“Going Vegan Changed My Life”
As Dig Inn’s Supply and Menu Development Manager, Kristen Barnett’s job includes: testing variations of a kale salad with goat cheese crumbles, deciding the perfect circumference of a Happy Valley meatball, and comparing bias vs. square cuts of wild Alaskan salmon (her verdict: Bias looks wayyy fancier and keeps the salmon from drying out).
Despite her daily duties, the 25-year-old has been vegan for three years. It’s a lifestyle change she undertook for her health — and has since become a pillar of her holistic approach to living well. For Barnett, eating a plant-based diet is necessary to treat her chronic Lyme disease.
Whether you’re looking to go vegan once a week, before 6pm à la Mark Bittman, or full-on meat-and-dairy-free, Barnett has the experience to prove eating vegan is not all sad salads and seitan.
Q: Why did you go vegan?
A: I contracted Lyme disease when I was 20. The first time I got sick, I went deep into western medicine, taking six different antibiotics and antimalarials for 18 months. The pills do pretty intensive damage to your gut and immune system. I relapsed less than a year later and realized I had a chronic illness, not just a one-time problem. I was faced with a choice: Do I go back to taking pills and hoping they work? Or do I rethink the way I live my life? I went to a center that specializes in raw veganism for three weeks and went from being too weak to walk six blocks and needing 2–3 naps a day to walking comfortably and being able to stay awake the entire day. Changing my diet changed my life.
Q: Was it intimidating at all?
A: To think about having a chronic illness AND only being able to eat a certain way for the rest of my life was really scary. I spent the rest of my recovery reading all about veganism because if I was going to dramatically change my diet, I wanted to know how to do it right. I looked at it from a spiritual side, an environmental side, a practical recipe-based side, and I armed myself with knowledge.
Q: Any books you recommend?
A: The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
Q: Favorite vegan food?
A: I love maitake mushrooms so much. I love when they’re the stars of any dish.
Q: What’s a day of typical eating look like?
A: I’m on an avocado toast phase right now. For lunch, I eat Dig Inn. For dinner, I do Vietnamese fresh rolls with hoisin-marinated roasted tofu, steamed sweet potato, julienned carrots and cucumbers, cilantro, mint. I roll the rice paper like a burrito, then dip it in peanut sauce if I’m ambitious — or hoisin sauce with sriracha if I’m lazy.
Q: Your perfect Dig Inn bowl?
A: Greens, cashew kale Caesar, maple cauliflower, and tofu with sriracha.
Q: Your pantry essentials?
A: Hummus, black beans, hoisin sauce, tortillas (they’re a great underrated vehicle for roasted vegetables), and citrus to brighten up salads.
Q: Any tips to feeling full and satisfied?
A: Why do people think they’re not going to be full when they’re vegan? I don’t struggle with that at all. I try to add protein to my meals in unique and creative ways. I never think, “I need this chunk of protein.” Instead, I’ll think, “Can I put beans and lentils in this salad?” If I’m making tacos, I’ll add black beans. I’ll blend pepitas into a dressing or garnish a salad with almonds or cashews.
Q: When you’re sourcing ingredients for the restaurants, does your veganism play a role?
A: If I serve meat to people, I want it to be the best meat we can source. That’s the standard I apply to everything we serve: I want it to be the best thing you’ve ever had, taste-wise and quality-wise.
Q: What about when you’re developing recipes for our menu?
A: I believe it’s my responsibility to shepherd along this process of putting out really amazing food. How can I advocate for a menu when I haven’t fully engaged with the product? I’m not dogmatic about my diet. If I’m traveling and someone welcomes me in and offers me food, am I going to turn it down because I’m a vegan? No. I went to Spain, and I ate fish. Day in and day out, I’m a vegan. But am I going to enter into stressful situations due to my dietary restrictions? I’m going to live in the moment, enjoy it, and eat food with joy.
Q: Non-vegan foods you miss?
A: Homemade pizzas I made with my parents growing up. I was never into cheese, so I’m a really lucky vegan. Pumpkin pie! That’s what I miss the most.
Q: What does veganism mean to you?
A: Being vegan is part of living healthfully. It’s what you eat, it’s physical activity, it’s mindfulness, intention, how you spend your time, the positive energy of friends you surround yourself with, and the work you do. I wanted to work for a company that shared my values and facilitated my lifestyle, and I’ve been able to maintain my veganism through Dig Inn.
Thinking about going vegan, even for just one lunch? Order at diginn.com/order