Promoting Vegetarianism in the Heartland
One Saturday morning in early June, people arrive at the Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago, eager to pick up the latest books as well as learn something new throughout the day. Excitedly waiting at The Vegetarian Resource Group booth is Gretchen Chlebowski. She has been tabling at Printers Row for several years. "Our VRG table at these and other events is often flooded with people interested in vegetarianism and veganism," she said. "It has been very exciting and encouraging to see such interest."
A vegan for 18 years, Gretchen is a highly dependable volunteer for The VRG. She has set up vegan dinners at restaurants, coordinated wellness activities, and brought in guest speakers at her workplace. In addition, she has organized pet blessings and talks about veganism at her church.
Gretchen stated, "Recently, I noticed a middle school in my neighborhood was having a Wellness Day, so I contacted the school to see if they would be interested in having me distribute vegetarian literature at this event. After reviewing the sample materials I provided, the health teacher invited me to host a table at their Wellness Day and said that she and the school principal were so impressed with VRG's materials that they wanted to include information from them in their health class curriculum."
She also said, "I have hosted booths for VRG at book fairs and other festivals in Chicagoland, which have exposed thousands of people to a large selection of vegan cookbooks and literature. Most of these festivals are outside, so during the cold winter months in Chicago, we have to think of new ways to get vegetarian information in front of people."
For example, one of Chicago's all-vegetarian, mostly vegan restaurants draws a huge number of carry-out customers on Thanksgiving Day. Therefore, Gretchen suggested to the owners that they insert an issue of Vegetarian Journal into their take-out bags along with coupons to their restaurant, which they did.
However, Gretchen's outreach is not limited to providing VRG material to Midwesterners. Through her website ChooseKindness.com, she encourages people to learn about the humane treatment of animals and how they can live every day without using animal products or causing animal suffering. Gretchen said, "My hope is that someone interested in finding personal care products not tested on animals, for example, will access the site and then quickly discover other alternatives they might not have known about—such as circuses that don't have animals, vegetarian restaurants that exist in their city, and health charities that don't fund experiments on animals. The idea is to make access to all this information as convenient as possible so more people will learn about these alternatives and integrate them into their own lives."
Gretchen continued, "I was very touched at the Chicago Green Festival recently when two young kids barely taller than my table came up to the VRG booth and proclaimed that they loved animals and wanted to be vegetarians. After I gave them a coloring book and a few other items, they initiated a philosophical discussion with me involving various 'what if' scenarios while their mother watched proudly from behind them."
"This incident reminded me of the importance of empowering children and youth to consider the impact of their choices on animals and the Earth throughout their lives," Gretchen concluded. "With steady commitment to promotion efforts, I believe the number of vegetarians and vegans will continue to increase, with benefit to our planet and all of its inhabitants."