A search of “Marshall, Texas” on happycow.net nets zero listings. Zilch. Nada. The place is literally not on the vegan map. Yet as with veganism in general, this is rapidly changing.
In 2010, Ed and Amanda (Mandy) Smith created Get Healthy Marshall, a nonprofit offering food and exercise programs to inspire residents of Marshall and other communities in Eastern Texas—located “in the middle of the stroke belt”—to take control of their health. GHM encourages people to reduce their risk of disease while shedding pounds and feeling great.
GHM’s signature event is its New Year, New You Health Fest, a conference that in just its second year attracted an astounding 324 attendees from 26 states over an action-packed three-day weekend.
Heartwarming testimonials from locals who reversed disease and found health by switching to a plant-based diet kicked off the conference on a Friday evening in the standing room only Marshall Civic Center. Ed Smith, who also happens to be the mayor of Marshall, along with wife Mandy, began with their story of reversing Ed’s prostate cancer on a vegan diet. Other inspiring successes were recounted by people who had lost 100-plus pounds, gotten off of 10 or more medications, and reversed clinical depression.
New Year, New You is the brainchild of the Smiths. Amazed that a few dietary changes have the ability to reverse disease when traditional medicine doesn’t, they set out to make Marshall (population 25,753) as healthy and veg-friendly as possible.
In addition to a full schedule of lectures by a plant-based all-star team including T. Colin Campbell, Michael Greger, Julieanna Hever, Milton Mills, Victoria Moran, Kerrie Saunders, and many others, plus cooking demos by the likes of cookbook authors Chef AJ (Unprocessed), Lindsay Nixon (The Happy Herbivore Cookbook), and Del Sroufe (Forks Over Knives: The Cookbook), the three-day event offered 36 exercise sessions (many led by Hollywood fitness guru John Pierre) including a Sunday morning Get Healthy5k Fun Run/Walk—a benefit for the Marshall Animal Shelter—which was braved by 49 hardy souls even though the temperature had dropped 40 degrees overnight and it was pouring until right before the start of the race, when the mayor ordered the rain to stop. Only in Texas.
At the end of the weekend, the mayor spoke. “Our goal was to try to make a meaningful change in our community and improve overall health. We didn’t know how well this would go over in the heart of cattle country. And yet, in a very short time, we’ve seen phenomenal results in reversing diabetes and people getting off all medications.” Meanwhile, Mandy Smith hadn’t slept for days. “I’ll have time to do that after I’m dead,” she said with her usual radiant smile. This couple is on a serious mission. The event was an overwhelming success, turning a small East Texas city into the vegan capital of the world for three days. Scores of attendees agreed, with more than a few saying, “We need a Marshall in our town. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every mayor in the US did this?”
See a complete album of photos of the New Year, New You Health Fest on the VegNews Facebook page.
Ellen Jaffe Jones has defied cancer that struck her mom, aunt, and both sisters, is a certified personal trainer (AFAA), running coach (RCCA), and the author of Eat Vegan on $4 a Day. Joseph Connelly is the publisher of VegNews.
Photo: Ron Munden. Marshall, TX’s vegan ob/gyn Dr. Vanessa Miller crossing the finish line at the New Year, New York Health Fest 5k.