Dispatch: From a chance meeting at a D.C. metro stop to the James Beard House in New York, a lifelong vegan journey to save animals and the planet

Illustration by Carter Mulcahy

Illustration by Carter Mulcahy

Celebrating V-Day

by Kate Jacoby

One evening in 1999, I ascended the monster of an escalator out of the Dupont Circle Metro in Washington, D.C., fresh from my idealistic internship at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, African Subdivision. I was definitively out of breath because my angsty, prove-something-to-the-world, late-teen self would never just stand on the right. 

After a huge, deep breath to mask my heavy breathing, I caught a leafleter out of the corner of my eye, and for some long-forgotten reason, I walked over to engage. The 20-ish, shaved-head, punkish, white man in front of me spoke: “Ever think of going vegan?”  

My eyes lit up, I cracked a big smile, I accepted his “Compassion Over Killing” leaflet with great joy and said, “As a matter of fact, yes!”  

We spoke for a few moments, indulging in a solidarity that, at that time, was quite rare. See, I was a regular at Horizons café back home in the Philly suburbs, and I logged quite a few hours chatting with my local DC Natural Foods store manager on P Street about the benefits of organic grains in aiding digestion and how best to incorporate some Bragg amino acids into my stir fries. But this was back at the birth of the Atkins diet, and many of my acquaintances were subsisting on beef jerky, peanuts and Cool Whip.

What I was consuming the most of was more and more information. The animal rights issues that originally caught my attention were merging in a perfect storm with revelations about human health and the veil lifting on the environmental degradation that stems from our factory farms. Ignorance was not an option. Vegetarianism wasn’t enough. My only way forward was vegan.

That was a long time ago, and a lot has happened since. Heated discussions with friends, embarrassing moments at holiday meals centered around Tofurky, the pitfalls of detecting shredded pork in a tamale after the food truck chef assured me that what I’d ordered was vegetarian.

I never thought that in just 20 years, there would be such a transformation in our culinary landscape, that “vegan” would be printed on so much packaging and that so many dishes would be stamped with a little “v” on restaurant menus. I definitely would not have believed you if you told me I would marry the best vegan chef in the world and that together we would cook the first vegan dinner at the James Beard House and co-author vegan cookbooks that would be top sellers.

I would have raised an eyebrow at the notion of entire schools and cities embracing Meatless Monday, let alone the idea of my own hometown mayor citing Vedge, the vegan restaurant I run with my husband, in his proclamation that Nov. 1 is now Philly Vegan Day.

I’m thankful for countless wonderful and fortunate experiences I’ve had in my life, but I’ll forever be grateful for that day in Dupont. The day I took the leaflet will always stand out as the day I really dug my heels in for the long haul. The day I never looked back. You could call it my own personal V-Day.

Kate Jacoby lives in Philadelphia with her 9-year-old son and her husband, Richard Landau. Jacoby and Landau are the team behind the city’s top-rated restaurant, Vedge.