Valentine’s Day Vegan Potluck at Tzu Chi National Headquarters Brings the Neighborhood Together

National Headquarters  |  March 15, 2023
Neighbors are given a guided tour of the headquarters campus by volunteers
Neighbors are given a guided tour of the headquarters campus by volunteers. Photo credit/Victor Rocha

Written by Jennifer Chien
Edited by Patrick McShane

On February 12, 2023, Tzu Chi USA welcomed neighbors at the National Headquarters in San Dimas, California to enjoy a delicious vegan potluck in celebration of Valentine’s Day. Attendees from local households were invited to prepare a vegan dish and shared the ingredients, recipe, and any cooking tips. This event not only allowed them to share delicious food but also their vegan cooking experience. 

Venerable Master Cheng Yen once said that all living beings on earth suffer, whether they are enlightened Buddhist Bodhisattvas or small animals. Tzu Chi exists only for the purpose of helping those who suffer, and there are many Tzu Chi volunteers working towards that common goal in countries around the world. Master Cheng Yen’s mission is to “save all lives”, which means that she aims to not only save human lives but also to inspire people to care for all living beings. One way she promotes this is by advocating for vegetarianism as a means of protecting all living beings.

Connection and Communion

Tzu Chi volunteers brought their own vegan dishes, which were served alongside the dishes prepared by the local community.

Since many of the neighbors who attended the meal communicate in English, the host was bilingual volunteer Wesley Tsai who is fluent in both Chinese and English. He invited everyone to form a circle, introduce themselves, and briefly introduce the vegan dishes they brought. After everyone started getting to know each other, the atmosphere became more relaxed and pleasant, and the host invited everyone to start the dinner party. When the meal began Xianquan Qiu, Tzu Chi Headquarters’s main vegan chef, brought out freshly fried spring rolls and Jing Si Konjac tea jelly to bring some extra flavors to the feast.

Four long tables were filled with food, including Taiwanese-style fried rice noodles, golden curry rice, Taiwanese kimchi, deep-fried spring rolls, konjac tea jelly, fried bean curd with parsley, tempeh, and steaming vegetable soup all cooked by dedicated volunteers. Meanwhile, local San Dimas neighbors brought along vegan sushi, quesadillas with corn, guacamole, refreshing veggie sandwiches, and more.

Everyone sat beneath the garden trellis under the warm California sun and ate wonderful food, enjoying healthy vegetarian dishes, chatting, and getting to know each other. After the meal was cleaned up, the host once again invited everyone back together to pray and sing, seeking blessings for the earth and all beings saying: “Let us pray for peace in our land, keep our hearts from sorrows and pain, bless us all with joy and hope, love, and care for each one in this world.

Meeting New Friends and Promoting Vegetarianism

Volunteer Huiping Wang, the organizer of this event, shared: The main idea of ​​this event is to engage with our local community and promote good neighborliness by getting to know our neighbors better. One special guest with us today is Susan Rosenberg, who has lived next to the headquarter for 16 years but has never had the opportunity to visit us. I am glad on behalf of Tzu Chi to welcome her and all other neighbors joining us today, and we all hope to attract more new friends and work together for a better future for the earth.

Susan has been a vegetarian since 2010, she shared: “Eating fish was a struggle for me in the beginning, but now we have other wonderful foods that can replace meat and keep us healthy. I can’t say enough about the benefits of vegetarianism. Today’s event is really special to me. It brings everyone together to share great food with each other, which enriches everyone’s soul. Thank you very much.

The day after the dinner, Susan wrote to Sharon Zhu, one of the volunteers who organized the event, to express the joy she felt at the meal. Since her home is very close to the Tzu Chi USA headquarters, she shared her willingness to volunteer at Tzu Chi on weekdays cooking vegetarian food and preparing meals at the center. This positive feedback is the driving force for Tzu Chi volunteers and helps them continue to move forward and promote more events. The Tzu Chi USA headquarters will always promote good neighborliness and work to foster further engagement with the community.

A Large Thank You to All Who Participated

Melissa Huitron has been a vegetarian for over a decade. She was influenced by a Buddhist professor at Pasadena City College, whose positive energy and teaching style inspired her to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.

Becoming a vegetarian has allowed me to understand how vegetarian food can protect Mother Earth and provide more food for others. We can do our part by being vegetarian and giving back to our surroundings and the environment.

Melissa, 49 years old, usually practices yoga and Tai Chi. She feels younger than her age and more flexible physically and mentally which she credits to her vegetarian diet. When she came to the headquarters, she felt that the facilities and people were full of positive energy and love, and she was very grateful to be able to participate in this event.

Rita Ayala is a pescatarian, which is someone who practices a vegetarian diet but still eats fish said, Vegetarianism can bring benefits to the earth, our bodies, and animals. I will continue to work hard to become a vegan, and learn to cook more and different kinds of vegetarian dishes in the future.She found this gathering very interesting. She gained a lot from everyone who shared their experiences and ideas. She also hopes to have the opportunity to participate in such activities again and wants to invite colleagues and friends to come to join.

Donations for Those Affected by the Earthquakes in Turkey

The host and volunteers encourage everyone to donate to help those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey
The host and volunteers encourage everyone to donate to help those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey. Photo/Luci Li
Neighbors and volunteers enjoy delicious food together
Neighbors and volunteers enjoy delicious food together. Photo/Luci Li

Debbie Lee, CEO of the Tzu Chi Education Foundation, expressed her gratitude to everyone: “Vegetarian food can reduce carbon emissions and lessen the impact of global warming. I hope everyone will work together to make tomorrow a better day. I also hope that everyone can invite more family members and friends to participate in Tzu Chi’s activities.Organizer Huiping Wang thanked attendees for coming to participate. In the future, dinner parties will be held occasionally and residents are welcome to participate again.

On this warm and sunny day, attendees took time to remember those who are less fortunate or who have recently experienced tragic events. They took time to send thoughts and prayers to all living beings on earth and gave special focus to those affected by the earthquakes in southern Turkey and their loved ones. Tzu Chi volunteers urged everyone in attendance to remember that every positive action, even small ones, can have a large impact on all living beings, particularly those who suffer. Upon hearing the volunteers speak, many attendees donated what they could to the Bamboo Banks at the event, and some took a Bamboo Bank home to continue to donate a little each day. 

This gathering gave the participants the opportunity to meet many new friends, share vegetarian cooking tips and recipes, discuss the benefits of vegetarianism, and take about ways to protect the environment. After a wonderful meal, everyone bid farewell to each other and promised to meet again.

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