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Editor's column: How to be a vegan 'chicken dinner' journalist

Naomi Yaeger

This week our reporter Clara Hatcher has a story on the front page about Jean Sumner, a former Duluthian, who thought that she already lived a healthy lifestyle, but after a cancer scare, she made even more changes, especially to her diet.

I'm known as the "chicken dinner" journalist by my boss and co-workers. A chicken dinner journalist is one who focuses on hyper-local events and consequently attends numerous chicken dinners.

Sometimes a colleague will say, "Enjoy your chicken dinner." The truth is I usually enjoy my dinner, but never eat chicken, or eggs, or cheese.

I feel pretty proud that I've been able to navigate my way around the Duluth chicken dinner circuit as a vegan for over a year now.

I became a vegan for health reasons. Some people think vegans are hippies, but Tom Hansen of the Duluth Grill calls a vegan diet "an old man's diet." He told me that he had more and more customers tell him that the doctor told them that if they wanted to live to see grandchildren that they needed to cut down on meat and dairy products.

Even former President Clinton has turned to a vegan diet. He cites Dr. T. Colin Campbell, PhD., author of the bestseller "The China Study" and Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., M.D., author of "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease," as two of his inspirations. Although Clinton doesn't flat-out call himself a vegan, he did tell CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "I went on essentially a plant-based diet.

I live on beans, legumes, vegetables, fruits ... I drink a protein supplement every morning, no dairy."

Keeping his heart arteries unclogged was the driving force for his food choice change. Clinton had a stent placed in his clogged heart artery.

People are usually excited to have me attend their events and I don't want to dampen their spirits by telling them I'm vegan, but I've found that if I politely inform them and tell them what I am able to eat, I can be accommodated.

When the Duluth Grill will be catering an event that I'm attending -- there will be something I can eat. Also, the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center is able to provide vegan meals. As a member of the Duluth Chamber Ambassadors, I begin to anticipate my yummy vegan meal at the Holiday Inn on the morning of our monthly meetings. My fellow ambassadors eat their usual buffet, which includes cheese and meat, although some of them have eyed my vegan meals with envy.

On July 22 my husband and I celebrated our anniversary at the JJ Astor on the top of the Radisson. Hubby ate meat, I had a special "Oysters" Rockefeller made with mushrooms and artichokes. For our first course, we both enjoyed Ajo Blanco chilled almond soup. And, for dessert, we had maple- glazed pecans with chocolate-glazed strawberries.

So, take it from me, the "chicken dinner" journalist, you can have fun, grow healthy and eat vegan in a world of meat- and dairy eaters.

Yaeger is the editor of the Duluth Budgeteer and enjoys countless "chicken dinners."

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at www.DuluthDailyPhoto.com.

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