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Meatless 'meetup'

Group gives vegetarians and vegans a chance to socialize, eat and swap recipes

Group gives vegetarians and vegans a chance to socialize, eat and swap recipes

November 18, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

When Tara Petite, 36, lived in Hartford, Conn., she was part of a vegetarian group that hosted frequent potlucks.

But when she and her family moved to Hagerstown five years ago, she couldn't find a group of like-minded people to share meals with.

So, about four years she started the Western Maryland Vegetarian Society for people who believe in a vegetarian diet for reasons of health, animal rights or environmental concerns.

The society had a handful of members until Petite discovered MeetUp.com, a social networking site that allows people to form clubs and arrange get-togethers. In April 2008, the Western Maryland Vegetarian Meetup was founded. About 15 people from the Tri-State area show up at the events, which are typically at members homes or Petite's church, Unitarian Universalist Church in Cearfoss. The Nov. 1 meeting was held in Petite's home north of Hagerstown.

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Members - some are vegetarians and some are vegans - are asked to bring a vegan dish so that everyone at the meetings can partake in the spread.

Petite said there is a variety of dishes - more than just the staple of salad - and members share recipes and tips among the group.

She said what she likes about the group is their willingness to be adventurous.

"You can be creative and try a dish on the people," she said.

Her husband Darren Petite, 39, has been a vegetarian for 10 years.

"It was my idea," he jokingly said.

When Tara was pregnant with their daughter, she and Darren decided together to become vegetarians after reading John Robbins' "Diet for a New America."

Darren said it's nice to have people with a common diet come together.

"There's been a nice variety," he said about the food.

Sharpsburg residents Alan Kellerman, 57, and his wife, Lynn, 53, said they come simply because of the camaraderie.

"The people are great," Lynn said.

Alan has been a longtime vegan since 1982, and has been a vegetarian since 1972.

His wife's tastebuds don't have such strong convictions.

"I'm nearly a vegetarian," Lynn said with a laugh. "I don't fit into his strict definition."

"I love her anyway," Alan said jokingly.

Alan said he saw an announcement about the society and decided to attend. He said he found his connection to the rest of the group went beyond a more healthy lifestyle. Many in the group, he said, are vegetarians because of ethical reasons.

"It was exciting to be with like-minded people," he said.

Lynn admitted she attended the meetings at first because it was important to her husband. But she, too found a connection with the group.

"It was nice to meet new people in a social gathering," she said.

Chuck Glenn, 46, of Silver Spring, Md., decided to make the drive to Hagerstown for the meetup. He's been practicing a healthful lifestyle for about 20 years.

"It's a lot of great food, which makes a good selling point," he said of the meeting.

Ginnie Maurer, 64, of Falling Waters, W.Va., said she found a link about the Hagerstown-based Meetup online. That was December of 2008, and Maurer has been coming ever since.

Maurer, who has been a vegetarian for nearly 25 years and a vegan for 15, said during her first visit she immediately felt it was the right fit.

"I felt like I was dropped into a colony of my own people and we all spoke the same language," she said.

Shawna Bay, 44, of Myersville, Md., has been attending the gatherings since the beginning. She said what she likes about the group is that they like to eat.

It also allows her a chance to fix something that might not be her husband's favorite, such as Indian food, and share it with the group to satisfy her own palate.

"I like trying new recipes," Bay said. "Seems at potlucks they're more willing to be adventurous."

Allen Holman, 30, said he's been a vegan for 10 years, while his wife, Heather, 30, said she's been a strict vegetarian for six months, loosely for about two years.

The Holmans said this is the second time they've been to the group.

"It's a nice opportunity to speak with like-minded people," Allen said.

Heather said it's also nice because usually when they go to potlucks, her husband can only eat one or two things.

"Here, he can eat anything," she said.

The Holmans invited Andrew Barton, 30, of Hagerstown, to join them. A vegetarian for 14 years, Barton said he was able to meet new people as well as try some new dishes, such as a vegan stir fry.

"It's something different to do," he said.

Dale Burgess, 51, of Hagerstown, said he's 90 percent vegetarian.

"But I still like a nice red, juicy steak," he said with a laugh.

He jokingly said he came to the Vegetarian MeetUp because "she told me to come," referring to his wife, Doreen, 51. But he found he liked it.

"It was great," he said.

His wife, Doreen, is a Seventh-day Adventist; the Christian denomination supports a vegetarian lifestyle. Doreen said attending the meetup was a good way to get new recipes.

"The food here is really good," she said.

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