We've all seen the clever billboards -- cows wielding paintbrushes, encouraging the consumption of more chicken. But have you seen the ads on buses in Denver with farm animals proclaiming, "We hear the Vegetarian Plate Rocks"?
The Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, a shelter outside Denver that rescues farm animals that would otherwise be killed when they outlive their usefulness, sponsors these bus ads. To raise funds, the Sanctuary has an Adopt-an-Animal Program. I learned all this from the latest issue of Vegetarian Living, the newsletter of the Vegetarian Society of Colorado, which has adopted an animal through the program.
Founded in 1975, the Vegetarian Society of Colorado is a nonprofit, volunteer organization committed to educating people about healthful, humane and environmentally responsible alternatives to eating meat. There are seven chapters in Colorado: Boulder, Evergreen, Denver, Fort Collins, Durango, Grand Junction and Colorado Springs. Each chapter holds monthly potlucks and sponsors programs to educate and encourage a vegetarian lifestyle. The Colorado Springs branch meets at the Organic Earth Caf in Manitou Springs on the third Sunday of the month.
Whether you're a vegetarian for ethical or nutritional reasons, an occasional carnivore, or the biggest proponent of the Atkins diet (More Meat! More!), the Vegetarian Society is a good source of information. The Web site offers a dining guide to restaurants throughout Colorado that are either fully vegetarian or offer a significant variety of vegetarian choices. The monthly newsletter includes recipes, many vegan (no animal products at all), that are as easy as they are delicious. It also offers informational booklets that address issues like the impact that meat production and livestock agriculture have on the environment and concerns about nutritional balance in a vegetarian or vegan diet.
These are issues that Jessica Patterson Anderson, coordinator of the Colorado Springs chapter, feels particularly passionate about. As a vegan, she has felt the need for community, to meet other vegetarians and/or vegans, and to "raise awareness in those who may be skeptical, interested, vegetarian (but not vegan), etc.
"But we also need to reach out and get past the old image of what a vegetarian is/does," said Anderson in an e-mail exchange. "I don't wear Birkenstocks, I don't drum, and I don't play hacky-sack. Which isn't to say that there's anything wrong with those who do -- it's just to challenge the shortcut thinking many people do when they hear 'vegetarian' or 'vegan.' It might surprise people (or not) to learn about some famous vegetarians."
One of the misconceptions that may keep people from trying a meat-free meal or lifestyle is what Anderson terms "the fear of scarcity -- the fear that, without animal flesh and products, there won't be anything to eat. Or what there is will be bland, birdseedy granola (can you hear the reggae playing?)"
This comes, of course, from the way we all were raised -- most of us seldom questioned the assumption that meat was necessary for a well-balanced diet. As Anderson explains, "We are so habituated and trained by marketing, myth and misinformation that we actually mistake how things are (you must eat meat, it's natural, dairy does the body good, etc.) with how they ought to or could be. We are so accustomed to the template of a hunk of meat and some veggie or grain "sides" that when a lot of people try meat or dairy free, they feel hungry or unfulfilled. But plant-based diets can be amazing. Unfortunately, we in Colorado still associate vegetarianism with a certain 'type.'"
Change, she'll be the first to admit, comes slowly. The Vegetarian Society of Colorado is inclusive; it welcomes curious and/or committed carnivores to its events. Anderson hopes to get us thinking about the consequences of our dietary choices. To do this, she plans to expand beyond the regular potluck gatherings to cooking classes, workshops, field trips to farm sanctuaries, and continued community outreach. She hopes to encourage local restaurants to develop more innovative vegetarian and vegan dishes along the lines of the gourmet vegetarianism so prevalent in larger cities like New York and San Francisco, and to encourage the eating public to support those restaurants.
The next big event sponsored by the Vegetarian Society will be a talk by dietician and author Brenda Davis, one of the top experts in North America on vegetarian and vegan nutrition. Her books include Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, and Defeating Diabetes. The lecture, titled "Eating for Life: The Optimal Diet," is part of a 40-state, four-province tour that started on Aug. 30, 2003. Called CARE (Compassion for Animals Road Expedition), the tour hopes to "promote compassion for animals, to promote vegetarianism by sound knowledge."
For more information about the Vegetarian Society of Colorado in Colorado Springs, call Anderson at 209-2108.
Eating for Life: The Optimal Diet
A lecture by author/nutritionist Brenda Davis
Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m.
East Rastall, in the Worner Student Center of Colorado College (NW corner of Cascade and Cache La Poudre)
Free and open to the public.
For more, visit www.hope-care.org