It's that time of year again, when VRG announces the winners of its annual $5,000 college scholarships for graduating high school seniors. Thank you to Sonja, Avi, Lauri, Jenny, and Melanie for helping us respond to all of this year's entrants.
As in previous years, applicants for this year's two $5,000 college scholarships encompassed a wide spectrum in terms of their social or economic status and their belief systems. Applicants ranged from those who grew up in conservative cattle country and had been members of 4H to those who are vegetarian for religious reasons (such as Hindu, Seventh-day Adventist, or Jain) to those who are members of punk rock bands.
Some students came from relatively privileged backgrounds, while others were forced to live with relatives because their parents couldn't care for them. Some had parents who were struggling with second jobs to bring in $20,000 per year or parents who have passed away after painful illnesses. Much of what these kids have gone through makes you stop and think. It's amazing how resilient they are, and that they can still feel empathy for others and find time to volunteer
One factor that most of the teens who applied for these scholarships did have in common is that, even today, their beliefs and behaviors tend to make them feel different and in the minority. Of course, they would like the scholarship award, but it does have an impact on their lives to know that others care about being vegetarian and promoting meatless diets.
Randon Martin from Clearwater, Florida, says he is a "17-year-old senior in high school, animal rights activist, and proud vegan." When he was younger and lived in upstate New York on 15 acres, Randon states, "In those years, the chickens, turkeys, ducks, and dog were my playmates, for at that time I did not come to the realization that what I consumed for sustenance was the same as our animals. I can recall one specific winter in which my father was going outside with an axe in hand. Upon noticing him make his way to the front door, I began to weep. Startled, he inquired as to why I was crying, to which I replied that I didn't want him to kill our animals for food… Upon informing my dad of my conscientious decision to become vegetarian eight years later, he reminded me of this story and my genuine concern of our animal friends."
Randon said that he and some close friends started and played in a predominantly vegetarian punk band. Through the local music scene, they met enough vegetarians to organize two vegetarian potlucks at which many attendees were musicians and fans.
In his junior year, Randon founded his high school's first animal rights club (S.C.A.R.). They hosted an allvegetarian picnic and a vegan Thanksgiving gathering, did a vegan fundraiser for a seabird sanctuary, gave away PETA and Vegan Outreach stickers and brochures, and set up a table on campus during lunch so they could give away brochures on meat consumption and environmental degradation. Randon said his biggest success was introducing more vegetarian options into the cafeteria.
He reported, "The vegetarian options were acquired through multiple conferences I had with the Cafeteria Manager and a few phone calls to the Head of Food Supply for Pinellas County. Now, we have vegan burgers, bean burritos, and chocolate soymilk available daily. There was little resistance for the introduction of these items. It was just a matter of choosing/ ordering foods and assuring the staff that there is an active demographic who would purchase the food every day. The veggie burgers are available daily, while the bean burritos are offered a few times a week. (There are also peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which have the most sales daily but were preexisting.) The soymilk is selling really well; I often see students sipping on the non-dairy beverage throughout the day and during our breaks. When introduced, the soymilk was only in a few vending machines in limited supply, but now they're in every machine with equivalent (or more) availability as the other beverages, so sales must've increased recently. In our weekly S.C.A.R. meetings, I advertise and remind participants to purchase the plant-based alternatives so they're consistently offered."
For the future, "I'm also speaking with the nutrition and wellness teacher here to coordinate a presentation on vegan nutrition and cooking; here, I hope to have a vegan food pyramid presented, short lecture and Q&A on maintaining a healthy plant-based diet, prepare tasty vegan food in front of the class, and have various proveg literature available for students as well."
One of Randon's teachers stated, "Randon was the most instrumental individual in getting this (the cafeteria options) in place here at our school. In fact, he was solely responsible. Randon has been instrumental this year in organizing 'The Great American Meatout' at our school and at his work. He contacted Primal Strips and got them to donate a few boxes of their jerky for this event…."
Randon's anticipated majors in college will be anthropology and environmental science. In the future, he would enjoy working towards his Ph.D. to become a professor so "I may further educate students on animal rights philosophy on a university level, or maybe starting another musical group to further advocate compassion to an open-minded audience… My thirst for justice for the voiceless cannot be satiated until the animals finally receive the liberation they deserve."
Sierra Predovich from Redwood, California, became a vegetarian in eighth grade. She reported, "Gradually, my mom adopted the vegetarian way of life as I did. Now, there is no meat in our house, my mom won't buy or cook meat for my dad, brother, or guests. It may sound surprising at first, but the boys enjoy the vegetarian meals just as much, if not more, than the meat."
During the summer of her junior year, Sierra asked a department chair to advise a club that she and her classmate wanted to start. Although school was not yet in session, they had already gathered a group of interested students and had begun to brainstorm ideas for their "Thoughtful Fuel Club," which had as its mission to encourage the consumption of locally grown produce and a vegetarian lifestyle.
Sierra wrote, "First, the school cafeteria was a major issue of concern to the club. We conducted a survey of the student body to determine which healthy, vegetarian foods students would be happy to see on the school menu. After calculating the results from the survey, Thoughtful Fuel approached the school board to address the cafeteria food. At first, the board was not very responsive to the issue; however, our persistence paid off. The effort resulted in getting 'greener' salads without iceberg lettuce and vegetarian bean burritos on the menu."
Under Sierra's direction, members of the club volunteer regularly at a local farmers' market. Sierra said, "Some of these vendors cannot afford to hire regular assistants, and therefore our help is greatly appreciated. I also believe that supporting these vendors is very beneficial to the environment, because by purchasing locally grown, pesticide-free produce, one is reducing dependence on oil (used to transport produce long distances) as well as harmful chemicals in pesticides that can leach into and contaminate groundwater. I have personally helped to sell organic apples, dried apricots, and a unique variety of pesticide-free vegetables from arugula to zucchini."
Sierra was featured in a USA Today story about the three percent of Americans between the ages of 8 and 18 (Vegetarian Resource Group Harris poll) who are vegetarian. Sierra says, "It may seem odd to people, but vegetarianism is the lifestyle of the future, and in my lifetime, meat-eaters will become the minority. Some people think that it takes an army of people to save the world, but in actuality, all it takes is a little dedication, and attention to what you put on your plate."
The VRG will award two $5,000 scholarships in 2009. Visit www.vrg.org to apply. Choosing two scholarship winners was very difficult. Due to a generous donor, we are now giving a third student a needs-based internship scholarship. If you would like to fund additional scholarships or internships for these deserving students, please contact The Vegetarian Resource Group, P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203; (410) 366-8343; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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