A Columbia cafe is looking to diversify customers' palates and stoke their interests in healthy eating through its plant-based offerings.
Good Life Cafe, a restaurant in downtown Columbia, offers plant-based foods and beverages. The restaurant is open at its new location at 1216 Taylor St. after relocating in spring 2023.
Plant-based eating is a diet focused on foods from plants, such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes and oils. The cafe's menu offers a range of options to cater to different dietary restrictions, said General Manager Gabrielle Baggette.
“We’ve got gluten-free options, we’ve got vegan, we’ve got vegetarian,” Baggette said.
Baggette also said that customers can add non-vegan options, such as meats and cheeses, to diversify a vegan base offering.
Witnessing customers' surprise when they discover the similarity between animal-based foods and Good Life Café's plant-based options is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job, Baggette said.
“It’s always great to surprise somebody that’s thinking they’re getting something else that they’re not,” Baggette said. “We just had a guy come through, and he’s like, ‘I can't believe that doesn’t have dairy in it. It tastes really, really good.’”
The rise in creative ways to experiment with plant-based foods can be attributed to its recent increase in popularity, said George Hendry, McCutchen House director and certified executive chef and culinary instructor.
This increased demand has been evidenced by the openings of new plant-based restaurants — like Good Life Cafe — and the more widespread availability of plant-based recipes, Hendry said.
“People started coming up with the technology and the equipment to produce products that chefs could now expand and create really good recipes that were super tasty, had really good texture to it,” he said.
Seín Jusino-Sánchez is a fourth-year political science student and one of the founding members of Peace and Plants, a student organization focused on plant-based eating and experimenting with healthy meals.
Jusino-Sánchez became vegan because of its health benefits and has been practicing a vegan lifestyle for the past seven years. Animal-based products can damage the environment, but plant-based eating can help alleviate it, he said.
“I think it’s very beneficial for the environment, absolutely,” Jusino-Sánchez said. “Concentrated animal farming operations that help create the meat we see in our grocery aisles are absolutely detrimental for the environment because of methane emissions, and they're absolutely terrible in terms of water efficiency as well, which is becoming an ever scarce resource because of climate crisis.”
The transition to a plant-based diet comes with a learning curve, however.
Hendry said the plant-based options can be more expensive compared to animal-based products. Beef alternatives, such as Impossible Burger meat, can be around four times the price of quality ground beef, he said.
"I'm not going to make as much money off of the Impossible Burger ... as far as profit," Hendry said. "But I still have to cover the cost and the cost of the person that has to put it together and the utilities and everything else, so, the price goes up."
Baggette said this problem can be combated by experimenting with recipes. Instead of simply adding a sauce to a plant-based substitute to give it a new flavor, she said she likes to challenge the kitchen staff to test out different cooking methods to bring out new textures in plant-based ingredients.
“You just have to educate yourself how to cook the things that are not processed," Baggette said. "You're gonna pay a lot if you're just buying everything already made."
Baggette hopes that people who stop by Good Life Cafe leave feeling fulfilled by a nutritious meal in addition to having their mind opened to the world of plant-based eating, she said.
“We want people to have a positive experience, feel like they’re walking away filling their belly with good, healthy food,” Baggette said. “I think ultimately it's good for the planet, it's good for us. I think everybody will feel better if they have a little less processed foods in their bodies and eat more vegetables.”
Good Life Cafe is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.