Thank you to Ellen Sue Spicer who gave us a copy of The Rhinebeck Plan for National Vegetarian Work, which was adopted more than half a century ago. A decade before this plan was written, Mr. E.L. Pratt, editor and publisher of The American Vegetarian, Pismo Beach, California, visualized a national convention of vegetarians. William Mahoney from the Washington, D.C. Vegetarian Society kept the idea alive when he traveled throughout the U.S. promoting vegetarianism.
Then, in 1948, planning conferences were held to discuss development of a national convention and organization, the American Vegetarian Union. Dr. Jesse Mercer Gehman served as Chairman of the 1948 American conference, where the Rhinebeck Plan was introduced. Dr. Gehman stated,
…The task before us is magnificently great.… It fires the imagination of our minds and the ardor of our hopes and beliefs that the vegetarian way of living can be achieved by the many instead of the few. It can and will succeed if all give of themselves, their hearts, their courage, their prayers, and their devotion and energy.… The end will crown the efforts of all. And the end will be a world free from killing, a world where peace has driven out war, and a world steeped in physical, mental and spiritual health and happiness, free from hate, avarice and selfishness. A world of men such as all leaders of all faiths throughout the lands will be proud.
Kaj Dessau, who authored The Rhinebeck Plan in 1948, called for the following:
However, Dessau believed there were obstacles facing vegetarianism:
The church opposed it. Science opposes it. The medical profession is against our cause. The food industry opposes our cause. Agricultural interests are against us. The government is against our cause. Schools and universities are against us. Finally, families and friends are against us.
He said that vegetarian societies are not properly equipped to take up the fight that awaits them.
Moreover, only a small number of them have funds available in any considerable amount, and only one or two have their own offices with a permanent staff. But how can we possibly plan to advance in battle against a moneyed majority of serried ranks as long as there is no capital at hand for the fray, and no means available to procure the permanent aid of good forces?
Look at the Red Cross, the Seventh-day Adventists, or Christian Science; consider the Salvation Army or the YMCA. Once these movements were but a dream. Once, long ago persons like ourselves may have been gathered, as we are now, to prepare an enterprise of worldwide importance.… We have met to create an American vegetarian union… The work brooks no delay. It should start now…
We know very little about this American Vegetarian Union, and most non-meat-eaters today have probably never heard of this group. Its demise reminds us how hard it is for a vegetarian organization to actively persevere long term. Many of the hurdles the American Vegetarian Union encountered are similar to what vegetarian groups still face. Understanding some of these may help us ensure that vibrant vegetarian organizations survive into the future.
Unlike the author of The Rhinebeck Plan, we do not believe most institutions are against us. It’s a matter of approaching them in a reasonable way from their perspective, which has brought about amazing inroads in science, religion, education, business, and the rest of society. There are many great projects in the vegetarian movement, but as in all human endeavors, there are challenges. As our predecessors suggested, we need to understand that we are planting seeds for greatness beyond our lifetimes, just as the founders of the Red Cross or Salvation Army did.
Beyond a growing core of committed people, there is not a tradition of support for vegetarian groups. Twice over the years, we have spoken to a well-known fundraiser who has helped to create many successful animal groups. However, he has turned down opportunities to help vegetarian groups, despite offers of compensation, because he didn’t feel there were enough potential supporters. In addition to encouraging people to help a particular group, you must also teach them to promote the vegetarian movement overall.
To have a successful group, an organization has to be businesslike. Unfortunately, what often happens is that individuals abandon the good judgement that would make them an asset when they become part of the movement. Many people come to groups to “find themselves.” When they become involved with a nonprofit, they make decisions that they wouldn’t make in their own business or professional lives.
In most movements, many of the first people involved are eccentric. They bring with them an enthusiasm which fuels change, but at the same time, they act as outsiders of mainstream society and create some obstacles for growth. Then, the movement will attract a few individuals who straddle alternative and professional worlds and contribute greatly of their expertise and money. Eventually, a few more people help with networking to important contacts, larger donations, and bequests. Finally, the movement becomes “mainstream enough” so that a sustaining pool begins to support organizations and their ideals.
This is a very brief thumbnail sketch about the evolution of movements. Perhaps, by understanding some of these issues, you can assist vegetarian groups to thrive so they can have impact well beyond our lifetimes. Here’s to working for a more caring and healthier world.
Debra Wasserman & Charles Stahler
Coordinators of The Vegetarian Resource Group
The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone who wishes to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.
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