Charles & Debra with their son, Sam.
Charles Stahler & Debra Wasserman are vegans with a purpose and The Vegetarian Resource Group is the vehicle they founded to pursue their passion. I met them early on in my vegetarian journey and decided to interview them in honor of World Vegetarian Day, which was October 1st. I saw them in Philadelphia two years ago at a vegetarian dinner when the American Dietetic Association had a conference here. They are still passionate about their mission. Here are the questions I posed to Debra & Charles:
Q: What was your vision when you started the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) 26 years ago?
A: Our vision has remained the same: To make it easier for anyone that wants to be vegetarian to be vegetarian by providing scientifically-based information and support. In other words, have an impact in all areas that affect vegetarians. For example, we reach out to dietitians so they know that a vegetarian diet is healthful for both children and adults. VRG exhibits at the national ADA meeting held each year as well as several state dietetic meetings. We also reach out to various types of doctors including family doctors, cardiologists, etc. for the same reason that we reach out to dietitians. We make an effort to influence teachers and food service personnel.
Our goal is to make it easy for kids and college students to remain vegetarian. We exhibit at college and university food service conferences as well as national teacher shows. We sponsor a national essay contest for children to encourage both vegetarians and non-vegetarians to write about veggie diets. We also offer two $5,000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors who actively promote vegetarianism in their community and/or school. We offer both volunteer and paid internships to students year-round. VRG has also been publishing vegan books* for more than 25 years. We’ve sold several thousand books in mainstream bookstores and online. We also distribute more than 100,000 handouts throughout the country each year.
Q: Has your vision changed or expanded since you started the VRG?
A: As stated above, our vision remains the same, but continues to grow as the VRG grows (In other words, we have a larger budget). For example, we now have one staff member dedicated solely to Internet outreach. He also helps manage our email newsletter, the VRG News. We also have one staff member who coordinates all our outreach as half of her job. This includes shipping out boxes of literature each day.
We have another part-time staff person who simply does research and writing on food ingredient information, environmental issues, etc. Another staff members spends part of her time keeping our online guide to natural foods restaurants in the US and Canada updated. We’re now working on some outreach materials for nurses as well as some environmental teaching tools.
Q: What are you most proud of in your work?
A: We are most proud that we still exist despite having gone through several economic crises in this country. We’ve always managed our budget carefully. I’m also proud that several of our books have now sold over 100,000 copies each. The number of people we reach is incredible!
Q: Why do you continue?
A: The interest in vegetarianism continues to grow and there’s so much to be done. If you care about ethics, Earth, and the health of people and animals, this all makes so much sense.
Q: What is your goal for the future of the VRG?
A: To continue to grow as an organization. We’d like to have a larger budget and hire more staff so we can do even more. The demand for vegetarian information is endless these days.
The Vegetarian Resource Group does a remarkable job of keeping us informed about vegetarianism. For more information, log onto www.vrg.org/ (The Vegetarian Resource Group) or www.vrg.org/journal/index.htm (Vegetarian Journal). You need not be a vegetarian to request information!