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East Hampton potluck brings out vegans

A community potluck hosted by the Wellness Foundation

A community potluck hosted by the Wellness Foundation of East Hampton is normally held at the East Hampton Middle School, but midsummer the group takes advantage of the nice weather and enviable location and holds dinner at Main Beach. (July 11, 2011) Credit: Erin Geismar

Debra Secunda didn’t have plans on Monday night, so when a friend invited her to a potluck dinner in East Hampton at the last minute, she jumped into action.

“I had enough time to soak some nuts for my Nirvana Nut Loaf,” said Secunda, who lives in Southampton and Manhattan, “which was terrific.”

Secunda was attending the monthly dinner for the first time so she made one of her go-to recipes, which she described as a vegan substitute for chicken salad. When Secunda placed it on one of the tables at the Main Beach Pavilion, where the potluck was held, it was in good company.

The completely vegan spread included variations of green salads, bean salads, a raw vegetable spread, a curried potato dish, cookies, cakes, and a large tray of asparagus and black beans, brought to the dinner by Bruce Mac Vicar, the chef at the Mill House Inn in East Hampton.

The attendees, ranging in age from single digits to the 70s, brought their own nondisposable dishware, dug into food and settled into a spot overlooking one of the country’s best-rated beaches.

The community potluck, hosted by the Wellness Foundation of East Hampton, is normally held at the East Hampton Middle School, but during the summer the group takes advantage of the nice weather and enviable location and holds dinner at Main Beach.

Founded in 2005 by East Hampton resident Doug Mercer, the Wellness Foundation holds six-week vegan challenges, weekly wellness circles and the monthly community potluck. Its mission is to “empower” the people of East End to better their lives through nutrition and exercise.

Barbara Kinnier, outreach coordinator for the Wellness Foundation, said the potlucks are a special kind of event for the foundation because it brings people together from the entire spectrum of the community. Some of the attendees were newcomers, others were in the middle of a vegan challenge and others were challenge graduates.

“There’s a real benefit in getting together with like-minded people,” she said.

And then there’s the food -- sometimes vegan staples, like bean dishes and grains, said Kinnier, but often people get creative. Everyone is asked to bring copies of their recipe so those new to vegan fare can widen their recipe collections.

“There are some things here I had no idea were even in the supermarket,” said Peggy Kraus, senior associate at the foundation, referring to a kind of squash she had never seen before.

Mike Dobney, 66, of East Hampton, is a challenge graduate along with his wife, Linda, 66. The couple decided to give it a try because Mike Dobney wanted to lower his cholesterol and get off statins; and Linda Dobney, who has osteopenia, hoped it would strengthen her bone density.

They never looked back. Mike Dobney’s cholesterol dropped from 175 to 122 in six weeks and Linda Dobney’s bone density improved.

“We had been on the vegan plan for about two months by then,” she said. “For the first time in 15 years my bone density was moving toward healthy bones.”

Mike Dobney said the couple enjoys the monthly potlucks for the company.

“We get to see a lot of different people and see their results,” he said. “You can see the changes in people. They are happy, they feel good, and they know they are doing something good for themselves.”

Photo:  Those attending a vegan potluck in East Hampton serve themselves. (July 11, 2011)

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