30-Day Veg Challenge

For this post, I will profile a project of University of Rochester’s Student Association of Vegetarian and Vegan Youth (SAVVY).  What SAVVY did was seriously cool and inspiring, and I hope this post will give you ideas on things you can do with your school’s veg club!

So what was the 30-Day Veg Challenge? Basically, SAVVY encouraged students to eliminate animal products from their diets for either a week or a month. Those that joined the challenge for a week either went vegan for the week, or went vegetarian for the week. Those that joined for a month gradually eliminated the amount of animal products in their diet throughout the 30-day period, beginning with meat the first week, all dairy but cheese the second week, cheese the third week, and eggs the last week.

Throughout the 30-day veg challenge, SAVVY held many events:

  • SAVVY screened the documentary Vegucated.
  • SAVVY held an Expo, where other clubs (environmental groups, nonviolence groups, health groups, etc.) set up tables about their club’s issue and how the issue relates to veganism. John Lewis, aka the Bad-Ass vegan, spoke at this event, and a performance group performed.
  • SAVVY hosted a vegan food cooking demo, where they taught students how to cook vegan food. See videos of the cooking demo here and here.
  • SAVVY’s president led a discussion with the campus philosophy council on the utilitarian approach to animal rights and veganism. The discussion explored many hypothetical questions important to the discussion of animal rights.
  • A guest speaker came to talk about the basics of nutrition and a whole-foods, plant-based diet.
  • SAVVY collaborated with several social justice groups for a “Walk for Social Justice” that demonstrated the importance of solidarity between different social justice movements. The purpose of this walk was to demonstrate that vegans care about the rights of fellow human beings, as well as animals.
  • SAVVY designed the school’s menu for a Meatless Mondays. The theme of the Meatless Monday was “protein and calcium.” During the Meatless Monday, students could play a couple of games. In a “Is that Vegan?” game, players guessed the non-vegan food out of a list of four foods. In a matching game, players matched the non-vegan choice with the vegan food choice that contained the same amount of protein. Winners of these games received small prizes like cookies, cruelty-free cosmetics, or small crocheted pigs.

Students taking the challenge had the option of working with a veg coach. The veg coach, among other things, answered students’ basic questions about veg eating and helped them find food to eat. Students were also encouraged to stay in contact with their veg coach after the challenge.

To advertise this event, SAVVY put posters around campus, hung a banner, tabled for hours, spread the word through social media, and had other school groups sign a form to agree to advertise the event throughout their membership base. They also advertised through word of mouth, and those who referred others to the challenge received points that later led to prizes.

Overall, the challenge had great results. Many students who took the challenge said that they would continue to be vegetarian or vegan after the challenge, and others pledged to reduce the amount of meat and animal products they ate. Also, the school now offers more veg-friendly options, and SAVVY feels they sparked a larger campus discussion on veg eating.

Why 30 days?

Research shows that a new habit is learned in 28 days, and 30 days rounds that number out. SAVVY had done one-week challenges in previous years, but the one week was not enough to build the veg habit.

If you are trying to implement a similar challenge at your school, I recommend you ask others to do the challenge for at least 3 weeks, but no more than a month.

Why did SAVVY ask students to eliminate meat first, then all dairy but cheese, then cheese, then eggs?

SAVVY chose the order of foods to eliminate based off what they felt would be easiest for someone looking for a gradual approach to veganism. Meat came first because it is the easiest food for most people to eliminate. Their University has a good selection cow’s milk alternatives, so dairy was next. Cheese was a separate category because many people are addicted to it. SAVVY also wanted to postpone cheese as long as possible, for cheese can be a make it or break it point. Eggs were asked last because the University of Rochester has few vegan breakfast choices.

I like the order in which SAVVY asks challenge participants to eliminate animal products. In your school’s challenge, I recommend you choose a similar order or switch it depending your cafeteria or dining hall’s menu options.

Why was the slogan “30 days of rethinking dietary choices?

SAVVY wanted the challenge to seem approachable, not something that would require participants to make a pledge to be vegan or vegetarian for life. They also did not want anyone to feel as if SAVVY was attacking their diet choices. Instead, they wanted the challenge to be fun and informative.

I agree with SAVVY. Fewer people would have joined the challenge if it meant that they had to make a life commitment to a veg diet. Of course, we hope everyone will make that commitment after taking the challenge! But we must make the challenge appealing so that people to sign up for it in the first place.

Why “challenge”?

SAVVY hopes the mere fact that it was a challenge appealed to guys. Everyone, especially males, likes a challenge. According to SAVVY’s president, if you tell guys they can’t do something, they will take it on.

SAVVY also brought in a vegan athlete guest speaker, John Lewis, in order to appeal to males.

Appealing to guys is very important, as vegan stereotypes would tell us that going veg is a feminine thing. Of course, veganism is not feminine at all! Everyone can go vegetarian or vegan, and we as activists must demonstrate that.

What created more change–the 30-day challenge or the week long challenges?

SAVVY says  30-day challenge produced the most change because more people signed up for it and it got many vegetarians to think about going vegan.

I agree. Seven days is not a long enough time period for one to change their diet, because one week is not long enough to shake off any cravings for animal products, and it is not enough time to get one used to veg eating.

Who were veg coaches?

Veg coaches helped coach challenge participants with their struggles in the challenge. Participants were not required to have a veg coach, but SAVVY suggested they do.

