I don't make it "home" very often. By home I mean my hometown, Mobile, Alabama, where I was born and raised for the first 18 years of my life. And I'll be honest, it usually feels less and less like home every time I go back. Each visit is a reminder of how much I've changed and grown since the last time I was there, and how those changes have brought me further and further away from my roots.
Except this time was different. This time around, I had made the most monumental, life-altering change to date - I had become vegan. And the most amazing thing was, this time I wasn't the only one.
My Mom became vegan not long after I did, and going through this awakening at the same time has really brought us closer together. While we talk on the phone every week, we hadn't seen each other in person since this transformation, and I was really looking forward to grocery shopping together, cooking together, and just generally sharing our new-found understanding of the world and appreciation for food.
All of this was every bit as wonderful as I had expected it to be, but what I hadn't expected to find was a flourishing vegan movement right there in my hometown. Somehow, while I wasn't watching, Mobile had become a vegan-friendly city.
I know many who live there will disagree with that statement, and it's true that Mobile is no Portland, Austin or Asheville. But trust me when I say that, compared with my current home in cheese-obsessed Switzerland, it's a plant-eater's paradise.
For starters, there's the local organization ARC, which stands for Awakening Respect and Compassion for All Sentient Beings. Tracey Glover and the hard-working volunteers at ARC are doing so much to raise awareness about the rights of non-human animals, and their efforts are already paying off.
And then there's the brand-new Whole Foods that opened literally three days before my arrival. Wood-fired vegan pizza? Check. Vegan sushi dragon rolls? Check. A freezer full of every flavour of vegan ice cream you could possibly imagine?? You betcha.
So if you're planning to visit Mobile (and you should! As eager as I was to get away as soon as I had graduated from high school, it's really a beautiful city), here are some of the highlights when it comes to vegan eating and shopping:
Address: 604 Bel Air Blvd, Mobile
Opening Hours: Fourth Saturday of every month.
The Good: Amazing home-cooked food, welcoming atmosphere, educational film showings, lectures, etc.
The Bad: Only open once per month.
At the end of every month the volunteers from ARC put on a vegan dinner inside an antique store. Dinner is served from 6 pm to 7:30 pm and is followed by other activities, like special guest speakers, screenings of documentaries, or even live music. The cost is a suggested donation of $15-20 for an all-you-can-eat buffet meal. If you're in town at the right time, this is not to be missed!
Address: 3968 Airport Blvd
Opening Hours: 8 am - 10 pm daily
The Good: Every vegan product you can imagine is sold here. Hot meals also available.
The Bad: Prices tend to be higher than at other grocery store chains (but so is the quality).
This was my first-ever visit to a Whole Foods, and it was pretty surreal. Staff are unbelievably friendly and helpful. The customer service desk can provide an extensive (but not exhaustive!) list of vegan items available in the store. Vegan pizza with Daiya cheese is made fresh in the wood-fired oven. If you don't see any on display, ask and the staff will make you one. How ironic that Whole Foods is meant to be a healthy grocery store, and yet I came out of there with nothing but vegan junk food! I just couldn't pass up the chance to try Dandies vegan marshmallows.
Virginia's Health Foods
Address: 3055A Dauphin St, Mobile
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 11-6
The Good: Wide selection of supplements and other hard-to-find health foods, as well as sweet treats and organic produce.
The Bad: Smaller than Whole Foods. A place for picking up a few specialty items rather than doing your weekly shop.
Virginia's is Mobile's oldest health food store and has been serving the local community for nearly 30 years, though I was certainly oblivious to it when I was growing up here. All their produce is organic, and they also have bulk bins with nutritional yeast, nuts and other staples. Staff are friendly and eager to help. There are two locations - one on Dauphin Street in Mobile and another one across the Bay in Fairhope. Both have attached cafés that serve delicious meals (see below).
The Sunflower Café
Address: 3055A Dauphin St, Mobile
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 10:30am-4pm, Sun 11am-2pm
The Good: All organic café with plenty of vegan items, all clearly marked. The food is delicious.
The Bad: Some of the items marked as vegan include both vegan and non-vegan options (e.g. turkey or tofurky), so it's important to specify what you want.
This little café is tucked away in the back of Virginia's Health Foods and serves delicious meals, all made from scratch. While the Mobile location is open only for lunch, the Fairhope branch also opens for dinner on Thursday and Friday evenings. A variety of salads, wraps, sandwiches and stir-fry and pasta dishes are on offer. I highly recommend the Jamaican Jerk Wrap.
Yak The Kathmandu Kitchen
Address: 3210 Dauphin Street, Mobile
Opening Hours: Tues-Sun 11am-10pm
The Good: Tasty curries, staff are used to vegan customers and know what vegan means.
The Bad: Many of the buffet items are cooked in butter, so you'll probably need to order à la carte.
This Nepalese restaurant near Virginia's Health Foods has several naturally vegan dishes on the menu, such as aloo gobi and chana masala, and other dishes can be made vegan on request. The vegetable korma, for example, can be made with coconut milk and is highly recommended. Some of the volunteers from ARC are regular customers here, so the staff understand vegan needs and are happy to accommodate. Like Virginia's, Yak also has a second location across the Bay in Fairhope.
Address: 2032 Airport Blvd., Mobile
Opening Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10:30pm, Sun 12pm-10pm
The Good: Pizza can be made with Daiya cheese, toppings include tofu and tempeh.
The Bad: Pizza crust is normally made with butter and parmesan, so ask for it without.
This national chain of pizzerie is especially popular in the South of the US. The Mega Veggie Pizza comes loaded with as many vegetables as you could possibly fit on a pizza. In addition to pizza with Daiya, other vegan options include the hummus (which can be ordered with veggies instead of pita if you want to make it healthier), and the tempeh or tofu hoagies.
There are two locations in Mobile and one across the Bay. The one on Old Shell Road is near the University of South Alabama campus and definitely has a college-town vibe.
Click here to view the map below as a webpage.