At 7 p.m. Sunday, Short Order pulled up to the quiet block near Brickell where Om Garden used to be. It was a little dreary outside, but we followed some smiling, healthy looking people carrying Tupperware dishes to an open door at 379 SW 15th Road. It led to a bright stairwell from which dance music trickled down out onto the sidewalk.
Upstairs, a group of people whose appearance defies categorization was chatting over paper plates of colorful food. It was a vegan potluck hosted by vegan galvanizer Alex Cuevas, thrown directly upstairs from the site of his forthcoming restaurant, Choices Cafe. The entrance fee? A vegan or raw vegan dish, preferably home made, like the "fruits of the forest quinoa" created by Short Order. (It consists of pecans, raisins, and mushrooms sauteed with vegan Earth Balance spread, sprinkled with sea salt and turbinado sugar, folded into several cups of organic quinoa and topped with raw walnuts.)
Lightly promoted via Facebook and word of mouth, this was the fourth potluck Cuevas has thrown since the outset of his campaign to promote the vegan lifestyle, nutrition education, and the ethical treatment of animals in Miami.
"I've had fun at each potluck," said Cuevas. "We're starting to see a little more awareness about veganism. When I made my first vegan party, I wasn't very specific, and I was getting a lot of sweets, a lot of packaged things. And 50 percent weren't vegan, and 25 percent weren't even vegetarian. So it's come a long way."
He said he began giving more specific instructions starting with this and his last parties, defining what veganism is and directing people to resources where they could find vegan recipes. "So that changed the dishes quite a bit. A lot of people started bringing more salads, more wholesome foods, foods that are better for you," he said. "And this was a really good one because I had a pretty big turnout, a lot of different types of foods, and it was a really good time." About 40 people showed up throughout the evening -- impressive, considering minimal "marketing" on Cuevas' part. "We had a lot of delays with getting the space available, so I didn't necessarily push this too much. I mentioned it to a few key people, posted it on my wall only on Facebook, so it was limited exposure, but still had a really good turnout, so that makes me feel real good about the community in Miami, that it has a great potential for uniting the community of vegetarianism and consciousness."
Among the guests was Micaela Cordoba, a traditional healer and metaphysician who just relocated to Miami from Sedona, Arizona about a month ago. She will soon be opening up shop in the Garden Center at 1239 Alton Road, right next to vegan restaurant Thrive.
She said of her new studio at the Garden Center, "It's really cool because I'm surrounded by beautiful lush green and the ... café. It's been really amazing to connect my idea in my mind of what an oasis would be in a place like this, and it's been really beautiful to have it actually physically manifest itself." She is already starting to work with clients, whom she calls "brothers and sisters," and is also hosting free meditation sessions, starting this Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the courtyard behind Thrive. She was connected to Cuevas in what appears to be the normal way -- by fortunate coincidence.
"Three degrees of separation, which I love," she said. "I was blessed to meet a really awesome landlord, and their child actually, their son, introduced me to Alex. And Alex, who is our fabulous host from Choices Café, decided to invite me to the vegan party, so here I am. Fresh off the Sedona boat." Although she favors health conscious eating, she admitted in a low tone that she partakes in meat eating from time to time.
"I'm on the cusp. I do quite a bit of raw food. Quite a bit of vegan food. I'm very dietary sensitive to dairy so I've been working with a more organic perspective. I balance it though. Since I've been doing the healing work, I'll be honest with you, it's been really powerful to be aware of what your body requests, and then just giving it what it's requesting. And right now it's been requesting a little meat. Don't tell anyone!"
Though they were very much meat free, she said she enjoyed the dishes at the potluck. "I really loved the Tahitian mango soup. It was good! A lot of ginger. I liked the mango and the ginger, it was like a play on squash soup," she said.
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Also in attendance was Glenn Saks, a law practitioner and consultant who's been vegan for the last five years, with a few exceptions for extended travels, during which he reverted to "regular" vegetarianism. He was introduced to Cuevas last week in Manhattan at another health event. He had a few favorite dishes at the potluck, including the one he brought.
When asked what he thought of the vegan community in Miami, he had this to say: "It's scattered, but coalescing. [An event like this] definitely brings everybody together. You meet other people, it leads to more events like these. The more events you have, the more it leads to, and when new restaurants come up, they end up becoming a meeting point.
Amanda Miesnieks is a 22-year old who's applying to med schools after graduating from UM. She found herself at the potluck after meeting Cuevas at the grand opening of a gym.
"Someone had told me, oh, this guy knows everything about nutrition, everything about food, talk to him. So we just started talking about the magical world of vegan food and how wonderful it is, and how it changed his life. And we had a wonderful conversation about how we need to start implementing these sort of things into everyone's life, Miesnieks said. "So we hit it off and he told me about his restaurant that's opening, and I said I would love to check it out, and he invited me to this potluck, so I brought some friends of mine, and we're loving it. There's a wide variety of ages, a wide variety of people, and everyone from doctors to, I was just talking to a wonderful guy who grows his own sprouts, so there are people from all different walks of life."
Not a vegetarian or vegan herself, she looked to the event as a way to try new foods and get some ideas for her own evolving diet. "Now that I'm living on my own, that I have my own house, I'm finally off of the college food system, off of my family's food system, I'm finally exploring my own food. I still eat a lot of fish, but I've cut out red meat from my diet. And it's just a slow learning process. I think it's a sort of eye-opening awareness event. A lot of these people here, they're attracted to good living, they're attracted to being healthy, but sometimes in your daily life, you don't really get to practice that. So when you bring a whole group of people together to do that, you get to really express yourself and talk about your ideas, and reinforce some ideas you kind of forgot about. And really just have fun and eat good food, when it comes down to it. I can't wait to hear about when the next one is."
Cuevas says the next one may be anywhere from two to four weeks away, depending on the progress of the restaurant opening. And he wants to invite the broader public to the next potluck.
"My intention is for this to be a communal space, for people connecting and networking. People getting to know each other, asking questions." Of this particular potluck, though, he said, "I think in this forum, the intention wasn't necessarily for questions, it was more of connecting people so they can network with other like-minded individuals. When I have different events in the future, they'll be around a specific topic. There will be a lecture on health related to diabetes, anti-angiogenesis, maybe juice fasting and and how you can do that, people may wanna buddy up on that. So it this case it was more networking, just more of a social thing, but in the future I can see how people with different knowledge types will be able to help each other and Q and A with each other."
For info on upcoming potlucks, befriend Cuevas on Facebook, or check out veganassassin.com.