan celebration planned for the weekend of May 17-19 on the grounds of Epworth United Methodist Church. The meat-, dairy-, and egg-free day features guest speakers, musical entertainment, plus vendors and interactive activities. This year, the May 18 festival is preceded by a film Friday evening and has expanded to include a Sunday brunch.
Another VegRehoboth event, the annual ThanksLiving Dinner, is a sell-out success. Held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 24 this year), the gourmet meal focuses on compassionate eating.
Szczepkowski, not incidentally, is a running rock star who continues to shatter records in her age bracket (over 70) no matter the distance. Those accomplishments, she believes, are another vegan benefit.
“Nowadays, the impact on our environment of animal agriculture is devastating to the air quality, to water and our land,” she says. “And of course, as a runner, being vegan has helped me have a lighter feeling.”
WONDERING WHERE TO FIND A VEGAN MEAL?
Here are a few suggestions in the Rehoboth Beach area, but for a more extensive listing visit vegrehoboth.org.