Haley's Inspiring Journey - Part 2

In our previous newsletter, we covered Haley Vasuki’s amazing plant-based journey in part one of our interview with her, leaving off with when she watched the PlantPure Nation film in 2017.  After watching the movie, Haley told us that she was “moved to tears” and knew she had to start a Pod.  She already had an established Facebook group called Haley’s Plant-Based Cooking Club, which was geared towards mothers and children and provided recipes and educational materials.  She wanted the Pod to focus on creating a plant-based movement within her community and to use plant-based foods as a catalyst for good.

Haley held her first Pod meeting in her home and offered a brunch consisting of sweet potato waffles and avocado toast that she had made. Only five people came.  However, since that first meeting, interest has grown and she now has over 270 Facebook members and about 25 to 30 people who consistently participate in community outreach events.  The Pod focuses on finding fun and effective ways to impact the non–plant-based community. 

One event that has been extremely successful is serving a plant-based meal at the local homeless shelter, House of Hope Homeless Shelter.  The Pod members cook a meal and bring it to the shelter to serve. The people at the shelter love eating the delicious food and especially enjoy talking with the Pod members, who feel it is critical to make healthy food available to everyone.  

The Pod also hosted a plant-based dinner as a fundraiser for the Cotton Branch Animal Sanctuary.  A local chef prepared a five-course whole food, plant-based meal at a tapas restaurant and the community support was remarkable: over 50 people showed up, and extra chairs had to be gathered to accommodate everyone.  Speakers from the animal sanctuary attended as well as local farmers, who talked about the importance of buying locally grown produce.  

The Pod is also networking with a non-profit group called Eat Smart and Move More.  The group’s goal is to combat obesity in South Carolina. The platform is not plant-based, but Haley commented, “Our goal is to reach out into the non–plant-based community.”  The group offered the Pod an exhibition table at a festival they are putting on this summer and asked Haley to present on plant-based nutrition. They even included a free plant-based lunch to the first 200 people attending!

Last year, Haley was invited to a local elementary school where a teacher (who was not plant-based) offered a class called Farm to School.  Haley was asked to discuss plant-based eating with the students and do a cooking demo, where they made tropical green smoothies using the kale they had picked from a garden on the school property that the students harvest produce from and tend.  The class was such a success that the Pod was asked to return multiple times this year to provide cooking demos and plant-based talks. Over 600 students will be exposed to the concept of plant-based eating and will have the opportunity to enjoy the dishes the Pod prepares.

Interestingly, when the Pod started, they approached other groups asking if they could participate; now the Pod has community groups reaching out to them.  When asked what advice Haley would give to other Pods looking to impact their communities, she has a few tips. Always feed people to demonstrate how delicious and enjoyable plant-based foods really are.  Don’t focus on attracting other plant-based people; instead, reach out to spread the message to non–plant-based eaters. And finally, determine where there is a need, and then focus on using food as a positive way to answer that need.