December 04, 2014 by
Nina Casalena, The VRG Blog Editor
By Dina Gharib
When the term activism comes up, many people are quick to assume it consists of loud yelling, anger, and hatred. While in many cases it does, that isn’t always the scenario. Activism doesn’t need to be conducted in a group, or outside. It can simply be done in the comfort of your home. Each kind action we do for others that encourages them to be a better person is a sign of activism.
As a vegetarian and vegan community, we are constantly being activists. My name is Dina Gharib; I’m your average 19-year-old college student. I’m here to describe all the ways that I have become an activist by simply being me. No, I have not done anything out of the ordinary, or extra extraordinary, I have just been myself, helped people when they were in need, and spread my gathered knowledge through anyone willing to listen.
Coming from a family that emigrated from Egypt to America, I have been blessed to look at the world in a different perspective. One of those major perspectives is my value on education and learning. I know that the education system in Egypt isn’t the best, and throughout my years of learning in American schools I’ve learned that thoroughly learning and embracing knowledge is an experience that is irreplaceable. The impact that learning can have on a person is remarkable. I can honestly say through my two and a half years of being in college, my outlook on life has completely changed. I strive to absorb as much information as possible, and to use it to my advantage in everything I do.
While coming to America, my family was able to make friends with multiple other families that also immigrated to Baltimore. These Egyptians are now considered my family even though my real family is in Egypt. They’ve been with me through every step of my life, and vice versa. While the majority of them are much older than me, we were always considered equals. While I was set on going to college and getting my degree, the majority decided to take an alternate route. One day, as we were all sitting together, many of them came to my brother and me and stated that they were thinking about going back to school, but they carried apprehension since it had been so long. We sat them down, told them that it would be hard, but nothing that was easy was worth doing. I explained that the payoff in the end would be so much better; that even though the job market is horrible, you will change as a person and you will find a job that suits you. With a full force, I jumped on the opportunity to get them started. The following week, they all came over to my house, and we started filling out as many college applications as possible. Being the grammar freak that I am, I was in charge of editing and revising all of their college entrance essays. Some of them got accepted to universities while others opted to start with a community college.
Once the semester began, my house became THE house for studying. Every Monday and Wednesday, we would all sit at the kitchen table to do work. I attempted to make it fun by having coffee breaks and impromptu dance sessions, just to keep the positivity up. Luckily for them, we Gharib siblings shine in different subjects. My brother being the computer science “nerd” would help them with their math and science classes, while I was the designated editor for all English, Speech, and Communication classes. First and foremost, I went through the basics and then taught them how to develop their thesis statements, how to write for a certain audience, and how to pose their research essays. We went through a typical writer’s environment where they wrote a draft, sent it to me, I made corrections, sent it back, and so forth until we felt that the paper represented what they wanted to say properly. We’d run through presentations, and speeches, making sure we ran through the allotted time, and that minor necessities like eye contact was kept. My passion and persistence has allowed me to become an activist for education. While this impact might be small, it could inevitably become a chain reaction that leads others to pursue schooling again.
My next form of activism has been my most ongoing form. As a typical American child I grew up with a legitimately intense love for all things fast food. My love of junk food soon got out of hand when I became overweight. I never was active, and I’d spend my summers in front of a TV, in my pajamas with a bag of chips. I ate anything and everything in sight. Perhaps it was my growing lack of self-confidence or my emotional instability that led me to eat so much. Whatever the reason was, I knew I needed to change. I knew that there was no reason for me to wear baggy clothes all the time. I wanted to dress up, and feel pretty; I wanted to be confident. So, I knew what I had to do. I started doing research on all the different ways to be healthy. I signed up for a gym, and decided to give running a try. For the first two weeks it was hard. It wasn’t something that I had ever done or been good at. As months passed by, I noticed that I began to run farther and faster. The ability to beat my record every week was thrilling. I loved the competition that I had with myself. While continuing my new found love of running, I decided to experiment with different foods. I found nutritious recipes that comprised mostly of vegetables, and saw how they tasted. After many hit-or-miss recipes, I discovered my love for broccoli. Since broccoli couldn’t be found in Egypt in the 90’s, my family had no idea what it was. I on the other hand, couldn’t get enough! After I finally discovered fruits and vegetables the weight just kept shedding off. I was a lot more confident and my skin was clearer. Along with my new found love of running, I started taking Zumba dance classes. That way I was up and active without feeling like I was working out. It was literally a dance party masked as a workout.
While continuing my lifestyle shift, I met a group of kind vegans while at a music concert. They were handing out pamphlets and took the time to explain to me all the benefits of going vegan and/or vegetarian. I was inspired by all they had to say, but I had to look further into it. Once I did, I couldn’t believe how I wasn’t already a vegetarian. I quickly made the decision to switch over, and I’ve kept at it ever since. While this was a short summary of why I decided to go vegetarian, the main reason I decided to share this was to represent all that I’ve done to spread my beliefs, as well as the way others have influenced my life.
After years of improving my vegetarian cooking skills, I decided to try and work on my family. All the members of my family were obese, not active and couch potatoes. Their dinners consisted of nothing but empty carbs and/or starch and meat. I decided to begin cooking for them, and trying to incorporate vegetables with their meals. While most of them were open to it, my little brother was a challenge. But after buying every possible vegetable I could find, I discovered that he liked string beans, carrots, soybeans, and romaine. From there I would try to incorporate those vegetables into everything he ate. I also took it upon myself to make eating fun. I wanted each meal to be exciting, and not “torture” as my mother would put it. From there, I developed fun ways to eat vegetables without my brother even knowing (or caring). I began making Cauliflower vegetable fried rice, and spaghetti squash and Meatless Meatballs along with countless other recipes. Once my family started eating vegetables in their meals I decided it was time for them to get active. I took my mom to a Zumba class which she now loves, and I would take my little brother to the park to play soccer or basketball. When my brother would want to give up, using his weight as an excuse, I wouldn’t have it. I told him, that weight wasn’t an excuse, that he could be excel at anything if he really tried; that this should be a stepping stone into becoming a healthier person. Once they were all moving, I noticed all of their moods increased, and their confidence began to beam.
Besides my personal activism, I believe that my social media has inspired many others to eat healthier and live well balanced lives. By posting endless pictures and videos of my recipes for all of my followers, I’ve been a voice that helps inspire others to eat healthier. Common excuses like “It’s too expensive” or “It takes too much time” are all diminished. I also take requests from my followers to take unhealthy comfort foods, and morph them into delicious and nutritious meals. I provide an example that everyone can eat healthy, flavorful meals that are cost and time efficient. Since my diet and social media pages are specifically vegetarian, I also have a lot of people from around the world messaging me and asking me questions about vegetarianism, my recipes, and easy ways top transition into having a healthier life. Offering my humble advice deriving from my years of experience and knowledge is all that I can do, and it is enough. Just as that group of vegans and vegetarians took the time to stop and share their wisdom with me, which has eternally changed my life, I hope that I can do the same in someone else’s life.