By Anna Austin, VRG Intern
My freshman year I was the only vegan in the entire high school. There were some vegetarians, but many of them did not know about veganism. Even some of my friends didn’t understand or respect my choices. I had tried to make some small efforts to educate people and to even simply explain myself to others, but most of the time I felt like there wasn’t much I could do to clarify or even defend my position to the dozens of other students at my school who either knew nothing about
veganism, thought it was odd, or disagreed with it entirely. I felt that, because I was so outnumbered, there was nothing I could do to promote a change within my school environment. For a while things seemed kind of hopeless. There was no way I alone could change the way things were. For the majority of the school year I grew somewhat comfortable being the only vegan in the school. I had never met any other vegans my age and I had minimal support coming from others, especially those within my age group.
However, one day in March when I was coming out of history class a junior who I recognized, but had never talked to, came up to me in the hallway. She ecstatically told me that she had just recently decided to become a vegan and had come to me because she knew I was, too. She wanted to start a club. I thought it was a great idea, but I was shocked. She had just become a vegan and already was proposing a way of getting the school involved. I had always wanted to start a vegan-related club, but never got the feeling that I could do it all myself or that anything could possibly come out of it because I would have little support. I worried that no one else would join. I never would have done it alone. I was glad this girl had come up to me because with another person, I finally had the help and motivation I needed to do something. This way even if no one joined the club, I wouldn’t be the only one.
Following all the procedures to start a club at my school was not a simple task. We had to get a club request form from the school’s website on which we were required to write the club’s intentions, request a specific budget from the school Senate, and receive a signature from the teacher who agreed to be the club advisor. Once the form was completed, the school’s Senate had to approve it. At the time this felt very overwhelming for both of us. But, fortunately, we were able to have everything together and turned in on time.
A couple weeks later our Vegan Club got approved by Senate. We were so happy our efforts had paid off, but it was relatively late in the year so all other clubs had gotten their starts months ago when the year started and we hadn’t. At the beginning of each year there is a club fair where each club displays their intentions for the year and gives out candy, cake, and other treats to convince other students to join. We wouldn’t get that opportunity. It was too late. Because it was closer to the
end of the year, our goals were going to have to be more directed towards establishing our club, introducing our ideas to the school, finishing off the year successfully, and setting it up for the next year.
For our faculty advisor I asked a teacher who I knew well and who both my co-member and I agreed would be the most helpful for the club. She was my environmental science teacher and she was supportive of our efforts to get the whole school involved. She knew I was a vegan. She was very encouraging and even requested I bring in vegan food for the class whenever I wanted to. She helped us brainstorm and plan events for the rest of the year.
Our first goal was to get people interested in the club. At the start a lot of people mocked the idea, and the Senate almost didn’t approve it just because it was so late in the year. We had to prove to the school and to ourselves that we could be a successful club even without a lot of support. So, we went straight for people’s stomachs. The first event we coordinated was a huge feast outside the school where we gave out free vegan food that we had prepared. It was very successful. It was a warm, sunny day and nearly the entire school (students and teachers) was outside eating our food. It was a great feeling. We knew we had proved ourselves to the rest of the school. If they didn’t know before, people knew after that day that vegan food could actually taste good.
Before the event was done, we had several students come up to the food table and ask to join the club. We gained lots of new members that day. Our club finally had more than just two people. Once it was clear that people had become interested in the club, we tried to get them interested in the cause too. We gradually began focusing on other things and a lot of our later actions involved raising money for various organizations. We had bake sales, activities on Earth Day, and we even gave a presentation in front of the school. It was a lot of fun, and we got a lot of recognition for our efforts (mostly because people liked our food). No one changed their ways of eating as a result of our deeds, but people respected the action we were taking, so we still enjoyed putting in all the work.
I would suggest to anyone else who is thinking about starting a club to first look for an ally, a friend or anyone else who can help out with the planning and organizing. If that’s not possible, finding a supportive mentor could also be beneficial. If it’s too difficult to find a current supporter, it might be useful to try to recruit someone to join the cause. It is always best to plan ahead for a lengthy process and to give yourself enough time. Another thing that I can’t stress enough is enticing people with good food. It works!
Even with the regrets I have about my initial inhibitions, I am proud of what the club was able to accomplish. The best thing that came out of it was the way we set it up for success in the coming years. Because we started it so late in the year, it was able to smoothly transition into the next year right from the start. The club got really popular the following year. We did bake sales and more free food days, as well. We also coordinated with the cafeteria staff to have a couple of all-vegan lunch days. Although the co-founder graduated the second year of the club, many new people have joined. The club changed its name to the Vegan/Vegetarian club to encourage a wider range of people to join. The past couple of years, we’ve organized school-wide activities on Earth Day to get the whole school involved, aware and participating in activities to help educate everyone about different ways of living and eating cruelty-free.