Delicious and cruelty-free cuisine in Saugerties

Ronnie Shapiro (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Thirty years ago, Ronnie Shapiro realized that by making it convenient and simple for others to embrace a vegan diet, she could multiply her own reduction of animal suffering. Now, at Healthy Gourmet To-Go on Market Street in Saugerties, she devises, cooks and packages countless vegan meal packages that get shipped throughout New York and parts of New Jersey.

“From an early age, I knew that I loved animals but I couldn’t connect the dots — we’d have cats and dogs in the house, we were the kind of house that everybody brought their strays to … I have a sad little poster in my shop [that reads] why eat one and not the other. I didn’t understand why we wouldn’t eat our cats and dogs but we would eat chicken, pigs and cows,” said Shapiro.

Though meal delivery programs are now common, Shapiro said the only similar initiatives when she started 26 years ago at the Manhattan Center for Living in the West Village were weight loss programs like Jenny Craig. She discovered her Saugerties location riding on the back of a motorcycle at stoplight on Market and Main streets, on the way to get vegan sorbet in the village and wrote the address of the building on her hand

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“I knew there were so many really busy people, especially couples who both worked. There was no time to eat healthy and cook,” she said. “I knew so many people who were getting takeout. I came up with the idea that if I could prepare meals that were animal-free, I could hopefully get people to eat fewer animals.”

Throughout her shop, where locals can sit down for meals on Mondays and Tuesdays, are the photos and corresponding names of rescued farm animals from area animal sanctuaries. In a small lending library, a small stack of documentaries like “Meet Your Meat” and “The Game Changers” are available to borrow on DVD. On the wall there is an extensive list of smoothies, including the “Green Goddess,” which consists of hemp milk, bananas, kale, cashews, ginger, lemon, dates, flax seed, coconut oil and vanilla. Beside the counter is a cooler filled with packaged substitutes like “Untuna,” made from chickpeas, and “Unegg” salad made from tofu. Shapiro makes her own vegan nut cheeses on site, as well as a vegan “sea” Caesar salad dressing and “immune shots.” On her most recent menu, the shot consists of fresh ginger juice with turmeric, lemon juice, black pepper and cayenne pepper.

Fans of the stew

Since opening her Saugerties storefront in 2011, Shapiro said, she’s amassed a group of local “stew-followers” who visit each week to try her new stews — for example, her Tuscan thyme bean stew is comprised of navy beans simmered with onion stock, Yukon potatoes, kale, broccoli/broccoli rabe, rice, sautéed onions and peppers, with fresh thyme and roasted garlic. Also popular among regulars: her gluten-free chocolate cake.

Those opting into Shapiro’s delivery program can choose to receive weekly or biweekly deliveries each Wednesday, complete with reheating instructions and totally recyclable corn-based packaging. Her sphere of delivery goes as far north as Saratoga Springs and south into New York City, Brooklyn and northern New Jersey. Participants can cancel at any time, and menus are listed weekly on the website. Among the last spate of offerings: split pea soup, a “jumbo Indian burger,” Japanese Souen Quinoa and Japanese Souen Bok Choy. Each offering comes with a Weigh Watchers number; some come with testimonials written by customers who appreciate that particular dish.

“I’m embarking on getting [my prepackaged foods] into stores and local restaurants, a wholesale piece, getting to retail markets, which is kind of exciting. [I want to] get more options out there for people to eat vegan,” said Shapiro. “My goal is to get it to Sunflower, the Adams[es], Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, the world. The more vegan options out there for people, the better. My mission in life will have been accomplished.”

And for those of you who are considering the shift to cruelty-free eating, Shapiro has a message: “[Animals] could use your going vegan sooner rather than later.”

For more information, call Healthy Gourmet To-Go at (914) 388-2162 or email info@healthygourmettogo.com.