Goatlandia owner, chef provides free plant-based Sonoma County workplace lunches

Deborah Blum is out to raise awareness of plant-based eating with her free lunch program.|

Goatlandia Lunchtime Takeover

Goatlandia Kitchen is accepting applications for its Lunchtime Takeover

For more information and to apply: goatlandia.org/goatlandiakitchen

Goatlandia offers farm tours most Saturdays. Email info@goatlandia.org to sign up.

Anyone who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch hasn’t met Deborah Blum, a restaurateur, vegan chef and founder of Goatlandia, a farm animal sanctuary in Santa Rosa.

She’s on a mission to deliver lunches to offices and workplaces around Sonoma County that are not only free of charge, but also free of animal products and any trace of guilt.

“Our mission isn’t to convert everyone,” she said about a vegan diet. “We’re piquing people’s interest and curiosity enough that they want to learn more.”

This past year, Blum opened Goatlandia Kitchen in a former Sebastopol barbecue joint where she’s been doing pop-ups, grab-and-go meals and the Lunchtime Takeover program that provides a plant-based lunch for 10 people, for free. The free lunches are funded, Blum said, by an anonymous donor on the East Coast.

Workplaces can request the free lunches through Blum’s website. Offices that have more than 10 people can order more lunches or add dessert and beverages for an additional cost.

Recent recipients of that generosity include the 14 veterinarians and staff at Wine Country Veterinary Hospital in Windsor. Last month, Blum and consulting chef Jason Feehrer delivered boxed lunches to the busy office.

It was lunchtime and the exam room was full of doctors and vet technicians clad in scrubs fringed with pet hair. A fluff of fur floated through the air along with the shrill sound of dental tools as vet technicians finished a cleaning on a furry sedated patient before taking a break to hear Blum’s short presentation.

“Our goal is to teach people how awesome animals are — not just companion animals, as you all know very well, but also farm animals,” she told the group. “They have amazing emotions and opinions and personalities, and the relationships we can have with them are equally as satisfying as (with) house pets.”

Blum also mentioned the health benefits of a plant-based diet and the benefit to the planet.

Livestock production for food has a significant impact on natural resources, Blum said. She cited data from the Center for Biological Diversity, which says livestock and food production to feed those animals take up more than 25% of the Earth’s land. It’s estimated that if Americans cut meat from just one dinner each week, the net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to taking about 30 to 40 million cars off the road for a year.

“One of the strongest tools we have to fight climate change is our fork,” Blum said.

Feehrer stepped forward to announce the menu before everyone got to dig in: a sandwich with vegan feta, tomato, fermented cabbage and fresh pesto; a confit salad with carrots, fennel and beluga lentils; a vegan chocolate chip cookie and fresh fruit.

For the veterinarians and staff, the lunch was a nice pick-me-up in a profession that’s become stressful with a local shortage of these specialists. Sometimes the carers need to be cared for, too.

“Not only is it a free lunch, as a hospital, it’s nice to be fed and seen,” said veterinarian and owner Jessica Klein, who treats Blum’s farm dogs.

Because Blum and the vet’s office share a common bond over caring for animals, Dr. Kevin Sheehy, another veterinarian at the practice, sees the lunchtime takeover as professional development for the staff.

“We get a lot of continuing education (from companies) on medicine and drugs, so I thought this was an good opportunity for them, to have them hear another type of continuing education,” Sheehy said.

Blum does view this as education, not indoctrination to veganism.

“You have to find ways to inspire people and not shame them. There’s a lot of activists that don’t understand that,” Blum said. “We look at every small victory as something positive.”

The victory this day was evident.

“This sandwich is incredible. … I love the salad. … The pesto is divine,” were just a few reviews that rolled in as the staff ate their lunches.

“The sandwich was phenomenal,” said Patrick Cunningham, an associate veterinarian. “I was a little apprehensive at first. I’m normally not a huge fan of raw tomatoes. I think it was the fermented cabbage that made it so I could enjoy that more mild heirloom-tomato taste. It’s the first time I haven’t been grimacing eating a tomato.”

Cunningham also liked learning about the products used in the lunch, like the vegan feta, which he said will help discern what’s good among the “explosion of vegan products” in grocery stores.

Others admitted the lunch opened their minds to plant-based possibilities.

“I’m a meat-and-potatoes gal for sure. I was worried I was going to be hungry 20 minutes later,” said veterinary technician Molly Barton, laughing. “It’s definitely an option for once a week or a couple of times a month, switching from steak and chicken to doing something totally plant based.”

That’s what Blum is hoping to hear more of.

“My view on it is even if somebody decides to eat meat one day less, like if they decide to go vegan one day a week, that’s still something that’s good for them. It’s good for the planet, and it’s good for the animals.”

Blum’s commitment doesn’t end when lunch hour is over. She packs everything in reusable lunchboxes and provides metal forks, cloth napkins and a bin for dirty dishes and linens. She returns the following day to pick it all up.

The lunch even comes with a Goatlandia Pasture Pass so people can meet the animals that motivate Blum.

As long as the money given for the program lasts — and Blum said there’s room to do a lot more — her mission of encouraging plant-based eating will continue, one free-lunch at a time.

You can reach Staff Writer Jennifer Graue at 707-521-5262 or jennifer.graue@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @JenInOz.

Goatlandia Lunchtime Takeover

Goatlandia Kitchen is accepting applications for its Lunchtime Takeover

For more information and to apply: goatlandia.org/goatlandiakitchen

Goatlandia offers farm tours most Saturdays. Email info@goatlandia.org to sign up.

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