Vegetarian Resource Group Awards
Of The Vegetarian Resource Group’s hundreds of projects, one of the most enjoyable is reading essays written by our scholarship entrants. It’s always frustrating that we only have funding to give two awards since all of these students have so much passion and commitment.
Students are excited by this scholarship contest, as illustrated by this typical comment:
“Every month when I go over the list of new scholarships, I skip most of them because the organization or the essay is not something I have strong feelings about. When my mom told me that she found a scholarship for vegetarians, I didn’t think twice about starting it. This scholarship was different because it is based on something I care about and something that is a huge part of my life. I could talk for hours about being vegan but could care less about writing an essay on my biggest scholastic achievement....”
It’s also exciting that we’ve seen our vegetarian scholarship among listed ‘mainstream’ grants, such as those given by Toyota or reserved for Girls Scouts. Awarding the scholarships is another step toward vegetarianism becoming as common as meat-eating in this country.
About This Year’s Winners
Scholarship recipient Rick Kump of Florida embodies activism with almost daily promotion of vegetarianism and animal rights. Rick said he grew up with a passion for animals and a love for people. “I waved at strangers who looked sad, moved turtles from the highway, and placed worms wriggling on the pavement back into their earthly homes.… But I lived much like anyone else.”
However, when writing a paper on animal rights for English class in seventh grade, Rick became a vegetarian almost instantly. He said, “My smallest sister, a 6-year-old, to the chagrin of our family, elected a vegetarian diet as well.”
The last week of middle school, a teacher surprised Rick by explaining that she had fought to bestow upon him a “Most Passionate for Animal Rights” award, but the administrators did not allow her. She reminded Rick that what he fought for was controversial, but people noticed his choices, saw his passion, and admired his dedication to what he knew was right. Rick stated, “I left middle school with a ‘most hilarious’ award thanks to my friends and classmates, a clear sign to me that I had overcome one of the greatest struggles vegans face—how to present a serious issue without it poisoning my personality.”
As an illustration of vegetarian activism in all his activities, Rick said, “I saw gold in a local forest, named the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary, where I quickly became a certified trail guide. As a guide, I had access to school groups throughout the entire county and community groups of people of all ages. A quick stop in the ‘hydric hammock,’ where the soil is rich black with nutrients, gave me—and continues to provide me with—the chance to discuss crops and the environmental impact of a plant-based diet…” with thousands of students and other members of the community.
Rick also started the group Teen Activists of Brevard, which he uses as a forum for putting on monthly events and obtaining newspaper and TV interviews. Rick has found several oppportunities for activism in his school, such as when a previous 9th grade teacher allowed him to speak for two entire class periods on animal rights and youth activism. A health teacher invited Rick to speak to three of her classes on the benefits of a vegan diet. Though Rick doesn’t eat processed foods, he happily promoted change by pointing others towards Tofutti ice cream, Boca Burgers, vegan bean burritos at Taco Bell, and the BK Veggie at Burger King.
Zoe Weill from the International Institute for Humane Education said, “In all my years of doing humane education, having met and taught thousands of young people, I have never met anyone whom I could recommend more highly for an award or scholarship to continue the work of teaching others.” Rick is also a teen advisor who regularly answers questions for VegetarianTeen.com. One of his teachers wrote, “This young man has accomplished more as an 18-year-old than most have by the time they are 40.”
Rick said, “One might say organization is my ‘Achilles’ heel.’ Although I feel very accomplished by what I have already done and experienced in my life, often I take on so many projects at once that I lose sight of my overall goals and the best techniques to achieve them. At one point in my life, after newly discovering my place in national activism for vegetarianism and animal rights, I found myself drowning in leaflets, stickers, and information packets. I came to accept that I cannot stop the leather trade, the exotic pet trade, puppy mills, circuses, animal advertising, factory farming, dissection, vivisection, human rights violations, bullying in schools, teenage suicide, and child abuse single-handedly.
“I had to decide to stick where the most work needs to be done and where I could maximize my ability for change: working for a vegan world. I still manage to do activism for other issues when I can, but if I had not decided to focus on something, I fear I would be working for nothing. In my life now, I work to improve my organizational skills in all areas of my life, as a writer, speaker, student, and activist.” One of Rick’s next goals is to complete a book on health and compassion for young people.
Who Are Vegetarian Activists?
We’ve seen patterns in the students who apply for this scholarship. The highest percentage probably has been influenced by the animal rights movement, especially PETA, and a number are handing out Vegan Outreach literature. Another segment comes from a Seventh-day Adventist, Hindu, or Jain background. Some are very liberal, though a sizable number attend church regularly. Vegetarians and vegans vary as much in their beliefs as the rest of the population.
A few of the entrants are activist because they were born into an activist family. Many have high grades and high SAT scores. Quite a few are going into medical and engineering fields, while sizable numbers are musicians or artists. Most are doing some sort of social justice outreach, such as working with the homeless, tutoring kids, or volunteering for other charities. Still, even in 2005, many of these students feel different, challenged, and somewhat ostracized.
Common outreach themes are presentations in classes, writing articles for their school newspapers, starting an animal rights club, and working to improve food in their school cafeterias. Convenience, taste, and ethnic foods generally are very important in exposing their friends to vegetarianism.
Shakira Croce of Georgia became a vegetarian at 12 years old. As she lives in the poultry capital of the world, she said her middle school cafeteria had no vegetarian options. She wrote a letter to the cafeteria manager and gathered more than 200 student and teacher signatures in a petition. Though initially resistant, the cafeteria opened a salad bar to all students and teachers, complete with a variety of raw and cooked vegetables, fresh fruit, and baked potatoes every day. The salad bar includes apples, oranges, bananas, lettuce, carrots, celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, raisins, nuts, and cooked beans on a regular basis. Sometimes, the staff would add pasta salad, coleslaw, spinach, and broccoli.
Shakira felt these offerings must have worked for the Gainesville Middle School because they still offer the salad bar today. In an article in VegNews, Shakira says when trying to vegetarianize your cafeteria, be polite but firm. “When dealing with adults who have ideas that differ from yours, always have a smile on your face and speak in a nice tone of voice… It’s easier to get things done if people like you. Of course, if being nice fails, don’t be afraid to organize a protest!”
Based on her earlier success, Shakira started an animal rights club in her high school, gave out samples of vegan food at lunches, set up library displays, and had more than a dozen letters and guest columns in her local newspaper. For a Meatout Day event, she had the cafeteria make up and serve vegan macaroni and cheese donated by Road’s End Organics, plus items donated by Edward & Sons Trading Company and Turtle Island Foods, which makes Tofurky.
Shakira writes essays for the website VegetarianTeen.com. Site owner Melanie Wilson states, “From the beginning she has stood out from the others as a talented young writer and a determined peaceful activist. Her poise and expression belie her years.” One of Shakira’s neighbors explains, “Eight out of 10 people in our area are hunters. It is hard for adults to go up against odds like that, much less a young girl. But Shakira has never wavered… She is in our eyes an ‘old soul’ who has much to teach the world.”
Shakira says, “I would not trade the experiences I had promoting vegetarianism for anything… Whatever I choose to do beyond college, I will always be an activist for vegetarianism, women’s rights, human rights, animal rights, and the environment; I will always take a stand for what I believe, and who knows, one day I may even convince my parents to change their eating habits.”See the scholarship webpage to apply for our 2006 scholarships.