I met Gloria Athanis years ago when we worked together producing corporate meetings. Now Athanis has branched out, and she's devoting more of her time to spreading the word about healthy, vegan eating. She does that through a number of venues, including team-building exercises for corporations…and families.
Athanis' company is Healthful Habits, Inc., and in this venture she's partnered with Master Chef HC Choi, who was chef at Amitabul, Chicago's first vegan restaurant. That was years ago, and for the time, it was a breakthrough menu.
But Athanis prefers to use the term "plant-based" rather than "vegan" – that way, explained Ahtanis, "we focus on the food and not the eater."
Athanis told me her goals are "to educate and empower people to live life to its fullest by being happy and healthy…and that includes moving towards a more plant-based diet. The health of our country both from a physical, spiritual and emotional state is in pretty bad shape. We have gotten away from what is important by worrying too much about how much 'stuff' we have accumulated and how fast we can cook a meal, eat a meal and get back to making money and buy more "stuff". What's important are the simple things; the air we breathe, the water we drink and the clean healthy plant-based food we eat. Without those things, we have nothing."
A few weeks ago, Athanis held a team-building session for the Oak Park family of Bill and Laurie Bunkers. Family members were divided into groups, and under Choi's gentle direction, they prepared a number of plant-based dishes.
Team-building classes, according to Athanis, "empower people to take charge and cook more, be more aware of what they eat and it shows them how easy it is to eat healthier organic plant based foods. And when we are done cooking, we always sit down together to share in the feast and enjoy each others company."
Many may feel you need a major protein (meat, fish, cheese, egg) at the center of the plate, and although I am completely omnivorous and have no problem eating animals, it always amazes me how satisfying an all-vegetable, no-animal-products meal can be – and I have always found the tyranny of center-plate protein obnoxious.
At Bunkers' house, we had a lot of exceptional food, but my favorite was a grilled eggplant with a slightly sweet sauce that balanced the slight bitterness of the vegetable.
What makes this food even more delicious is that it's all about taking joy in the eating of it. Athanis is no doctrinaire vegan, the kind Anthony Bourdain described as the "Hezbollah faction of vegetarianism." Rather, for Athanis, it's all about eating for pleasure, staying aware of where your food comes from -- and being happy!
"Better to eat a piece of meat and be happy," Athanis told us, "than to be a miserable vegan."