Veg Week encourages meatless diets

The kickoff event highlighted the plight of animals and how they feel.

by Amber Schadewald

Cows can be moody, sheep can remember faces, chickens are good problem solvers and fish feel pain.

Those are a few tidbits animal behaviorist and biologist Marc Bekoff used at Coffman Theater on Tuesday night to urge the audience to rethink eating meat.

Bekoff’s speech kicked off Veg Week, an event held each year by the student group Compassionate Action for Animals.

Animal behavior is central to what animals feel, Bekoff said. By watching them interact with one another, he said, it should be obvious that, just like people, animals have friends, lovers and family bonds.

Bekoff said speaking out against animal cruelty is a noble cause.

“If you give up, the animals are screwed,” Bekoff said. “As a collective effort, we’re chiseling away at abuse.”

Jenny Neudeck, a photography junior, hasn’t eaten meat other than fish for just more than a month. She said Bekoff’s comment about how painful it must be for fish to have hooks in their mouths made her reconsider her diet.

“I may not be able to eat fish anymore,” Neudeck said.

Other students at the lecture said Bekoff won’t convince them to stop eating meat.

Jhett Marchel, a sports management junior, said he probably would never “pledge to be veg” – the student group’s slogan – even for a week.

“It’s just easier to eat meat than to go out of my way not to,” Marchel said. “And sometimes I just want to eat a cheeseburger.”

Michelle Magy, a math senior, said she probably would never give up meat, as she munched on chicken nuggets Tuesday in Coffman Union.

“Me not eating meat for a week wouldn’t make any sort of difference,” Magy said.

After Bekoff’s speech, the audience was encouraged to try a selection of vegan foods and to consider pledging to be a vegetarian or vegan for the week.

Alex Rydell, a mortuary science senior, ate a piece of vegan pizza and, with a mouthful, said he was considering becoming a veg pledge.

“(The speech) got me thinking about my eating habits and the ethics behind what I’m putting in my body,” he said.

This is the third year Compassionate Action for Animals has had the event, which includes a variety of other meatless and animal conscious activities, such as a vegetarian potluck and special cooking demos planned for later this week.

More than 470 people have pledged to be vegetarian or vegan for the week, said Gil Schwartz, the group’s campaign coordinator.

He estimated the number would increase to 600 after Tuesday’s speech. Last year, the number of pledges was about the same, he said, but interest has almost doubled since the first event, in 2004.

Having Bekoff speak was a perfect way to not just increase awareness about animal suffering, but also to promote animal happiness and well-being, Schwartz said.

He said the group is trying to provide students with positive, fun and educational events this year and avoid the “in your face” approach that can give animal activist groups a bad rap.

Schwartz said the group has been unable to track how many people commit to being a vegetarian or vegan for longer than the week, but it conducted a follow-up e-mail survey last year. About 60 people responded, but 75 percent of them said they were still vegetarian or at least more mindful about their eating habits, he said.

For the first time, students who pledge this year have the opportunity to sign up for a veg mentor, a group member who will personally accompany the pledge on a trip to the grocery store or to dinner in the dorms. The mentor program is intended to help students learn how to shop for and eat vegetarian cuisine in a healthful way.

Pledges also receive a care package full of coupons for vegan and vegetarian restaurants and samples of vegan food.