I am a vegetarian thinking of joining 4-H. What are some ways that I can fit in?
4-H is all about the projects, be they animals, photography, sewing, cooking, vegetable growing, furniture refinishing, etc., then documenting and showing off to the judges what you've learned and/or done throughout the year. As a vegetarian, you may need to develop techniques to handle certain situations where you are faced with the fact that it’s not a vegetarian world. These techniques could include planning ahead (carry a vegetarian snack), conflict resolution skills (let people know how their actions make you feel), avoidance (not attending certain activities) and a positive mental attitude (create a way of making something undesirable more enjoyable).
Sometimes people bring a snack to 4-H meetings. You could eat beforehand or bring your own snack, either for yourself or to share, like hummus and crudités, cookies or popcorn.
When you plan to go to a 4-H activity where lunch or dinner will be served, you could suggest ahead of time that there be at least one vegetarian dish on the menu or offer to bring a vegetarian dish, such as vegetarian chili, couscous and roasted vegetables or vegan quiche. Some 4-H groups offer a vegetarian option. For example, the Purdue University extension held a clinic for judges and leaders and offered a vegetarian lunch consisting of a Veggie Wrap (chopped broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, bell peppers, and red onion with Italian dressing) with a spinach salad.
When you are going to a 4-H event and know everyone will be stopping at a fast food restaurant on the way home, you could suggest one of your favorite vegetarian restaurants or a restaurant that is vegan friendly. If you’re not sure which restaurants have vegetarian choices, here is a list to get you started: Panera Bread offers veggie soups, salads and breads; Noodles & Company offers veggie pastas and stir-fries; Chipotle offers veggie burritos and Qdoba offers veggie burritos, tacos, soups and salads. Drive-thru restaurants that have options include: McDonalds offers salads with balsamic dressing and apples or mandarin oranges; Wend'’s offers salads and baked potatoes or mandarin oranges and Taco Bell offers bean burritos with chips and guacamole. I can only speak for the club my kids belong to, but we live in a very rural area and there is at least a Taco Bell within 15 miles of us. I will admit it can be challenging, but I think it is realistic. You can also try these links to find restaurants in your area:
In 4-H, you will never have to work on an animal related project where the animal will end up being slaughtered, but there may be times when other issues arise, such as going to the county fair and seeing animal displays. To deal with this you can choose not to attend the fair, to enter a project that shows your views on human health and animal welfare, perhaps a display showing the expense of buying meats vs. the expense of buying grains and legumes or a display showing the ecological damage that raising livestock produces or to accept the fact that people are different as each person is entitled to their views and beliefs even if they differ from yours. Jessica, a former vegetarian 4-H'er, said that she didn't feel "any push toward consumptive uses of animals, even though it was clear many families who sent their kids to the county fair did slaughter their animals. The whole system, from record keeping through visual presentations and quiz bowls, is set up to encourage children and teens to spend time with their animals, ensure proper care, and learn about the animals' physiology, behavior, and needs." Some participants develop such deep bonds with their animals that they would not consider slaughter any more appropriate than it would be for their family dog.
Again, I can only speak for our club, but I think the kids are amazing, especially when it comes to making allowances for others and making others feel welcome. They are also inquisitive and receptive to new ideas. I think this is due to a couple of reasons: 18 of the 22 kids in our group are home schooled and our club leader doesn't tolerate kids who aren't respectful of others and their ideas. Each club is oriented differently. One club could be focused on dogs while another group could be focused on photography. If you don’t like one club you can always switch to another club.
Being a vegetarian in some situations can be challenging, but it can also be very surprising. Dusti, a former vegetarian 4-H'er, advises "spread your feelings on the subject, people will listen." She also said that after telling others on her team of her food choices, they were respectful and accepted her choice. She saw the impact it made on them when they chose vegetarian dishes over meat dishes. Jessica also shared an experience with me where she attended a 4-H function. She stated, "I got into the elevator with some fellow 4-H'ers. I asked about their projects, and they told me they were all beef farmers. We began to get in a heated debate about whether it is right to raise and kill animals for food when the elevator suddenly stopped! We were trapped in the elevator for what seemed like a half hour, but at the end, none of us had changed our minds. The experience taught me to understand where people are coming from before raising the issue of vegetarianism, and then to do so in a way that is appealing to them. When people are feeling defensive, they're unlike to be open to change.” By opening doors, you can share your views and thoughts on your beliefs. There are many reasons to become vegetarian: health, economy, ecology and compassion to name a few. Although you won’t change people who have no desire to change, you may change one person, or at the very least, teach them something they never considered before. Jessica said that aside from that isolated incident, she found “that the rewards of 4-H greatly outweighed any costs."
More and more clubs are realizing the growth of vegetarianism and are working to better able meet the needs of a vegetarian diet. The Cornell Cooperative extension was awarded a grant to improve the health environment for campers through changes in their programs and procedures including offering more vegetarian choices. There are a lot of vegetarian and vegan kids nationwide so you won’t be alone.
Written by Corey Bivins, a volunteer with VRG