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Former Mayor Turns Vegan & Inspires the Town

by Becca Hensley

The cows and chickens thank him. And so do the inhabitants of a small east Texas town.

City Commissioner Ed Smith of Marshall, a Lilliputian hamlet in Texas’ “stroke and obesity belt,” has gone vegan. And, so has his wife, Amanda. Sooner or later, the entire town may follow suit. “I want to help mainstream wellness and relay the concept that eating a plant-based diet is not really extreme at all,” says Smith.

With the goal of promoting a healthier populace, the Smiths created Get Healthy Marshall, a non-profit program aimed at advocating better eating habits and encouraging exercise and physical fitness in their area. “I just want people to see how lifestyle choices positively impact their lives and wellbeing,” says Smith, who served as mayor of Marshall for six terms until resigning recently to focus on the Get Healthy Marshall initiative. .

Once a steak, potato and fried food enthusiast like many locals in this region, Smith first thought about healthier eating when several seemingly robust colleagues experienced heart failure while jogging. Concerned, Smith cut out red meat, but continued eating such statewide favorites as fried chicken and biscuits, smothered with gravy. “Fruits and vegetables,” he says, “were for decoration, not consumption. I ate the recipe for coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic ailments.” In 2009, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Inspired by his wife, who urged him to read The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell, Smith eliminated all dairy and meat products from his diet—even before he finished the book. Under a doctor’s supervision, he began a plant-based, whole foods diet. Within a year, his symptoms reversed. He had lost 40 pounds, and felt better than ever. Today, fit and passionate about raw food and a crusader against the negative consequences of the “Big Food” and “Big AG” marketing campaigns, Smith waxes poetic about Indian and Asian curries.

“I eat a much more interesting diet now, compared to before I changed. There are so many fascinating culinary options out there—and all so much better being made without meat and highly processed ingredients,” says Smith. Some favorites? “Lebanese and Ethiopian food, and simple black bean tamales or sweet potato enchiladas over a bed of leafy green salad, with chopped onion, corn, cilantro and jalapeños.”

Highly successful, Get Healthy Marshall’s mantra might be “Knowledge is Power.” Holding monthly plant-based potluck dinners at the local fire station; bringing nutritionists, athletes, physicians, chefs, fitness gurus and celebrity vegans to address the crowds; leading grocery store shopping seminars and tours; and coordinating community exercise programs, the initiative has made a difference. Each April, the town hosts Health Fest, during which the historic center becomes a forum of seminars, with visiting teachers and speakers, such as T. Colin Campbell himself.

Thanks to the Smiths’ tireless campaign, local grocery store shelves now hold healthier products, from kale to quinoa. And, six local restaurants have joined the movement, offering vegan and vegetarian entrees on their menus. “Bad eating is addictive,” says Smith. “I want the people of Marshall to reduce their risk of disease, shed unwanted pounds and simply feel better in every way.”

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