Tom Orlando, 76, is still healthy enough to be taking no daily medications.
He's also about the same weight he was in high school.
By many measures, he's in good health, and was in the same state of health in 1991. However, that same year, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and had to have part of the organ removed.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Tom Orlando of Altoona spreads the spinach, onion and garlic mixture on his Vegan Pizza.
"After I was recovered, one of the oncologists said to me the biggest single cause of colon cancer is eating meat," Orlando of Altoona said. "I had never heard that."
So since 1992, he has been a vegetarian, bordering on eating vegan - a diet free of all animal products.
"After I became a vegetarian, I haven't had another polyp in 20 years," he said.
Whether based on health or principle, many locals are passionate about vegetarian and vegan cooking - though keeping up with the lifestyle can become difficult outside of their homes.
Orlando has made a vegan pizza topped with spinach, mushrooms and a special pizza spice every Saturday for 10 years - a cheaper and healthier alternative to ordering out.
"When you put spinach with cheese and dough and sauce, it's great," he said. "It has the best flavor."
Strict vegans do forgo eating some of America's most popular foods. Eliza Cardiff, for example, can't always afford vegan chocolate to satisfy her cravings.
But Cardiff - who is going on 40 years as a vegan - has found many ways to eat her favorite foods, including baked goods in which she uses a flax seed mixture to replace eggs.
"After I found out about that, I was making pancakes and cakes I had left behind," she said.
Cardiff, 56, of Hollidaysburg, is a former professional baker and is in the process of writing her own vegan cookbook as a way to share her multitude of recipes and show that taking on a vegan diet isn't as difficult as people might think.
But Cardiff said she only finds it easy because she cooks for herself.
"It's probably the worst place to be a vegetarian," she said of the local area. "There is no real community."
Despite the difficulty, Cardiff continues to keep the diet because of the environmental and health benefits, along with her belief in the ethical treatment of animals.
"It's all about what's best for the environment, my body and the animal," she said. "A lot of people are starting to question the ethics of food. ... I'm one person who says I love animals and means it."
Maria Preusser, 37, of Altoona, became a vegan after watching the controversial 2008 documentary "Food, Inc.," which exposed problems with corporate farming in the United States.
"It was just unreal," she said. "Now the meat industry is an industry. They don't see animals as animals anymore, I don't think."
After seeing the documentary, Preusser said she never wanted to eat meat again. But that didn't mean she wouldn't miss some of her favorite foods, like chicken wings. She was excited when she found a recipe for Hot Sauce Glazed Tempeh, which uses the soy-based product in place of chicken. Preusser said this is just one of the many recipes she's found that has made going vegan a little easier.
"You can make such flavorful foods, it's unreal," she said.
Ingrid Healy-Tucker had a similar experience when she found a recipe for Raw Ravioli - an uncooked vegan dish which substitutes thinly sliced turnips for pasta and a nut mixture for cheese.
"You have to try it to believe it," Healy-Tucker, 53, of Altoona, said. "When we tried this recipe, my husband and I were dancing in the kitchen."
The recipe helped Healy-Tucker as she "dabbled" in raw food veganism, a diet which combines the concepts of veganism and raw foodism - not eating any foods that have to be cooked thoroughly for consumption.
Healy-Tucker said that despite the strictness of the diet, she's found local restaurants to be accommodating.
"We always try to be kind about it because we know it's a bit of a challenge," she said. "But restaurants usually say they've had other vegans come in."
Though she can't eat everything or make any recipe she finds, Healy-Tucker said it's a trade-off for keeping herself healthy.
"These are choices we make. ... It's a lifestyle change," she said. "Being vegan isn't just about a diet, it's a lifestyle."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.