Vegetarian Journal 2002 Issue 3

It's the 20th Anniversary
of The Vegetarian Resource Group!

Making It Easier For You To Be Vegetarian

Considering our thousands of volunteers and supporters with whom we've worked over the years, five pages isn't nearly enough room to recognize everyone and all the projects undertaken by VRG. However, we'll take you through some of our achievements of the last two decades.


In September of 1982, The Vegetarian Resource Group was founded by a vegan doctor, vegetarian nurse, a Master's swimmer, and two activists. Our goals have always been to: 1) Provide scientific and practical information; 2) Go beyond those who are already vegan and reach the various segments of the community; and 3) Reduce the barriers to becoming vegetarian.

The first incarnation of the Vegetarian Journal was a 4-page newsletter produced on a typewriter. From this humble beginning, we were off to a roaring start due to two feature articles by Isaac Rehert and Winifred Walsh in The Baltimore Sun.

Early in 1983, we were surprised when people from all over Baltimore jammed our tofu cooking demonstration. One person even sat on top of the refrigerator! How many of you had heard of tofu back then? That year, continuing our innovative campaign to get the word out, the group set up an activity at a local Children's Fair, having kids prepare their own healthful snacks. We also spoke at a high school, sponsored a World Vegetarian Day Conference, gave a cooking demonstration in the plaza next to City Hall, donated food to a local soup kitchen, performed cooking demos at local health foods stores, hosted camping trips, organized booths at the Baltimore City Fair, and distributed information at a community college. Another great success was when, on October 1, 1983, our local Mayor proclaimed World Vegetarian Day in Baltimore. Since then, many localities have followed suit.

In our second year, we started writing “Beyond Carrot Cake,” a vegetarian column for a free community-based newspaper. We also had mentions in publications such as What's New in Home Economics and Women's Circle Home Cooking. We published the Healthy Holidays cookbook and produced “Be Kind to Animals—Don't Eat Them” and “Vegetarians Are Sprouting Up All Over” bumper stickers. VRG's first annual essay contest was mentioned by the National Science Teachers Association, and Debra Wasserman served on the consumer board of the local Giant supermarket chain.

Why a vegetarian organization?

From our May, 1984 Editorial: "The American Cancer Society states that high-fat, low-fiber diets may be linked to cancer, but co-sponsors a Mardi Gras featuring ribs. The Baltimore Sun features kiwi fruits, but says they are for appearance rather than flavor and then gives recipes for lamb chops with kiwi and cheese kiwi. Vegetarian organizations have an important role in providing alternative sources of information."


In the early 1980's, most vegetarian cookbooks were complicated and called for unusual ingredients. At our outreach booths we learned that individuals really needed practical recipes. So we published the cookbook Vegetarianism for the Working Person—Quick and Easy Recipes. In 1984, a mention in Changing Times magazine resulted in over 800 orders, which launched VRG as a publisher. We produced vegetarian (vegan) Passover recipes and received thousands of requests. In 1990 we published Simply Vegan—Quick Vegetarian Meals, which includes a great nutrition section by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD. At the time, it was extremely rare to see the word “vegan” on a book cover. We have now sold over 80,000 copies of this pioneering work which has shown tens of thousands of people how easy it is to be vegan.

We received this note about our restaurant guide:

“I got a copy of the VJ travel guide several years ago and have used it religiously on my many travels throughout the US and Canada. Through it, I was able to discover many wonderful restaurants and cafes in out of the way places, and learned so much I was finally able to open my own vegetarian café with confidence. Thank you Vegetarian Journal.”


In 1985 we researched and produced our “Guide to Fast Food,” which answered questions such as “Which Fast Food Chain(s) Doesn't Fry Their French Fries in Lard?” This piece earned mention in USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, and by the Copley News Service, to name a few.

Requests for the guide and our other materials came from the American Heart Association, Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Mayo Clinic, Vogue magazine, the Captain of the RMS Queen Mary, the Arkansas Democrat, People Weekly, Self, Shape, and even the Camp Fire Girls.

In 1996 Vegetarian Journal's Guide to Natural Foods Restaurants in the US and Canada was mentioned in The New York Times.

In the 1980's there was a dairy industry campaign that promoted milk as less than 4% fat. Though this is true by weight, whole milk can have nearly 50% of its calories from fat. We complained to the Maryland Attorney General about the commercials. The Mid-Atlantic Marketing Association ceased the campaign on its own. However, the Attorney General obtained their agreement to refrain from this type of advertising in the future. They paid the Consumer Protection Division $3,500 to be used for consumer education.

In 1989, due to research by Karen Lazarus, MD, we published a report on Dole tropical juice that brought attention to the common food coloring ingredient cochineal, which is made from beetle shells. This made us begin to question the source of other dyes and natural and artificial flavors. By 1997, Jeanne Bartas completed Vegetarian Journal's Guide to Food Ingredients. Jeanne's year of detailed research took her beyond dictionary definitions. By contacting food companies, and then their suppliers, she played detective as she tracked down the actual commercial sources of the ingredients.

