Lives In: Ithaca, NY
Current Job: Executive Director, NY Coalition for Healthy School Food (www.healthyschoolfood.org)
I want a world where every person has a fair chance and there is peace. I think every person should have the opportunity to work, to have access to healthy food, health care, and a decent roof over their heads. I believe that if you work, you should be able to afford a vacation, to send your kids to college, and to save for retirement. Hard work should count for something, and minimum wage should be enough for all people to have these basics. I believe that all children should have access to a good education. And I believe we should care for those that are less fortunate than ourselves, who are not able to work, so that their lives are not filled with unnecessary suffering. I also believe that unnecessary suffering is not limited to humans. When I was 19 years old, I witnessed dogs and cats being killed in a decompression chamber in an animal shelter. I realized those animals did not have to die. If their parents had been spayed or neutered, or if the people who got them didn’t dispose of them, then they wouldn’t be there, getting killed. Something about the unnecessary suffering that I witnessed that day made me realize that when I ate animals, I caused unnecessary suffering, and that day I became a vegetarian. Later, I came to learn that dairy products and eggs also resulted in massive suffering and eventual death of animals, so I switched to a completely plant-based diet. I did not want to contribute to suffering in the world. People should not be suffering from diseases that can be almost completely prevented, and why eat animals when we don’t need to, since that also causes massive suffering? The people who do the jobs of slaughtering the animals also work in a horrendous environment and have to become immune to the suffering that they know they are causing. There are very high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence, and a very high job turnover rate.
What are you doing to attain your dream?
I am working to promote healthy school food. For my organization, New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, that means promoting plant-based choices. We worked with a school in NYC and it became the first public (non-charter) vegetarian school in the country! We’ve shared our recipes with almost 25,000 schools nationwide. We are teaching a curriculum in 3 schools to 150 students this year, and in the fall we will be teaching it to over 400 students! Our Wellness Wakeup Call program, which is nutrition education in the form of easy to digest sound bites, is heard by over 100,000 students every day. I am passionate about my work.
What do you think you ultimately need to attain your dreams?
Right now we need financial support. We have all the pieces in place – a wonderful partnership with the NYC Office of School Food and Ithaca, NY schools, and many wonderful resources to share. The only thing preventing us from reaching more students and creating more change is lack of funding!
On that note, on June 27th, we are having an art exhibit, called “Art With a Purpose.” It’s at Russell Simmons Art Gallery – Rush Arts Gallery, in the Chelsea section of New York City. If you are interested in art or supporting healthy school food, please click here (www.healthyschoolfood.org/events.htm) to learn more about the event and to purchase tickets. The theme of the show is ahimsa, which means harmlessness. It will feature some major artists, great food, and live jazz.
Have you attained any dreams? If so, what were they and what did you do to attain them?
I’ve attained several dreams! First, I have my daughter, and she is a dream come true. She was born against all odds, and now she is 11 years old and a fantastic kid and artist! Her dad had testicular cancer, and I wasn’t getting pregnant. He’s fine now. We had a one-time insurance benefit for in-vitro fertilization, and it worked the first time, even though there was only a 15% chance given my age at the time. Then, I was in a horrific car accident and had 7 broken bones, and was in the hospital for 21 days when I was 4 months pregnant. She was born 5 weeks early and weighed 4 ½ lbs, but was healthy. I’m no longer married to her Dad, but what a precious gift she is!
Dream #2 – I love my job and am so lucky to love what I do. I never could have imagined when I started this job that we would be able to work to get a public school in NYC to adopt a fully vegetarian menu for breakfast and lunch! Now other schools want to go vegetarian as well!!! We only advocate for plant-based foods, so while the schools may have cheese or milk on the menu, we are working to make plant-based entrees that are nutrient dense, super healthy, and delicious! We are working to help many other schools adopt an alternate menu which offers beans and tofu, and limits certain types of meat, and is less processed.
What’s your advice to other dreamers?
I read the book Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow a long time ago. That’s what I did. First, I ran, and then when I moved, started vegetarian education groups (local vegetarian societies). Then through that volunteer experience in all aspects of a non-profit, I was able to get a job with a non-profit. I’ve worked for 3 different non-profits before this one, working to ban smoking in public places, and for environmental organizations. I love what I do and I get to be really creative and make a difference in the lives of so many students, their teachers, and parents.
If you’re in NYC, please show support on June 27th! And don’t forget to show some love and encouragement in the comment section. Thanks Amie!
- Dreamer: Ashlee Piper (dreamtillgreen.com)