by Shelby Jackson, VRG Intern
Starting a vegetarian club in high school is a powerful way to spread the word about the nutritional benefits, animal rights issues and the ecological advantages of vegetarianism. Bringing together individuals with similar ideas and interests makes advocating more enjoyable and productive. When it comes to activism, numbers are important. Every person brings something new and different to the table. Having a multitude of diverse perspectives and skills is valuable when it comes to formulating and executing successful advocacy efforts.
The first step in starting a vegetarian group is to identify the purpose of the club; it could be as simple as educating your peers about the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Later in the process, when you meet with school administrators about starting the club, it will be helpful to be prepared for the questions they will ask. If you can, seek out a core group that can help you start the club. If you do not already have people in mind, you could hang up posters with your contact information around school asking for volunteers who are interested in helping start the club.
Next, you should speak with a school administrator about the necessary steps in starting an official school sponsored club. When I started a vegetarian club in high school, I went straight to the principal to get the necessary forms. Many high schools require that the student interested in founding the club finds a teacher who is willing to serve as the sponsor. In some cases this means that the teacher should also be willing to hold the club meetings in his or her classroom, but this is not always the case. If you do not have a teacher in mind, try asking your friends if they have any ideas. Some schools require signatures in order to demonstrate that students are interested and willing to attend the club’s meetings; these should not be difficult to gather. Kitty Jones, a recent high school graduate, says that her high school required 5 primary members, a mission statement, and the completion of a small form.
The following list includes vegetarian club activities and projects initiated by Kitty’s animal rights club and my high school’s vegetarian club:
- Contact a vegetarian organization and ask for them to send you free flyers, pamphlets, and stickers, or print the PDF handouts that can be found here: http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/.
- Vegan bake sales are a great way to raise money for animal rights or vegetarian organizations, and for letting people taste how delicious vegan food really is. You can even have a group baking party so everyone can be involved and become better acquainted.
- Give away free vegan samples at school or in the community; you can also attach a vegetarian pamphlet to the food.
- Movie screenings are a great way to educate and bring people together. Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, Food, Inc. and The Cove are great movies for those interested in vegetarianism and animal rights.
- Organize a group work day at a local animal sanctuary or shelter.
- At a local fast food or other type of restaurant give out flyers or coupons promoting their vegetarian options; for example a veggie burger at Burger King, a vegan burrito at Chipotle, or the testing of a vegan sandwich at Subway.
- Hold a cat toy and dog treat making party for local shelters.
- Conduct a supply drive for local animal sanctuaries.
- Start a school-wide petition against dissection.
- Petition for the school to offer more vegan options, such as soymilk and veggie burgers in the cafeteria. For more information, see: http://www.vrg.org/teen/high_school_cafeteria.php.
- Campaign for district-wide Meat Free Mondays.
- Host dinner nights where members of the club can cook a vegetarian meal together, relax, and hang out.
- Organize a raffle fundraiser to raise money for the club in order to cover the cost of food handouts and bake sale supplies.
- Promote a “kindness to animals week” where students can sign pledges of kind things they will do for animals (like go vegetarian for a day, week, or forever, boycott the circus, etc.) and post them all over the school.
- Prepare a discussion topic or theme for every meeting to help keep things structured.
- Take turns bringing in vegetarian-related articles to promote an environment of collaborative learning.
- Take group photos holding signs that address a particular company, followed by “stop testing on animals,” and mail it to that company.
- As a group, host an animal rights information table in the student lounge or other area with a lot of student traffic.
- Make animal shaped posters advertising the club, meeting time, and location.
- Prepare PowerPoint presentations to help inform the club about issues such as animal testing and the hidden animal ingredients that vegetarians sometimes overlook.
- Ask your librarian if your club could create an animal rights library display complete with vegetarian books, cookbooks, and vegetarian pamphlets.
- Ask the activities director at your school if you could sell vegan snacks at school events, and be sure to include a sign indicating that the food is cruelty-free and vegan.
- Use some of the club’s earnings to purchase an animal suit to wear to help bring attention to your campaigns and advocacy efforts.
- Organize events to celebrate World Vegetarian Day on October 1st and National Meatout Day on March 20th.
- Create a design for a club t-shirt and take it to a local shirt screening business. Wearing cool vegetarian shirts around school is a great way to make the group known.
- Create a Facebook page for you student group where you can post up-to-date information about the vegetarian movement and send out invites to activities and events.
- Contact local vegetarian/vegan restaurants and ask if they would be willing to donate food to your group meetings. A bakery near Kitty’s school donated over-baked vegan donuts which helped boost the meeting turn out.
- Start a vegetarian mentoring program within your school. Interested club members can serve as mentors to those looking for guidance as they make the transition to a vegetarian diet. This program is also useful for vegetarians who are looking to become vegan.
Invite guest speakers such as local activists in your community or leaders in local animal rights organizations.
If your school uses video announcements, make a creative video to promote your club. If you do not have a video camera, use photos to create a stop motion video using fruits and vegetables. For inspiration, check out the one I made in high school: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vHDneuS4vY
Be creative about the promotion of your club and the activities you plan. Feel free to think of things not listed in this article and be sure to ask your group for ideas. An important thing to always emphasize is the inclusiveness of the club; an open membership is the best way to reach the most people. Never exclude someone from your club because they are not vegetarian. It may be helpful to hold elections at the second or third club meeting. It is a good idea to elect a president who will lead the meetings, a vice president who plans events, a treasurer who handles funds, and a secretary who records and reads minutes. If your club is smaller, you may want to combine officer tasks to only a few positions; if your club becomes larger, you may want to add additional officers, such as a publicity officer.
Remember that even when only a few people attend, you are still making an impact. Even on days when nobody showed up at meetings, Kitty sat by herself writing letters urging companies to be more compassionate toward animals. Independent projects such as this are still tremendously helpful, and Kitty’s friends later told her how her dedication inspired them. Starting a vegetarian club is hugely rewarding and easier than you would think. A single vegetarian holds great potential in terms of who he or she may influence; a group of vegetarians working together holds even more. Vegetarian clubs are a powerful force for the vegetarian movement. Though you may get frustrated at times, remember that if you work hard enough, your group will only gain momentum, the going will get easier, and you will accomplish more than you ever thought imaginable.
For more information about starting a student group, see: http://www.vrg.org/activist/student.htm and http://www.vrg.org/blog/2012/06/25/how-can-you-start-a-vegan-club-in-high-school/.