The following is an article from a Community Grant recipient.
My name is Selena Nadal and I’m the Communications Director of Casa Vegana, a small non-profit doing big work in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We aim to promote a whole foods plant based lifestyle on the island via workshops, cooking demos, and meal-shares, all of which are free to the public.
Due to the pandemic, however, we have had to stop sharing meals and have moved our workshops to the virtual arena. Although this has been a surprise, it has allowed us to reach more people both around the island and in other Spanish speaking countries. Going virtual has also allowed us to expand our offerings. We now offer 1) a weekly series on health and nutrition with medical and pharmaceutical doctors, 2) bi-monthly cooking classes, and 3) webinars on topics not necessarily related to veganism but important for our community such as emergency preparedness, water purification, environmental impact, and permaculture.
People love these webinars and it brings me great satisfaction to read their messages. Many of them thank us for showing them how to transition to a plant-based diet and prepare foods. Others who message us have been able to overcome diseases with the help of a plant-based diet. Knowing that our work has benefited someone directly is always satisfying. Though sometimes I wonder if these feelings are feeding my ego, I think if there’s anything I can do that will help another being or contribute something positive to their lives, to the environment… why not cherish the moment and keep doing more of that?
The biggest inspiration for me has been our director Anthony. This is a guy on a mission to make the world a better place and he won’t let anything stop him. He came from New Jersey not entirely fluent in the language at a time when the island was ravaged by hurricane María to bring a message that challenges many of our traditions. I know he has struggled. I know he has thought about quitting at times, but he has not. He just keeps providing unrelenting service to everyone here. He is my biggest inspiration in this whole movement and I hope one day I can do just as good for my community.
Together, we have developed a project that I’m incredibly proud of. Casa Vegana helps people find the best version of themselves, lead healthier lives, be more resilient and kind to all beings and the earth. In the future, I hope to develop resilient, off-the-grid community centers around the island that can serve as shelter during emergencies and provide healthy food, energy, and water to those who need it, but also educate the community during non-emergency times, promoting sustainable agriculture and professional development for women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Today, that seems a likely future for Casa Vegana and it brings me a level of joy and hope that is difficult to find anywhere else.
I came to Puerto Rico in 2019 to direct Chilis on Wheels, but during the COVID pandemic we lost funding support and so I had to decide whether to continue or shut down. I chose to stay because I believed in the importance of plant-based food relief and education and because I saw the continued need for it here on the island. I dug my heels into the earth and decided to create a new organization with the support of locals — Casa Vegana de la Comunidad.
Having a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies (CNS), I know the value of providing this life saving information to the community. I also know that unfortunately, this empowering information does not reach the masses outside of the English speaking world. It was with that challenge in mind that we created our virtual program Salud en Arroz y Habichuelas, which is now in Argentina, Nicaragua, Colombia, and of course Puerto Rico, growing and expanding each week.
All of our programs are free of charge, thanks to the kindness of donors. We also provide a weekly Sunday program highlighting topics important to locals such as organic farming and emergency preparedness. It’s important that we not only give a platform to our organization but also collaborate with local organizations so we can grow and learn from each other.
This work is necessary because Puerto Rico is often forgotten in the plant-based conversation despite facing an epidemic of lifestyle diseases that we know are remedied by a plant-based lifestyle. The reality is that Casa Vegana is connecting people back to nature, allowing them to understand that we are an island rich in resources, and awakening them to the power of plants. We believe that this reconnecting will bring about deep, everlasting change.
What keeps me going is seeing the spark in people when they start to see results. Although we do not give medical advice we have helped many to improve their health with just a little support and guidance from our team. It’s also about the looks on the faces of children when they discover how delicious vegan food is. It’s a rediscovery that I can only describe as transformative.
What does the future hold for Casa Vegana? Vegan children leading plant-based cooking classes, a video series highlighting vegan families here on the island and the creation of a fully plant-based crisis center — providing a hub for all things vegan and serving vegan meals during crises.
Lastly, I would like to say that we are truly blessed to work with the support of CNS and I look forward to our newfound relationship and what it will bring to our program.
The T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies (CNS) is committed to increasing awareness of the extraordinary impact that food has on the health of our bodies, our communities, and our planet. In support of this commitment, CNS has created a Community Grant initiative to empower sustainable food-based initiatives around the world by providing grants to enable innovative start-ups and to propel the growth of existing initiatives. Please consider making a donation to this great cause. 100% of your donation will go to support initiatives like the one you just read about in this article.
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