Mark Rifkin, RD

By Karen Leibowitz

Mark Rifkin, RD is a highly active member of the vegan community through his personal, volunteer, and professional life. He has been vegetarian since 1984 and vegan since 1986. He originally made the dietary switch because of his firm belief in the ethical treatment of animals. He majored in environmental studies in college and during that time became aware of the need to protect all animals and treat them with respect. Soon after, his reasons for following a vegan diet expanded to environment, health, peace, and justice.

Mark has volunteered for The Vegetarian Resource Group since 1987. He has staffed booths, assisted at potluck dinners, and organized other events. He started Call-A-Dietitian Day, which is an event whereby callers can schedule a time slot to ask a dietitian nutrition-related questions and receive professional advice. He was also involved in animal rights outreach, and has organized protests and demonstrations, worked at booths, and researched and composed literature. He volunteers for EarthSave Baltimore, helping to organize monthly potluck dinner events. In his personal life, he provides support and education on social media as well as at the potluck events he attends.

Mark promotes veganism in his professional life by being an active Maryland coordinator, tabling organizer, and public policy chair with the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (VNDPG) within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. He's even gone out of his way to ensure that vegan options were provided at an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics national meeting. Mark also provides private professional nutritional counseling to vegans and vegetarians.

We asked Mark what advice he has for those wanting to incorporate and promote vegetarianism into their professional lives. One of the most direct ways is to pursue a professional nutrition career. Mark warns, though, that "Working with omnivores and the discussion of some animal products in a positive light will be necessary to earn a living. While that may be ethically challenging for some, for nearly every condition, working with omnivorous patients in this way while advocating incorporation of more whole plant foods, not only supports the goal [of advocating a vegetarian/vegan diet], but will be essential to reach it." He went on to say that for some, perhaps a more ideal, yet challenging, route would be to start a business or private practice. This way you are able to fully promote vegetarian and vegan diets. Mark does both. For those pursuing non-nutrition careers, Mark suggests they find a niche that appeals to all, not just vegetarians. For example, the business people behind Pangea successfully promote veganism through their products, which appeal to all different types of people, not just vegetarian.

Mark presented on the issue of "Lapsed Vegetarians" at NAVS Vegetarian Summerfest, and recently researched the genetics and history of lactase persistence and how official attitudes toward dairy in the U.S. and "lactose intolerance" directly contradict the conclusions of anthropological researchers.

According to Mark, this is all in the context of pursuit of an educational goal that his mother dismissed as impractical. He was exposed to vegetarian and environmental philosophies that induced a dietary change his parents thought was a phase, but later became his career — quite unexpectedly.

Karen Leibowitz wrote this article while doing an internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group.