In the September issue of Vegetarian Times, we profiled 10 activists who are out to change to change the way American eats—for the better. (If you missed the story, read it online.) Then, we asked you—dear readers—to tell us in 125 words or fewer about the local and global food heroes who inspire you most.
Sure, we were expecting to hear about more than a few unsung food heroes out there, but we were totally blown away by the entries that came in. All over the world, foodie movers and shakers are walking the talk and bringing about real change.
While each and every essay submitted warmed our hearts, the 10 finalists featured below inspired us to the bone. Check ‘em out below and vote for your favorite. Be sure to stop back to meet the top three Readers’ Choice New Food Heroes on October 15th.
1. DANCING QUEEN
speech language pathologist & dance instructor
Long Beach, California
Every week, Stephanie Davis and her friend produce a fun video for the kids at their dance studio to show them how to make easy and delicious snacks to take “on the go.” Not only do the videos cover the nutritional benefits of these all-vegetarian (usually vegan) options, but they are so much fun to watch that their audience has grown, and they’ve even taken their YouTube show “on the road,” guest starring on a podcast. It’s fantastic that they are showing young girls that being healthy can be both easy and fun.
BY Kathleen Davis
2. FAST FOOD FOE
student & founder, Fast Food Free
At age 14, Koa Halpern is on a mission: to change the way kids eat by getting them off fast food, and on to more healthy alternatives. His goal is to educate kids about the adverse effects fast food consumption has on personal health, our environment, animal welfare, and workers’ rights. He has created his own nonprofit, Fast Food Free, along with a Web site: fastfoodfree.org. Koa has spread his message with presentations to church and school groups, interviews with magazines and on television, as a featured speaker at Natural Products Expo West, and was designated a “Lunchbox Hero” by chef Ann Cooper, the “Renegade Lunch Lady.” Hundreds of children and parents have taken Koa’s challenge pledge: to give up eating fast food for just two weeks. Many report that the experience has changed their lives and the way they will eat from now on.
BY Roland Halpern
3. NON-PROFIT NINJA
Gary Oppenheimer is the founder of AmpleHarvest.org, a nonprofit organization founded to connect backyard gardeners and their extra produce with food pantries that rarely, if ever, receive produce that can be given to clients. Even though Gary is my husband and I might be biased, I can’t think of a more practical and sustainable way for excess garden produce to be used and shared.
BY Marilyn Gurtman-Oppenheimer
4. MOTHER OF RAW FOOD
founder, Living Light Culinary Arts Institute
Fort Bragg, California
The global food hero that inspires me most is Cherie Soria. She is the founder of Living Light Culinary Arts Institute. Cherie is considered the “Mother of Raw Food.” I was fortunate enough to attend this school. We learned to prepare extraordinary live food cuisine, bought produce from local farmers, and composted daily. By the end of the school day after reusing, recycling, and composting, our “trash” only filled a small wastebasket. How enlightening my journey was to see this inspiring woman teach her students how to love food, live gratefully, keep our bodies healthy, teach others globally, protect the environment, work within our community, and give us a love for all things natural. I applaud her.
BY Georgette Poulos
5. PLANT-POWERED FIREFIGHTER
assistant fire chief
Delicious! I thought to myself. While eating the “ice-cream” my dad made for me from frozen fruit and soymilk. He encourages me to eat a plant-based diet. He is a firefighter and a vegetarian chef. He cooks and we eat whole foods at home. He also cooks healthy food for all the firefighters at the firehouse. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans have become my favorite foods. I am now bigger and stronger than many of the kids in my school who eat junk food. My dad says, “eating junk food is bad for the mind, body, and soul.” I am lucky that my dad cares enough about me and others that he wants us to eat good food so we can be healthy. That is why I am nominating him a food hero.
