Culinary Conscientiousness

Orange Tofu from Heart & Soy.

A journey into Louisville’s vegan and vegetarian scene

Story and photos by J.C. Phelps


That is one of my power words for 2019.

To some, invoking conscientiousness means acting thoughtfully and performing thoroughly. To others, it is a pathway for self-efficacy. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Conscientiousness, as it applies to my life, is much broader. It is, simply put, a fundamental personality trait that I attempt to hone each day.

As a 20-something, conscientiousness is important in many facets of my life: professionally as a writer and as a social media personality; financially as a new home owner and an investor; socially as a friend; and personally as a brother, son and grandson.

My goal this year is to delve deeper into this pursuit. I want to be more conscientious in my regular decision-making process. My focus? What I put into my body for nourishment.

If you follow my blog, JCP Eats, you are aware of the fact that I became a food writer and photographer out of eating disorder recovery. I started taking photos of food to change the relationship that I have with it. To me, that was, is and will forever be powerful.

A recent campaign with Kroger, one of my favorite clients, inspired me immensely. In the New Year, many resolve to change themselves and to lessen their eating. That, in effect, inherently assumes that we are not whole or worthy as is. Conversely, Kroger partnered with me to talk about foods that we should eat more of, not less of. There’s so much more to life than restriction; food is to be enjoyed, to be celebrated, to be loved, and I truly believe that.

This campaign inspired some soul-searching and internal dialogue. What I discovered is that my goal in 2019 is not to eat less; it’s to eat better, to eat more and to eat conscientiously.

To embark on this mission, I started by increasing my awareness of vegan and vegetarian options in Louisville. While I am not choosing to fully omit meat from my diet, I do think that it is in our best interest – all of us – to focus on being herbivorous as much as possible.

Lueberry Acai
808 E. Market St.

Khaleesi Bowl from Lueberry Acai.

I started my journey in NuLu at Lueberry Acai, which quickly became a Market Street staple after opening. Acai to pitaya, avocado toast to smoothies – this is a great place to get a meatless, nutritious fill-up.

My favorite offering on the menu is the Khaleesi Bowl ($9): a blend of almond milk, pitaya, banana, mango, pineapple and coconut. This is topped with granola, banana, strawberries, kiwi, shredded coconut, cacao nibs and bee pollen. Lueberry’s Khaleesi Bowl is vegetarian-friendly and very generous in portion size. It can easily be a full meal or split into two allocations.

If smoothies are your gateway to healthy eating, look no further than their Power Green Smoothie ($6): a combination of spinach, almond milk, banana, strawberry, pea, protein, peanut butter powder, turmeric, ginger and spirulina. Believe me, y’all, it’s divine.

My last suggestion, especially for my fellow savory aficionados, is the ‘So What, I’m Basic’ Avo Toast ($6): a piece of sourdough bread topped with avocado, arugula and cracked pepper. It is simple, filling and oh-so-satisfying.

Heart and Soy
1216 Bardstown Road

Since moving to Louisville, many people have insisted that I visit Heart and Soy, a spot in the Highlands neighborhood. I’m so thankful that I did.

Heart and Soy is a simple restaurant – no frills, just good food. Their slogan, “We are what we eat,” perfectly aligns with my enhanced goal of culinary conscientiousness.

The main draw to Heart and Soy for me was the tofu. As a fanatic, I was thrilled to learn that they have Kentucky’s only tofu manufacturing machine.

For my lunch, I chose the Orange Tofu ($10.95) with brown rice. The sauce, as requested, featured an impressive spice level and coated the perfectly cooked tofu alongside a multitude of vegetables.

Other menu highlights include the BBQ Tofu Sandwich ($6.90), Singapore Noodles ($8.90) and the Heart and Soy Gyro with Wasabi Tzatziki Sauce ($6.95).

Needless to say, I’m already planning my return visit.

V-Grits mural by Sarah Tidwell

1025 Barret Ave.

Located in the Paradise District, V-Grits is the newest brick-and-mortar vegan restaurant to the Louisville scene. However, they come to the table with years of food truck experience. Their focus is Southern-style food that is both comforting and 100-percent vegan. Having been raised on Southern cookin’, I placed my order while feeling both intrigued and excited.

I started the meal with the Fried Mac Bites ($7): three mac and cheese balls, breaded, fried and served with marinara sauce. Cheese (dairy) is my favorite food; however, I find vegan cheeses to be a great substitute.

My main course was the Gyro ($12): vegan gyro meat, peppers, onions, greens, tzatziki sauce, tomato and a za’atar grilled flatbread. I chose to have a bowl of a bean-based soup alongside the dish, which was easily the highlight of the meal for me. The soup was citrus-filled and robustly flavorful. I left wanting to recreate it in my own kitchen.

As a newcomer to vegan food, the key to me and my palate is for it to master imitation in terms of flavor profiles. I want to feel like I’m eating my customary dishes while also being cognizant of the fact that it is a mindful, ethical, healthy choice for my body. V-Grits absolutely accomplished that.

Vegetarianism and veganism is not for everyone – that, my friends, I know for a fact. However, delving into it slowly, in spurts or on occasion is certainly something that I am going to do to achieve my desired level of gastronomic conscientiousness.

Bean-based soup.

It’s not about eating less – it’s about eating more.

It’s about believing in the power of your food.

It’s about changing your relationship with food.

It is about celebrating the art of cooking, the joy of eating and the journey of both self and body love that accompanies it.

Happy eating, happy traveling, happy living. V

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