How to host a Vegan Challenge

The Vegan Challenge (or vegan pledge) is a good way for "veg-curious" people to try a vegan diet for a short time in a fun environment under the guidance of a vegan who already knows the ropes. One of the barriers to exploring vegan food in our society is the myth that vegan food is weird. A Vegan Challenge is also a great opportunity to dispel that myth.

Back in April, I hosted a Vegan Challenge at my workplace (Ontario Ministry of the Environment) where I invited colleagues to adopt a vegan diet for 1 week. About a dozen co-workers signed on. This was part of a collective initiative of the Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA), Toronto Pig Save, and rabble.ca to encourage people to take the Vegan Challenge during Earth Week.

If you are vegan, then you already know that adopting a plant-based diet is a healthy, compassionate, delicious choice that has lighter eco-footprint on the planet. Why not spend a week showcasing this conscientious choice to a few of those around you? Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Pick a place
Pick a place where you spend time on a regular basis, especially if it is daily. If you are there almost every day of the week -- such as work or school -- it is a great place to host a Vegan Challenge for a week. If you are there on the same day each week -- such as a place of worship or a venue involving social, sports, hobby, or interest group activities -- you can hold the challenge on the same day for several weeks.

2. Pick a theme
There are lots of great reasons for and benefits of a vegan diet. Choose a theme that is most enticing to the people you want to invite, and centre the Vegan Challenge on that theme. Since my work is environment-related, I chose an environmental theme and hosted a Vegan Challenge during Earth Week -- calling it a Vegan Earth Week Challenge. Pick a theme that suits your group best.  Here are some suggestions:

Place                                          Suggested Theme
Outdoor club
Environmental group                    Environment

Place of worship
Social justice group                      Compassion

Gym
Yoga group
Work / school                              Health

3. Get assistance
Find a friend or colleague (vegan or not) to help you with planning events and bringing in delicious vegan treats. Also, try to get someone with authority (a boss, teacher, or community leader) to endorse the Vegan Challenge. If you can get that person to do the challenge, others may also be more likely to participate!

4. Pick a period
Pick a period when people are not too busy and their schedules are regular. For example, stay away from the Christmas season because many people will be away with families. Other busy periods to avoid are exam period for schools or tax time for individuals and businesses.

5. Schedule simple events
Making the Vegan Challenge fun helps keep everyone motivated. If it feels like work, people quickly lose interest. Plan something fun every day of the challenge, even if it is as simple as bringing vegan treats for everyone. Here are some tips and ideas:

- Plan a kick-off event on or just before the first day you plan to start the challenge. This is a great opportunity to give people leaflets about vegan nutrition, recipes, and literature (especially on the theme you have chosen).

- Send a few emails to invite people to join the Vegan Challenge and to come to the kick-off event. You should also explain what "vegan" means and list some common foods which are and are not vegan. Common misconceptions are that fish, dairy, and eggs are vegan and that coffee, alcohol, chips, and chocolate are not vegan. You might also want to include a list of common substitutions.

- Plan a close-off event on or just after the last day of the challenge.

- Take everyone out for a vegan lunch or dinner during the challenge.

- Watch a short film over lunch. Choose a film no longer than 30 minutes. Some suggestions:
- A Life Connected -- 12 min. (mostly environmental but touches other topics too)
- Making the Connection -- 30 min. Health, environment, compassion. (Note: this film is upbeat but has a bit of graphic imagery at the end, but not a lot.)
- Bill Clinton's interview on CNN (check on Youtube for a short interview with Bill Clinton where he explains the health benefits of his plant-based diet)

- Treats! Decadent vegan treats at every event! People will be amazed at how tasty vegan food is.

6. Be a source of vegan info
Provide literature at the kick-off event for those who are taking the challenge and follow up with an email with useful websites. Make sure to always include nutritional literature to quash any fears that vegan food is void of nutrients. (The opposite is the case!) Contact the Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) or other vegan or vegetarian organizations to get some of their useful literature. The websites of these organizations will also have literature you can download and print.  Some suggestions are:

- Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets J Am Diet Assoc. 2003; 103:748-765. The abstract from this paper makes an excellent leaflet. Hand out the first page and let them know where they can find the full paper online.  (Available here and also here.)
- TVA's Vegetarian Directory -- to find restaurants and shops selling vegan food in Toronto.
- Recipe booklets -- to help people with ideas of what to prepare at home.
- Leaflets specific to your theme -- e.g. weight loss, compassion, environmental impacts of livestock, or general health.
- The executive summary of the UN report Livestock's Long Shadow (available online) -- explains the huge environmental impacts of raising animals for food.
- www.theppk.com/recipes is an excellent website for vegan recipes!
- http://www.veg.ca/ is TVA's website. The Veggie Challenge page has nutritional info, meal ideas, and other information useful for anyone doing a Vegan Challenge.
- Encourage your challengers to register online for TVA's Veggie Challenge so they can receive tips, advice, and recipe ideas each day of their challenge.

Some of your challengers may "cheat" during the Vegan Challenge, but that's okay. Also, it is not too likely that everyone will stick to their plant-based diet when the challenge is over. At the very least, it will get people thinking and open their horizons to vegan alternatives.  Keep in mind that by hosting a Vegan Challenge you are helping dispel myths about veganism and making veganism a more mainstream concept -- and that is a great thing! Have fun and help spread the joyous experience of vegan food and way of life.

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