EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Thanksgiving traditions in the Borderland are being reshaped this holiday season due to the COVID-19 pandemic that coincides with a growing community interest to explore plant-based food options in an effort to live more healthily while also combating food fatigue and insecurity.
Grown Together, a local plant-based food company, offers grab and go, meal prep and holiday meals to the community at prices that make vegan-friendly meals accessible.
Each meal ranges between $6 to $9 and is carefully curated to ensure a proper balance of macro and micro nutrients.
Josh Stokes, one of the minds behind Grown Together, has a degree in biochemistry and uses his training as a scientist to develop plant-based proteins and flavor profiles.
“It’s kind of awesome because you blow people’s minds when you nail it,” Stokes told KTSM 9 News. “In school I got the scientific method down, and now I get to apply it in the kitchen.”
This Thanksgiving, for example, Grown Together created a vegan ham using beets and rehydrated vital wheat gluten.
Stokes’s business partner, Storm Craig, brings creative ambitions to the table (literally) and conducts extensive research to create unique vegan dishes, like watermelon poke you might swear is tuna.
“We make a good team because he has so many creative ideas and I’m able to come in and create a realistic plan to make it happen,” said Stokes.
“It’s an interesting, crazy, business we’re running right now and with everything going on with the COVID-19 pandemic, we just really want to make sure the holidays are special,” he continued.
Grown Together is making special meals available to people in El Paso across all social strata every day, and is working to combat food insecurity in the Borderland.
Stokes and Craig donate plant-based meals to El Pasoans Fighting Hunger weekly, and are part of a growing collective of businesses working to cultivate a deeper sense of community through gastronomy.
“The more companies that are willing to step up and get aligned to help people out, the better off our community is going to (be),” Stokes says. “So I just want to make sure we’re doing our part.”
Integrating plant-based meal options or transitioning to veganism can be daunting, but Grown Together invites people to pick their brains on all things plant-based.
Stokes says Grown Together was created specifically as a liaison to healthy lifestyle changes.
“If you don’t transition with grace, if you struggle to find food or don’t know what to eat, it’s more likely you won’t be successful with that. So use us as a resource! We’re absolutely an open source for information,” said Stokes.
As cliche as the “you are what you eat” adage may be, studies have linked consumption of healthy foods with increased happiness.
A 2017 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that making healthy food choices is the largest contributor to overall eating happiness. Moreover, another study found that fruit and vegetable consumption predicted increased levels of happiness, overall life satisfaction and wellbeing over a two-year period.
The study notes that oftentimes a person’s motivation to eat healthy is diluted by the length of time it takes to develop physical benefits, but that wellness and mental health benefits from consuming fruits and vegetables are almost immediate.
The guys from Grown Together have seen and experienced it firsthand.
From the pleasurable crunch of a carrot or snap pea to developing an appreciation of the seasonality of stone fruits, engaging in gastronomy becomes an exercise in both enjoyment and embodiment.
“If you’re eating healthier, you’re feeling better,” said Stokes. “Your mental state is a little bit more sight-directed, more focused,” he continued. “It’s easier to be happy when you’re eating healthy.”