Tzu Chi Long Island’s 21-Day Vegetarian Challenge Wrap-up

Northeast  |  September 29, 2022
Tzu Chi USA’s Long Island Service Center holds its first 21-Day Vegetarian Challenge. On the final day, participants happily took photos with volunteers. Photo/Daphne Liu

Written by Daphne Liu
Edited by Jiali Liu
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

On the morning of June 11, 2022, Tzu Chi Long Island’s biweekly food pantry welcomed local community members who arrived to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables. On that day, another special event awaited them as well. 

“I can’t believe that my pants could be so loose, I lost 10 pounds!” said Gladys Chica, touching her waistband. She used to dread standing on the scale. These days, she’s feeling a tad different, a 21-day vegetarian challenge having given her newfound confidence. 

Gladys had been diagnosed with breast cancer thirteen years ago. Today, she is happy to say she’s cancer-free. However, the long-term effects of chemotherapy treatments led to some bone loss and knee pain, eventually causing some weight gain and elevated cholesterol levels, among other things that concerned her. 

At the “graduation” ceremony of the 21-day vegetarian challenge, Gladys and 13 other participants gathered to share their findings. Gladys happily showcased her pre- and post-challenge blood glucose measurements. Her postprandial blood sugar had started at 147 and was now 105. 

“From the very first day, I have been praying to God,” said Gladys as she looked over the indexes gratefully. “Tzu Chi volunteers have planned and arranged so carefully with the hope of helping every participant achieve good results. I also told my fellow participants to cherish every meal and not waste it.”

I am deeply moved by the Tzu Chi volunteers. For the sake of our health, they overcame trials to accomplish this challenge. I am grateful for all this and would like to become a volunteer as well.

Trying for Less Meat and More Veggies

To digitize and compare the results, each participant in the program had their weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol measured before they started. The initial number of participants was about 25, with 14 participants, including some Tzu Chi volunteers, persevering until the end. More than 90% of the individuals had expressed a desire to manage their three highs, otherwise known as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. After the 21-day challenge, 80% of the cases saw lowered weight as well as the three highs index.

Before and after the program, Dr. Warren Hsu from TIMA New York examines participants’ health. Photo/Daphne Liu

Tzu Chi volunteer Pianlong Zhuang had been experiencing high cholesterol and triglycerides for many years. He strictly adhered to the challenge for 21 days, eating whole foods — like sweet potatoes for breakfast, and fresh, vegetarian bentos for lunch and dinner. When his report came back at the end of the challenge, he couldn’t believe the numbers in front of him. “My cholesterol and triglyceride indexes are normal! After experiencing a whole foods plant-based diet during this challenge, I feel that being a vegetarian is really not as difficult as I imagined,” he said. 

Another participant suffered from gastroesophageal reflux for a long time, and often faced discomfort when sleeping because of this. After completing the challenge, he not only lost weight, but improved his gastroesophageal reflux, telling volunteers that he would be self-motivated to eat more vegetables from now on.

Everyone in the challenge is eager to taste the five-element salad. Photo/Daphne Liu

Boosting Vegetarianism Through Love

On the final day of the 21-day challenge, where participants shared their experiences, Tzu Chi volunteers also arranged a vegetarian cooking demonstration, which included Chinese-style, high-protein, “holy grail” foods from bean curd to salads. The participants showed deep interest, amazed at the wide variety of fruits and vegetables that could be used to create so many tasty dishes.

Volunteers Julie Kuan (right) and Sophie Yeung (left) prepare the Five Elements Salad, allowing participants to learn more about vegetarian cooking. Photo/Daphne Liu

As this challenge came to an end, volunteers were already planning the follow-up. “This is just the beginning. We must continue to care for the health of participants.” Bilian Guo, the volunteer managing this project, said that the distribution of vegetables and fruits began due to the pandemic, and the challenge extended from the distribution and vegetarian movement. In the future, they plan to host a special joint activity to demonstrate vegetarian cooking during the bimonthly food distribution, so those who participated in this 21-day challenge can share how they make their own unique vegetarian meals on the spot.

Celebrating the end of the challenge, volunteers hold a performance that brings forth the spirit of mountainous Taiwan. Photo/Daphne Liu
Volunteers invite everyone to sing “One Family” in Spanish. Photo/Daphne Liu

When you join the Very Veggie Movement, the choice is yours. This movement lets you decide how long you’ll commit to a vegetarian diet. Transform your diet into a vegetarian or vegan one today by signing up!

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