Whenever visitors arrive at the Tzu Chi office in New York, one of the first people they see is a small gray-haired grandma busily working in the kitchen: Mama Luo. She serves as the office’s master chef and has become a second mother to all her fellow volunteers, both young and old.
Early each morning, while most people are still asleep, this seventy-seven-year-old volunteer is already on her way to the Tzu Chi office. Rain or shine, she always arrives at the facility by eight o’clock. As soon as she arrives, she starts her typical busy day of preparing nutritious and delicious vegetarian meals for the volunteers who work in the office and for any visitors who happen to come in.
Mama Luo’s warm smile, the healthy and tasty vegetarian food she prepares, and the gardens she maintains have long provided inspiration to the other volunteers. Her hard work has turned an office into a home. Many volunteers stop at the office after a long day at work just to enjoy the warm environment that she has created.
Mama Luo was born in 1935 and grew up in Hualien. In the depressed economy of World War II, her father ran a small noodle stand in order to earn enough to feed his family. As the oldest daughter among eight children, Mama Luo learned to cook and care for her younger siblings at the tender age of eight. She recalls, “Both of my parents worked so hard and went to bed very late at night, so I tried to get up early in the morning to cook for my younger siblings so that they could get to school on time and my parents could stay in bed just a little longer.”
Mama Luo was married at the age of twentythree. She and her husband soon moved to Taipei and, before long, they became parents of two young children. When their son was in the sixth grade, Mr. Luo was accepted at a Japanese university to study Buddhism and film. In order to devote her attention to her husband’s education, Mama Luo left their two young children with her mother and accompanied her husband to Japan.
After six years in Japan, Mama Luo’s brotherin-law suggested that she and her husband join him in the United States to pursue the better opportunities available there. Following a smooth visa application process, they were on their way to the United States within three months.
In 1978, as the Luos ventured to the United States for new opportunities, their son was in college and their daughter was in high school. So as not to disrupt their studies, the Luos once again decided to leave their children behind. Several years later, after their daughter had graduated from high school and their son had both graduated from college and completed his two years of mandatory military service, both children reunited with their parents in the United States.
Mama Luo was forty-two years old when she arrived in the United States. She worked in a Chinese restaurant for a year, and then spent two years cutting and stitching sample dresses for a Japanese garment manufacturer. With the money she saved, she opened up a Laundromat and tailoring service. Because of the fine quality of her tailoring, she attracted more customers than she could handle. After five years of busy laundry and tailoring work, and the aches and pains they inspired, Mama Luo sold her business. Her fine tailoring skills earned her a management position in a textile company, where she completed the final decade of her career. At seventy, she retired.
In the thirty-five years she has lived in the United States, Mama Luo has always worked hard and viewed life with optimism. She has been successful in all that she has done, whether working in a restaurant or in the clothing industry. She is also an excellent cook, to which she credits the experience she received working in her father’s food stand when she was young.
Today, one of Mama Luo’s main responsibilities at Tzu Chi is teaching a vegetarian cooking class. Using Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s vegetarian and environmental teachings, she shares her vegetarian cooking skills with both Tzu Chi volunteers and community members. By sharing her experiences and skills with others, Mama Luo helps more people actively pursue a vegetarian lifestyle.
Mama Luo first became a vegetarian in 2001. After eleven years, she says that the decision has improved her health, calmed her temper, and left her feeling happy every day. She says, “Cooking a vegetarian menu is actually not as complicated as many people think. There are many different ways to cook vegetarian food. We can develop dressings and sauces with varied flavors to match people’s tastes. With the right sauces, even simple, lightly boiled vegetables can taste delicious. Sometimes, vegetarians don’t get enough of certain vitamins, minerals, and proteins that are found in meat products. However, people can absorb minerals from seaweed, vitamins from various fruits and vegetables, and proteins from tofu, beans, milk, and eggs. As long as our diets contain a variety of vegetables, beans, wheat, and eggs, we can achieve balanced nutrition.”
Even with seventy years of cooking experience, Mama Luo continues to develop new recipes to attract more people to the vegetarian lifestyle. Not only does Mama Luo promote vegetarianism by cooking and teaching cooking classes, she can always be counted on to prepare vegetarian meals for hot meal distributions to needy people in the community. Whenever she cooks, she pays special attention to all details of the food: not only taste, but nutrition and appearance as well. She changes the menu frequently so that recipients can enjoy a variety of healthy dishes. She says, “If we cook vegetarian food that is delicious, then people are more willing to try it and even to join us in the environmental protection movement.”
Susan Su, a dedicated New York volunteer, explains, “To the Tzu Chi New York office, Mama Luo is like warm sunshine in a blizzard. She shows her great love to every single volunteer through her dedication and the well-prepared meals that she serves every day. She is every volunteer’s mother, and with her selfless wisdom and dedication, she serves as an excellent role model to all of us.” The world needs more role models like Mama Luo.
Editor’s Note: A more complete version of Mama Luo’s story will be available in the forthcoming
Flowers in the Snow: Environmental Protection.
An enlightened life means knowing how to give and create blessings.
Jing Si Aphorism by Dharma Master Cheng Yen