In 2001 VRG published another update of its Guide to Fast Food and Quick Service Chains, which was quoted in the book Fast Food Nation and Atlantic Monthly magazine, referencing the information about natural flavorings in McDonald's French fries.


One of our most insightful interviews came in December, 1984, from a non-veggie reporter for the Baltimore Sun. Tom Horton in “Save the Bay-Eat Beans: Will this be the slogan of the environmentalists?” researched and advocated vegetarianism as an environmentally sound measure to rescue the Chesapeake Bay. In his eloquent article, Horton provides a graph using USDA statistics that shows that it takes more land to produce protein through meat than through vegetables or grain. He states, “Even those who toil in the environmental movement in Maryland might not recognize them, but the people [Debra, Charles, and Keith Akers] with whom I had lunch recently are probably doing, in the most basic of ways, as much as anyone in the state about the kind of pollution that is troubling the Chesapeake Bay. . . . Tofutti's maker, who is considered an advertising and marketing genius, is coming out with a soyburger. The three all agree that if America goes veggie, this is the way it will probably do it, lured there by Madison Avenue and by capitalists who foresee a healthy return on the investment from the trend.” A subsequent editorial written by the Baltimore Sun, “Eating Less Meat” said, “… it is now well established that if humans ate the vegetables instead of the meat and dairy products they would be a lot healthier. Advocating outright vegetarianism for a majority of Americans would be foolish. But a decline in the amount of meat and dairy production in the US diet seems inevitable.”


In 1985 Ruth Ransom, our first volunteer Registered Dietitian, helped us create a 4-week vegetarian meal plan and an alternative version to the four food groups, which interestingly was very similar in concept to the Food Pyramid promoted many years later by government and health professional organizations.

In 1986 we sent information for distribution at the American Dietetic Association (ADA) annual meeting. And our newest dietitian, Suzanne Havala, produced a “Guide to Vegetarian Weight Loss,” a “Hospital Survival Guide,” and “Osteoporosis: Beyond A Simple Answer.”

In 1987, VRG's Nutrition Advisor, Suzanne Havala, was chosen to be the primary author of the ADA position paper on vegetarianism, which accomplished the following: 1) Put health advantages in perspective with health risks; 2) Abandoned the complementary protein myth; 3) Updated information on B12; 4) Set the record straight concerning vegetarians and calcium; and 5) Reiterated that the daily requirements for protein can be easily met in a vegetarian diet. The position paper increased health professionals' acceptance of vegetarian eating patterns.

George Eisman, who headed VEGEDINE, a group of vegetarian dietitians, had the idea of trying to form a vegetarian practice group within the ADA to help promote the understanding of vegetarian nutrition in the dietetics field. He, with a few other forward-thinking dietitians, spent many hours planning a strong case for the existence of the group. On June 1, 1991, the ADA Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group was officially approved, with Suzanne Havala as chairperson.

Because of the interest in vegetarianism by health professionals at the American Dietetic Association, we had booths at other conferences such as the American Public Health Association and American Academy of Family Practitioners. At the American Heart Association meeting, we were about the only nutrition booth, except for Kellogg's. During this conference CNN interviewed cardiologists at the meeting eating hamburgers across the street in a food court.


Our report on the American Dietetic Association Annual Meeting: "One of VRG's major goals is to educate others. To do this we need to go directly to the public... Our presence at the ADA conference was a total success. For three days we moved the vegetarian movement into a new arena. We were inside the "jutrition establishment" ... giving out information about the benefitss of a vegetarian diet. Of the booths not distributing free samples of food, ours was one of the busiest. The booth to our right was the National Pork Producers Council. Across from us Coca Cola was giving out free soada to attending dietitions..."


In 1986 we continued our commitment to educating teachers, children, and parents by giving a presentation on vegetarian diets at an in-service for home economics teachers in Baltimore County Public Schools. In 1988, we gave assistance to Child Magazine (among others) for a story on vegetarianism, and offered our materials in the program of the Society for Nutrition Education annual meeting in Toronto, Canada. During 1989 we had outreach booths at the annual conferences of the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers.

In 1990 Sheila Schwartz of the Humane Education Committee in New York City created a lesson plan to go along with our I Love Animals and Broccoli Coloring Book. She distributed both to NYC school teachers. The following year Reed Mangels, PhD, RD appeared on CNN and spoke about our “Teenagers and Vegetarianism” brochure. At the Annual Meeting of the American Home Economics Association, we gave a presentation on “Tofu, Tempeh, and TVP.” Hopefully someday all Home Ec teachers will mention vegan products along with (or instead of) showing how to make meatloaf. During 1994 VRG exhibited at the USDA NET (Nutrition Education and Training program) Promoting Healthy Habits for Our Children conference. In 1997 seven 4-H interns worked in The VRG office for two days. Most were from cattle ranches. We had the interns taste-test and write an article about various soy ice creams. It was a great learning experience for all of us.

In 1989,

Vegetarian Times said about The VRG's work: "Holding their own within the mainstream -- not just working against it -- is part of the secret of their success... VRG quickly outgrew its local status to become one of the largest, mot well-run vegetarian resource bases in the country."


