With a Cause: Vegan Outreach to High Schools
By Lawrence Carter-Long
Stereotypes of teenagers range from lackadaisical slackers
to juvenile delinquents, with the vast majority uneasily balancing
between. Challenging timeworn standards of behavior is a required
rite of passage for teens on their perilous journey to adulthood,
fertile ground for vegan advocates preaching the gospel of veganism.
In short, there is a natural intersection where education extolling
the benefits of vegetarianism meets the adolescent desire to blaze
Students are some of the best friends animals have. They have
open hearts and open minds, and care about animals and the environment.
What they often lack is information, explains Lauren Ornelas,
coordinator of Viva!USAa sister group of one of Britains
most effective and outspoken animal advocacy groups. We want
to make sure that we are there to help them make the connection between
their love of animals and the food on their plate.
With this in mind, Viva!USA, along with Vegan Outreach and the financial
support of Animal Rights International, initiated a campaign on April
5 to reach out to students at 56 high schools in 24 U.S. states and
five schools in Canada. Students were given Vegan Outreachs Why
Vegan? pamphlets and Viva!s leafletsgeared specifically
towards studentsabout pigs on factory farms. The groups plan to
coordinate national efforts to target students at least once more this
year. Viva!USA also offers a Veganize your School tip
sheet as a part of its larger campaign.
Something as seemingly benign as handing out pamphlets to high
school students has been one of the most empowering acts I have ever
experienced, says Jack Norris of Vegan Outreach, publisher of
Why Vegan? In a few short moments, you will have forever changed
the way some students view animals. Norris, who until this year
had only handed out vegetarian literature at two high schools, hopesalong
with Ornelasto expand the campaign to include more high schools
and even colleges within the year.
In addition to introducing the uninitiated to the benefits of a vegan
lifestyle, Ornelas and Norris are also hoping to reach students who
already care about animals by showing them that they are not alone
by extension, inspiring them to become stronger advocates for animals.
Says Ornelas, As someone who became a vegan in high school, I
know how important it is to have others nearby who will help you along
the way. Some students speak out for animals in the classroom and at
home, while others who dont speak out might be more willing
to do so if they knew they had support from other like-minded people.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is in the enviable
position of having been around for over two decades. As a result,
organization has probably facilitated more outreach to students than
any other animal advocacy organization. Danielle Moore, who does
outreach for PETA, asserts that the organization has spoken to
literally thousands of students across the nation and has always made
student outreach a priority. Weve had presentations in classrooms
and auditoriums, and also demonstrated in front of schools that banned
us from bringing messages of compassion to the students.
No strangers to controversy, PETA has stirred up the issue in local
communities numerous times throughout its 20 years of advocacy. Most
recently, the group was banned from sending its mascot Colonel
Corna seven foot-tall bright-yellow corncobto an elementary
school in the middle of cattle-ranching, steak-lovin Texas. Media
attention mushroomed when a school principal in Austin refused to allow
the corny commando to wax poetic about the benefits of a vegan diet
inside the school. Undaunted, PETA sent out the gargantuan cereal plant
anyway to engage students just off campus in observation of the 18th
annual Great American Meat-Out on March 20 when Americans are encouraged
to give up meat just for a dayor for a lifetime.
High school students, now more than ever, have the opportunity to
become more aware of how their dietary choices help or hurt animals.
also at the age when they begin to stand up for their rights and
for the rights of others. This is a time in life when many young
begin to realize that things arent exactly what theyve been
taught in schoolswhen they learn that Old MacDonalds Farm
has turned into a grim fairy tale; that unlike the messages theyve
been exposed to since before their first happy meal, hamburgers
dont grow like sunflowers; and that they dont actually
need to drink the milk of another species to be healthy.
Some of the most important lessons being taught to students may have
nothing to do with the official curriculum at all.
Lawrence Carter-Long has over a decade of experience in activism.
A former poster child for the United Fund, Lawrence has
made dozens of media appearances in support of animal rights, and is
also recognized as an authority on disability and public health concerns.
He currently works for the Sacramento-based Animal Protection Institute
(www.api4animals.org). For more information on vegan activism contact:
Viva!USA, (530) 759-VIVA or www.vivausa.org;
Vegan Outreach, (412) 968-0268 or www.veganoutreach.org;
PETA, (757) 622-PETA or www.peta.org.