The Vegetarian Resource Group's 2014 Scholarship Winners

Hunter Gabel
Vanderbilt University

Hunter wrote: "In the fifth grade, I had the idea to start a movement with a few other students focusing on both personal and environmental health. We spent the year working and researching with my school's principal and a local gardening expert before finally planting a garden wall of native vegetation as a way to block off the airport to the north of our school aesthetically, and to show that in spirit our school and community was working toward a healthier place. The plants at this stage didn't provide an edible option as I had hoped, but I was determined to see that part of my dream come true....

"Eventually, what started as the garden wall grew into the idea for an on-campus garden, dubbed the Cougar Patch, as a way to help the entire campus community get involved in the spirit of healthful eating and environmental awareness. The garden got backing from the school district after testimony from me and other stakeholders, and it started scaling up from there. Once the teachers saw how students were engaged by the program, it quickly spread to all the other schools in our district. I still stop by to work in the gardens and have seen how excited the students are during community garden days, as it has truly become part of the campus and its culture.

"It was determined that the harvest from the school's garden could be used in healthy eating lessons for the students. Each class picks some of the harvest together, and then a teacher or parent volunteer prepares a dish with it and serves it to the students. While preparing the food and eating it, they discuss the benefits of vegetarian options, healthy eating, and fresh food. Since everyone put so much work into raising the crops, the kids were more than excited about eating their vegetables.

"I am still involved in the programs across the district, though my involvement varies by program and time of year. For example, during the high school's Grades of Green campaign, I was involved at all the school sites as I tried to bring our composting programs together with those of all the school sites to prepare for a presentation to our city council. I am also heavily involved with the Health Fair each year; I try to assess what each school is doing and how they compare to the city's Wellness Day programs. All in all though, the community garden is still my baby. It provides the most engaging long-term education and direct access to healthy, vegetarian foods. I am the most passionate and inspired by those efforts and how they have allowed me to start a movement that spread across my district and community."

Hunter also worked to add vegetarian options at school events in high school. He reports: "...At our football snack bar I implemented veggie patties for hamburgers, vegetarian noodles, and meatless burritos onto our menu. The football items sold very well, as vegetarianism is a growing movement in my town, and the students and parents alike were excited to have an option to fit their diets. At our Student Government mixers, I made sure that meatless pasta, pizza, or stir-fry was available. It was also important to me to set aside specific vegetarian plates so that regardless of when people ate, there was still food available they could eat because unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) sometimes people who were not vegetarians would eat all of the meatless options early, leaving the vegetarians without food. I also implemented veggie options at our campus dances. At our prom, vegetarian lasagna was offered and was one of the first items to run out, which I believe showed that with open minds, even people who don't follow the vegetarian lifestyle can still enjoy the food."

Hunter said, "In 5 years, I hope to be in medical school, hopefully in a program that allows me to explore my interests in human health, nutrition, and environmental health as well. This plan for my future also relates to the story of how I became a vegetarian, because both of my passions stem from an illness ... When I was diagnosed with a rare, chronic disease, I began to look into ways to make my body healthier. After fully grasping the benefits it could have on my health while allowing me to take a stand on issues I felt so strongly about, I finally made the personal commitment to vegetarianism. My health has never been better and I feel great emotionally knowing that fewer animals are dying and fewer forests are being clear-cut due to my decision."

Isabella Pezzulo
University of Richmond

Isabella became a vegan in eighth grade after being exposed to information concerning the treatment of animals and the environmental impact of producing animal products. Following are excerpts from what she wrote about her outreach activities.

"I worked with Food Not Bombs during the beginning of high school. I would help serve fresh, homemade vegetarian meals prepared by members to the homeless, along with day-old pastries and breads donated by The Panera Bread Company. We would bring food to two separate locations on the intercoastal where the homeless know they can get a hot meal.

For our school Environmental and Cosmos meetings, I contribute by preparing large dishes so everyone can enjoy a healthy lunch. My most popular dishes are quinoa salad, homemade hummus, vegan samosas with homemade mango chutney, guacamole, black bean and corn salsa, pasta salads, vegan chocolate chip rosemary cookies, and pumpkin banana bread. It is my way of proving to my peers that vegan food isn't bland.

"Since sophomore year, I've sold my vegan granola everywhere at school: at my locker, during lunch, and between classes. It has happened more than once that a friend has interrupted my teacher during one of my classes to buy some of my granola. (Most of my teachers don't mind, since they enjoy my granola as well.)

"My experience with my school garden has been the true delight of my high school career. Currently, there are plans to erect a greenhouse at my school using the money we received when I wrote a grant request to the Whole Foods Garden Grant. This project has moved from a club to part of the school curriculum. Through my journey of cooking for others and showing them the wonder of plants in the garden and through my art, I hope to extend the joy I've received from living compassionately."

This past summer Izzy coordinated vegetarian food for her job leading volunteers on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts.