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Mom, business owner issues plea after cancer diagnosis: 'Here is my ask for you all'

"I'm a seed planter. People grow on their own."

"I’m a seed planter. People grow on their own.”

Photo Credit: Instagram

Since 2015, Jessica Cruz has run 23 Vegan Street Fair events by herself, introducing new cuisines to people across the country while nurturing an online community of plant-based eaters and vegan-curious folks. Now, she's humbly asking that same community to return the favor. 

In an Instagram Reel, the entrepreneur and mom shared that she was recovering from a double mastectomy following a breast cancer diagnosis. Though she's incredibly grateful that she's now cancer-free, she lost months of planning and pay and has been struggling to support her family and keep her vegan-friendly food events going. 

"The road ahead of me is long. Today, I'm reaching out to you as my community to help me get through this part," she said in the post. "In order for me to continue hosting the Vegan Street Fair, I need to be able to provide for my family and put food on my table. Here is my ask for you all to help me get back to normal." 

Along with her plea, Cruz also shared a link to a GoFundMe with a goal of $65,000. She told The Cool Down that asking for help was an extremely difficult decision for her, but the contributions she has already received from her community will enable her to keep Vegan Street Fair events going across the country for the foreseeable future. 

Vegan Street Fair brings together dozens of local, vegan-friendly businesses so people can check them out and discover new favorite places to eat. Admission to the fair is free, and, of course, you don't have to be vegan to attend — anyone is welcome. In fact, outreach to non-vegans is a huge priority for Cruz.

"It's really about showing non-vegans that we're not crazy, and that there doesn't have to be a barrier stopping you from embracing a plant-based lifestyle," she told The Cool Down. "You come in, you try something delicious, and you start thinking about how that food was vegan. Then you research it on your own and come to your own conclusion. I'm a seed planter. People grow on their own." 

And those seeds have the potential to blossom into something incredible. 

Research has shown that eating a more plant-forward diet, or swapping out meat options a few times a week in favor of plant-based options, can majorly benefit an individual's health and our overheating planet.

According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2020, replacing just 3% of animal-based protein in a diet can decrease overall mortality rate by around 10% in both men and women and reduce cardiovascular disease mortality by 11% in men and 12% in women. 

One Meal a Day, a campaign encouraging people to swap at least one animal-based meal a day with a plant-based alternative, says that an individual who eats just one plant-based meal a day for a year can save almost 200,000 gallons of water, equivalent to 11,400 showers, while slashing the planet-overheating air pollution equivalent of about 3,000 miles driven in a gas-powered car, roughly the distance from Los Angeles to New York City. 

All of these benefits come without giving up meat entirely — of course, the more animal protein an individual swaps out of their diet, the greater the impact on their health and the planet, but even one meal per day can make a huge difference. 

So far, Cruz has hosted more than 20 events across the country, not counting the weekly Vegan Exchange markets that pop up on Sundays in Los Angeles. A graphic designer and a content creator help her advertise the events, but she estimates that she does 95% of the work by herself — including "setting up porta-potties, posting on social media, renting equipment, getting permits and collecting trash." Doing so much of the work alone keeps expenses low, but it just wasn't feasible when she was dealing with a "life-threatening situation," she said. 

"I'm usually this one woman show, but with this response [on GoFundMe] … it feels like I have this extra fire under me because there are so many people in my corner," she said. "I think that makes all the difference. I'm reinvigorated. I got a second chance."

Cruz plans to keep Vegan Street Fair going and expanding so that she can reach as many people as possible. So far, there are nine events scheduled in nine different cities in 2024.

"I want to welcome people from every background, no matter what you look like … we want you here, and we want you to be a part of this movement," she said. "You don't have to look or be a certain way to come enjoy food with us." 

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