Note From The Coordinators

The VRG Celebrates 30 Years of Activism

When Charles became vegan in 1977 and Debra in 1980, the word 'vegan' was pretty much unknown. We knew only a handful of vegans. Several had a Peace Corps background, and their vegetarianism was related to a wider philosophy about the world. Others were concerned about health, Ahimsa, and an animal perspective. Many of the early activists were considered 'characters' or unconventional.

We remember one VRG member who told us that, when everyone else was vegetarian, he would start eating meat to be different. Many activists were anti-medical professional and 'anti-establishment.' From the beginning, The Vegetarian Resource Group believed that there were as many health professionals and businesspeople who supported vegetarianism as there were in any other segment of society. Certainly, 30 years later, we have been proven right.

When we first published Vegetarian Journal's Guide to Natural Foods Restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, we struggled to find vegetarian (let alone vegan) restaurants in every part of the country. In this issue, we have a nice listing of vegan restaurants across the United States (page 22). These include gourmet and down-home cooking, cafés in large cities and small towns, and almost every ethnic creation. Even during our 25th anniversary, we couldn't written such an extensive article. For a full listing of restaurants, see

As vegetarianism and veganism continue to spread, vegetarian groups will probably still have differing views. For example, many of us enjoy the proliferation of sugar-laden vegan desserts, but there are those who encourage us to moderate our consumption and advocate for healthful versions of these treats. While there are those who will consume in vitro meat, there will certainly be those who don't consider it vegetarian and want alternatives. None of us will have to worry about lack of passion and debate in the future.

We can't begin to thank the thousands who have assisted The Vegetarian Resource Group with education and outreach over the years. We apologize to those we are not naming here, but we especially want to acknowledge the following:

  • Ernie Kopstein, MD; Audrey Fluke, RN; and Norris Fluke, who helped start The Vegetarian Resource Group back in 1982.
  • Michael Blum, Cindy Blum, and later Sarah and Eric Blum, who carted our first wooden outreach booth hundreds of miles, sponsored vegan potlucks in the middle of farming country, and did cooking demos in every venue.
  • Ruth Ransom Blackburn, RD, our first registered dietitian.
  • Suzanne Havala Hobbs, DrPH, RD, who did scores of articles and handouts.
  • John Shoemaker, who weekly came to the 'office' to help with clerical work and created our Vegetarian Game computer program.
  • Jerry Schaum, who often helped at events.
  • Stuart S. for helping with accounting. We remember drinking (orange juice) and eating bagels while you tried to teach us these 'new' accounting programs.
  • Our families, who taught responsibility and supported us in all our endeavors.
  • Sandy Weinstein, who did early tofu cooking demos and was featured on People Are Talking. (Oprah Winfrey was a co-host of this show at one point.)
  • Karen Lazarus, MD, for her help, support, and friendship over the years, and Phil Becker, Jim Dunn, David McLaughry, and Susan Petrie for doing booths in many states as they moved around the country.
  • 'Nurse Bobbie' Pasternak, RN, who was a pioneer for vegetarianism and The VRG on the Internet.
  • Brad Scott, who created our entire computer and Internet infrastructure.
  • Andy Singer, who put in a small water heater for us.
  • Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, has been a true hero to the group on both the scientific and administrative side. Reed (twice co-author of the American Dietetic Association position paper on vegetarianism) does not present herself as a 'guru,' but she is one of the leading experts on vegetarianism and veganism in the country from both a scientific and practical view.
  • Another unsung hero in the movement is Chef Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RD, whether she is organizing vegan fundraisers for animal groups, certifying culinary programs, or teaching chefs and foodservice staff around the country.
  • Heather Gorn also understands and actively participates in the administrative side of The VRG. The group's activism and outreach will certainly continue another 30 years thanks to her unwavering efforts.
  • Biologist Dick Stafursky, whose pioneering work inspired much of The VRG. His ideas included computerizing vegetarian member lists on a mainframe before we all had personal computers, leafletting at a Star Trek premiere before animal rights groups were prominently doing this kind of outreach, flying a giant carrot in front of the White House for World Vegetarian Day, researching and advocating for vegetarianism on space flights, setting up one of the first vegetarian offices and incubators to encourage vegan projects, and doing a vegetarian radio show each week for years during the 1970s.
  • Our past staff, including Davida Breier, Jessica Dadds, Tamara Gabai, Jeannie McStay, Roseanne Silverman, Ziona Swigart, and Mike Vogel.
  • Our current staff, including Keryl Cryer, John Cunningham, Sonja Helman, Mary Herbranson, and Jeanne Yacoubou.
  • Photographer Linda Long.
  • Suzanne Hengen for doing the nutritional analyses for recipes and Sarah Ellis for previously doing this.
  • Volunteer Vegetarian Journal Editors Carole Hamlin and Jane Michalek.
  • Fannie Fonseca-Becker, MPH, RD; Ana Negrón, MD; Myriam Parham, RD; Laura Rico; Cecilia Rosenblum; and Annabelle Simpson, who translated articles into Spanish for our website.
  • VRG Advisors Arnie Alper, MD; Catherine Conway, MS, RD; and Mark Rifkin, RD.
  • Volunteers Ryan Andrews, RD (CO); Terry Carlo (MA); Gretchen Chlebowski (IL); David Herring (DC); Lisa Martin (CO); Jenny Sacenti (MD); Eric Sharer, MPH, RD (IL); Elsa Spencer (VA); Sheila Vaswani (MD); and Frada Wall (MD).
  • VRG Strategic Planners Jerry Marcus, MD, and Wayne Smeltz, PhD.
  • All our past interns, volunteers, members, and of course, our donors and grantors, who understand the cost of doing outreach in the mainstream world.
  • Sponsors of our scholarship contest, needs-based internship, video scholarship, and other projects.
  • Again, we apologize that we don't have room to thank everyone. As Heather stated, "VRG serves as not only a resource for providing reliable, fact-based information about vegetarianism, but also as a platform through which people can contribute their individual skills towards the common goal of promoting veganism."

    If you would like to volunteer, please contact us at or call (410) 366-8343. Thank you for the past 30 years and the next 30 years to come.

    Debra Wasserman & Charles Stahler Coordinators of The Vegetarian Resource Group