SPEAKING TO CLASSES ABOUT VEGETARIANISM

This guide is for both teachers and outside speakers who have been invited to address classes or other groups. The handout provides you with the basics, which can be adapted to the age and type of group. This guide covers many aspects of vegetarianism and can be abbreviated or lengthened to suit the time allotted by the classes you are addressing.

BEING INVITED

There are many groups or classes that would like to have vegetarian speakers. If you are not a teacher, you need to make your availability known to your community. Most referrals will come by word of mouth. Let people to know you are available to speak. When you receive a response, schedule a date for the talk right away, even if you can't talk for several months.

The best "in" for speaking engagements are members of your vegetarian society or related groups who are teachers or those who know teachers. The teachers may know about vegetarianism, but prefer an outsider to talk about it. Many people may hear about you from tables at fairs. If a teacher comes by, mention that you do talks. Listings are also important. Be sure to include your group on the directory of available groups at the local library. You can also send notices to schools. You may want to send a flier about The Vegetarian Resource Group Essay Contest for schools to post, and let teachers know you are available for presentations. You can also let your availability be known to the parents of school-aged children, especially those parents actively involved in planning school activities.

PREPARATION

Be as scientific as possible. If you are not sure of a fact, say so. If you are giving an opinion, not a scientific fact, let the students know. For some, it is easier to present with a group of two or three other people. This adds balance since each person has different knowledge and perspectives. If you use this approach, prepare an outline and decide what each person will present.

Audio-Visual Aids

Many people who give talks ask The Vegetarian Resource Group for audio-visual aids. While there are some good resources, we prefer to interact with the students for the whole session in order to have discussion on vegetarian questions, an opportunity that they do not normally have. Do what works best for you. Often teachers like to borrow a video the week before the presentation to prepare the class. A good video for class preparation is FOOD WITHOUT FEAR. It is available on loan from VRG for $6.00 and a credit card deposit of $50. Call or write VRG for ordering instructions (see end for contact info.). VRG has a list of videos available to rent. For younger children, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE (available from ASPCA, 441 E. 92nd St., NYC, NY 10128), while not a "vegetarian video," presents the issue of factory farming, focusing on veal calves, and offers vegetarianism as a solution.

Props and Handouts

These can be very helpful. We can send you our brochures in quantity. We have a listing of our Publications, Resources, and Tabling Materials available on our website. Many of our brochures are on the website, and you can print out copies from there if need be. You are welcome to reproduce any handouts or information from Vegetarian Journal as long as you credit VRG.

What to Expect

The outside speaker: Some teachers are more receptive and interested in finding guest speakers than others are. Often classes will consist of bright and inquisitive students. Usually participation will depend on the atmosphere set up by the teacher. Right before or after lunch are the hardest times of the day for any presentation.

Most classes are over before you know it. But once we spoke to a school where we couldn't wait for the hour to end. The students wouldn't respond. Finally we got some interest when we asked how many calories were in beer!

At one school in farm country, most of the students worked in fast food chains or meat markets. We did get one very positive response from a girl who was in both of the classes in which we spoke. She was relatively quiet throughout the first class, but responded to our statements on factory farming because she was being raised on a dairy farm. We asked the student what she did with the male cows that were born. She stated matter-of-factly, "I shoot them." The class became silent and stared at her. They had no idea. We continued to speak. We don't argue with people and never try to convert them. Our purpose is to share information and let them make decisions. We accept people's lifestyles.

In the next class the girl answered questions using information presented in the first class. She had obviously listened well. She mentioned that at first she didn't want to kill the animal, but was told it was a necessary part of life. This seems to be a common experience among farmers with whom we speak.

Resources

Before you speak, be well prepared. We recommend you read the Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets (1997) available on the VRG website or upon request. Reference books include: Simply Vegan by Debra Wasserman and Reed Mangels, PhD, RD; The Vegetarian Way by Virginia Messina MPH, RD and Mark Messina, PhD; Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina, RD, Brenda Davis, RD, and Victoria Harrison, RD; Cooking Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina, RD and Joseph Forrest; A Vegetarian Sourcebook by Keith Akers; Animal Factories by Jim Mason; The New Laurel's Kitchen, by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Brian Ruppenthal; Vegetarian Journal, VRG's publication. References for specific nutrient questions include: USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, 10300 Baltimore Ave., Building 005, Room 107, BARC-West, Beltsville, MD 20705-2011 (their nutrient database is on the web at: www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp.

