One of the Movement’s Wellness Experts

The Jewish Veg Spotlight Shines On ...

Sandy Pukel 

Imagine a cruise where every meal is vegan, and every program is centered on wellness. Imagine actually feeling healthier and more motivated when your vacation is over. 

We spoke with Jewish Veg member Sandy Pukel, a Miami-based entrepreneur who started out creating Oak Feed, a health food store in Coconut Grove. He soon expanded to starting restaurants, hosting wellness weekends, and now has his own wellness-oriented cruise, Holistic Holiday at Sea. To learn more about Holistic Holiday at Sea and Sandy’s incredible work, check out his Website.

Jewish Veg: Sandy, you started Holistic Holiday at Sea. Can you tell us about what that is?

Sandy: Holistic Holiday at Sea is a voyage to well-being. We call it a life-changing experience during a week of wellness. We have people come to learn from a dream team of presenters, to experience great food from 21 chefs on board who take over the kitchen, and to network and meet 1,800 other people. This is all done while sailing to ports in the Caribbean.

There are parties every night, single’s tables, workout classes, cooking demonstrations. Every year we survey our cruise-goers and ask them why they came. Our top responses are education, like-minded people, and food. We have had marriages on the cruise. I have one father who tells me that he says his prayers to me because both of his daughters met their husbands on our cruise. This is really fitting because my life mission is to turn the world onto happy and healthy lifestyles and this is my vehicle for doing it!

Jewish Veg: What was your inspiration for starting such an innovative cruise line?

Sandy: Well, I have been doing this in hotels in Miami Beach for about 40 years. I started in the 70s by hosting events to promote a holistic and healthy lifestyle. We did week-long programs and I eventually expanded to hosting them in California and the mountains of Colorado.

One time, I was reading about a cruise line that hosted a themed cruise and I thought, “Hey! We could do this for health and wellness.” I quickly called a cruise line to make this happen, and they thought I was crazy. They couldn’t understand how we could feed people fully vegan meals for a week. Cruises aren’t used to that sort of thing.

I wasn’t worried at all and of course it turned out fabulous. Five-course vegan meals with waiters in tuxedos at every single breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Everyone loved it! 

Jewish Veg: Walk us through a typical day on this vegan fantasy cruise.

Sandy: We have classes 7 am to 10 pm every day. As soon as you wake up, you have 5 choices at every hour: yoga, meditation, running, pilates, stretching, you name it! At 9 am lectures start: cooking classes, panel discussions, and more. We have book signings and social events. The days are jam-packed.  

Jewish Veg: You started a health food store back in the day. Is it still running? 

Sandy: I had it for 37 years. I was very strict about what I sold because I was into macrobiotics. I wouldn’t carry anything with sugar. I wouldn’t waver from quality from what I could carry.

When I first started it, it wasn’t completely vegan, but eventually we transitioned. The store was in Coconut Grove, and I called it the center of the Universe as far as natural foods was concerned. People from all walks of life came to this store, even Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan! It was funky, it wasn’t fancy, but it was a reflection of my personality.

Jewish Veg: You clearly have a strong connection to the health aspects of veganism. Do you also advocate for the ethical and environmental reasons? 

Sandy: Of course! My main focus was macrobiotics and it covers it all. Some people say they are ethical vegans, other health vegans or environmental vegans. That never made sense to me! It has to do with it all.  

Jewish Veg: Do you think Miami has been a great place for the vegan movement to take off?

Sandy: It has been slow! We have the Seed Festival going on, which is great. I would like to see more vegan restaurants, but hey, I cook at home everyday. People seem very receptive in Miami because of the physical aspect of veganism.

People here care about their looks, appearance, and weight. Most people who come knocking on my door come for health reasons in this part of the world. Nowadays people want to live longer and have a better quality of life.

Jewish Veg: Do you feel a connection between Judaism and veganism? 

Sandy: I am a Bar Mitzvah boy. I am still friends with people from Hebrew school. I think my main thing is that everything should be connected. I counsel people regularly.

I had this one guy who was dying of cancer who was very religious. Just before Passover, and I told him that he can’t eat certain foods, specifically animal-based products. He said he couldn’t listen to me because it was Passover. After all, he was Orthodox.

His Rabbi called me up, and I said, “Rabbi, you certainly are a more learned, smarter man when it comes to religion. However, isn’t ‘life’ a tenet of Judaism? Isn’t that the most important thing that we are teaching everybody? This man’s life is on the line.

It is in our Jewish values to help him.” The most important thing is to be a good person, I don't care what religion you are. That's what I try to do and I try to teach my kids that - to be good human being and to be nice to people. That’s all we can ask for.  

For much more information about Holistic Holiday at Sea and Sandy, visit Sandy's Website.

Read past Jewish Veg Spotlights here.