This week, in six countries across America and Europe, Million Dollar Vegan (MDV) partnered with local charities and vegan restaurants to provide thousands of free meals to those left vulnerable since the emergence of COVID-19.
The not-for-profit, best known for offering $1 million to charity if Pope Francis or the President of the United States went vegan for one month, said it felt compelled to act, to help those in need and to showcase the very best way to prevent future pandemics.
Backing the group’s charitable and education initiative are several leading doctors including Dr Neal Barnard, Dr Ariel Kraselnik, Dr Michael Greger and Dr Aysha Akhtar. They all encourage people to adopt a plant-based diet for their health, to better protect the environment and to reduce the risk of another devastating disease spreading from farmed or wild animals.
In Los Angeles, Hollywood actress and author of The Kind Diet, Alicia Silverstone joined the MDV team to help make and distribute 700 meals to homeless military veterans. LA has more homeless vets than any other city, and they face unique challenges in the current situation. Alicia told us why she was so keen to support this initiative: “Killing animals is unethical and obsolete, and it’s killing us too“, she said. “We need to take pandemics OFF the menu by putting plants ON it.”
The healthy, immunity-boosting plant-based meals created by Chef Kevin Tran from the much-loved Vinh Loi restaurant went down well with the veterans declaring that the food was “amazing”, “real tasty” and “better than anything I’ve eaten in a very long time“.
MDV Director, Naomi Hallum, who coordinated the LA give-away, said: “We had really wanted to do something for America’s veterans through our previous ‘Make America Healthy Again’ campaign, so this felt like the ideal opportunity to give back to those who have given so much to this country.”
The give-away also kicked off this week in Brazil where more than 600 meals were made and distributed to the community of Moinho, the only favela in the center of São Paulo. Local vegan restaurant Green Kitchen began work in the early hours of the morning to create a plant-based version of the national dish feijoadas.
The volunteers of Projeto Novos Sonhos, who took the food to the favela expressed their gratitude to MDV for coordinating this initiative, saying there were many families there in desperate need of food. Actress and activist Luisa Mell also lent her support, writing on Instagram: “I am very moved to be a part of this action. People know how sensitive I am about animals, but I also feel desperate to see people suffering like this, with hunger.” Luisa will join the MDV Brazil team in the coming weeks to help distribute food to other vulnerable communities in the largest city of the country.
The Mexican give-away also got underway in Playa del Carmen, a city dependent on tourism that has inevitably been hit hard by COVID-19, with thousands of people left out of work. Three vegan businesses prepared 1,000 plant-based meals, which were distributed by volunteers at Casa Animal, the country’s first vegan community center.
MDV Mexico’s Jessica Gonzalez Castro described a whirlwind of emotions as the line for food was so long, and all meals were given out within 30 minutes. Later that day, the team took food to a vulnerable community in the city whose homes are built from trash. As they approached, children ran towards them to get the food. One young girl ran back to her house jumping and singing with joy as she held onto her burrito and banana. Says Jessica: “When we left they shouted at us from their houses, ‘thank you very much!’ We left their community with a smile on our faces.”
Over in Europe, MDV teamed up with Parisian restaurateur Antoine whose vegan restaurant Les Bols d’Antoine had started creating food for the city’s homeless and frontline caregivers when the pandemic began. With the support of MDV, he has been able to offer an additional 1200 meals to those in need. Antoine told us: “When the restaurants had to close, I was depressed for two days, then I turned on my stoves and called my team back, and we started making meals for the people in need in the neighborhood.”
One nurse at the Hôpital Saint-Louis expressed her gratitude for the food provided. “We’re very moved because we’re having a hard time at the hospital, so it’s touched us a lot. It’s the little happy moment in the day. It recharges our batteries and it touches us. Frankly we’re very, very grateful. And what great food it is!”
Antoine told us how this experience has changed him: “Life can’t go back to the way it was before. I think a lot about dedicating my restaurant one day a week to charity. It’s by taking care of each other that we can change the world.”
In Spain’s capital Madrid, MDV’s logistical powers were put to the test as the team coordinated meals from seven vegan restaurants, alongside donations from three toiletries companies and a vegan cake company to provide 700 meals and hand soaps to eight hospitals and one old people’s home across the city.
The founders of one restaurant Fantastic V told us they were delighted to take part. “We joined the campaign because now more than ever we’re living through a moment in which we must all help each other and be conscious of the importance of collaboration” they said. “We need to understand that if each of us does our bit, we’ll come through this stronger, closer and better.”
Isabel Entrecanales who founded Plantarse delivered food to staff at Virgen de la Torre hospital. She said: “It was wonderful to meet the doctors and nurses, to hear first-hand what it has been like for them and to thank them personally for all they have done for us.”
Feedback from the medical staff who received the food was also incredibly positive. “Thank you so much, Million Dollar Vegan, for supporting us during these difficult times,” said Dr. Rafa Carretero of Mostoles Hospital. “The food was absolutely delicious and it boosted our morale at a time when we all really needed it.”
In London, MDV joined forces with plant-based charity Made in Hackney, which had paused its plant-based cookery classes when the pandemic spread, and instead launched a free meal delivery service for the most vulnerable in its community.
Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Colman joined the charity to help make and deliver by bicycle 100 rainbow vegetable tagines, and surprised people who opened their doors to find their meals had been delivered by the star.
Founder of Made in Hackney Sarah Bentley talked about the impact the charity was having. “We had one family who told us that when we arrived, it was the third day they had gone without food. They had applied for universal credit, but it hadn’t come through.”
With MDV’s support, Made in Hackney has been able to create and share an additional 3,800 meals, which has allowed them to help people they had previously been forced to turn away.
Naomi Hallum, Director of Million Dollar Vegan, was delighted with how the first phase of the multinational give-away had gone. “The coronavirus pandemic – like many others before it – is creating tragedies for families all over the world,” she said. “And it is important to us that we do what we can help those left most vulnerable at this time. Our incredible international teams, supporters, friends and partners made this happen, and we’re so grateful to them. Yet, the greatest value in our work lies in education, in revealing how and why these pandemics emerge, in showing the destruction caused to our planet and our bodies when we eat animal products, and by sharing and showcasing a better way.”
Million Dollar Vegan’s Plants ON Pandemics OFF giveaway continues throughout May with more vegan food distribution planned across four continents.