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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

WisdomHaus and the power of vegan community

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The concept of community is powerful in the vegan lifestyle. Thriving communities like WisdomHaus work together to take the plant-based and sustainability movements forward.

The concept of vegan community is extremely powerful. In one way or another, all of us have been impacted by this and it’s easy to see community as the glue that holds the vegan movement together.

In May 2018, I purchased a one-way ticket to South America. For the next 18 months of my life, I was part of a community brought together under one roof called WisdomHaus, in the coastal district of Magdalena del Mar in Lima, Peru.

How did I find out about this?

Six months earlier, I was attending a business meetup group just outside of Denver, Colorado, where a group of business owners got together and practised their pitches to potential investors.

One of the men there was starting a vegan business, and when I offered my marketing services to help him, he suggested I fly down to South America to join what he only described as a vegan startup accelerator.

As the chauffeur picked me up from Jorge Chávez International Airport, I made my way down dark streets with Peruvian police officers standing on the sides of the road with flashing lights and AK-47s. The driver motioned for me to take my camera out of sight until we got into a safer part of the city where we most likely wouldn’t get robbed.

20 minutes later, after making my way to the safer parts of the city, I arrived in front of what would later be called WisdomHaus, greeted by Ken and Alison, the owners of the residence.

What is WisdomHaus?

wisdomhaus
Photo: WisdomHaus

The house itself consists of more than 16 rooms. When you walk in the front door, you pass by the office, through the main hall, yoga studio and lounge leading into a two-sided kitchen and a courtyard field with all sorts of exotic herbs and plants.

Upstairs are the living quarters, six bedrooms in total, separated between the owners of the house and the community residents. Luckily for me, I was the first one to join this experiment and I had the whole area to myself.

During the early days of WisdomHaus, I would wake up at 8:30 for a nice breakfast consisting of wholegrain bread, avocado and cut-up papaya from the fresh fruit markets down the street. It was during these moments where I began noticing the difference between a processed food diet and natural plant-based eating.

The CEO of the vegan company would drive over in the morning, and we spent most of the day doing work and slowly recruiting more team members to fill up the rooms and help this vegan business get its name into the marketplace.

By December of the first year, there were six people living there and we would have informal cooking classes that led to healthy plant-based lunches together. I noticed that while we all came from separate backgrounds, we all began taking on some of the traits other people had in the house. We blended our individual characteristics into the larger whole of one community.

I began eating more sweet potatoes when James had a daily habit of cooking 10 at a time in the oven. I shared my cashew cheese sauce with others whenever I experimented with a new recipe of my own.

The only (partial) non-vegans in the house at the time eventually gave up their last bits of milk and cheese. It was that moment where we saw the power of a small community that helped them shift to 100% plant-based.

In the years to come, many people flew down there on a standard Western diet and quickly allowed the power of the community to transform them into a diet that focuses on natural foods and health.

But as time went on and the community evolved, WisdomHaus became so much more than that.

Contribution: living a life of purpose

The philosophy of WisdomHaus revolved around some core tenants, with contribution being one of the first ones. The owners of the house believed in the power of giving back and made environmental sustainability one of the top priorities for people to work on together.

The company all the early house guests were doing marketing for, VegReady, grew out of the above office space. During those days, we would be on the phones with suppliers ordering as many as 16,000 meals at a time, speaking with public relations agencies, scheduling to be seen at conferences in the US, talking with investors, and doing all the online marketing work to turn this one vegan business idea into a recognisable brand.

As time passed, the VegReady team became remote and the WisdomHaus began taking on a more diverse set of residents who worked on other group projects and tasks. When we last spoke, they’ve become associated with the organisation Climatehealers to focus on a variety of climate change initiatives.

I also recently got off a Zoom call with a new resident of the house introduced to me by the owners. She offers free manifestation classes that help various vegan and sustainability organisations around the world with her services to help them be clear about their vision and achieve the goals they set out for themselves in her very own special way.

Healthy foods: locally sourced and plant-based

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Alison in the Magdalena Markets. Photo: WisdomHaus

It wasn’t until reflecting back on this chapter of my life before I realised how living in this community has really helped me clean up my eating. Before leaving America for Peru, I would often find myself eating out regularly at vegan fast food restaurants.

