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Building a Vegan Community

by Robert Cheeke, Vegan Bodybuilder, July 1st 2006

For many of us, adopting a vegan diet is the best decision we've ever made. We all seem to share the same postive results from an important dietary and lifestyle change to veganism. We tend to feel more at peace with ourselves and our environment, experience an increase in energy and vitality, and we thrive with rejuvenated health.

As a vegan for more than ten years, I have focused on consuming plant-based foods, avoiding all animal products in all forms, and have been promoting this lifestyle in many forms of media. I thought I was doing everything right for most of the past ten years, but recently realized that eating organic foods was really the key to optimal health and optimal environmental sustainability. Being vegan is great, but supporting non-organic food companies and non-organic mega corporations are not the most environmentally-friendly lifestyle choices. There are numerous reasons to eat organic foods, and supporting local organic farms is ideal in my opinion.

One of my goals is to build my own vegan community of friends and aquaintences. I go out of my way to promote veganism within my community and network with others who share the same lifestyle. I started my own vegan company (Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness) in 2002 and have developed a large online community based on our www.veganbodybuilding.com website. Today, many of us within a geographical region meet-up in person on a regular basis at vegan potlucks, animal rights protests, and just to enjoy each other's company watching a movie, going for a walk, or during a weight training session.

I have met a lot of vegans over the past decade and unfortunately some of the people have given up their vegan lifestyle because they did not know any other vegans and did not have the support of like-minded people. Building a vegan community can play an important role in the lives of young vegans and people new to the vegan lifestyle. Any dramatic lifestyle change can be eased with the support of others who have "been there and done that."

Eating a vegan diet comes quite naturally since fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and seeds are all foods we evolved on. The possible difficulties being vegan in today's society is the fact we've moved so far from our natural diet, it is no longer the norm. Having friends and aquaintences who share the same moral and ethical values and eating habits, provides a supportive cast for your dietary choices and gives you someone to eat meals with who won't question or criticize your lifestyle.

As a vegan, I not only like to expand my own vegan communtity but I like to have an impact and positive influence on the non-vegan community. What are we doing if we aren't including the people we're trying to have an impact on? That is how we save human and animal lives and improve all life on Earth; by reaching non-vegans and informing them about the benefits to individual health and planet sustainability of a plant-based, organic diet.

I don't view veganism as a cult group out to recruit as many members as possible. I don't see it as a set of rules we must obey. I view veganism as a compassionate lifestyle with the goal of reducing and eliminating animal cruelty while providing our bodies with proper nourishment for ideal or optimal health.

There are a number of things you can do to impact the people around you and expand your own vegan community. I focus on participating in local vegan education groups, vegan potlucks, supporting local organic farms, and patronizing local vegan businesses. In all of these activities there is an opportunity to network with plenty of other vegans. The larger the vegan group, the greater impact you can have on your non-vegan community.

Search out events going on in your community, and better yet, start your own events. You can start small by making flyers promoting a vegan potluck or picnic. Invite your friends and family to ensure you'll have a decent turnout. Usually the larger the group, the more likely others are to join in and participate a second time. Be inclusive to non-vegans as well. Afterall, we can make a far greater impact on the planet by working with non-vegans than by soley hanging out with a group people who already see the big picture. An all vegan world, or at least an all vegan community, can be an ideal goal, but be open to the involvement of others too. You'll be surprised how many people you can influence by being a positive role model for a healthy vegan lifestyle. Most of the people I've introduced veganism to, and who are now vegans because of that introduction and interaction, were positively influenced by my role model approach rather than my judgements or criticisms of their lifestyle at the time. A favorite quote of mine is from an annoymous source and says, "When your actions speak for themselves, don't interrupt."

One of the exciting upcoming events I'm involved in is the 2006 Vegan Vacation that Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness is sponsoring and hosting in Portland, Oregon from August 3-9. This will be a week-long vegan fest full of activities including vegan dinners, potlucks and picnics, hikes, cycling, and running events, weight-training sessions, a trip to the Oregon Coast, and of course, lots of hanging out with fellow vegans. We will also have an impact on the Northwest community by outreach and activism we will be doing with our collective group.

The Vegan Vacation participants will be primarily members of our Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness online forum (over 2,000 members in total and dozens expected to make the trip out west) who will be traveling here from all over the country and from various other countries for our event, but we'll also have great involvement from the Portland community including participation from groups like Northwest Veg. For more information about the Vegan Vacation visit www.veganbodybuilding.com or e-mail robert@veganbodybuilding.com.

The more vegan community events worldwide, the more animal lives we can save, the more human lives we can save, and the greater our chances are of improving the quality of our planet. There are veg fests all over the world and I encourage you to attend one in your area to to get involved in your community. Another great upcoming event is the OrganicAthlete Conference on September 30 in San Francisco, California. Successful vegan athletes who talk the talk and walk the walk will be on hand to present their strategies for success and explain how they thrive on a plant-based diet.

Remember that healthy food defines you, and you are in a position to make a tremendous impact on your community and your planet. Embrace the opportunities before you and share your organic vegan lifestyle with the world, encouraging and motivating others along your journey.