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Austin Firehouse Touts Veggie Fare


The firefighters at Austin Firehouse No. 2 are big guys. They do a big job and they eat big meals--burgers, steaks, fried feasts; anything that kept them going on the job. But visit the station house kitchen now and you might find tofu. That's right. Some of the men at Firehouse No. 2 have gone vegetarian. We called up firefighter Rip Esselstyn to find out more.

Hello there.

Mr. RIP ESSELSTYN (Firefighter): Good afternoon.

ELLIOTT: I understand you're actually the one who convinced your co-workers to go vegetarian.

Mr. ESSELSTYN: I think I got the ball rolling. Over 20 years ago, my father, who was a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, theorized that you could reverse heart disease through a low-fat whole-grain plant-based diet. So armed with that and setting a good example and having, like, James Rae, who had an astronomically high cholesterol level...

ELLIOTT: James Rae is one of your firefighters there. Tell me what happened to him.

Mr. ESSELSTYN: J.R., you want to talk?

Mr. JAMES RAE (Firefighter): Sure. This is James Ray or J.R. Well, Rip and I were working together as firehouses do. We were just engaged in conversation about diet and health and kind of joking, talking about my family history and how heart attack prone we are. Decided to go get my cholesterol checked and it came back in the 340s and I was floored over it. And Rip quickly convinced me to change my ways.

ELLIOTT: So, Rip, did it take some persuading to get everyone to agree to go vegetarian?

Mr. ESSELSTYN: Well, let's ask Derick and Scotty and Matt.

Mr. DERICK ZWERNEMAN (Firefighter): Hello, this is Derick. I kind of resisted for a while to eat all vegetarian, but once I did, I started feeling a lot better.

Mr. RAE: Hey, Debbie, this is J.R. Not only are we firefighters but we're in Texas and, man, can we cook. We can fry food and we can make enchiladas and we can give you a heart attack. You know, when people start dangling that kind of food in front of your face, it gets tough. I've even see Rip get weak.


ELLIOTT: So what do you eat now if you're not having the animal products?

Mr. RAE: Well...

Mr. ESSELSTYN: A smorgasbord of all kinds of vegetarian delights.

Mr. RAE: Right.

Mr. ESSELSTYN: Still make enchiladas but you cut out the cheese and just pack them full of vegetables.

Mr. MATT MOORE (Firefighter): Hey, Debbie, this is Matt Moore. It's not hard to take something that you like and turn it into vegetarian. You know, we love pizza, so we just make--we get whole wheat crust. We use barbecue sauce. We get a lot of vegetables and we don't put cheese on it. Or if we do put cheese on it, we use a soy cheese.

Mr. ESSELSTYN: And it's tough in this country. I mean, the fast-food restaurants are ubiquitous. And everywhere you turn, you're being tempted. So you have to take a stand. You have to be a warrior. Nobody cares about yourself and what goes in your mouth as much as you do.

Mr. RAE: I care about you.

ELLIOTT: Firefighters Rip Esselstyn, Scott Walters, James Rae or J.R., Matt Moore and Derick Zwerneman, all talking with use from Firehouse No. 2 in Austin, Texas, where they now have a vegetarian wagon.

Thanks, guys.

Firefighters: (In unison) Thank you.

Mr. ESSELSTYN: Thanks, Debbie.

Mr. RAE: Thank you, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: To find out more about the vegetarians of Firehouse No. 2 and see their enchilada recipe, check out their Web site,

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Debbie Elliott
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.