Citing references from more than one source is always best, and including some mainstream sources (i.e. USDA food pyramid, ADA, etc.) helps show that vegetarian groups aren't the only ones who know that a vegetarian diet can be healthy and well-balanced.

Other resources

Humane Education Committee Lesson Plans, available from the Humane Education Committee, Box 445 Gracie Station, New York, NY 10028; Creative Food Experiences for Children, along with other valuable materials available from Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1875 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 300, Washington ,DC, 20009-5728; The American Dietetic Association has a vegetarian pyramid available, DPG-14, The ADA, 216 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60606 or request one from VRG at PO 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203. Also available from VRG is Leprechaun Cakes and Other Tales, A vegan story/cookbook for children 8 to 11 with over 40 easy-to-prepare recipes. Also includes a glossary of cooking terms, safety tips, and clean up & preparation instructions.

OUTLINE FOR A PRESENTATION

  1. INTRODUCTION

    Outside speakers: State who you are and what group you represent. Make this short. You can hand out materials, but since this can be disruptive, you may want to wait until the end. Teachers and outside speakers: Give a brief introduction about the topic - vegetarianism. You may want to ask the students if any of them are vegetarians or if they know any vegetarians.

  2. DEFINITION OF VEGETARIANISM

    The abstinence of meat, fish, or fowl. We try to make this as simple as possible. You may want to explain that some vegetarians eat dairy products and eggs, while others do not. Those who do not consume any animal products at all are called vegans. This may be confusing for younger children, so you need only give the basic definition.

  3. REASONS FOR BEING VEGETARIAN

    Ask the students if they know why people become vegetarian. They may need prodding. If any of the students know vegetarians, see if they know why those people are vegetarians. Give hints if necessary - "Does anyone know someone who has health problems?"; "Are they on a special diet?"; or "Does anyone know someone who loves animals a lot?" While this information could be given in lecture format, participation will stir up more interest.

    You may want to have students list the reasons on a chalkboard, or draw up your own list beforehand on poster paper to display after the discussion. The reasons that usually are mentioned include: Health (heart disease, cancer, diabetes…); Ethical; Animal Rights; Factory Farming; Religion (Seventh Day Adventists, some other segments of Christianity, Hindus and some other Eastern religions); Ecology; World Hunger; Dislike the taste of meat; Family or friends are vegetarian; Allergic to meat; Economics or budget (a vegetarian diet is less expensive); non-violence.

  4. COMMON FOODS THAT ARE VEGETARIAN

    Ask the students to list these. They often need help. Ask what they had for breakfast. Most people eat a vegetarian breakfast, at least on weekdays. Ask students what foods they eat that are vegetarian or what is on the school menu that is vegetarian. Some common answers might be cheese pizza, French fries, salad, carrot sticks, raisins, peanut butter sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and milk. We like to have a display of common foods such as packages of Cheerios, oatmeal, and pasta. Emphasize that you could be a vegetarian and just eat common foods. Other common foods consumed by vegetarians include noodles, bean tacos, eggplant Parmesan, pancakes and waffles, grilled cheese, vegetable lo mein, oatmeal, eggs, and ice cream.

  5. OTHER FOODS THAT ARE VEGETARIAN

    Can the class name any of these? Explain that some vegetarians eat foods which are very common in other parts of the world, and now becoming more widely available here. Some examples of these are tofu, a soft protein-rich food made from soybean milk. Tofu is also called bean curd and is very common in China. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and is used in Indonesia where it has been used for hundreds of years. Some common vegetarian foods were very unusual a few years ago - for example - veggie burgers. Tofu and bean sprouts are gaining in popularity, and many grocery stores now carry them.

