A street sign (left) ushers healthy eaters to Health in a Hurry, where patrons can enjoy limited outdoor seating (top right). A sign proclaiming “Acceptance” (bottom right) hangs in the establishment.

Today, with labels like ‘vegan,’ ‘vegetarian,’ ‘soy-free’ and ‘gluten-free,’ suddenly food becomes another way to separate people instead of bringing them together. At Sue Cadwell’s retail shop “Health in a Hurry: Organic Vegetarian Cuisine to Go,” it is her mission as a “peaceful warrior” to create healthy, delicious organic food that, in her opinion, feeds the physical body but, in turn, also creates community.

After graduating from Anne Marie Colhbin’s Natural Gourmet Cookery School in Manhattan in 1998, Cadwell opened Health In a Hurry in Fairfield in October 2004. She has now owned and operated it for eight years. “That’s a pretty good track record,” she said with a smile from behind the counter of her tiny but lively store.

Cadwell first started studying vegetarianism over 30 years ago, reading books that she claims “deals with a lot of the same concepts we’re dealing with now – but there wasn’t ‘certified organic’ back then.” Cadwell used to rid her produce of pesticides by going through a process that involved soaking her food in bleach.

After becoming frustrated that she could barely find anything to eat in a place like Fairfield County – that had both education and money – she finally decided to open a restaurant specifically designed to open up the world to alternative ways of eating.

Fundamentally, Cadwell’s goal was to show people that “eatery and food is very personal; it’s like freedom of choice.” Her passion lies in getting rid of the ‘labels’ while still supporting plenty of diet restrictions. “The bottom line,” Cadwell said, “is that we all need more of this kind of food in our diets…and I hope that one day we can have vegetarians and non-vegetarians eating side by side without one saying to the other, ‘What are you eating?’”

Words like ‘tofu,’ ‘tempeh,’ ‘quinoa,’ ‘kale’ and ‘beets’ seem to make the modern non-vegetarian crinkle their nose in disgust.

“Their reaction is based on ignorance,” Cadwell said. However, as an activist of judgment-free eating, Cadwell also believes judgment should not be placed in the other direction either. “Even if someone was out eating McDonald’s, we shouldn’t be putting someone down for their food choices,” Cadwell said.

“If they do not know the effects of eating that way, they shouldn’t have to feel awkward. And if they do know better, there is a guilt there – and it’s hard to live with guilt!”

Cadwell’s only plan is to educate the importance of healthy, organic eating and to open the minds and mouths of those who still make faces when the words ‘vegan’ and ‘gluten-free’ come up in conversation. Her way of doing this is greeting every customer at the door with a firm handshake and a warm, “Hello, I’m Sue!” After asking about dietary restrictions, Cadwell offers samples upon samples of dishes she has made throughout the day. “All I ask is that you try it,” Cadwell says. “The little cup of food isn’t gonna bite.” She is a firm advocate of “palate expansion.”

While supporting all sorts of diets, Cadwell also supports all sorts of palates. She stocks her refrigerators with freshly made stuffed portobello mushrooms, raw sushi made with nut pate in place of rice, vegan wraps, ‘Garden Pies,’ ‘Sea Vegetable Salads,’ ‘Healthy Burgers’ and a variety of bean salads, quinoa and rice dishes. She also provides soups such as tempeh chile and lentil soup, which are self-serve in both small and large sizes. She even sells special naturally-sweetened treats like sesame raisin cookies and chocolate Krispies. Her homemade granola is one of the restaurant’s most popular products. Every first-time customer gets a free gift just for walking in.

While Cadwell is no longer a vegetarian, vegetarian cuisine still makes up about 80 percent of her diet. She keeps a garden on the beach, where she gets some of the produce for her store and holds regular garden parties and dinners to continue to promote healthy, organic food.

“I have a sign,” Cadwell said with a smile, “that says, ‘This is a Judgment-Free, Worry-Free Hug Zone.’ I’ll have to hang that back up.” With a passion for food and a cause to promote, Cadwell continues to bring people together everyday through her unique and tasty dishes.

“Food is my life,” Cadwell explained. “Food is my business.”

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