By Veronica Lizaola
With my two month internship drawing to a close, I am astonished at the skills and knowledge that I have gained. Inside, I feel completely different than my vegetarian self who stepped out of a plane from San Antonio, Texas. Interning at The Vegetarian Resource Group and interacting with vegans, reading about vegetarianism, promoting vegetarianism, researching vegetarianism, and even eating new vegetarian food while discussing the vegetarian movement, has made me even more passionate about the vegetarian diet and lifestyle. There wasn’t one day during my internship that I didn’t learn something new. Every week there was a project that needed to be worked on, someone that needed to be interviewed, products that needed to be reviewed, articles I had to read, items that needed to be shipped, recipes I would write, and events and conferences that awaited me.
Within the first week that I arrived, I had to prepare for Book Expo America in New York, a city I immediately fell in love with. All around me were restaurants that (unlike the restaurants in Texas) had such a variety of vegan options to choose from. At the actual Book Expo, I was so enlightened by the VRG’s work ethic and really got to learn about the publishing and business side that goes into producing the Vegetarian Journal and publishing vegan books. I got to improve on my social skills as I handed out issues of the journal, approached interested onlookers, exchanged business cards, and talked to many individuals about the vegetarian diet. It was interesting seeing all the various responses from people that were there. I found that regardless of their response, my passion for advocating this diet truly multiplied. Amongst those individuals were people that had been vegetarians for most of their lives, people that were having a hard time transitioning, and people whose ignorance and lack of interest in their health really astonished me.
This experience taught me how crucial it is to educate the public. On the table we had all kinds of pamphlets and free handouts on different issues within vegetarianism but what I found to be most effective was the personal interaction with individuals. Speaking to them, answering questions, asking questions, seeing how they were processing the information I was giving them; that truly made all the difference. Fortunately, later in my internship I was able to have the same type of interaction with an entirely different audience – Baltimore’s Latino population at the Latino Fest 2010.
At the Latino Fest, I was able to use my bilingual skills to communicate with Latinos from all over the world. I was also able to launch one of my projects I spent my internship working on – a Latino coloring book in Spanish that divided a variety of fruits and vegetables commonly found in the Latin community by color. I feel that this interactive coloring book will help educate young children about all of the different fruits and vegetables that are available in hopes of establishing healthy food consumption. I was fortunate to have so much support and input from the VRG staff when creating the coloring book that transformed dramatically with each draft I produced. It was very overwhelming in the beginning to even come up with a title or a small plot for it, but eventually I was inspired to implement the use of color and rainbows with different fruits and vegetables after meeting with a group of dietetic interns visiting the VRG office. Before I knew it, the booklet came into place and it was so much fun drawing the characters. I had the license to do pretty much anything I wanted and I really appreciated that!
Other projects that I have worked on during my internship include an article on an inspirational woman who volunteers with an organization promoting plant-based nutrition to the Latino population in Missouri, an article with Mexican recipes that come straight from my mother’s kitchen, and an article for vegetarian teenagers who attend agriculture schools. I also reviewed various vegetarian products for our ‘Veggie Bits’ section in Vegetarian Journal to give readers insight on what is new on the market and accessible. I also wrote a few items for the VRG blog! To put my Spanish skills to the test, I translated a 7-page English article into Spanish!
Towards the end of my internship, I was fortunate enough to participate and engage in an Animal Rights Conference in Washington, D.C. I am so thankful for this wonderful opportunity and the endless interaction I had while there with other individuals that share such a similar passion. As soon as I heard that Peter Young, an animal rights activist that I truly admire, would be there, I jumped with excitement and started counting down the days until the conference would begin. I, along with two other VRG interns, was amongst hundreds of like-minded animal rights activists! Although this might seem odd for most people, this experience was like a vegetarian utopia for me! I was able to go to different sessions that explored different animal rights issues, none more important than the other. Amongst these talks was a session on direct action, a session on how to be a better public speaker, and my favorite, a session where we discussed under what circumstances would we or would we not kill an animal (pests, animals that attack, etc). These presentations really opened my mind to different issues and have made me more aware of issues that I had not really focused on beforehand, such as experimentation on beagles. There were all types of individuals there and the most interesting would have to be the vegan body builders. I have gained so much appreciation for these athletes, especially having bonded with one of them (another VRG intern) during the entire conference. I was able to see all of the dedication and consistency that goes into a vegan body building diet.
My experience in Baltimore was truly amazing thanks to the support of the VRG staff. I had really fun weekends exploring different types of vegan foods with Jeannie and Ben, who first introduced me to Indian food which is now my favorite food. After being encouraged to go back to New York City by myself, I was able to go to the art museums and indulge in as much vegetarian food as I could before returning back to Texas. I really want to thank the donors who gave me endless resources in order for my internship to happen and for Charles and Debra, who were always encouraging and had really interesting stories to share! I explored as much of Baltimore City as possible and it is safe to say that I am in love with the East coast and plan on coming back as soon as possible!