BY Jeremy Harris
6. GREEN-THUMB GRANDMA
“I bought a farm” were not the words I expected out of my grandmother’s mouth when she approached the family, hinting at a surprise. Now an avid gardener-turned-farmer, my grandmother has proceeded to grow her vegetable vocabulary. Her eagerness has manifested itself in monster zucchini, quinoa stalks of deep reds and oranges otherwise found only in sunsets, and many species of squashes. With a minimal knowledge base of cultivation and harvesting, the entire family has become part of the experiment, recently undertaking the grueling task of harvesting and cleaning quinoa. With my grandma as the ringleader, piles of produce have been donated to the local food pantry, and my family has undergone a remarkable transition toward food appreciation; we’re spoiled by farm fresh food.
BY Hannah Francis
7. SUPER MOM
My family loves vegetables. In fact, they’re a labor of love for my mom, who spends every waking hour in the garden, willing the rabbits and squirrels to leave some green beans, carrots, and potatoes for her family. Once you’ve tasted her offerings, you’ll understand her drive to produce the most delicious sun-ripened veggies. So when I announced that I was a vegetarian, she did what most parents would never do. She embraced the challenge by reducing our whole family’s meat consumption and becoming semi-vegetarian with a whole array of new recipes. Additionally, she started growing soybeans for me. The best part? She uses the beans to make tofu from scratch. Talk about inspiring! My mom is my greatest food hero!
BY Emily Dobson
8. THE DO-GOOD DOC
Joshua Sussman, MD
physical medicine/rehab doctor
Long Beach, California
Dr. Sussman is a rehabilitation specialist at Kaiser Permanente, Bellflower, where he has been teaching the health benefits of whole-food, plant-based eating and regular exercise for nearly five years. He initiated and leads a once-a-week early-morning walking program for patients and hospital staff, sweetening the deal with healthful, delicious homemade post-walk snacks. This ad hoc potluck gets lots of attention from passersby arriving at work with the usual doughnuts—and sometimes turns them into new group members! He also sends his walkers regular emails with links on nutrition, exercise, and food-industry topics. Many have benefitted substantially from the program, with weight loss, improved management of chronic conditions, and generally increased well-being. I am so proud of him, my son, the genuine article—a New Food Hero!
BY Sharron Sussman
9. FOOD TRUCKER EXTRAORDINAIRE
chef & founder, The Cinnamon Snail
New York, N.Y.
It has been a hard road to veganism for me, an immigrant from the former U.S.S.R., where the food I grew up with was full of meat and dairy. The Cinnamon Snail has smoothed out all the deep wrinkles in my journey by slinging imaginative, delicious, and completely wacky vegan food from the truck. Adam Sobel, the chef and founder, comes up with the craziest things to keep the mouths of his dedicated herd of truck stalkers entertained. Adam is connected to the community via social media (Facebook/Twitter) and regularly accepts fan suggestions for specials, posts pictures of his beautiful vegan family, and interacts with the community in wonderful ways. He and his wife make wedding cakes when he’s not manning the truck. He and his staff serve the masses with a smile and kind words. This man deserves the highest award any vegan can get. Please give him some sort of trophy for his work. It’s brilliant!
BY Anna Starostinetskaya
10. COMMUNITY FARM CRUSADER
executive director & founder, Red Wiggler Community Farm
Woody Woodroof is the charismatic executive director and founder of Red Wiggler Community Farm, in Montgomery County, Md. RWCF is a nonprofit farm that hires adults with developmental disabilities to plant, maintain, and harvest USDA-certified organic vegetables. The produce (45 varieties!), flowers, and herbs are distributed through a unique Community Supported Agriculture program, 30 percent of which is distributed to local food banks and group homes. RWCF brings on more than 700 youths and adults with and without developmental disabilities, to work side-by-side in the fields and greenhouse toward the common goal of growing healthy organic produce for the community, in an inclusive setting. Woody is a visionary on the disabilities, agriculture, and environmental fronts. He has created a vision that should be celebrated!
BY Anna White