Vegetarian for Nine Decades
Vegan Forty-Five Years & Counting
Marian Walker celebrated her ninety-eighth birthday at SuTao Vegan Café in Malvern PA in December 2019! Partygoers heard a beautiful bio of Marian from her youngest daughter and caregiver, Gloria Walker Burger, while feasting on the Chinese buffet.
The near century that makes up Marian’s life stands as a model in multilayered ways.
Resisting Violence, Aged 9
Marian decided not to eat pigs at age nine. The trauma of seeing one killed on an uncle’s farm made this a decision to live by. Later, Marian made connections to the exploitation present in all animal products. This led the child vegetarian to become an adult vegan.
Neither were popular choices in those days, but Marian had been brought up with nonviolent values and applied these values to the dining table.
Marian the Vegan
Gloria recalls Marian saying, “I was curious and wanted to become vegan. But cheese was difficult and addictive.” When Marian went vegan in 1974, after going without cheese for a while, she wished she had gone vegan earlier.
Marian’s huge garden included fruit trees, blueberry bushes, raspberry bushes, and a grape arbor. She had two acres of land, so she always had fresh vegetables from the garden. Marian canned tomato sauce, applesauce, pears, and often sixty quarts of tomato juice at a time.
Marian’s favorite breakfast is an open-faced sandwich on whole-wheat bread, with peanut butter, dill pickles, and two vegetables such as onion-tomato or cucumber-lettuce. She makes it for herself every day and rarely substitutes it with oatmeal. Often breakfast includes good fresh fruits.
Champion of Fairness: Intersecting Advocacy
Marian was a member of the Quaker community that became centrally active in desegregating Chester County, Pennsylvania.
In the midst of race-based segregation, this group of fair-minded people bought up houses that Black people had been excluded from buying. Then, Quakers resold them, with affordable terms, to Black families. One Quaker family would settle in the spot where the other homes were sold to their new owners. This method offered both affirmative diversity and solidarity for these newly formed communities.
Marian found other opportunities to create a fairer county, too. Observing that there was a Chester County YMCA but not a YWCA, Marian started the first (now main) branch of the YWCA in West Chester, so that women would be offered safety and opportunities.
The YWCA had its start as a U.S. movement to support young women who had moved from rural communities to find work in the cities. The YWCA provided safe housing for women.
Marian and Her Family
Marian counted among her friends Edythe Scott Bagley, sister of Coretta Scott King, arts and education advocate and the steward of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s (MLK) legacy.
Marian’s husband, Charlie Walker, worked with MLK and was on the dais when MLK gave the “I Have a Dream” speech. Charlie and MLK wholeheartedly agreed they wanted to make sure that the civil rights movement was nonviolent. Charlie was with MLK when MLK’s house was bombed, and MLK spoke with the people and told them not to retaliate.
Charlie trained people in nonviolence. His nonviolence books are still being used today.
Charlie received the Jamnalal Bajaj Award, an Indian international award for promoting Gandhian values, community service, and social development, in 1991. The award is given annually to the person who is behaving the most like Gandhi outside of India. Marian and Charlie were flown to India for a month and were treated like superstars. Due to Charlie’s health issues, Marian was the one who gave the accept-ance speech. She always rises to the occasion, especially if it means a lot to her, and even though she is shy and retiring!
Gloria’s sister, Brenda Walker Beadenkopf, wrote the book A Quaker Behind the Dream: Charlie Walker and the Civil Rights Movement. MLK’s sister-in-law Edythe said Charlie was a man behind the dream—thus the title.
Charlie never wanted accolades, just to get the work done. Marian helped Charlie arrange speakers and logistics for many things in the civil rights movement.
Marian did many marches, especially at The White House. Marian was happy behind the scenes, being one of the crowd. “I’m very proud of both my parents,” says Gloria.
Marian and Charlie raised six children, but often Charlie was away, working to save the world. Sometimes their kids traveled with them; the kids went to the picket lines.
Gloria explained how the Walker children learned to help their parents train others in nonviolence, such as for sit-ins. “The police came to a restaurant and told Black people, ‘You can’t sit there because it’s for Whites only.’ When they try to remove you, you can’t struggle, but play dead, become limp, and don’t help them. Whites would sit next to or in front of the Black people to keep them from being moved or arrested.”
Marian raised the kids on unprocessed vegetarian foods even though Charlie was not at all vegetarian and he only cooked on weekends.
The Veggie-Q : Peaceful Picnic in the Park!
Marian went on to cofound CARE (Compassion for Animals—Respect for the Environment) in West Chester. Marian insisted that people could still go out to their local parks in the summertime and enjoy the delights of a BBQ without sacrificing any animals. The concept of the Veggie-Q, first held by CARE in 1991, became what might have been the first-ever U.S. annual vegan festival! The central element was a large cooking grill. A good time and Marian’s famous vegan potato salad was had by all.
The Veggie-Q was later renamed the CARE VeggieFest, and finally dubbed the Chester County Vegan Festival. It went on for twenty-seven years, playing its part in the vegan movement in a noncommercial and community-based way, inspiring similar events throughout the U.S.
Everyone could count on Marian. You could call her at three in the morning and say, “My car broke down. Can you come get me?” And Marian always would. This was before Uber.
Someone who hadn’t seen her in three years needed a ride to the airport (his ride fell through), and she picked him up, at age 91. They got to catch up on news.
Marian was also a friend to the Earth. When the PNC regional bank provided funds for fossil fuel companies engaged in mountaintop removal practices, Marian encouraged members of CARE to join the protest.
Words from the Wise
At ninety-eight, Marian credits veganism for her remarkable longevity, mobility, and good cheer.
Marian loves to attend the annual American Vegan Garden Party. “I’m so glad you’ve founded and cultivated a vegan movement. When I was a young person, we didn’t have one. Now we do!”
Story first appeared in American Vegan magazine, winter 2019-2020 issue. To become a member of American Vegan Society and receive the magazine click here.
Photos: Marian at 4 with her mother and baby sister Mary, courtesy Gloria Burger; Marian Walker recent by Michael Zager; Marian senior at East Lampeter H.S., courtesy Gloria Burger; Charlie & Marian as newlyweds, courtesy Gloria Burger; Charlie in middle as award is handed to Marian, photo courtesy of the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation.