caryn dugan, founder of stl veg girl photo by virginia harold

What I Do: Caryn Dugan of STL Veg Girl

A decade ago, Caryn Dugan was a self-professed Lean Cuisine queen who couldn’t prepare a meal without microwave instructions. After losing her father to cancer and battling her own diagnosis, she purged her kitchen and leapt into the world of plant-based cooking. Today she’s STL Veg Girl, hosting cooking classes, seminars and, most recently, a national nutrition summit with the mission of promoting health through food. Here’s how Dugan aims to get a plant on every St. Louisan’s plate. 

“I was just absolutely scared to death. I was trying to help my mom out; I was trying to help my brother out. I was wondering what the heck was going on with my own life. It was the culmination of those two things that catapulted my interest into trying to become ‘healthy’ because I didn’t know what that meant. I just didn’t want to get cancer again.”

“I just dismissed [a vegan diet] because – no disrespect to absolutely anyone, and I've learned a lot in these past many years  – that lifestyle seemed too bizarre to me.” 

“There is irrefutable science behind the power of a plant-based diet. Nobody’s going to say to you, ‘You know, I don't know if you should be eating that much broccoli.’ That’s really the simplicity of it. That’s why I love this so much. It is the most simple way, the most progressive way and the safest way to bring back good health.” 

“I’m not here beating the vegan drum. I am not a food crusader. I want everybody to do their own thing because food is incredibly subjective and incredibly personal. If I tell you you need to wear a seatbelt when you drive, you’ll say, ‘OK, we can still be friends.’ If I tell you you should not be eating things because of whatever, you’re going to be like, ‘Eff you!’ That’s the difference, and I don't want to create those kinds of relationships with anybody.”

“Over the last three years, I’ve been feeling this rumble, if you will. More people asking me about services, venues asking for more classes – there’s just more of an interest. … It’s gone from more of an entertaining, curiosity thing and lightheartedness to, ‘Oh my God, this is the real deal.’” 

“We have a lot of chefs who want to please their patrons. Chefs are becoming very open to offering plant-based options – and I mean full plates, not just sides – and I think they take a lot of pride in that. … Find your favorite place, call in advance, talk to the chef. Do your homework.”

“A lot of people talk about work-life balance. That’s BS. It’s all my life. I don’t secretly go to a steakhouse and eat a porterhouse. Food has consumed me.”

Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine.

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