Lisa Shapiro, Vegan Saint
by Tofurky Founder Seth Tibbott
Lisa Shapiro dedicated her life to promoting veganism as a means of relieving the suffering of animals. She felt the suffering of animals deeply in every fiber of her being at a level few people on earth have ever achieved. She worked tirelessly to advance veganism throughout her life in varied professional and volunteer capacities. She gave her heart, her soul, and her wisdom freely to anyone she felt was working to advance vegan causes. In doing this for over 28 years, she created a body of knowledge and network of connections in the animal rights movement that is unrivaled. Though her contributions were immense, she remained humble, thinking of herself as a “grassroots activist.” No young activist ever paid for a meal or hotel in Boulder if Lisa knew about it. Though her Boulder condominium was basic, it was often overflowing with vegan warriors who found a safe haven and warm meal.
Lisa grew up in Brooklyn, New York and graduated from the University of Albany in 1985 moving to Boulder, Colorado that same year. A “righteous vegetarian” at the time, Lisa got a job at the Crystal Street Market on Pearl Street working in their deli. She became vegan soon after meeting Jack Norris who was handing out “Please Don’t Drink My Mama’s Milk” brochures on the Pearl Street Mall and also talking with a woman who came into the store wearing a tee shirt with a picture of a veal calf on it.
In 1987, Lisa was hired by the Boulder based, Wild Oats Market as their deli manager. She soon veganized the deli and continued to work for Wild Oats in various managerial capacities for 17 years. It was here as a purchaser that she became intimately familiar with the struggles that small vegan businesses faced in the marketplace.
In 2001, Lisa took a job with the AGOA African Opportunity Association in Ghana and Cameroon. Her job there was to help people develop sustainable, fair trade small businesses. Though her salary was an astounding $1,000 per day while in Africa, she gave most of her funds to the people she was working with to help them with their ventures. Travelling to Africa as a vegan was hard and witnessing the suffering of human and non-human animals was very difficult for Lisa and she quit after two years.
Coming back to Boulder, overwhelmed from her African experience, Lisa became depressed and stayed close to home. In 2006, she started the Boulder Vegan Meet Up, which was one of her proudest achievements. Today this is one of the largest groups in the USA with almost 1000 members, 350 of which attended a Compassionate Vegan Thanksgiving that Lisa organized in 2014.
For the next few years Lisa worked with several vegan startup companies, selflessly giving them the benefit of her accumulated wisdom and contacts. Among these companies was V Dog for which she had a special affinity. She was also a trusted member of the Veg Fund Board which promoted vegan businesses and nonprofit entities.
In 2011 she founded “All Things Vegan,” a consulting company designed to promote quality vegan products, while expanding awareness of the positive impact of vegan lifestyles on animals, people, and the planet. In that year she began working with The Tofurky Company as the company’s first social media director. It soon became apparent that Lisa had much more to give and she was hired as a full time Marketing Coordinator. Though at this time, Lisa was suffering increasing pain in her back and exploring a variety of treatment options, she enthusiastically kept a full work schedule of attending veg fests, trade shows, demos and other industry events, always representing the company in a stellar light. She continued to be a valuable employee until the last days of her life.
But as much as Lisa accomplished in her professional life, she may have accomplished more in her nonprofessional life. On her own unpaid time, Lisa enthusiastically handed out vegan literature on the Pearl Street Mall, organized circus protests, cooked countless meals for weary travelers, counseled new vegans and engaged people honestly and directly about their eating habits. Though her body would shake, Lisa was never one not to ask the hard, often unpopular questions, about how people knowingly or unknowingly treated animals. Arguably she has single handedly created more vegans than any lone individual acting on their own conscience. This fact was recognized by the great Ingrid Newkirk of PETA last fall when she hailed Lisa as one of the “Unsung Vegan Heroes” of the Pollination Project. This award came with a $1,000 prize which Lisa quickly donated to her favorite organizations.
Even as her body declined, Lisa’s mind and spirit somehow carried on. While in the hospital suffering from unimaginable pain, Lisa would give vegan literature for visitors to leave in the waiting room and ask them to give the food she could not eat to the Boulder homeless.
No longer with us in body, Lisa’s passionate work lives on. It lives on in the darkest reaches of the factory farm system which now shows signs of disruption. It is alive in the minds of “happy meat” lovers who have been challenged with inconvenient truths. It flourishes on college campuses that have new vegans demanding meal options in dining halls. It ripples outwards from the hundreds of people Lisa convinced to give plant based diets a try. Through her honesty, love and activism, Lisa has left a powerful legacy in her wake. Though it is unlikely that we will ever see another Vegan Saint like her, we have all been blessed to be alive at the same time as Lisa Shapiro. Thanks to Saint Lisa, the lives of all animals, human and non-human, have been made better. And there is no greater legacy than that.