VRG Intern Notes

The Vegetarian Resource Group: Internship Report

Yuko Tamura
Global Studies Programme 2008
Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg

(Yuko Tamura is a student from Japan. As part of an international program she was enrolled in at a German University, Yuko interned with VRG for several months.)

The reasons why I came to The VRG for my internship are-- to learn more about vegetarianism for my master's thesis; to understand how non-profitable organization functions; and probably most importantly, to convince myself of being vegetarian, which has been one of my identities for several years, as well as being Japanese or university student.

I think, The VRG was perfect place to do all of these. I learned about vegetarianism from various perspectives of nutrition, animal right or environment, I learned what non-profitable organization is and how it functions, and after two months and a week, I was absolutely more convinced of my being vegetarian. Having being able to learn both of vegetarianism and non-profitable organization was very profitable for me, however I think, the last one was the most important thing I got from this internship.

Staying at The VRG and reading a lot about vegetarianism tremendously broadened my interests, because vegetarianism is in fact related to many fields-- not only health or the environment, but also politics or industries. Trying to understand what the obstacles of vegetarianism in this country are, I came to know what is going on behind national food guideline or how government's subsidy for certain products influences on the society.

As well as reading and talking about vegetarianism with people in the office, participating in some local parties and events helped me understand vegetarianism and the background behind that. Through attending parties and events, I was able to see what role local vegetarian or animal right organization plays, how vegetarian people socialize with other vegetarians, and what vegetarian people's attitude toward vegetarianism is like.

Helping The VRG's booth at Veg Fest in Washington D.C. was another interesting experience for me. The number of people who visited the fest astonished me; I could not imagine that many people are interested in vegetarianism. Even though they are not vegetarian or vegan, some of them were thinking of converting to vegetarian and some of them occasionally adopted vegetarianism as a healthier food choice. Since vegetarianism is related to several topics, to see how all the aspects of vegetarianism come together and make a big movement was, amazing.

Attending Natural Products Expo was great experience too. Not only lots of great samples of organic/natural food which made me full during entire three days, but also I enjoyed observing products, chatting with exhibitors or distributors, taking lectures on marketing or current trends. I enjoyed it, and felt that it was great to have this growing market of natural products. On the other hand, I got more or less disappointed to see the definition and standard of natural products. The word "natural" can be interpreted in some ways; consequently natural products can be interpreted in some ways. It is not necessarily organic, or it could even include GMO products. When one non-profitable organization which is supposed to support natural products producers explained so, lots of listeners criticized them of not excluding inorganic and GMO products. However, it seemed impossible for them to change the standard, for their benefits after all. This made me think that distributors or rather customers have to be very careful of what to buy, not to be cheated by labels and bland of "natural."

Besides interning with The VRG, I observed the US and its vegetarianism in my own way. As I always do in any country I go, I often visited lots of supermarkets. Supermarkets are probably the most interesting place to visit especially in abroad, because they show and explain the country very well. Which kinds of stuffs they have, what is cheap, what is popular, how the shopping system works, these things are quite important for me to know, in order to understand the country and people there. I have a long list of my findings though (one of them, meat in general was not so cheap against my expectation), here, I mention what made me most surprised, as well as the cheapness of soda-soy products.

How many Japanese can imagine how tofu is well-known here? Tofu in the US is maybe 10 times firmer than that in Japan, and it can even be fried with vegetable-so tofu in the US (or Europe) is almost something different from tofu for us, except for that it is made with soybeans and usually curded with nigari. How they consider tofu was very interesting to me too, because some recognize tofu as meat alternative. Although we also call soy beans meat of garden, we never consider it as meat alternative.

Moreover, from soy-burger to soy-sausage, then from soy-yogurt to soy cheese, soy turned into incredibly various kinds of stuffs. It was ironic that America started to produce these alternatives with soybeans, and Japan encourages its citizens to having certain amount of meat and lots of dairy every day. It was only 50 years ago that ordinary Japanese started to consume meat and dairy products, however it is so difficult to find vegetarian dishes now.

Now, I again think of vegetarianism and my being vegetarian. It is true that the more I know about vegetarianism, the more I feel confident and comfortable with being vegetarian. Since the idea of vegetarianism is not known well in Japan, it was Germany where I became vegetarian. However, now I think I just try to be like a Japanese 50 years ago, who had almost no meat and lots of rice, and regionally grown vegetable. Japan has developed and modernized at incredibly rapid pace in last 150 years, introducing and imitating a lot from Western countries. This is really worth being appreciated, but we did not have to adopt Western nutrition or eating style too. We already had what we needed and what fitted us. Not only Japan but in many places called non-West, the same thing is happening. This is what I feel about being vegetarian, after traveling to several countries.

Again, staying at The VRG was a great opportunity for me, and it made my interests in writing master's thesis on this topic stronger. Now, I am working on the thesis, which is about vegetarianism and the environment. Thank you very much again to everyone in the office, for their encouragement, advice and patience, and lots of fun.