35 Years of Vegan Activism by the Vegetarian Resource Group

Following are a few examples of our 35 years of vegan activism:


VRG Sponsored a Tofu Cooking Class by Sandy Weinstein
Tofu was relatively unknown then to many Americans. Later, Sandy was asked to do a tofu demo on People Are Talking, a Baltimore TV show. Someone named Oprah Winfrey was co-host of this show in the 1970s.

Outreach to hundreds of kids at Timonium, Maryland Children's Fair
We had kids prepare fruit salad, display jars full of dried beans and grains, and then make necklaces using the beans and grains as a way to learn the names of each food.

Other projects included publishing I Love Animals and Broccoli Activity Book, a vegetarian display in the front of the main branch of the Baltimore Pratt Library, and the start of VRG's essay contest, which continues, and also evolved into our awarding $20,000 in college scholarships to high school seniors annually.

Vegetarianism and the Environment
It was nice for vegetarianism to have moved beyond only the food section. Environmental writer Tom Horton wrote about us in the Baltimore Sun in his article on the environment titled "Save the Bay — Eat Beans; Will this be the slogan of the environmentalists?"

He continued, "Even those who toil in the environmental movement in Maryland might not recognize them, but the three people 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. Debra Wasserman, Charles Stahler, and Keith Akers are vegetarians — they prefer the term 'vegans,' since they don't use eggs or dairy products in addition to abstaining from red meat, fish, and fowl. Our heavy meat consumption in America, they argue, is more than just a luxury. It exacts a price from our land, water, and energy resources that no country can affordto pay indefinitely."

A resulting editorial in The Sun stated, "Events sometimes converge in unexpected ways. For instance, there is the growing alarm about over-use of farmland in the United States and the concern over health effects of too much cholesterol. At first glance, the two developments do not seem to have much in common. Intensive farming, American style, damages topsoil and contributes to the ecologically harmful runoff of chemicals and waste into waterways such as the Chesapeake Bay. Consuming too much cholesterol and other fats, as most Americans do, contributes to a horrendous high heart attack, stroke, and cancer death rate...."

Supermarket Consumer Board
Debra Wasserman volunteered on the Giant Supermarket Chain Consumer Board. She gave input into their adding non-dairy calcium sources of food into their nutrition brochures. At that time, she was able to hear about their introduction of Dreamy Tofu, their own brand of nondairy ice cream. Giant also introduced organic produce wrapped in plastic. Debra tried to explain that most organic consumers didn't want all that packaging, but it really took the moving in of Whole Foods stores before most groceries looked at the organic market seriously.


Vegetarian Meal Plan Developed by Ruth Ransom, RD
This was an alternative to the four food groups. Rather than a dairy group, our plan had asterisks in other groups for high-calcium foods such as fortified soymilk, kale, and collards. It was mentioned by Nutrition Week, newspapers in Arkansas and Connecticut, and requested by the Cooperative Extension Service in Massachusetts, Shape magazine, Tufts Newsletter, and elsewhere.

Guide to Eating in Fast Food Restaurants
Though most of us rarely, if ever, ate in fast food restaurants, the majority of Americans, and especially young people, did eat this way, and our fast food guides are some of our most popular publications even today. For those who wanted to support vegetarian restaurants, we also created Vegetarian Journal's Guide to Natural Foods Restaurants with Avery Publishing. This guide is now online at www.vrg.org/restaurant.

Publications Requested
Way before the internet helped make vegetarianism and veganism more mainstream, our various publications were requested by and mentioned by media and institutions such as Woman's Day magazine, Family Circle magazine, Society for Nutrition Education, National Science Teachers Association, University of North Carolina library, American Heart Association, a Johns Hopkins Hospital dietitian, an Arkansas Democratic candidate, a dietitian from Mayo Clinic, People Weekly magazine, Self magazine, Campfire Girls, New York Times, Washington Post, New Woman magazine, and many more. Our books such as Simply Vegan, Meatless Meals for Working People, and Vegan Handbook have sold over a quarter million copies. We thank Brad Scott who was responsible for www.vrg.org for many years as the internet was gaining popularity. Back then, our site was first when one searched "vegetarianism." We still receive several hundred thousand visitors a month looking for information from seitan to Egyptian recipes to protein to the number of vegetarians and vegans to cysteine.

