Vegetarian Resource Group Awards
Selecting the winners of VRG’s scholarship contest is tough. Hopefully, in the future, donors will enable us to give additional awards. The students in small cattle-raising towns certainly deserve accolades, and there are young people who’ve lost a parent to whom you want to reach out and hug and give an award for their courage.
How do you ‘rate’ the entrant who was raised as a vegetarian versus the individual who became one on his or her own? For those from a vegetarian family, it’s easy to take your diet for granted and be involved in working on other issues. One of the winners this year attends a school where only 30 percent of the students go on to college. How much more credit does an applicant earn for making changes under those circumstances? Thank you to all the entrants who deserve prizes for their work, and thank you to the donors who allow us to give scholarships and promote vegetarian activism.
This Year’s Winners
Seema Rupani stopped eating meat at the age of five. During a car trip with her family, she asked her mother, “Why are there so many cows out there?”
Her mom answered, “They are all going to be killed and made into meat.”
From that day forward, Seema made the decision to stop eating meat.
In her junior year of high school, Seema started the first animal/environmental protection group on her school’s campus. Their major goal was to get vegan and vegetarian items added to the cafeteria menus. Over two to three weeks, she organized the gathering of more than 1,000 signatures, 25 percent of the school’s 4,000 students, who agreed that the food service should offer more vegetarian options.
After an hour presentation from Seema, the head food service director agreed that she would provide the food if the students would promote it. Seema put together a commercial with humorous skits relating to vegetarian food, which was played on their school’s daily television bulletin. Seema’s club was given its own cart and sold veggie riblet burgers, soft tacos, fruit salads, garden salads, potato wedges, baked chips, rice cakes, yogurts, tomato basil pasta soup, and miso and tofu soup. Then, the local newspaper did a story on them, and even more students became interested. Roughly five vegan options were then placed on the standard menu.
Another event at the school is a science health festival attended by 5,000 people. Seema contacted the food service person in charge and was informed that there could be vegetarian food if she would take charge of selling the items. She turned the usual menu of hot dogs and hamburgers into a mostly vegetarian menu. She worked with the food services to create a selection of fruit salads, garden salads, garden burgers, soft tacos, taco pockets, veggie corn dogs, veggie chicken nuggets, chocolate soymilks, fruit juices, and more. The food service insisted that there must be one non-vegetarian item, chicken, so that people coming to the festival would be able to choose.
Seema reported, “It was funny to hear that even meat-eaters thought the chicken looked so greasy that they chose the vegetarian food over it because it looked so much more appealing, and nearly all the items on the menu sold out.”
Seema was also scheduled to go on a ‘road show’ with her club officers and the food service director to travel to all the elementary and middle schools in her district and do presentations on the “new school revolution.”
Seema said that she has learned that instead of sitting around arguing with people and getting frustrated, she has to focus on making positive, constructive changes. With her club’s successes, eating vegan and vegetarian food has become “cool and new on campus instead of something weird.”
Melissa from In Defense of Animals said Seema is “an angel for animals…. I have never before met someone as young as Seema, so dedicated, and a role model for so many.”
One of Seema’s teachers stated, “As for Seema, there is no need to invent any hyperbolic bromides. She is a force of nature. There would be no vegetarian/vegan food at this school at all if not for her. After meeting a mountain of bureaucratic inertia, she just kept climbing. She basically just wore them down enough so that they feel obligated to provide a healthy alternative, but she does it with verve and persistence, not bluster and hectoring. I think she’ll be promoting vegetarianism until she draws her last breath.
“Seema Rupani is committed. Period. Her drive and focus will be of immense help in fighting to change people’s awareness of what comprises a healthy diet as well as the way we treat animals. Seema has had an uphill struggle with the school’s leaders, but that’s the kind of thing she thrives on. Eventually, she outworks them, and they give in. But there’s more to her than just being dogged.… I know it’s her pure, queen-sized heart that guided her and formed her convictions.”
Congratulations to Seema and to her family and to James Logan High School in Union City, California, for producing such an excellent person.
Priyanka Jain wrote, “While some grandmothers spoil their grandchildren with candies, my grandmother experimented her soy vegetarian recipes on me… and thus arose my nickname, Soybaby.”
For the past five years, Priyanka has been hosting her grandmother’s TV show, Indian Vegetarian Cooking, that airs on a local cable channel. Priyanka says, “There is much preparation that goes into putting the show together. For several weeks, my grandma and I try new recipes and add lots of nutritious soy-based products and tofu. We write out the scripts, edit, rehearse, bring in speakers,.... In the show, we have also shown different varieties of not only Indian but also Mexican, Thai, and Italian vegetarian items. One of my favorite items to present are desserts made without eggs, honey, or gelatin. This is usually a shock to people—how can you eat cake without eggs?”
In middle school, Priyanka had her grandmother come in to teach a cooking class on simple Indian vegetarian cooking. The two are currently co-authoring a volume called Vegetarian Book for Teens. After graduation, they planned a week-long vegetarian cooking camp for youth.
Each October, Priyanka participates in a food sampling booth at the Boston Vegetarian Society Food Festival. She also volunteers at the Peace Abbey and held a conference there for 30 youth. The Peace Abbey has a monument of a cow that was saved from a slaughterhouse as well as a barnyard of rescued animals. For the past 12 years, Priyanka has been going to a few homeless shelters annually to volunteer with her youth group. They make vegetarian food at home and then serve it at the shelter.
At her school, Priyanka realized that her world history class did not include information about ahimsa and vegetarianism, though it covered other noble truths. Since then, they have been integrated into the syllabus. For Seminar Day at School, she invited and hosted an animal rights representative from PETA.
During her sophomore year, Priyanka founded the Action for Animal Liberation Club. After the organization wrote a letter to the cafeteria, the food services added more vegetarian menu items, such as fruit salad, soy burgers, and vegetarian soups. The club also sold vegan cookies and cakes at their bake sales.
Sangeeta Kumar, education coordinator for PETA, stated, “I have been a humane educator for over 12 years, and Priyanka Jain is definitely one of the most outstanding, well-rounded students I have met…. She sees it as her duty to bring such values as compassion to the world because she understands that this is something that the world is truly in need of. She has done more in her youth than many people do in a lifetime for the betterment of the world! I wholeheartedly recommend her for this scholarship.”
Priyanka stated, “I will share the news of my scholarship with my school and community members and local newspapers so as to encourage my peers, both in and out of school, to promote vegetarianism and animal rights. When kids see their peers being recognized for their hard work in promoting something so humanitarian, it only gives them confidence to build a better world.… I know that one day, most humans will become vegetarian. However, this cannot be achieved unless we individually take small steps to create a more humane world.”