A couple opens their Arizona-based net-zero home to guest speakers, vegan potluck, and conversation to help others discover the abundance of a plant-based diet.
On a Friday night some 37 years ago, Don Fries was eating pizza with friends, extra cheese dripping from every slice, when he had an epiphany: “There’s something wrong with what I’m eating.” Soon after, he discovered The McDougall Plan, a book that advocated a vegan diet based on whole grains and a wide variety of vegetables and fruit. The book also demonstrated the ways in which wellness isn’t related to genetics, but lifestyle. “I switched to a plant-based diet,” Fries says, “because vigor throughout life is critical to well-being.” Then he met Bev Bow. “I thought he was misguided,” she says, laughing. “I asked ‘Don, what is this vegan thing? Is it your religion or what?’”
But Bow worked in healthcare and did some research. The more she read, the more she became convinced that Fries wasn’t only a nice guy — his approach to eating was a good one. “That’s when I made the switch,” she says, referring to her plant-based diet. “I haven’t looked back and haven’t been sorry.”
In fact, not only does the couple eat a plant-based diet, they’re determined to invite others to adopt one. After the couple moved from Oregon to Sedona, Arizona, they founded the non-profit Healthy World Sedona in 2016. Their stated goal? To share their passion for the benefits of a whole food, plant-based life.
The all-volunteer organization organized an annual Health and Nutrition Conference for medical professionals, an annual Sedona VegFest for the general public, and published a newsletter.
Fries and Bow also held quarterly Sunday Supper gatherings — with guest speakers, vegan potluck, and conversation — at their net-zero home to create a community of like-minded individuals. “The idea behind Sunday Suppers was to invite people into our home to enjoy themselves and recognize that meat-free isn’t a lifestyle of deprivation, but one of abundance,” Fries says. He explains that nutrition is one part of the lifestyle he enjoys; Healthy World Sedona also educates people on the value of regular exercise, stress-relief, and restorative sleep.
When Covid arrived in March 2020, Bow and Fries pivoted. “We retained our mothership, Healthy World Sedona, but developed an additional website, Healthy World Vitality Plan,” he says, “in order to switch our non-profit business model from large live audiences and speakers to a virtual model featuring small groups led by our trained coaches, each of whom already lives a whole-food plant-based lifestyle.” Healthy World Vitality provides a coach for groups of six to 12 people, along with information and assessment tools on nutrition, exercise, stress management, restorative sleep, and optimal cognitive activity. Groups meet weekly on Zoom.
“The beauty of Zoom,” says Fries, “is that groups can pull participants from around the world. And because of the ongoing nature of the support and training we offer members (at $40 per year each), we actually feel that the stability of their transition to a whole food plant-based lifestyle is much stronger and lasting than when we had annual in-person conferences.”
Transitioning to a vegan diet can be difficult, Bow says. “Most people aren’t willing to lose their social or cultural connections over what they eat. So, we built community into our program.” Healthy World Sedona and Healthy World Vitality Plan aren’t patented. “If people want a consultation on how to set up something similar, we’re happy to do that,” Bow says. Adds Fries, “If someone is willing to start a group, we’ll mentor them through the process, and train people already living the lifestyle to become a coach.”
Adopting a vegan lifestyle isn’t a difficult choice, he adds. “Why not minimize suffering on the planet? If you could prevent 80 to 90 percent of the illnesses people suffer, not to mention the suffering of animals raised to be slaughtered for meat, why wouldn’t you do that? It’s not only a philosophical question, it’s a real-life solution.”