Friday, 3 June, 2016
Alex Douglas highlights her experience as a vegan volunteer for Volunteers’ Week, and gives tips on how you can become an awesome activist too.
I first went vegan over ten years ago in a small town in the north of Scotland, so naturally I didn’t know any other vegans. I’d been vegan for less than a year before starting at the University of Glasgow, where at the Freshers’ Fair I found an existing vegan society – to say I was excited was an understatement! I got involved with the group from the start, attending events and social activities throughout the year. The next year I helped organise the upcoming Freshers’ Fair which was when the group really started to grow. This was where my passion for vegan activism and volunteering began.
I met lots of new vegans who were as keen as I was to talk to other students about the reasons for going vegan. Some of them became regular organisers and started taking part in outreach on campus, talking to people about veganism and enticing them with our baked goods! The group continued to grow throughout my four years at the university, and we became more involved with promoting veganism throughout wider Glasgow.
One of the biggest achievements by the group was working alongside the Hospitality Services to provide vegan sandwiches and hot meals in all of the food outlets, which went on to make the University of Glasgow the first higher education institution to become registered with the Vegan Society Trademark. This can be done in any café or restaurant in your town, and is not just for campus services. To achieve vegan food on the menu we spoke to the Head Chef and arranged regular meetings with him and the Head of Hospitality Services. We discussed the growing vegan population on campus, and explained how students would have to go to their nearby competitors for vegan lunches, such as delis or supermarkets, rather than spend money at the university. We gave them simple meal ideas such as curries, burritos, and stews with tofu, and easy sandwich ideas such as chickpea-salad or avocado and roasted veg, and suggested ways to veganise dishes which they already had on their menus, for example ‘Take off the cheese and this pasta dish is vegan!’
They were very enthusiastic and easy to work with, and enjoyed seeing it as a challenge and an opportunity for them to try something new and different. I believe that many chefs in local and high street food places are just waiting for an opportunity to break the mould and take on this kind of challenge to create delicious and unique vegan options for their patrons. The key was to always be friendly, positive and enthusiastic, to make suggestions but let them take responsibility and come up with their own ideas. Regular meetings and involvement also really helped. For example, the Hospitality Services donated sandwiches and flapjacks to our group at Freshers’ Fair so that we could promote the vegan provisions on campus. This in turn worked well for us, as we were able to show how easy it was to be a vegan student at the University of Glasgow.
This National Volunteers’ Week we’re highlighting the ways in which vegans in the UK and internationally can get involved in volunteering for veganism like I did, and become activists and advocates for the vegan lifestyle.
Alex’s 5 top tips for vegan volunteering
1) Take to the streets
Outreach in your area is perhaps the most important act of volunteering, and it allows you to meet other vegans which you otherwise might not have met. I’m a big fan of street stalls as they reach the widest audience.
o Bake stalls are a great way to create dialogue, while baked goods often draw people in. While non-vegans are choosing which cookie or cake to buy, talk to them about why being vegan is so great!
o If you’re not allowed to give out food in your area due to health and safety regulations, you can still have an information stall with leaflets that you can give out to passers by. Set up a table in a busy part of town such as a shopping mall or nearby food outlets. Having friendly and fun conversations with people about how great veganism is can really make a difference. Some might go vegan right there and then! Others might not, but they will definitely think about it positively, and if you invite them to join your social activities they’ll see how fun and easy being vegan can be. Email us at leaflets[at]vegansociety[dot]com and we’ll post you some literature to get you going.
Become part of a local vegan group and organise regular social activities to keep people interested and involved – there’s so much you can do!
Go for meals – try going to a non-vegan café or restaurant and when you book a table mention that the party is vegan. Ask them what they might be able to make for you. Sometimes restaurants will surprise you by creating a vegan menu or a few vegan dishes to try.
o Hold film screenings – feel free to screen our short film, Making the Connection.
o Workshops – vegan cheese making workshops (with optional wine of course!) and bake-offs are great draws
o Trips – group trips to nearby vegan fairs and festivals can be a fun excursion for everyone to enjoy. If you are a university society, you can look into obtaining funding or the use of the university mini-bus to help get there.
Nominate vegan charities (please keep us in mind!) and choose a different one to support each month. Raise money from bake sales, bake-offs and film screenings, or do something totally different like a sponsored walk-a-thon, which a group of you can do together.
4) Attend fairs
For the students among you, Freshers’ Fairs are a great way to meet other vegans and the vegan-curious to get them involved with the group. Sign people up to a mailing list and then arrange an activity such as a dinner or social event soon after Freshers’ week to allow people to meet each other. You can make your Freshers’ stall even more interesting by asking vegan companies to donate samples and freebies to give out. Even if you’re not a student, you could collaborate with your local student group to organise joint events with your vegan group.
5) Go green
A growing amount of towns organise some form of ‘Green event’ each year, which usually includes local people getting involved with information tables and food. Vegan volunteers link up with these events by having an information table or even offering to help with the organising of the event. You can put forward ideas for making a bigger impact in your area such as:
o suggesting showing some of the many environmental films at local cinemas,
o inviting good speakers to participate in the event (or offering to give a talk yourself – you could discuss the environmental impacts of food choices and easy ways to make a difference)
o provide ideas about environmentally friendly foods (AKA vegan food!) they could whip up to tie in with the theme.
Volunteering is one of the most important things you can do for veganism. If we all come together and promote veganism when we can, we will make such a tangible difference.
Become a volunteer with
I’d love to hear your volunteer story – contact me via volunteer[at]vegansociety[dot]com and you may end up in the Active Vegans section of our magazine, The Vegan. Find out more here.
Also feel free to email leaflets[at]vegansociety[dot]com if you’d like us to post any of our informative literature for you to hand out!
By Alex Douglas, Volunteering and Engagement Manager