Feature photo: A picture of Kimba Azore. Before Azore opened the Northside Vegan she was a principal and teacher. Photo courtesy of Azore.
The Northside Vegan, LLC was started by Kimba Azore in July 2019. Azore said she hopes the restaurant can help educate the people of Lafayette on the health and environmental benefits of veganism or limiting meat from one’s diet.
Louisiana is ranked consistently as one of the highest in the nation for diabetes rates and heart disease, according to America’s Health Rankings. Azore said she became vegan because she has Type 1 diabetes and, not long after her switch, she had the idea of creating a restaurant.
The Northside Vegan specializes in comfort food such as burgers and mac and cheese. Azore said she chose comfort food to replicate something most people know. Instead of traditional ingredients, the burger patties are made of vegan meat, which is derived from pea proteins and cheese made out of soy product.
“It’s the whole thing of hooking them in,” Azore said.
Bringing people into the restaurant allows Azore to engage in dialogue with customers. Azore said she speaks to her nonvegan customers about the health benefits of veganism and its positive environmental impacts. Speaking to customers about veganism leads many to do more research and lead some to healthier lifestyles, according to Azore.
“We’ve been able to convert a lot of people [to veganism],” Azore said.
Caroline LaGrange Gilmore, a registered dietician in Baton Rouge, said that healthier diets such as a vegan or vegetarian diet can shield many from health issues linked to genetics. The study of nutrigenomics, a study of how diet interacts with genetics, shows that a vegan diet can lessen the chance of developing diabetes, heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases, said Gilmore.
“The saying, ‘you are what you eat,’ is true,” Gilmore said.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for men and women and costs the United States an estimated $219 billion each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The food culture of Louisiana contributes to the state’s poor health, according to Gilmore.
“Food is the center of everything we do,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said the state’s focus on high fat and carbohydrate dishes that rely on meats lead to high rates of obesity in Louisiana. Obesity is one of the major factors in developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, according to Gilmore.
Gilmore said she believes educating people on the health benefits of plants and ways to implement more plants in their diet could lead to better health outcomes in Louisiana.
Azore said she believes her restaurant is paving the way to a healthier Lafayette, offering its residents the ability to ask questions about veganism, and leading customers to do further research. Though vegan comfort food may not be the healthiest vegan option, it can be a method to open people up to a plant-based diet, Azore said.
“I wanted to show that vegan food didn’t have to be boring or that we’re eating grass,” said Azore.