We are so excited to spotlight our very first JVL interviewee, our friend and fellow local veg community member, Deborrah Hoag!
Deborrah is the original founder of the Northeast Florida Vegetarian Society (NFVS)! Founded in June 1999, Deb and her original ten members would meet at Manatee Café in St Augustine. Over the last fourteen years the group has grown drastically due to social media and now has over 750 members! The group still continues to meet at Manatee Café once a month but they also meet on the first week of each month in Jacksonville. You can find them rotating between two locations: Farah’s Pita Stop Café and Masala Indian Cuisine. If you would like to attend an upcoming NFVS Meetup, then just log on and RSVP on their page. Don’t forget to also check out the NFVS facebook page. If you want to meet Deborrah in person, you can find her at the NFVS table at the Riverside Arts Market on the first Saturday of each month.
After she played hostess at the September edition of the Northeast Florida Vegetarian Society Meetup, JVL sat down with Deborrah and asked her some questions.
Please tell us about yourself:
I’ve been active in animal/vegan/environmental advocacy for 20+ years locally, nationally, and internationally. When I served on the Jacksonville Humane Society board, I proposed the policy change toward no-kill. And the Northeast Florida Vegetarian Society had the vision for and partnered with The Girls Gone Green and Saving Animals via Education to begin the annual Northeast Florida Veg Fest tradition in 2010. In my “other” life, I am an editor, trainer, writer, and coach for UNF, FSCJ, companies/organizations, and individuals. And in my totally spare time (did I say spare?!), I sing with the Jacksonville Symphony chorus; am on the board of the Wildlife Rescue Coalition of Northeast Florida; play on the vegan trivia team, PlantStrong; travel when and wherever I can; play tennis; and share my home with a furry, “felonious” family of found felines.
How long have you lived in Jax?
How long have you been veg?
I’ve been vegetarian for 25 years, vegan for the last 20 years. Being completely vegan is an ongoing process that started for me when I heard PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk refer to cheese as “liquid meat.”
What’s your favorite local spot and what veg item do you order?
I love Farah’s Pita Stop Café (located at 3980-201 Southside Blvd). I’ve know the owners, Ida and Murad Farah, for years predating my veg life. Ida makes everything in house, including my favorite – veggie grapeleaves! I also love Hovan Mediterranean Gourmet in 5 Points. Can you guess I’m partial to Mediterranean food?
Where/what was the best veg meal of your life?
My first WOW meal was at Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco. But Ethos Vegan Kitchen in Winter Park has topped my list now with Sheppard’s Pie. I’m a potato freak.
What is your favorite veg staple in your pantry/fridge?
Green olives. It’s ridiculous the things I add them to! I also can’t get enough of whatever fruit’s in season.
What is your favorite veg cookbook/chef author?
You’re asking me? The one who assembles but rarely cooks?! I suppose as gag gifts or in moments of delusion, people have given me cookbooks. I’d recommend Skinny Bitch series by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin.
Favorite veg blog/website?
My favorite blog is definitely Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach by Gary Francione.
Where is your favorite veg travel destination (city, hotel, restaurant, etc)?
I’ve visited Japan over the years after working in Fukuoka (largest city on the southern island of Kyushu) in the mid-’90s. I discovered amazing and abundant varieties of tofu and veggie dishes. But a little Japanese comes in handy to make sure fish flakes/broth aren’t lurking. Yasai dake onegaishimasu (veg only please)! I’ve been encouraged how available veg options are everywhere I go – even vegan versions of bangers and mash (sausage and potatoes) in Scottish pubs!
What veg-related food, event, etc. would you like to see more of in Jax?
I would like to see us becoming more politically active in exposing and generating awareness for change regarding local issues related to the unethical treatment of animals in Jacksonville. Specifically circuses, rodeos, pet stores/puppy mills, and greyhound racing (Race Track Rd and in Orange Park). Not only should we be more visible in the political and legal process, but organized enough to respond to local issues when they arise. For that, we need to be more unified and motivated as an advocacy community.
If you could be any animal, which animal would you want to be and why?
Wow, I’d love to rotate my animal experience among different habitats and existences:: inhabiting the ocean as a dolphin or soaring the skies as a raptor! I love the ‘big cats’ category, but they are carnivores, so conflict of interest there! So I’d say a gorilla or an elephant. They are great examples of powerful but peaceful herbivores with a strong community/family dynamic.
What advice would you give to those going veg?
The more we learn about animal-centered consumption – factory farming cruelty, planetary and human health consequences, unsustainability, compelling reasons mount more than ever to go vegetarian and be vegan. Also, it’s easier than ever due to all the new veg products on the market that are becoming more mainstream and are available in regular grocery stores. However, for anyone who’s struggling on the veg path, the MentorMe program here in Jacksonville is a great resource and it is completely free!
What advice/reason would you give business owners to convince them to be more veg friendly?
It’s good business sense for eating establishments to offer menu options accommodating various dietary needs. Then mixed groups can factor that in when they’re making dining choices. Jacksonville has a rapidly growing veg community, but many people who wouldn’t identify as veg (flexitarians?) are trying to eat healthier, and would also select these items if they were available. Adding vegan or vegetarian items to your menu is a smart choice and will make your business stand out. Whether a business is giving in to consumer pressure or offering healthy veg options on their own, they have nothing to lose – only new customers to gain. Everybody wins!
Deb speaking to the audience at Masala Indian Cuisine at the September NFVS Meetup.
My plate of delicious food at Masala. The Chili Baby Corn was my favorite!
The NFVS Meetup at Masala always features an AYCE buffet for $15 (drink included).
Masala even offers a vegan desert at the NFVS Meetup!