In 1985, Phil Becker received a mailing from TransSpecies Unlimited, inviting him to a vegetarian Summerfest in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Becker graduated from Penn State in 1983, but he never got involved with the campus animal rights group while he was an engineering student there. His decision to attend the North American Vegetarian Society Summerfest radically changed his world view. It was a precursor to a new life driven by a steadfast commitment to vegetarian activism. “I hadn’t made the connection between animals on the table and animals on the farm before the Summerfest,” he said, “but within two months of attending this conference, I started doing vegetarian outreach.”
Becker’s career path has not been guided in a single direction; his positions have ranged from engineering to serving as a letter carrier. However, his vegetarian activism helped him discover his perfectly matched future occupation. While pursuing a graduate degree in public health, Becker worked part-time as a mobile instructor with AnimalLearn (under the auspices of the American Anti-Vivisection Society). Due to the very positive response he received from schools that he visited, Becker changed his academic pursuits to secondary education and received his MEd from West Chester University in 1996.
Becker left Pennsylvania to teach physics and earth science at Bel Air High School in Maryland, where he started a pro-vegetarian, pro-animal organization called Students Against Animal Mistreatment (SAAM). “I tried to get involved in any groups I could to get the message out about how diet affects many areas, including the environment, health, and, of course, animals,” he said. After leaving Maryland, Becker taught for five years at The Harker School in San Jose, California. There, he started another student club called HEART that created a campus-wide recycling program, as well as sponsored events celebrating World Vegetarian Day and The Great American Meatout.
In 2005, Becker settled in Lafayette, California, and he now teaches at Bentley School. He introduced a mini-course called “Vegy 101” about sustainable diets, which later led to the formation of a new student group. (See pages 11-13.) “You can’t just lecture people, especially if you have any kind of regional or cultural bias,” Becker said. “One thing most people can relate to is bad health, so that was my starting place.”
Becker teaches his pupils to develop analytical skills that will help them make prudent diet and health choices. “I try to convey to my students that it’s important we understand the difference between good science and junk science,” he said. “Good science is good science irrespective of politics.” Phil Becker is only one man, but activism is embodied in the power of one. “Individual activism can result in tremendous gain,” he said. “It’s about the ripple you start—it might not be right away, but it’ll eventually cause change.”
He had some wise words for every activist who has ever felt jaded or burned out. “A lot of activists feel the entire weight of the world on their shoulders,” he said. “They must spend every moment of their lives engaged with the cause. People get burned out quickly. It’s important to understand that you acquired an imperfect world. You want to move it forward, but you can’t right every wrong.”
Becker has accumulated the résumé of a definitive vegetarian activist all-star. In 1986-1988 he was on the Boards of the North American Vegetarian Society and the International Vegetarian Union. He’s an active Life Member of The VRG and the American Vegan Society. Phil spent years organizing and leading several local vegetarian groups and continues acting as an enthusiastic educator advocate. He quoted vegan doctor Michael Klaper, “There are millions and millions of vegetarians out there; they just don’t know it yet.”