Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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Do you have questions about being vegan? Send them to Jo using this easy form. She would be happy to address your individual concerns as well as general inquiries about vegan ethics, philosophy, practical applications, and living compassionately. Jo cannot respond to questions about nutrition or answer questions that have already been addressed in the Archives

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Feeding the Hungry

question.gif - 1.4 K Are there any charities that provide vegan food for the hungry? Is it unethical to refuse to financially support a group that feeds hungry people meat? I really struggle with this.

answer.gif - 1.3 K Occasionally, dilemmas arise where vegans must make an ethical choice that stretches the limits of their ethics. Fortunately, these occurrences are rare, and, due to the far-reaching efforts of some highly-dedicated people, hunger relief is one area where compromise is unnecessary. It's true that many charitable hunger relief organizations (such as CARE and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) support animal husbandry projects in areas where traditional customs include this practice. However, there are two remarkable organizations that provide vegetarian and vegan hunger relief throughout the world.

VEGFAM, founded in 1963, provides short-term emergency assistance and also supports finding long-term solutions to extinguishing hunger including using highly innovative and ecologically sound methods. You can write to them at VEGFAM, c/o Cwm Cottage, Cwmynys, Cilycwm, Llandovery, Carmarthenshire, SA20 OEU, Wales, United Kingdom, or telephone them at +44 (0)1550 721197 / 01550 721197. The American Vegan Society (AVS) has agreed to take donations in U.S. currency and make them available to VEGFAM in British currency. Donations must be specified General or Projects Only, and checks should be made payable to American Vegan Society, but noted "for VEGFAM." Write to AVS at P.O. Box 369, Malaga, NJ 08328-0908, or call them at 856-694-2887.

The largest global vegetarian/vegan food relief program is the Hare Krishna Food For Life (FFL). Their mission is to distribute vegetarian and vegan meals to the disadvantaged and victims of disaster (natural or manmade), wherever there is a need in the world. They also provide counseling, health education, and sustainable agriculture and living skills training to those in need. Food For Life established Feed the World Week (October 15-21), which coincides with Vegetarian Awareness Month (October) established by the North American Vegetarian Society. Feed the World Week has been observed in many countries including Australia, Croatia, Finland, Germany, India, South America, Taipei, and the United States. For more information on Food for Life or Feed the World Week, write to Food for Life Global, PO Box 471, Riverdale, New York, 10471, USA.

If you want to participate in other forms of direct action to extricate hunger, there are many ways you can help right where you live. Most urban food banks warehouse and broker food destined for soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Due to limited refrigeration and storage facilities, they tend to receive an abundance of nonperishable items including plenty of canned goods and refined carbohydrate products. Day-old cakes, breads, pastries, and other baked goods are frequently supplied by bakeries. Restaurants may donate leftovers and grocery stores may contribute cartons of dented canned goods, produce on its way out, and other items that are not saleable. This leaves food banks and soup kitchens clamoring for provisions that are considered more nourishing by conventional standards, such as meat and dairy products. Government surplus foods replete with animal fat, such as butter and cheese, are highly desired and welcome.

The prevailing public attitude is that any surplus food should be suitable for the hungry and that poor people should accept what is given freely without question. Sadly, the majority of poorer people are also among the least healthy and the least educated, and they have little access to information that would present an alternative perspective about animal-based foods.

Vegan staples such as fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), and whole grains, are among the most nourishing and least expensive foods available, but they are rarely on the menu at establishments that assist the hungry. Some activist groups volunteer a few times a year to prepare and serve vegan meals at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Although their motives are pure, the approach is problematic. Generally, there is no education provided to the managers of these programs, leaving the staff as clueless as ever about the benefits of plant-based eating. As a result, these events do little to encourage the ongoing implementation of vegetarian meals. In addition, one-time programs place people who are desperate in the degrading position of being a "captive audience." They are not making a conscious decision to be vegetarian or even to consume a vegetarian meal. They have no choice. Their needs are urgent and their options are negligible. What purpose does this serve? The activists may feel charitable about their efforts, but in the long run these experiences are more self-serving than constructive.

There are several very productive ways you can help hungry people right in your own area. You can:

  • purchase and donate vegan food to a food bank or give it directly to a kitchen or shelter;
  • solicit vegan food donations from supermarkets, food cooperatives, and natural food stores;
  • ask local farmers to plant a row of crops to donate, then arrange for pickup and delivery;
  • organize volunteers to glean fields after the harvest;
  • go to farm markets and ask for donations of fresh produce that isn't sold by closing;
  • become involved in your local Food Not Bombs group, a grass-roots network of volunteers that provides free, hot vegan meals as well as social and political support to low-income people in communities throughout North America and Europe;
  • donate to Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) , which is building a global network of local partners working toward environmental, economic, and social sustainability. SHI facilitates long-term collaboration among trained local staff, farmers, and communities to implement sustainable land-use practices that alleviate poverty by restoring ecological stability;
  • present vegetarian education programs at your local food bank;
  • conduct vegan cooking classes at the food bank or in conjunction with a soup kitchen or shelter;
  • or offer free vegan cooking classes to interested residents at a homeless shelter or a minimally priced program in a low-income neighborhood. If you like, this could include involving the students in recipe preparation and then sharing a jointly-made meal following the class.

Keep in mind that it is pointless to arrange for donations of produce or unusual foods if no one has any idea what to do with them or if they are merely viewed as a way to stretch the animal based items a little bit more. Grass-roots education is essential if any alternative program is going to be effective. Many people don't know much about vegetarianism and are fearful about it or simply disinterested. They may not be aware of how it might benefit them, or they may be turned off by foods that are unfamiliar or seem weird. It is important to understand and respect people's cultural and ethnic differences, too, and realize that food has an emotional hold over all of us, including those of us who don't have much.

If you decide to implement educational programs, do allow people to decline your programs with dignity. No one should be made to feel guilty or ignorant because they aren't interested in vegetarianism. Those who choose to participate will have a genuine curiosity and hence there is a greater chance they will effect a lasting change.

Hunger relief is a complex issue with manifold causes and solutions. There are a variety of avenues for vegans to help those who are less advantaged, both directly and indirectly. However you choose to contribute, your generosity and compassion will make a difference in the life of someone in need.

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