The overstimulation in my taste buds was the direct result of processed vegan foods specifically crafted and engineered to keep me addicted. I held onto this at first, with deep-fried potatoes being the main staple of my diet. I would regularly eat white spaghetti for lunch every day because it was easy and convenient.

Years later, when my doctor diagnosed me with high cholesterol and triglycerides, I reflected back to stories of how the VegReady CEO once filmed a documentary where a group of doctors reversed diabetes in 30 days using mostly raw foods. I also compared the fresh fruit and vegetable markets of Lima and the local food garden in the courtyard of the house with the packaged and processed foods that come wrapped in plastic on supermarket shelves in Australia and the United States.

While the change in my behaviour was not immediate, it was through this community where I witnessed an impact on my life for the better later in life. Through constant reinforcement of the same ideas from many members of the community, these things finally began to stick. The seeds were planted and they slowly evolved into a much healthier way of eating that I practice today.

This list goes on. Through a combination of meaningful work and contribution, natural eating, positive psychology, and group activities such as yoga, meditation, and cooking classes; WisdomHaus in Lima, Peru is set to be a model for an even larger vision for their future.

The future of community and intentional living

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Photo: WisdomHaus

In order to make any great change in the world, you can’t do it alone. Ken and Alison continuously talk about the work their friends at Climate Healers are doing. The goal of this organisation is to lead 50% of the world to be vegan by 2026.

Once again, it is through connecting these ideas and ideals where real movements start to come together. It’s not just the assimilation to other people and the friendship you form, but the sharing of knowledge and resources that make communities great.

Through its work, Wisomhaus plans on turning their home into a vegan climate activist centre with the hopes of replicating this model in other parts of the world.

While people live within these communities, they will take part in educating, sharing, and engaging each other in topics that turn them into more efficient activists knowledgeable on some of the world’s leading environmental issues.

The first element of the WisdomHaus movement is to have a network of hosts who decide to turn their homes into these community living spaces and activist training centres.

The ultimate goal of WisdomHaus is to replicate the model in Peru by opening hundreds of community homes across the globe. It all starts by connecting with people and allowing those who are interested in creating a community living space in their own geographical location.

The ideal type of person would be mom and dad empty-nesters that are living alone. Instead of turning the house into a single family, they would open their doors to create a thriving community of vegans living under one roof.

As many people grow older, they may face the decision to live alone or downsize into a retirement community. This type of lifestyle makes it so they no longer have to live in loneliness but can instead bring more energy into their lives.

As it’s not simply shared living, this community thrives on the tenants of creating a healthy mind, body and soul while giving back to the world and living a life with purpose. A reason to get up in the morning and look forward to the day and have excitement in your life.

Creating a lasting impact after you leave

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Photo: WisdomHaus

But it’s not the work that’s done inside these houses that make the most difference. It’s what happens after people leave.

After leaving Peru, the next step on my adventure was travelling to Sydney, Australia where I took all the skills I learned to start my own vegan business and began filming a vegan documentary as well.

Richard, 67, from Toronto spent a month in WisdomHaus because he wanted to be vegan. He succeeded in his mission and is now a professor at a university where he will help spread his message to others.

K from the US was working in the airline and tourism sector before going to WisdomHaus. She now has the experience of helping start the vegan business while living there and is now working for a small company that manufactures tempeh.

The list will continue to grow.

Regardless of where you are in the world or what your passion or niche is, you don’t have to fly halfway across the world to begin forming or joining your own community today. Find a group of activists that are passionate about the same thing as you, schedule a weekly Zoom call, or meet up in person when it’s safe to do so.

I can tell you from personal experience that this can enrich your life by spreading positivity into the world, fulfilling your purpose and enjoying your time with other people that share the same values as you.

Andrew Alexander
Since 2011, Andrew has been a marketer helping vegan-friendly businesses launch their brands into the marketplace. In 2017, he started his own business, VeganHealthPack.com, which encourages people to be more aware of the effects food has on their health. In his free time, he enjoys going on day hikes, eating at new restaurants, scuba diving, and backpacking through other countries. As a side project, he is filming a documentary called Creating a Vegan World which outlines the work we are doing behind the scenes of the plant-based movement.