Saving world one meal at a time

Correspondent photo / Bill Koch Chris Flak of Youngstown used to be a social worker and counselor before she retired three years ago. She has been president of the Vegetarians of Greater Youngstown since 2012.

YOUNGSTOWN — City native Chris Flak forged a career out of trying to make the world a better place.

She was a social worker and counselor at the Doris Burdman Home, Beeghly Oaks, Turning Point Counseling Services and Mercy Health before her retirement three years ago. As someone who worked with the elderly, chronically mentally ill, and people mentally ill, and people involved in the court system, she prided herself on being an advocate for those who couldn’t always speak up for themselves.

But when her 14-year-old daughter, Olivia, announced she was a vegetarian, Flak knew it was time to consider another way to help the earth. Along with Olivia, and eventually her son Rick, she converted to vegetarianism in the early 1990s.

About 15 years ago, she became a vegan, so she no longer eats anything, including dairy products, that comes from animals.

“We worship our dogs and cats and buy them clothes. We have zoos where we try to preserve endangered species and put them in places of esteem. But what happens to farm animals? They go into the big house and turn into steaks,” Flak said.

Vegetarianism also is better for the environment, she said.

“When you eat meat, our crops are grown to feed animals. There’s a lot of extraneous cost — transportation, use of water, deforesting the land, cutting down trees. That’s what’s greatly contributing to global warming,” she said.

She joined Vegetarians of the Greater Youngstown Area, a group started in 1989 by Mill Creek Park naturalist Bill Whitehouse and his wife Marianne to bring people together to share a meal and give each other advice and support. Since 2012, Flak has been president of the organization.

They continue the monthly potluck. The group met at the Unitarian Church on the North Side of Youngstown for several years and recently have moved to the Calvin Center on the West Side. Approximately 50 people gather for the meal.

But Flak is taking the group to a new level. She recently obtained a $3,000 grant from VegFund, an international organization that provides financial assistance to communities to promote a vegan lifestyle. She is using the money to launch PLUNGE, or Plant-Based Living Urgently Needed for the Good of the Earth. This will include a free cooking class to teach people how to prepare vegan meals as well as hosting lectures about the connection between food choices and the health of the planet. Flak said even if someone isn’t comfortable committing to a new diet, any effort in that direction is an improvement.

“Every little bit helps. I can’t afford solar panels or an electric car, but this is affordable for people. They can feel good about making some sort of a dent against global warming.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about Vegetarians of the Greater Youngstown Area or the upcoming classes can check out the organization’s Facebook page or e-mail chrisflak1@msn.com.

Flak also is a member of Plant Ahead Ohio, a group founded in 2018 by area landscaper Frank Bishop, which introduces trees and plants into areas lacking greenery.

“We started out by planting native trees in vacant lots. We also plant flowers, goldenrod, Jerusalem artichokes, milkweed, things native to Ohio that we’re finding are really beneficial instead of just mowing them down,” Flak said.

In her spare time, she studies genealogy. She tracked her father’s side of the family to the 1600s. She belongs to Silver Sneakers at the Ursuline Motherhouse in Canfield to stay fit. She also takes care of her cats and tends her garden.

Flak feels a connection between her social work career and her avocation.

“Helping people to see where they can improve their diet while helping the environment and relieving animals’ suffering is what I’m all about. This will be my project until I get too old and crotchety to do anything else,” Flak said.

To suggest a Saturday profile, contact Metro Editor Marly Reichert at mreichert@tribtoday.com.


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