VRG's First Outreach Booth at the Annual Meeting of the American Dietetic Association in San Francisco
Thank you for the gracious help of vegan health professionals Arnie Alper, MD; Reed Mangels, PhD, RD; Suzanne Havala, MS, RD; and Jennifer Raymond, MS. There was much to process and plan the first time. After the conference, we all went out to lunch at the vegetarian restaurant Lotus Garden, and stayed so long that we had dinner at the same table.

Natural Products Expo
Our first booth at Natural Products Expo, which we shared with Cream of the Bean, a vegan soy yogurt. Thank you to Stuart Doblin, company founder, who also created great vegan salad dressing.


Outreach Booths Such as at National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers Conferences
Presented poster abstract "Introducing Heart Healthy Eating to Children and Parents" at the Regions II and III Cardiovascular Risk Reduction Conference in Philadelphia. Gave a presentation at the American Home Economics Association Conference. Displayed at Eco Expo in NYC at Javits Center (it's been a long road for the environmental movement to understand the food links) and American Public Health Association Meeting in NYC. Had a booth and cooking demo at a 4-H conference in Phoenix, AZ. We sponsored a Vegetarian Resource Group Conference in NYC for 700 people, one of the largest U.S. single day vegan gatherings back then, predating all the great VegFests around the country today.

Published I Love Animals and Broccoli Coloring Book
Over 130,000 copies given away to students, teachers, festival attendees, and activists. We've had requests from Kansas, Texas, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Washington, Pennsylvania, California, Mississippi, Missouri, and elsewhere.


Debra Wasserman's letter in The New York Times titled "Chefs in U.S. Must Recognize Demand for Vegetarian Cuisine." Today it's hard to believe that letter was necessary. VRG sponsored a tofu cooking demo at the annual meeting of the American Home Economics Association, exhibited at New Jersey Dietetic Association Annual Meeting and at the National Association of Extension Home Economists Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. VRG did an abstract presentation at the American Public Health Association Conference in Washington, D.C. by Mangels, Wasserman and Stahler on Development and Dissemination of Nutrition Education Materials for Vegetarians. It was printed in their program. We exhibited at the Society for Nutrition Education Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. VRG did a poster session at an American Dietetic Association Meeting. Our materials were distributed at the Iowa School Food Service Association conference.

A hospital in The Bronx serving a low-income Hispanic population requested materials for a feature on vegetarianism. We sent materials to the California School Food Service Association conference and gave away VRG's Vegan Quantity Recipe Packet at the American School Food Service Association national conference in Boston. VRG had a booth at the American Library Association meeting. We exhibited at the American Heart Association annual meeting in Atlanta. VRG and Kellogg's were the only food booths or ones promoting prevention. We also did booths at USDA Children's Nutrition and Health Conference and at American Academy of Family Practitioners.

Our VRG Nutrition Advisor appeared on Good Morning America and discussed tempeh, tofu, tahini, and other foods. A nurse at the National Institutes of Health asked for vegetarian handouts to give to her colleagues. A college in Indiana requested vegan recipes due to increased demand. After a mention in the Hope Heart Institute Newsletter, we received thousands of requests for information. VRG authored a vegetarian brochure for Wegmans supermarket chain, which was ahead of the curve on vegetarian and many other issues.

Bobbi Pasternak was also ahead of the times, coordinating our electronic outreach, including the internet and online services such as CompuServe, America Online, and Prodigy (remember those?). Thank you to John Shoemaker who programmed our vegetarian game on a 3.5" floppy disk.

Our Nutrition Advisor Sue Havala participated in the NASA Human Nutrition in Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems Workshops in Houston, Texas. VRG volunteer Fannie Fonseca Becker, MS, RD, spoke on vegetarian diets at a Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Hygiene class. We've had so much varied outreach that we didn't even remember (until we looked back in our scrapbooks) that we displayed at a Boy Scouts of America Scouting Expo. A VRG staff member made a veggie quiz board for the boys!