    As an example of how foods become common, you might point out that fast food restaurants are a new phenomenon. You can explain that when you or your parents were children, there were almost no fast food restaurants. The class will probably have a hard time believing this. A good resource on this topic is Changing American Diet from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Contact CSPI at www.cspinet.org or 1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 300 Washington, DC 20009, phone (202) 332-9110, fax (202) 265-4954.

    A display is also helpful for this part of the presentation. You can bring food from home or you can purchase these foods from a health food store or food co-op. You may even find some in grocery stores, especially those that have health food sections. Some examples of foods to display include beans, lentils, tofu, falafel mix (a fried ball or patty that is made from chickpeas and spices and usually served in a sandwich), or agar flakes (a seaweed commonly used as a thickening agent).

    • COOKING DEMO - Outside speakers: some teachers might like you to focus your presentation around a cooking demonstration. This is especially appropriate for home economics classes. Teachers and outside speakers: If you give a cooking demo, remember that it takes a long time. By focusing on a cooking demonstration, time will be taken away from a more complete presentation. It is easy to lose the students' interest unless you keep them involved. Kids, like adults, can be very fussy. We recommend making a common food such as cookies (oatmeal cookies are a favorites). But, remember, what is sweet enough for you may not be sweet enough for them. Another favorite is Tofu Pups in barbecue or sweet and sour sauce, eaten with toothpicks (a vegetarian version of the popular appetizer). Test your recipe with your non-vegetarian friends (the more finicky, the better!).
  6. NUTRITION

    Be scientific, but as easy to understand as possible. Don't present non-scientific theories because they will be challenged or not accepted. Remember that most children probably eat a junk food diet. Getting them to change to a "healthier" meat diet, not to mention a vegetarian diet, is not easy. Anything you can do to get them eating some healthier foods in place of junk foods will be a start. Teenage girls are usually concerned about weight. One kindergarten teacher we know put a display on the bulletin board. Each day she would actually hang up healthy snacks which the children brought from home. Soon all the children were bringing in healthier foods.

    The main subjects to cover for nutrition are protein, calcium, B-12, and iron. We recommend preparing poster size charts ahead of time listing nutrients in plant foods. You might include a chart that lists the USDA daily recommendations for protein, carbohydrates, fat, and certain nutrients, and a show how a sample vegetarian menu would meet those nutritional needs.

    • Protein - Generally vegetarians easily meet their protein needs by eating a varied diet, as long as they consume enough calories to maintain their weight. It is not necessary to plan combinations of foods. A mixture of proteins throughout the day will provide enough essential amino acids. (See "Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets," JADA, 1997, Simply Vegan by Debra Wasserman and Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, and The Vegetarian Way by Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, and Mark Messina, PhD). Protein is found in abundance in grains, vegetables, beans, nuts, and other vegetarian foods.
    • Calcium - Collard greens, kale, broccoli, low fat dairy products, turnip greens, tofu prepared with calcium and fortified soy milk all contain high quantities of calcium.
    • B12 - The adult recommended intake for vitamin B12 is very low - about 2.4 micrograms per day. Vitamin B12 comes primarily from animal-derived foods. A diet containing dairy products or eggs almost always provides adequate vitamin B12. Fortified foods, tofu, meat analogues, and soy milk are also good non-animal sources. Check labels to discover other products that contain vitamin B12. To be on the safe side a vitamin B12 supplement should be taken if dairy products, eggs, or fortified foods are not eaten regularly. Much research still needs to be done on vitamin B12 needs and sources.
    • Iron - Dried beans and dark leafy green vegetables are especially good sources of iron, better on a per calorie basis than meat. Iron absorption is increased markedly by eating foods containing vitamin C along with foods containing iron. Vegetarians do not have a higher incidence of iron deficiency than do meat eaters. (See Simply Vegan for more information on iron or other nutrition topics.)

    You may also want to cover degenerative diseases. In the US heart disease and cancer, have a large diet related component. See Dr. Dean Ornish's Guide for Reversing Heart Disease, by Dean Ornish, MD.

  7. ECOLOGY AND WORLD HUNGER

    Mention that vegetarianism is one part of the solution, though not the only one. Raising animals for food can be destructive to the environment. Environmental problems caused by the meat industry include water pollution, soil erosion and excess energy use. Many more people can be fed with the grain that it takes to produce a pound of meat than can be fed with the pound of meat. (See A Vegetarian Sourcebook.)

