Written by Melody Cao
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Story shared by All Vegetarian Inc., a partner of the Very Veggie Movement: “Only veganism can heal the earth.”
When visiting the Instagram page for All Vegetarian Inc., what you see of the vegan wholesale company is not the rigid corporate introduction one might expect. Instead, it’s a lively assortment of images shared by food lovers just like you, and it’s as a clear reflection of the founder’s wholesome philosophy about making great food: “Many people think making vegan food is a business,” said Tony Chu. “But I regard it as a way of life. Therefore, our company’s Instagram is not about selling products, but a platform for life-sharing. Let people from different places share their breakfast, lunch, dinner, and every meal of the day.”
Starting a Vegan Business
All Vegetarian Inc. is a vegan food wholesaler that was founded in 1993. Its mission is to provide high-quality vegetarian products to encourage healthy lifestyles. In 2006, All Vegetarian Inc. began to fully support vegan lifestyle alternatives, hoping to facilitate the wellness of humanity. Its products are all made in Taiwan using the best quality oil, non-GMO ingredients, and non-trans fat ingredients to ensure consumers can eat safe, healthy, and tasty foods.
When speaking about the reasons for entering the vegetarian food industry, Tony recalled that it was in 1993 that he began meditating with a Dharma Master. The first rule of practice was to consume a compassionate, vegetarian diet, and to obey the Five Precepts: ‘no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no reckless speech, and no intoxicants.’
Because of the small number of vegetarians in Southern California back then, however, vegan and vegetarian ingredients were extremely expensive. For example, 300 grams of vegetarian beancurd fish cost $5 or $6, while a house in Arcadia was roughly $200,000 at that time. Now, the cost of a house has risen to approximately $800,000, but beancurd fish still sells for $5 or $6, indicating that the cost of living for being a vegan or vegetarian was quite high.
At that time, Tony had been working for an insurance company for several years, and his wife likewise held a good job. Life was stable for the pair. After maintaining his vegan diet for a while, Tony came up with the idea of starting a business, and brought the idea to his wife for her approval.
They both agreed that this was something they’d like to do — and so they did. “The most difficult thing about making vegetarian food is to have a sense of mission and unparalleled love,” said Tony. “The mission is my goal, what my vegan food is. The goal is definitely not to make money, nor to sell a certain number of products a year. The goal is to allow everyone to get high-quality vegetarian food at reasonable prices.”
Working hard in the vegetarian industry for more than 20 years, Tony regards doing business as a means of practicing his personal philosophy. “We make with our heart, we make with love, and we really make every product with all our effort.” Tony insists on providing high-quality foods because his whole family eats them as well, so they care about the quality as much as their customers do.
Cultivating an Understanding Nature
Tony said that he practices a vegan diet not only because of religious reasons, but because he feels it’s the natural thing to do. Numerous sources show that eating meat can not only negatively impact the health of the individual, but of the planet as well. A vegan diet, therefore, takes into consideration the way societies buy, raise, and consume food, and shines a light on the humane treatment of animal life.
“Today, many people, including Master Cheng Yen, are calling for environmental protection and vegetarianism. Not only because of religious practice — meat-eating creates a lot of killings. But also from the perspective of science.” Tony spoke about the environmental impacts of animal husbandry, as livestock production contributes to species extinction, desertification, and habitat destruction in addition to the production of substantial greenhouse gas emissions.
Benefiting Earth’s Creatures
Tony is committed to the vegetarian food industry, and business has been smooth for the past 26 years. Bit-by-bit, their vegan products attracted more and more customers.
Tony recalled how, in the beginning, he’d reached out to restaurant owners and provided samples for tasting. To ensure the products were packed properly for optimal freshness, Tony worked until midnight to deliver the products to the airport, hoping restaurants would receive only the freshest and most delicious products.
In order to better accommodate the tastes of his American consumers, Tony Chu tried merging the experience of living in the United States with the company’s unique product line, helping the contracted factories in Taiwan produce food that suits a wider array of customers. “For example, Taiwanese food usually has a lot of sugar, but American cuisine is not like this. People’s tastes are different depending on regions. If you want to get into the market here in the US, you have to satisfy the tastes here. You can’t sell whatever the factory has. This was outdated decades ago.” Because of this, Tony Chu’s products are slightly different from the Chinese vegetarian foods on the market.
One matter of preference mentioned was that Taiwanese manufacturers slice the vegan ham and seal it in packages for American customers, whereas it would’ve been left whole and uncut for Asian customers. Tony said that it’s easier for customers who might have a busy day to just take some sliced vegan ham out of the refrigerator and make it into a sandwich.
Tony also spoke about two popular products that All Vegetarian Inc. offers: vegan bacon and vegan drumsticks. The production process is different from other similar products on the market. The manual process of making vegan bacon is very complicated. It combines high-quality soy protein and konjac, which is then cut into thin slices. Usually, the ‘bones’ in the middle of the vegan chicken drumsticks on the market are made with chopsticks, but because the bamboo chopstick needs to be rinsed with disinfectants and bleach, the chemical residues are not beneficial for one’s health. And thus, Tony opted to use sugar cane sticks, as every aspect of the product must take into account the health of his consumers.
A Growing Vegetarian Community
Tony has maintained a good relationship with Tzu Chi USA for many years. Last year, he donated smoked bean curds to Tzu Chi, and Tzu Chi members in Northern California also purchase vegan food items through the All Vegetarian Inc. website. This year, Tony was introduced to the Very Veggie Movement. Tony agreed with the concept, and happily joined the Very Veggie Movement.
Tony said that around 20 years ago, it had been difficult to become a vegetarian in the United States. Because there were fewer vegetarians, the market was limited and vegetarian ingredients were very expensive. Anyone who wanted to practice a vegetarian lifestyle was likely to come face-to-face with this challenge immediately. Now, however, as the number of vegetarians has grown in the U.S., so too have the number of flavorful options available on the market. “After all these years, the population of vegetarians has gradually increased. Realizing the developing trend of the market in recent years, many large food factories in the U.S. are investing in developing vegetarian food and vegetarian burgers.” Tony Chu sees this as a good opportunity to encourage more people in the U.S. to try vegetarian foods — and perhaps even increase the love in the world.
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