“Katie, it’s time to wake up,” my mother said in a singsong voice, stroking my hair.
As my first alarm clock, this was how she woke me for school. She walked to the window and opened the curtains to “let the Lord in” and did a musical number like a real-life Disney princess. At least that’s what it seemed like from under the covers – someone way too excited and awake in the morning praising everything from the Sandman’s visit to the glorious morn.
I simply made intelligible sounds that she was finally able to interpret as “five more minutes.”
“It’s time to wake up. Come on,” she said with a hint of pleading.
Thirty-some years later, I’m still not a morning person.
I’m also not a fan of the motivational quotes people love to post every morning. They serve their purpose at times but are another person’s genius. Most of them are extremely overused – rise and shine, rise and grind, good morning sunshine.
I’’m pretty harsh in the morning.
When Vincent DePaul, founder and owner of Gangster Vegan Organics, video posts began to pop in my newsfeed every morning, I watched them daily despite him mentioning the morning, my sworn enemy. They didn’t make me want to smash my phone. Or go back to bed. They made me think. It gave me a jolt more powerful than the cold brew coffee I require.
“Peace and love. It’s your boy Vinny Vegan, a.k.a the Gangster Vegan you woke up today, you are a miracle, it is a miracle in itself. You are extraordinary. Go do extraordinary things,” DePaul starts each video. He then talks for about a minute on the things currently on his mind. But they all have similar themes. DePaul, a Norristown native, makes no secret of his past struggles, his move to Los Angeles and return, his transformation, and the extraordinary benefits of a plant based diet.
With close to 20,000 Instagram followers, he has not only attracted customers who rave about Gangster Vegan Organic’s juices and bowls but a community of support. There are also “haters.” How can there not be? Look around. What’s more convenient? A cheeseburger or a fresh squeezed juice (with no sugar added).
Talking about just eating plants when you live in an area covered with cheesesteaks, hoagie and pizza joints isn’t exactly a popular opinion.
DePaul cries tears of joy recalling when he got pulled out of the “gangster lifestyle” in the mid-thirties. He changed his ways and admits it was hard. He sees that it’s difficult for adults to change even their diet because they are set in their ways. It’s why he makes a strong effort to reach the younger generation. DePaul conducts various “Feed the Kids” events in Norristown at schools and churches to provide children a free vegan meal.
He went through the Norristown public school system and ate the food the kids still eat today. He wishes someone would have visited and offered a plethora of fruits and grain bowls. He doesn’t preach veganism but instead, gives them something they might not otherwise have the experience of tasting. He also takes time to serve vegan meals in area hospitals and prisons. It is where DePaul noticed that schools, hospitals and prisons are all serving the same food.
“There is a direct connection. They are feeding them poison. Keep them rowdy and violent,” commented DePaul. “It’s a hard battle to fight. If I can get into one classroom and one class. We have to actually “gangster” our way through all of the poison, just to find access to real food.”
It isn’t limited to food. DePaul believes that people are heavily influenced by a culture that glorifies violence among many other vices. He implores people to stop worshipping their phone, television, movies, rappers, and athletes and to start worshipping God.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s easy to get lost in my phone, social media, and television. It’s very hard to reconnect and get back with God and nature. I’m not bashing these things but when you aren’t connected to anything else, you get lost in a whirlwind of confusion.”
DePaul recently returned from a spiritual retreat to the Amazon jungle in Peru. He calls the much-needed excursion the best trip he’s ever taken.
“I detached from this life and reconnected back to nature and God,” said DePaul. “It is very easy to get away from with all the technology and running a business. I came back with clarity and a peace of mind. I’m ready to move forward on some things.”
One of those things is the expansion of the Norristown location. Gangster Vegan Organics is in the final phases to move into the recently closed neighboring Joe’s Seafood. It would double the size of their current space.
“I love where I grew up and I love where I’m from,” said DePaul on a recent afternoon at his West Main Street store which opened in 2014. He has also opened a location in Phoenixville. “I’m planting seeds here that I may never see grow and it’s part of the mission.”
DePaul should know some of the seeds are blooming around him right now. While I am not a vegan, through his morning messages DePaul has not only made me think, but take action.
I read food labels more closely. If I can’t pronounce it, I know I shouldn’t eat it.
Just because high fructose corn syrup is in everything, doesn’t mean it has to be in me.
I feel better after eating fruits and veggies.
Instead of grabbing a midafternoon cold-brew, the Redman (a juice with strawberry, apple, orange and lemon) at Gangster Vegan was a much better option.
And he almost made me a morning person.
If anything, that shows that miracles are possible and we have the rest of the day to make them happen.
“Sometimes we get caught up in our stuff and don’t realize that waking up is a miracle. “A lot of people didn’t wake up today,” said DePaul. “It could be a smile or a hug. It doesn’t have to be monetarily. We are all dealing with things. But we are here another day, lets make the best of it.”