About a year-and-a-half ago, 63-year-old Seretha Robinson, who lives in the southwest suburb of Matteson, Ill., lost her husband. For months, she sat around home, not doing much. But last June, that all started to change.

While visiting Heritage Health Food store in Country Club Hills, Ill., Robinson stumbled upon a man—Steven Heath—who was offering samples of food. The food was a raw carrot salad, one of many menu options a new home-delivery company based in Hazel Crest, Ill. is offering in the Chicagoland area.

“I’m glad I ran into [Steven] and sampled the food. I was going to pick up one meal, but everything was gone. And here was Steven marching in with all his goodies, and he said

‘Listen, I dropped this. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just mixed up but you can have it,’” says Robinson.

Although many restaurants offer vegetarian and vegan-friendly menus and items in the area, Totally Vegan serves up a twist by catering, delivering weekly meals to customer’s homes and onto grocery store shelves that are ready to go and are exactly what their company name says—completely vegan.

Since sampling Totally Vegan’s food, Robinson has been ordering their weekly meals—which cost about $120 a week. Meals, which come with seven lunches, and seven dinners in microwavable containers, include such items like soy tacos, spinach quiche, soy meat lasagna, smoked seitan, or “wheat meat,” dishes and green drinks for the morning.

Totally Vegan’s meals are also on shelves at varying locations in the area like Treasure Island Foods, Kramer’s Health Foods and Bon Sante Health Foods throughout the area.

“When I took it home, it was so delicious. It was the trio of the carrot salad, sunflower patte and kale. I always ask him to bring more of those because I love that one in particular,” says Robinson.

Robinson, who has high blood pressure and cholesterol, asked them to prepare her meals without too much salt, as she’s on a low-sodium diet. Her meals come just so each Monday morning. But since eating Heath’s meals, Robinson hasn’t touched meat, and says she’s feeling better.

“I get up every morning and walk my whole community and I’m not tired,” Robinson says. “It used to take me 50 minutes, but now it is exactly 27 minutes.”

She’s also joined a dancing class, recently started bowling and bought a bicycle.

“I’m dancing now at 62 and joined a stepping class,” Robinson says. “Before, I couldn’t dance one record. My last class I was up five straight dances. I’m not aware sometimes of what I can do now.”

Robinson’s story is exactly what Totally Vegan is striving to accomplish—bring awareness to the vegan diet and the ways it can improve not only one’s body, but also one’s mind.

Totally Vegan started in 2006 by Heath and his business partner, Vardah and cook, Tsitriyah Israel. Heath, who is 54, says when he became involved in the company he felt his health was challenged and decided to make a change to eating a vegan diet.

“My cholesterol dropped from 289 to under 150,” Heath says. “I lost 30 to 45 pounds and it had such an impact on my life, I thought we need to share this with the world.”

Heath teamed up with a member of a Hebrew Israelite vegan community he belongs to who had spent 32 years visiting Israel and gathering vegan recipes from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America that they incorporate into their foods.

“I purchased a building in Hazel Crest, which we turned into a production facility. I bought the equipment, bought a van, and got labeling, nutritional data and Totally Vegan came to life,” says Heath.

Totally Vegan focuses on people with health challenges and people who are health-conscious.

Heath says as a baby boomer himself, he realized that at his age it was time to make a change to things he had been doing wrong in his life, like eating unhealthy foods. His eating habits went from eating tasty foods, to foods that give the right nutrients, which the meals at Totally Vegan emphasize.

“Too many people my age are on prescription medication,” Heath says. “We’re getting our second wind now because we’re becoming conscious.”

Jennifer Vimbor, a registered dietician and nutrition counselor at Nutrition Counseling Services in Chicago says by eating a vegan, or plant-based diet, one’s chances of developing heart disease and certain types of cancers are decreased.

Additionally, eating raw foods—which some item at Totally Vegan are—gives one all the nutrients from the foods compared to cooking or chopping it up.

“Once you start to change the food, you’re breaking down the nutrients,” Vimbor says.

When it comes to cholesterol, Vimbor says by eliminating animal-based foods from one’s diet should decrease one’s cholesterol levels, as well as bad cholesterol comes from animal sources.

“If not, it could be from a genetic predisposition,” says Vimbor.

Vimbor suggests eating whole grains like oats that will help to bind onto cholesterol and get rid of it.

If you, like Robinson, decide to go from eating meat to a vegan diet, Vimbor suggests seeing a dietician or nutritionist first.

But, whatever the case, Vimbor recommends eating a rainbow of colors to get nutrients and keep it balanced. And when it comes to protein for vegans, get enough, but don’t overdo it.

Eat items like beans and tofu, and look for items with yeast or molasses to get your B12 vitamins as an all-plant based diet will not yield any. Vimbor also recommends eating good, fatty oils like sesame or canola which work great in building up one’s immune system.

Although Heath saw a need at his age, Robinson says she’s seen interest in younger people, too. She has passed along the word and even some meals to her friends and says her friend’s grandchildren, after tasting some meals from the company, have been asking for more.

“I think now that kids enjoy it, we should start introduce it to them and they’ll have a better life health-wise,” Robinson says.

But, in the vegan spirit, it’s not all just about health, it’s about not harming animals, too. Heath says he calls his meals “divine meals” because no blood was shed in their preparation.

In addition to managing the business side of the company, he lends his time to Soul Vegetarian on Chicago’s South Side. Twice a month he serves on the floor and helps out to give back to the vegan community to which he belongs.

“It’s our contribution to the community to keep it going and to introduce people into a healthy vegan diet,” Heath says.

Totally Vegan has had some struggles since its inception, some items and stores have had low sales and they had to stop selling at some locations. But Heath’s plans are focused on the future. Within two years he hopes to start preparing and making everything with organic foods and hopes to expand his business further.

But in the meantime, Heath is focused on helping his community and business, by helping people’s health.

“Eating a vegan diet is part of our culture; it’s the expansion of our culture and trying to supply something people need in today’s culture desperately.”

–Mindful Metropolis, May 2009

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