Today, vegetarianism/veganism seems everywhere; however, back in the beginning, before everyone was Googling, we were one of the few groups taking this important information to the mainstream. Mentions in places such as Parade magazine often resulted in thousands of inquiries, as in those days people didn't just go to websites. We were mentioned in the Canadian Home Economics Journal. VRG received requests for 125 of our coloring books for an animal awareness unit from a school district in Caruthersville, Missouri, information from a dietitian in the Public Health Service in New Mexico, and this note: "I recently read an article in 'BabyTalk,' a magazine published by Target Department Stores, on how to eat healthy and wisely as a vegetarian. They listed you as a contact, I would like more information." A food bank in Arizona serving a largely Hispanic population asked to reproduce our Spanish brochure, Una Dieta Vegetariana. They said: "The Una Dieta Vegetariana is fantastic! I am so delighted to be able to offer it to our Spanish-speaking clients." Our vegan Jewish recipes were printed in Jewish newspapers from Broward, Florida to the Canadian Jewish News. Debra Wasserman was invited to be a guest on Good Morning America. She demonstrated vegan recipes, which the hosts gobbled down. Debra also did cooking demos at PCC Natural Markets in Seattle.


Jim Dunn staffed a booth for us at the Florida Association of Family and Consumer Sciences annual meeting. Reed Mangels did a presentation on Counseling the Vegetarian Client sponsored by the New England Vegetarian Dietetic Practice Group. She also authored for United States Department of Agriculture a "Vegetarian Nutrition Resource List for Consumers." Suzanne Havala and our intern Suzanne Holden had a vegetarian article in a Sysco Food Services newsletter.

VRG hosted seven 4-H youth in our office for a job shadowing in-service. Suzanne Havala wrote a vegetarian meal plan for the National Meals on Wheels Foundation. Cathy Conway tested vegetarian meals in 25 senior sites in New York City.

At the American Dietetic Association annual meeting, we presented an abstract on Vegetarian Nutrition on The World Wide Web. Abstract authors were Reed Mangels, Brad Scott, Bobbie Pasternak, and Debra Wasserman. Reed also spoke on vegetarian diets, pregnancy through childhood and VRG had a booth. Tufts Nutrition Navigator gave our website high marks for being accurate and an excellent resource for consumers. The author from Tufts stated: "Finding accurate, responsible information on vegetarian diets can be a challenge. V.R.G. (The Vegetarian Resource Group) is a source you can trust. Easy to read and navigate. VRG's Web site promotes vegetarianism in a friendly, matter-of-fact manner." Yahoo Internet Life included VRG in a review of websites for people with special dietary needs.

We received these notes: "Hey guys. I wanted to become a vegan, I had done a lot of research and my parents just didn't think that the idea was good. Then I found your site, I printed up some of the info and some really cool recipes, and showed them to my folks. I guessed it proved to them I could be just as healthy if not healthier. So I am pleased to say that I am a vegan now and my parents are even thinking about becoming ones too. Thanks." ... "I received 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."

Chef Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RD, and Debra Wasserman did a vegetarian cooking demonstration at the annual meeting of The American Dietetic Association. Chef Nancy Berkoff did a demo at the 1999 National Association of College and University Food Service conference: "The Veggies are coming, the veggies are coming — are you prepared?" This session was designed to acquaint the newly-veggie and the seasoned vegetarian food service provider with ideas, facts and techniques about vegetarian cuisine.


Nancy Berkoff did a regional college food service conference in Montana, with attendees from Montana, Colorado, Calgary, Edmonton, Wyoming, and Idaho. She spent two hours in lecture, and then 1 1/2 hours in the kitchen. Her next scheduled presentation was with the University of Wisconsin in Madison. And we received these notes: "I am a big fan of your book Vegan in Volume ... I have convinced the school to start using your book as a textbook." ... "I'm opening a new restaurant and wanted to thank you for your help. I needed information on vegetable bases to use in stuffing, gravy, soup, etc., because I want to be able to serve all my sides meat-free. I found the perfect article on your website, and it even addressed the sodium content, an ongoing problem with bases on the market." ... "Recently, my grandmother was diagnosed with B12 deficiency, so my mother looked up B12 on the Internet. The first thing that came up was VRG, even though she didn't search for vegetarianism at all. Thanks so much. You're obviously helping more than just vegetarians!"

