Claire Votarel, Campus Carrier News Editor
Last Thursday, the Vegetarian and Vegan society held its first interest meeting as the newest interest group on Berry’s campus. Established by sophomore Margaret Ashton and supervised by Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy Jordan Rowan-Fannin, the group was formed to promote awareness, education and support to a variety of dietary lifestyles and causes.
During Ashton’s first semester at Berry, she attended a panel discussing various global issues, including theories on sustaining an expanding population, but later found out the presentation was sponsored by a biased source supporting pharmaceutical treatment of animals Ashton met up with other displeased students who attended the panel and supported vegetarian and vegan diets as a way of helping this future crisis. Through these connections, Ashton got the idea to start a group to discuss these topics among others.
“I met enough people to feel that the need was there after that event,” Ashton said.
Ashton only intended the Vegetarian and Vegan Society to be an interest group instead of an official Berry club, as she was unsure of the turn-out it would generate. However, 18 students showed up to the interest meeting, which was much more than Ashton anticipated. Even more contacted Ashton afterwards saying they would be at the next meeting.
“I only printed out 4 or 5 packets,” Ashton said. “But people just kept filing in.”
Ashton plans to begin each meeting with a video on a related topic, hold a discussion on it and then have a main topic of discussion. She also plans to include aspects of these diets and lifestyles, such as nutrition to help students navigate life and stay healthy as a vegetarian or vegan in college. According to Harvard Medical School, some vegetarians and vegans can suffer a lack of nutrients like iron or protein if the diet is not planned appropriately. Ashton and Rowan-Fannin hope to inform students on how to incorporate alternatives for these nutrients to fit their diet.
“I think a lot of things are going to come out of this,” Rowan-Fannin said. “The group can serve as a place to begin discussions.”
Any member of Berry’s community, faculty or students, with any form of diet and lifestyle are welcome to join the group.
“It can be really great to even have people who are just interested come to our meetings,” Ashton said.
Ashton hopes the group can serve several purposes for its members, one of which being creating a sense community among the individuals in the group.
“I kept hearing people say before and after the meeting how it’s so great to have this community and not feel like you’re the only one in the room,” Ashton said. “Through having that community, we can all accomplish various goals simply by knowing each other.”
Ashton hopes connections made through the group can help students find common interests and values, generate support through these similarities and ultimately take action on them, whether it be for animal rights or health, and Ashton said the group is not exclusive and each member can take something personalized out of it.
“The group itself is not about forcing a lifestyle on anybody or judging anyone,” Ashton said. “It’s just about showing people these lifestyles in a positive way and helping them to achieve that.”
Rowan-Fannin said Berry’s campus provides many opportunities for these lifestyles to flourish, including access to land, the care of animals, greenhouses, science programs and fresh produce that benefit those who are not vegetarian or vegan.
“We get our hands in the dirt here [at Berry],” Rowan-Fannin said. “So it’s a great place to begin thinking about how you eat, where your food comes from and what kind of values you have about food.”
Ashton and Rowan-Fannin feel and hope this group can shed light on the diversity and utility of the lifestyle vegetarians and vegans, in contrast to common stigmas surrounding the labels.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about vegetarianism and veganism in general,” Ashton said. “I’m hoping our group can break a lot of those stereotypes.”
According to Rowan-Fannin, college can serve as a learning environment for many new aspects of students’ lives, and these forms of lifestyle changes are included.
“The four years you spend in college are this time where you’re trying to figure out what your values are, who you want to be and how those things affect the way you want to live,” Rowan-Fannin said. “It’s about exposure and confronting new ideas.”
Ashton said that many students come to college not realizing the options they have regarding diets and lifestyles.
“I would really like people to ‘never say never’ to being vegetarian or vegan,” Ashton said. “Most people grow up not thinking that it’s an option. Open your mind to it and you may be surprised by what you find.”