Crowding around the refrigerator in the back of Kat Erdel’s kitchen, eager cooking-class students gawk at photos of pigs, chickens and cows collaged on its door.
Erdel, who interned at a farm sanctuary over the summer, smiles and laughs as she names the animals and tells a story about each photo. Beneath the collage reads a message, arranged in brightly colored rainbow magnets: “Pleaz don’t eat us.”
“Our friends just call us ‘the vegans,’” Erdel said.
Erdel and her friends Sara Semelka, Brad Griffith and Brendan Shea are all vegans, meaning they don’t eat any meats, dairy products, eggs or animal byproducts.
Throughout the month of October, the four friends taught a vegan cooking class, welcoming the public into their kitchen to learn about the basics of preparing vegan dishes. The two-hour class informed students about vegan nutrition and discussed issues pertaining to animal rights.
All four MU students follow a vegan diet because of strong beliefs in animal rights, and they deal with questions nearly every day about why they became vegans.
Shea said that he doesn’t believe that enjoying the taste of an animal is justification for killing it.
Additionally, the group considers techniques used to enhance the production of eggs and milk to be abusive to animals.
The four met while living in the same residence hall during their freshman year. Erdel, Griffith and Shea had been vegans since high school, and Semelka adopted veganism during her first year of college.
After living together and spending most of their time together, they started to cook together. It was during this time that Griffith discovered his love of cooking.
“Last year, we cooked every night in the Hatch (Residence Hall) basement for basically anyone who wanted to eat it,” Griffith said. “That’s when I really got into cooking because the vegetarians began really relying on us for food.”
Erdel and Semelka said they have always enjoyed being in the kitchen, although Erdel admits to having only recently learned how to make dishes other than desserts.
“I’ve always loved cooking. I had always just been horrible at it,” Erdel said. “But once I became a vegan, it was like I had to start cooking my own food, and I started looking into a lot of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks and learning about spicing and how to make things taste good.”
During the class, each of the friends helped make the collection of recipes chosen for the night, although each of them filled a different niche in the kitchen.
“I’m always around food, but I’m never the one making it — I’m usually the one eating it,” said Shea. “I’m more like the server.”
In teaching the vegan cooking class, Erdel said the group wanted to provide vegans in the community with an opportunity to interact with one another as well as learn to cook a wider variety of foods.
The group insists that vegan food tastes just as good as non-vegan food, although it does require a few new skills in selecting spices and seasonings. Although the vegan recipes often imitate meat dishes, Erdel said that vegan versions won’t taste exactly the same as their non-vegan counterparts.
“You have to learn how to see if the dish tastes good on its own or not — not just if it tastes like a meat dish you are used to,” Semelka said.
Still, the group said it is fairly easy to make vegan foods that are both nutritional and delicious.
“There is nothing harder about making a vegan dish taste good than making a meat dish taste good,” said Griffith. “It’s just like learning to cook again but in a different way.”
The group will be teaching the vegan cooking class again in February. Here’s a preview of one of the leaders’ favorite recipes.