Charles Stahler is codirector of the Vegetarian Resource Group, an organization that works with businesses, schools, and consumers to provide information about and advocate for vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.

Monday, 4 Feb 2002

BALTIMORE, Md.

My day always starts off by answering questions. Today, the Vegetarian Resource Group received an email that began, “I am a junior in high school in Ankara, Turkey and becoming increasingly interested in vegetarianism. For two years I have not eaten a bite of meat, and have become a vegan. When I saw your advertisement for the scholarship, I was very excited, and was wondering if the offer was applicable to all students internationally.”

Thanks to an anonymous donor, the Vegetarian Resource Group will be able to offer $10,000 in college scholarships every year to graduating high school students who have promoted vegetarianism in their schools or communities. We will give two awards of $5,000 each to students who have shown compassion, courage, and a strong commitment to promoting a peaceful world through a vegetarian diet/lifestyle. If you are a U.S. citizen (as the student in Turkey is) and are interested in more information, please visit our website and let your guidance counselors, vegetarian friends, school newspaper, animal rights or environmental group, and others know about this scholarship.

The next question for today, which also came from an email, concerns the clothing company L.L. Bean. The company says it carries a brand of ice skates made from synthetic leather, which is, apparently, made from leftover scraps of leather blended to create a new material. The author of the email had never heard of “synthetic leather.” It was news to us as well, and would certainly make many vegetarians think twice. I asked our intern to call L.L. Bean to confirm the product information (never assume any statement is true just because you hear it!), as well as talk to the cruelty-free mail order companies such as Heartland, Pangea, and Aesop, contact some shoe manufacturers, and check the code of federal regulations. Perhaps at the end of the week Raena will have some information on synthetic leather to share with us. (In the meantime, read up about sources for nonleather products.)

The Vegetarian Resource Group is like the story of the blind men and the elephant: depending on what part of the group you first come into contact with, you get to know us very differently. Some people are familiar with our Vegetarian Journal, while others have used our Simply Vegan cookbook, which has sold over 80,000 copies. Some people — 100,000, to be precise — visit our website every month, and are only familiar with that aspect of the VRG. Dietitians and doctors see us as a professional organization, thanks to our exhibits at conferences of the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, and the American School Food Service Association. Because we do so many different things, I’m lucky to be involved each day in very different projects, as well as administration and fundraising. On the other hand, sometimes I think it would be nice to focus on honing one or two skills.

Today, I’m working on promoting our new Passover book. In earlier generations, many people celebrated this important Jewish holiday by filling an extra refrigerator with cases of eggs. When The Vegetarian Resource Group and Debra Wasserman first offered No Cholesterol Passover Recipes in 1984, we were immediately deluged by thousands of requests. Now, partially due to our influence, there are numerous commercial options for healthier Passover products, such as vegetarian kiske. Whole wheat matzoh is pretty common everywhere and rabbinical authorities have even okayed quinoa for use. Chef Nancy Berkoff has created new Vegan Passover Recipes (suitable for the Eastern European Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, which doesn’t use beans or rice on Passover). Since Passover is in March, we’re rushing to get this book into print and send out press releases. I’ll keep you posted on what happens this week.