Debra Wasserman did a vegan presentation to public school teachers attending a Meatout event sponsored by the UFT Humane Education Committee in New York City. Reed Mangels authored the chapter Nutrition for the Vegetarian Child for the Pediatric Manual of Clinical Dietetics from the American Dietetic Association.

Jessica Dadds created a vegetarian placemat for us. A reader said, "...took a supply of those new VRG placemats into school, all of the kids worked the maze and puzzles and took their placemats home afterwards. The teachers loved them."

Reed Mangels co-authored with Virginia Messina Considerations in Planning Vegan Diets: Infants and Children for the Journal of The American Dietetic Association. Suzanne Havala did a presentation at the American Dietetic Association annual meeting on Introducing Vegetarian Meals into Food Service. In a radio interview, Nancy Berkoff was paired with a media rep dietitian for the cattle industry concerning a Time magazine cover story about people going vegetarian. Nancy said it stayed very civilized rather than a shouting match about "killing cute little cows." Gerber Foods asked permission to list us as a resource.


A producer from Good Morning America called at 6 p.m., looking for a 15-year-old vegetarian girl (not a boy) and her non-vegetarian mother to be on the show the next day. VRG staff member Sonja Helman did some quick thinking and connected the show with a VRG intern. Though the media sometimes portrays vegetarianism as difficult for parents, the intern and her mother showed that 'normal' people are vegetarians, and it's a step anybody can take. Reed Mangels co-wrote a chapter on pediatric vegetarianism for a textbook used by nutrition, nursing, and medical students. Our table on Dietary Habits of Adults 18 and Over was reprinted in Modern Nutrition for Chefs.


VRG poll information was used in Nation's Restaurant News. Reed Mangels' Sample Meal Plan for Vegan Pregnancy was used in the fourth edition of a nutrition textbook. She and Julia Driggers published The Youngest Vegetarians: Vegetarian Infants and Toddlers in ICAN: Infant, Child, & Adolescent Nutrition Journal. From a Facebook post: "Around 1991, VRG came to Philadelphia for a kick off meeting at a vegan Chinese restaurant as I had an idea for a group here in PA. From that meeting, I helped coordinate a group called The Vegetarians of Philadelphia. At our peak, we had 1,400 members and sponsored speakers, dinners, and other events. We influenced restaurants to provide vegan options. Eventually, we worked our way out of a job so to speak, as more and more availability came into being in the city and surrounding suburbs."

VRG's My Vegan Plate is printed in a higher education health textbook, Nutrition and You, Mastering Fundamentals of Nursing Care, and Dental Hygienist's Guide to Nutrition. A sample of notes we receive: "I was looking to meet with a registered dietitian at my university health services in California to ask some questions. While I was looking I found a link to VRG. I thought it was fun to see universities recognizing your work..."

A Full Photography Circle
We received this note: "My name is Rissa Miller and back in 1996 I did three photo assignments for VRG as a college student. I was attending Western Kentucky University as a photo journalism major at the time. I can recall clearly one of the shoots I did for you because it was super challenging at the time — it was a trio of vegan sorbets. I had to redo it several times and get help from a professor (as it kept melting). Honestly, I'll never forget it." Fast forward to 2012. "I'm still vegan." Fast forward to 2017, in addition to shooting photos for our brochures, Rissa and her husband Nathaniel did the photography for the cover of this issue of Vegetarian Journal. We also want to thank Linda Long, who has also shot so many wonderful covers for us for many, many years.

Finally, thank you to everyone, who over the past 35 years, has participated in vegan education and making the world better. We hope your support will enable future generations to continue another 35 years of activism. Senior Editor Samantha Gendler, who has been with us since 2012, will continue to share news in this magazine and via social media on all the wonderful work new VRGers are doing to promote veganism.