In each issue Vegetarians in Paradise presents the 24 Carrot Award to an outstanding person or organization that endeavors to practice or promote education, natural health, wholesome nutrition, and ecology techniques for the mutual benefit of humans, animals, and the earth.
Vegetarians in Paradise proudly presents its 24 Carrot Award to Ryan Flegal, a young man whose dynamic efforts to bring vegetarian awareness to young people have taken him to several college campuses where he has spread the vegetarian message by creating and operating vegetarian clubs for students.
Ryan is presently a student at Santa Monica Community College where he studies Broadcasting and Video Production. At SMCC he became the second president of the vegetarian club on campus. COVER (Collegiate Organization for Vegetarian Education and Resources) is the club's official title. As part of the club's program he began contacting speakers active in the vegetarian community. The speaker's roster included vegetarian celebrities, doctors, and environmental activists. Then he approached manufacturers of vegetarian products like Garden of Eden and Cedarlane whose regular donations of food allowed him to hold a weekly, free vegetarian lunch and lecture on campus for approximately 100 students.
The program was so successful he started vegetarian clubs on the campuses of Pierce and USC as well as Skidmore College in New York. This summer he is branching out to create a vegetarian club at UCLA. With UCLA as a highly spotlighted campus worldwide, Ryan hopes to gain some media attention for the vegetarian club.
His desire is to teach non-vegetarians the benefits of a plant-based diet as well as to educate and support committed vegetarians to become better informed so they can assist others in the learning process.
Two years ago Channel 2 News interviewed Ryan about COVER. He was also interviewed by the Los Angeles Times and participated in a Voice of America program with Howard Lyman and Dr. Neal Barnard.
Ryan Flegal's first awareness of eating high on the food chain occurred at the age of 12 while he was traveling with his family in Mexico. He experienced the slaughter of an animal for food, a common practice in Mexico where the process is not hidden from the public eye as in this country. He was also influenced by his sister, who became vegetarian at the age of 8. He tried to be a vegetarian for a week or so, then fell off the wagon because he really loved the taste of meat and was reluctant to give it up. As he slowly and quietly began to make the transition, his family took notice. His grandmother even asked, "Why aren't you eating your pork chops?"
By 1994, Ryan was vegetarian. He had eliminated eggs two years before but was still consuming dairy products. He planned to bicycle from Los Angeles to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, and was concerned about consuming unrefrigerated dairy products while in South America. That's when he adopted a fully vegan diet. Now he says, "I didn't feel right killing something and sticking it on my plate."
Now his reasons for being vegan are influenced more by health and environmental concerns. "It's a means to lessen the impact on the planet and a better way to distribute the world's resources to more of the world's people. "
With his strong commitment to vegetarianism and his video production skills, Ryan and a group of colleagues created and taped 15 shows he refers to as the Johnny Appleseed project. These productions are devoted to teaching some of the techniques of Permaculture, an environmental program designed by Bill Mollison of Australia and focused on organic gardening using a high-density concept with mixed crops.
The concept includes growing all plants together in a small space, with some foods below ground and others above ground to best complement mutual strengths and weaknesses. He hopes the video programs will help people learn they can grow high quality food even if they live in small apartments. He offered to fund an organic gardening demonstration if Santa Monica College would provide the land, but was unsuccessful.
Presently Ryan and colleagues have their own TV studio where they taped 15 episodes of Grapevine, a video show with a round-table discussion format. Panelists discuss vegetarian health issues such as salmonella poisoning and environmental concerns like permaculture, organic gardening, and worm composting.
Ryan's work experience has been in a variety of odd jobs including environmentally friendly construction work. Presently, he works as a news cameraman for Santa Monica TV Talk and does part time camera work for City TV.
Ryan attributes his excellent health to a vegetarian diet. With enthusiasm he states, "I love the flavor of organic foods." He has run the Los Angeles marathon twice and bicycled in 13 countries covering 12,000 miles while maintaining high energy. "I wish I could say that about my peers," he says, "It pains me to know how many people around me can come down with preventable diseases."
With a serious tone Ryan acknowledges, "The world is approaching a health crises. Food production is growing toward more animal production. The food crisis will hit home in the U.S., and we need to learn how to avoid it by switching to a plant based diet, so we'll have food for everyone. We need to make use of urban gardens and learn to grow our own food. Lawn grass, our No. 1 crop in the United States, drains our water supply for a totally useless crop." He feels that if more people plant an edible landscape it will make a substantial impact on the environment. He says, "You can't be an environmentalist unless you are vegetarian. It's oxymoronic to save trees and eat hamburgers."
Ryan's future plans focus on how he can reach the most people with his message of environmental concern by using radio, TV and the web. He wants to create a program that will impact young people and earn him media attention. He says, "There are people who need to hear the message. Gotta talk to the meat eaters."
He concludes by expressing, "There are so many good reasons to be vegetarian."