Sanctuary Bistro's roasted beet salad contains mixed baby lettuces, hemp seeds, toasted walnuts, citrus and a “bleu cheese” dressing.

Plant-Based Eating

Local resources for adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet

By Amy Rogers | Photos by Jessica Gaddy, Shrimp & Grisettes Photography

When Mike Cowan first made the switch to a plant-based diet four years ago, he kept quiet about it. The Ballantyne neurosurgeon had been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, and he started eliminating meat and dairy as part of an attempt to improve his health.

“I didn’t want to announce it,” he recalls. “Nobody really talked about it.” Yet, within a week, he felt a difference. “I was in complete shock. I’d been in medicine for 30 years and never heard any of this.” He continued to avoid animal products and saw his health improve as his numbers began returning to normal.

Cowan is one of the multitudes who are gravitating toward plant-based eating. Many seek better health outcomes; others are more concerned with issues of ethics and environmental impact. They all share a mindful move away from traditional American diets laden with animal products.

The Produce Box now serves Charlotte with fruits and vegetables sourced from farms and growers across the state. Photo courtesy of The Produce Box.

The terminology can get a little confusing. It’s understandable to wonder: What exactly is a plant-based diet, and what makes it different from vegetarian and vegan diets?

Simply put, vegetarians don’t eat animal flesh, although some still consume animal products such as eggs and dairy products. Vegans don’t eat animals, anything that animals produce or foods made with animal ingredients such as gelatin. A plant-based diet focuses primarily on fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, oils, etc. It doesn’t demand that you go vegetarian or vegan.

The thought of stepping away from such a large part of our mainstream lifestyle can feel a bit extreme, especially to anyone who grew up eating the “meat and three” diet so beloved here in the South. Yet, here is encouraging news: Plant-based meals can be as delicious, satisfying and fun as their animal-based counterparts.

When it comes to culinary creativity, that’s where Barry and Jennifer Jones Horton show off their chops (meatless, of course). They’re owners of Sanctuary Bistro, which the couple brought to the Shops at Piper Glen in 2020 after running a restaurant in California. Barry is a classically-trained chef, which might surprise people unfamiliar with how sophisticated plant-based dishes have become.