Fostering Wonderful Friendships Through the Very Veggie Movement

Southern  | October 13, 2020
Volunteers promote the Very Veggie Movement to restaurants. Photo by Roger Lin.

Written by Jennifer An
Translated by Penny Liu
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

I am grateful to Brother Ji-En for giving me the opportunity to lead the Very Veggie Movement partnership program. In the beginning, I was hesitant to do it, because during weekdays I lived with my son to help take care of my little granddaughter. I am only free on weekends when I return home. So it was difficult to coordinate meetings and such. I want to thank Sister Jean Hsu for explaining the importance of this project. I realized there must be a team to work together, so I immediately started to contact several volunteers to participate.  Thankfully, they all agreed to join. I am also particularly grateful for sister Ting Fan for taking time from her busy schedule to meet with us to explain the program.

After the meeting in July, I didn’t take any action — I didn’t know how. Also, because the coronavirus pandemic was getting very serious, my son kept reminding me that I am not young; don’t go out if you don’t need to, he said. Even the grocery shopping was done by my daughter-in-law, so I kept putting it off. But in my heart, I felt like since I had agreed to do it, it is not my wish to not do anything. Especially when I felt it was so important to promote a vegetarian diet so we can protect all living beings, save the earth, and keep ourselves healthy.  When everyone else is safe, then we ourselves can be safe. I kept thinking about this, so I decided to look for an opportunity to give it a try. Since I didn’t know how it would go, I decided to first try a few vegetarian restaurants. Also, because of the hot weather and the pandemic, I did not ask any more volunteers to join me due to safety reasons.

On the afternoon of August 8th, 2020, I remembered a Tzu Chi member had told me about a Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant called VG Wok that had only been open for about two months. I decided to give it a try.  As soon as I stepped inside the restaurant, I saw a female server who had participated in Hurricane Harvey relief distributions. I happily chatted with her and she agreed to join the partnership immediately. She is vegan, and opened the restaurant to encourage people to eat more vegetarian meals — and harm fewer animals.

Volunteer Jennifer An explains the concepts behind the Very Veggie Movement. Photo by Roger Lin.

I was very happy at the time, and this success filled me with confidence and courage. Wearing a mask, face shield, and a hat in the 100° heat, I strengthened my resolve and spent over three hours visiting seven restaurants: Out of six vegetarian restaurants and one non-vegetarian restaurant, four restaurants decided to join. I am grateful for their support, and I became even more confident.

With brimming positivity on the afternoon of August 9th, I invited another volunteer, Elaine Cheng, to accompany me to a couple of restaurants in Sugar Land that display Jing Si Aphorisms in their restaurants. We also went to seven non-vegetarian restaurants that have vegetarian dishes on their menus. Some restaurants are familiar with Tzu Chi, and told us they would consider joining the program. Although some did not agree to join the movement as partners, we still chatted with them and wished them good blessings. We also went to a Malaysian restaurant named Malay Asian Food. The owner, Kok Hon Chong, was really interested.

“If I joined the program,” said chef  Kok Hon Chong, “I will buy a new wok to cook the vegetarian dishes and new bowls and plates for the vegetarian customers, otherwise it will be against my conscience.” He then invited us to come to the restaurant to taste the recipes and take pictures of the dishes. A few days later, Mr. Chong called to tell me that he and his partner had discussed the program, and decided to create a brand new vegetarian menu before joining the movement. When I asked him if he would be interested in becoming a vegetarian restaurant, he said, “A Dharma Master used to tell me I should open a vegetarian restaurant. Now you also encourage me to do it. I will think about it, because I really like to create and cook vegetarian dishes.” I immediately responded, “There is no vegetarian restaurant in the Sugar Land area. If you change your restaurant into a vegetarian restaurant, the Buddha and Bodhisattvas will bless you, and you will create countless merits and virtues because you are protecting the earth and all living beings by cooking healthy and delicious vegetarian dishes.” I felt I had created a great connection with Mr. Chong.

Malay Asian Food’s owner and chef, Mr. Chong, is very interested in creating new vegetarian dishes. Photo by Pen-Chi Liu.
Beautiful, fragrant, and delicious vegetarian dish. Photo by Pen-Chi Liu.

On the afternoon of August 23rd, 2020, I went to a Vietnamese noodle house, Pho Mai, to promote the Very Veggie Movement as well, and introduced Tzu Chi USA. I told the owner that Tzu Chi’s founder, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, encourages everyone to eat more vegetarian meals to protect the earth and all living beings, and also benefit the health of individuals. She immediately agreed to join, as her restaurant also offers several vegetarian options. I realized that as long as we are willing to reach out, we will create good affinities with others. 

On August 29th, 2020, volunteers from the documentation team joined me to deliver posters to VG Wok, Chef Kenny’s, San San Tofu, Pine Forest Garden Vegetarian Restaurant, and Ibun Bakery. We joyfully presented the beautifully printed posters and a certificate of appreciation to the owners. Everyone happily took pictures in remembrance of the occasion.

Later that day, six volunteers went to visit Malay Asian Food in Sugar Land. Mr. Chong carefully prepared six vegetarian dishes for volunteers to take photos. He also showed us the new vegetarian menu he had created. One of the dishes on the menu was a very popular tofu dish, and other recipes on the new vegetarian menu were brand new dishes especially created for the Very Veggie Movement. His heartfelt sincerity really touched our hearts. He invited the volunteers to taste the six dishes he had prepared. Because of the pandemic, volunteers packed the dishes up to go. Even though Mr. Chong was very adamant in refusing payment for the dishes, volunteers still insisted on paying him for the food, as the pandemic has severely impacted the restaurant business. We truly enjoyed the visit.

Mr. Chong’s carefully prepared vegetarian dishes for volunteers to taste. Photo by Pen-Chi Liu.

That evening, Mr. Chong called to ask me what I thought of the dishes. He also told me that our visit brought him joy and hope for the future, and he would like to visit our campus when he has a day off. I told him about Tzu Chi’s work donating masks for many hospitals, nursing homes, and more, in Houston. After listening, he wanted to donate $100 to Tzu Chi to help others in need. I was very happy at the time, but I knew that because of the pandemic, his business had suffered greatly. I thanked him for his generosity, and told him it would be more than enough if he could donate $10 per month if it was affordable, instead of all at once. By doing so, he’s doing a good deed for those in need every month without affecting his livelihood. When his business is doing well, he can donate a little more, if the business is not doing so well, he doesn’t need to donate so much. It does not matter how much he donates, as long as he has kind thoughts every day.

I am grateful for Master Cheng Yen for creating the Tzu Chi family.  It allows me to put Master’s teachings into positive action, cultivate blessings, and create good affinities.  By promoting the Very Veggie Movement, I have turned strangers into friends. 

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