Charles became vegetarian in 1975 and vegan in 1977 because he believed in promoting non-violence and making the world better. Not knowing any vegetarians, he inquired if a friend knew any non-meat-eaters. The answer was just one who said he was vegetarian, but he still ate hamburgers at McDonald®s. For a college marketing paper in the 1970s, Charles wrote that Burger King should start Vege King since, back then, Burger King was a part of Pillsbury, which owned Green Giant. Over 30 years later, Burger King does sell a veggie burger produced by a company that owns a meatless burger brand formerly distributed by Green Giant.

To make a statement about solving world hunger and promoting non-violence, Debra became vegan in 1980 while studying international relations at Georgetown University and working for the State Department. Previously, she had taken college courses on terrorism. Unfortunately, the government didn't take seriously much of what was known then about terrorism, ending in disastrous results. We hope the long-term health, ethical, environmental, and monetary implications of vegetarianism will be taken more seriously in relation to the health care crisis, global warming, world hunger, and other complex issues.

In the 1970s, many vegetarian activists and groups were anti-science and anti-establishment. However, we believed there were many professionals and businesspeople interested in vegetarianism. We thought that vegetarian groups didn't always have to be outsiders.

In 1982, we joined forces with three others to begin The Vegetarian Resource Group (then known as the Baltimore Vegetarians) to promote vegetarianism in a scientific and practical way to the general public. Much of what we did was pioneering and criticized by some vegetarians, but the vegetarian movement adopted much of it years later. We appreciate Natural Foods Retailer, an industry magazine, which named us as one of 25 influential pioneers, along with the founders of Amy's Organics, Ben and Jerry's, Celestial Seasonings, and White Wave (Silk).

The VRG has had and continues to have a major impact on a daily basis. Here are just a few of our innumerable accomplishments over the years:

1) A 1984 Baltimore Sun article by Tom Horton about us, which connected the environment and vegetarianism. A resulting Sun editorial in this major American newspaper said, "But a decline in the amount of meat and dairy products in the U.S. diet seems inevitable."

2) Outreach at supermarket and restaurant conferences before soymilk and burgers were in almost every supermarket, including writing a vegetarian booklet for Wegmans Food Markets and assisting other stores with information.

3) The first time we exhibited at the American Dietetic Association's annual meeting, alongside Coca-Cola, pork producers, and cattle representatives.

4) VRG dietitians helping to form the American Dietetic Association Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, proving that vegetarians could give credible

5) Debra giving a vegan cooking demonstration on Good Morning America in September 1994.

6) Reed Mangels writing chapters for nutrition and medical textbooks.

7) Being told by a government agency that our testimony is practical and useful.

8) Nancy Berkoff giving vegetarian cooking demonstrations at the annual meetings of the National Association of College and University Food Service, American Dietetic Association, and elsewhere. Plus much, much more.

A Few Examples of Our Funny Moments:

1) At a dietetic conference, male staff members from the cattlemen's booth were flirting with two of VRG's dietitians in the elevator, not realizing they were wearing vegetarian badges.

2) At a professional meeting, we overheard two organizing honchos snottily say that all vegetarians look alike, unaware they were looking at two sisters whose nametags displayed their married names.

3) While putting on a dinner for 400 people in New York City, no one ever knew we lost all power in the kitchen, and Debra organized the serving of the food thanks to a light bulb that her father rigged up with several extension cords. (Actually, not so funny when it occurred.)

4) In the 1980s, we tried to give away leftover samples of a particular vegetarian food to homeless people, and even they wouldn't eat it.

5) We're sure you heard about the early soy cheese. Their factory in Cleveland burned down, but the cheese still didn't melt. We're grateful for the new and improved vegan cheeses on the market. (We vegetarians have to have a sense of humor.)

Charles is very thankful to Nat Altman, who was author of the first book he found on vegetarianism. Thank you to Dick Stafursky, who had so many pioneering ideas when we were involved with the Vegetarian Society of D.C. We remember the early years when Cindy Blum and Michael Blum lugged our wooden outreach booth around town and when Sandy Weinstein did a tofu cooking demo on a local TV show with Richard Sher. (He co-hosted this series with Oprah Winfrey at one point.)

After 9/11, tsunamis, and hurricanes, economic conditions became very difficult for small businesses and social change groups. Thank you to Nancy Berkoff, Keryl Cryer, John Cunningham, Reed Mangels, and Jeannie McStay, who have stayed with us through rough times. Kudos to Brad Scott who set up our website, which now has over 150,000 visitors a month. In January, we had 2 million pages accessed. Welcome again to Jeanne Yacoubou, who volunteered with us in the 1980s, took a break to work in the Peace Corps, did our fast food guide in the 1990s, and is back with us doing her excellent research. Thank you to Sonja Helman, who does so much work answering inquiries each day. We have to acknowledge Sid Bravmann, who is willing to take on the hard job of raising money.

Thank you to Phil Becker, Cathy Conway, Jim Dunn, Sarah Ellis, Suzanne Havala Hobbs, Jane Michalek, Alisa Mills, Mark Rifkin, Stephanie Schueler, our board members, and the thousands of VRG supporters, donors, and volunteers. Each helps to make change possible.

According to VRG polls, approximately 2-3 percent of the population is vegetarian, though we would say 30-40 percent is interested in vegetarian products. It is VRG's role to continue supporting those who are vegetarian and assisting others in becoming vegetarian. We sincerely believe that some day the U.S. and Canada will be mostly vegetarian and vegan because the products taste better and are less expensive than meat. People will be vegetarian because most other people are vegetarian. We do not expect this to happen in our lifetimes.

You are reading Vegetarian Journal and are a member of VRG because you care about a better world. For a group to survive long-term and remain vibrant for generations to come, it needs money. How else can you afford to hire dietitians, lawyers, computer programmers, editors, grant writers, activists, volunteer organizers, educators, and the other professionals necessary to make change? As we enter our second quarter-century, we hope you will take vegetarianism seriously and consider naming The VRG in your will, life insurance policies, IRAs, and other legacy vehicles.

Here’s to happy, healthy, and ethical eating. May our children, grandchildren, and great- grandchildren see a more peaceful and empathetic world.