    This may also be a place to introduce the idea that small changes can add up to big differences. Junior high and high school students are often becoming interested in certain global problems, but feel powerless to "do" anything that they feel has an effect.

  8. FACTORY FARMING

    Read books on factory farming, and if possible visit farms and processing plants. Obtain agricultural catalogs and point out equipment used such as the debeaker commonly sold to poultry businesses.

    An example that will help children understand why animals are routinely fed antibiotics is to ask them what would happen if the whole class was forced to live in a room the size of a bathroom their whole life, and a classmate caught a cold. The students always respond by saying they would all get sick. This helps them understand the "necessity" of antibiotic use in factory farming. (Antibiotics also help the animals grow faster.) You may need to explain the danger that disease organisms are likely to become resistant to antibiotics that are overused.

    An exercise to help students understand the crowded conditions animals live in would be to mark off a two foot square on the floor with chalk or tape. Ask the children to take turns standing in it. While they are in it, ask them if they could imagine living their whole life in that amount of space, and never going anywhere else. Point out that they would not even have enough room to stretch if they wanted to.

  9. ADVERTISING

    Explain the influence advertising has on our choices and on nutrition information. Before speaking, cut out advertisements with pictures of smiling animals. Explain to the students that animals wouldn't be smiling about being killed. This type of advertising is a subtle way to tell us animals want to be eaten. You can also find examples of misleading health ads. For example, ask, if a food is low in cholesterol, does that mean it is low in fat?

  10. CARTOONS

    There are many cartoons that convey vegetarian and animal rights messages. Sharing these with students is a fun way to stimulate increased interest during the presentation.

  11. FOOD GROUPS

    The Four Food Groups was an old way to look at eating. In recent years the USDA has revised their recommendation into the Food Guide Pyramid. The current recommendations for the dairy serving allow for calcium fortified soy milk and the meat group includes peanut butter and tofu. The USDA offers a brochure, Tips for Using the Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children 2 to 6 Years Old, which might be a useful resource and visual aid.

  12. WHERE TO SHOP

    You can be a vegetarian and do all your shopping at the grocery store. Other possibilities include farmers' markets, co-ops, natural foods stores, and ethnic stores. Health food stores specialize in vegetarian foods, but don't assume everything is healthy or vegetarian. Some products are overpriced and available in other places. For example, some of the same brands of soy sauce are available in oriental markets for a lower price. Tofu could be cheaper in a health food store than a supermarket.

  13. PROBLEMS FOR DISCUSSION

    What does a vegetarian do when he or she eats out at a restaurant or a friend's house? When you go away to college, how would a vegetarian obtain better food in the cafeteria? Reproduce a nutrition table for all the students and have them pick which foods are highest or lowest in certain nutrients. Our I Love Animals and Broccoli Activity Book has other exercises which can be reproduced.

  14. FAMOUS VEGETARIANS

    Students may be interested to learn that there are many famous vegetarians, contemporary and historical. They include: Leonardo da Vinci, George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, Clara Barton, Mr. Rogers, Fiona Apple, Lindsay Wagner, Steve Jobs (founder of Apple Computers), Paul and Linda McCartney. You may want to clip pictures of these people.

CONCLUSION

When giving presentations, we encourage the students or teacher to ask questions at any time. This may result in your topics being presented out of the order you had originally planned. You may not have time to get all the way through your presentation. On the other hand, in case you finish faster than you expect, it's helpful to have a display table of vegetarian books and magazines.

Remember, some participants may come to your presentation by choice while school children may only be there because it is mandatory. Students today will often respond most enthusiastically to environmental or animal rights topics. Don't expect to reach everybody, but remember you are always planting seeds whenever you talk.

Good luck. Please let us know if we can be of further help.

This handout is from The VEGETARIAN RESOURCE GROUP. To join and receive the 36-page Vegetarian Journal send $20 to VRG, PO Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203. Call (410) 366-VEGE; www.vrg.org; vrg@vrg.org.