In 1990 The VRG's contact information was given in the New York Times, resulting in over 300 phone calls in two days. As soon as the phone stopped ringing, we were deluged by over 1,500 letters requesting information. In 1993, due to a feature in Parade magazine, we received thousands of requests for vegetarian information. Mentions in the consumer publication Workbasket and the employee wellness periodical The Hope Heart Newsletter, resulted in similar responses.


In order to have more vegetarian products, The VRG always recognized that we needed to work with businesses. Several companies have told us that they received a jump in sales, a new connection, or a nice contract because of a mention in Vegetarian Journal or our Foodservice Update. We have been of assistance to small and large companies through our national polls indicating the number of vegetarians, taste-testing (a company's products before they're ready for market), and giving advice about marketing to vegetarians.

In 1993 in “Overlooking a Powerful Market?” in the Packer, the business newspaper of the Produce Industry, Debra was quoted: “A joke among vegetarians is that for them to conform to 5 a Day, we'd have to cut back on fruits and vegetables.” This article encouraged businesses to market to vegetarians.

We also approached businesses on the academic level; for example, VRG Advisor Wayne Smeltz, PhD presented a paper at the Association for the Study of Food and Society conference on the linkages between Business, Ethics, and the Environment as they relate to food production.


Our first foray into the Internet began during the early 90's. At that time, “NurseBobbi” Pasternak was reaching out to people interested in vegetarianism via FTP sites and monitoring USENET groups. She made our files available in the file libraries of CompuServe and AOL. Between 1993 and 1999 she regularly referred people to VRG publications through her weekly vegetarian chats. Brad Scott set up VRG information on Envirolink in 1995, and went live in January, 1997. Now, by 2002, we have over 125,000 visitors a month, with over 2 million files accessed every four weeks. In 1997 the Tufts University Nutrition Navigator awarded the VRG website one of their highest rankings for a nutrition website.


A major program of The VRG has been assisting food services to serve more vegan and vegetarian food. In 1991 we published 30 quantity vegan recipes in servings of 25 for use by food services. These were simple recipes that were of practical use, especially to schools and camps. We based them on our experiences cooking for our own conferences and at soup kitchens.

In 1992 Debra had a letter to the editor published in The New York Times headlined, “Chefs in US: Must Recognize Demand for Vegetarian Cuisine,” and it offered information and quantity recipes. The letter was prominently boxed off and it brought us a lot of attention in the food service industry. Inquiries for our materials have ranged from a US Air Team requesting advice concerning a proposal for serving vegetarian foods, to the Food Service Director at Galludet University, to the Omaha Steaks company.

On the regulatory and government fronts, Sue Havala testified at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) concerning soy products in school lunches, and she spoke on Alternate Meals at the USDA Building Healthy Meals conference. The conference was attended by food service personnel, as well as state agency and federal staff. In 1998 VRG Food Service Advisor Chef Nancy Berkoff gave a vegetarian presentation at the annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Food Service. The next year Nancy and Debra gave a culinary demonstration at the ADA's Annual Meeting concerning the introduction of vegetarian foods into institutions. In 2002 at the Natural Products Expo trade show for the health food industry, Nancy gave a demo on Meeting the Needs of Your Vegan Customers. On a side note, thank you to Cream of the Bean, which gave us a booth at our first food business conference, and VEAT, who helped us exhibit at the National Restaurant Association meeting, which is attended by 100,000 personnel in the restaurant industry.


Thank you to everyone who assisted The VRG in being a constant pioneer throughout the years and making it possible for us to have such an impact on society. We've enjoyed the calls from the numerous small and large food companies who were developing new vegetarian products. It was fun having interns from all over, including Hiroko from Japan, Sina from Germany, and others from the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University, and elsewhere. All our volunteers (including the editors for this Journal), supporters, and staff have been quite valuable. However, we'd especially like to thank the following individuals who in large part were responsible for moving the group forward: Dick Stafursky for being so ahead of his time and giving us ideas for VRG; the Blum Family in our early years; Reed Mangels, PhD, RD and Suzanne Havala Hobbs, RD, DPH who have hung in there so long; Wayne Smeltz and Annabelle Simpson, who are always available for moral support; Jerome Marcus, MD, and Carole Hamlin for lending their expertise over the years; Bobbi Pasternak, who so long endured as NurseBobbi ensuring the place of vegetarianism on the Internet; Brad Scott, who set up our website, computers, and much more; Ruth Ransom, RD, for being our first RD; Jim Dunn for being a super volunteer from Chicago to Florida; John Shoemaker for his work on our restaurant guide and vegetarian game software; Chef Nancy Berkoff for sharing her food service knowledge with all of us; and Arnie Alper, MD for his early organizational help. There are so many, many more individuals, and hopefully in the future we will have the space to thank everybody. And finally, thanks to the current hard-working VRG office staff: Jeannie, Tamara, John, and Meri.

Special thanks to Arnie Alper, Reed Mangels, Hal Glick, and Amanda Stombom for sponsoring a page in this 20th Anniversary Celebration edition of Vegetarian Journal. We greatly appreciate your support!