Veg coaches had to have been vegan for at least several months, to ensure that they had a good enough grip on their own diet in order to help others.

I think the Veg Coaches are really essential to the challenge, so make sure to include them in your school’s challenge.

Who were co-sponsors?

Essential to the success of the 30-Day Veg Challenge were SAVVY’s connections with other on campus groups–co-sponsors of the Veg Challenge.

These other groups agreed to help publicize the challenge, help with the Veg Expo, and possibly run one event with SAVVY that related to their group’s and Veg Challenge’s message.

SAVVY had connections with a variety of groups, from social justice groups, to health groups, dining services, environmental groups, to a belly dancing ensemble and to the society of crocheters and knitters.

For your club’s challenge, find a list of all your school’s groups and try to find a connection each one can make with a veg diet. The more collaborations the better.

How did SAVVY connect with co-sponsors?

SAVVY made connections easily because co-sponsors were acquaintances with leaders of other groups. For groups in which a member of SAVVY didn’t know someone, SAVVY went on a University webpage called the Campus Clubs Connection, which had the contact information for each club. SAVVY then called or sent emails to the primary contact of groups they wanted to connect with.

SAVVY’s co-president, Simone Arnold, will soon write a guest where she details more about the co-sponsorships. Stay tuned for more!

How did SAVVY get 200 people to sign up for the challenge?

SAVVY tabled a lot.

SAVVY’s co-president, Simone Arnold, gives a few tips on tabling:

  • Pick high traffic areas and times. SAVVY tabled from 11-1 for lunch and 5-7 for dinner because those are peak hours on campus for different dinning halls.
  • Have two people table at a time.
  • Table for short periods of time for each person
  • Hold a training session for tablers so that people have an idea of what they might be dealing with and so that they are prepared for anything
  • Have a sign up sheet with contact information so you know who should be tabling when
  • Have a box set up that people can grab so that no one needs to scramble for materials.
  • Have high energy and be okay with rejection
  • Let people know why they should do the challenge without feeling oppressive.

SAVVY’s co-president, Simone Arnold, will soon write a guest post about tabling. Stay tuned!

SAVVY also put up professionally made posters around the campus, and they said the money spent to make the posters professionally was worth it. If you need money for things like this, see my post on applying for grants.

SAVVY made a video to promote the challenge and they spread this video by sharing it on their Facebook page and asking co-sponsors to share it. In the future, they will have a publicity manager who will send it to the school TV station, the Buzz (an online newspaper).

How did SAVVY increase the amount of veg options available in the cafeteria during the challenge?

SAVVY has a dining representative who works directly with dining services, and this representative asked for more vegetarian and vegan options.

Throughout the year, this dining representative also helps construct menus, suggests improvements for future recipes, and sometimes gives the dining staff recipes if they need ideas for something. SAVVY has had other success with the dining representative–they got a Compassionate Thanksgiving in on of the dining halls!

I’ll write about separate post about the dining representative soon!

How did SAVVY get challenge participants to attend the events?

SAVVY used an incentive system to entice participants to attend the challenge’s events.

SAVVY gave participants points for signing up for the challenge, referring others to the challenge, attending events, completing the passport at the Expo (which meant attending every table), and interacting with their Veg Coach. The top 5 people with the most points received prizes from sponsors of the 30 day veg challenge.

How did SAVVY find their guest speaker?

SAVVY found John Lewis, the “bad-ass vegan”, through a connection with EveryDay Gourmet Bakery, the distributor of the cookies that John Lewis sells. They got in contact with him through Facebook.

SAVVY gives this advice on finding a guest speaker:

“Really, doing a little research and finding a good way of reaching out to the person is the most important step. Do they check their Twitter often? Have a specific fan email? Or is Facebook the best way? Social media now makes it really easy to get in contact with these people.”

How did SAVVY gage results?

SAVVY sent a questionnaire after the challenge to ask participants what was good, what helped them the most, what was least helpful. They also asked people to rate their overall experience, give any positive or negative feedback, and fill out a small description of what they got out of the challenge. About 50 people, 1/4 of the people taking the challenge, took the survey.

SAVVY cannot know for sure who did and who didn’t follow through on the challenge, but their survey results told them who really did and who really didn’t. SAVVY did not want people to feel like they were the vegan police, because that might deter people from signing up for the challenge again next year. They wanted the challenge to be fun and informative, rather than oppressive.

Differences in running a 30-Day Veg Challenge in a high school or middle schools vs. a college:

  • In high schools and middle schools, there are fewer highly active clubs, so there fewer clubs to partner with. so fewer events. You can counter this by partnering with local groups in your community.
  • Those under 18 usually can’t go vegetarian or vegan without parental approval. Luckily, there are plenty of resources on this website to deal with that. But you would have to address the parental concern when getting students to join, and you possibly will need to hold events and information sessions specifically for parents
  • In high schools and middle schools, there generally are fewer active club members, so if you want to pull an event off, you’d have to do a lot by yourself or partner even more with local groups.
  • High schoolers and middle schoolers are usually (usually!) more immature, so they would be less likely to take the challenge seriously.
  • High schools and middle schools normally do not provide funding for club activities, so you’d have to do more fundraising and apply for grants if you want to hold more costly events.
  • Unless you go to a boarding school, most students eat their own food on campus or they just buy lunch. So students would be eating their own food from home, so you would have to give them recipes and meal plans instead of just telling them to eat the veg options already offered in the cafeteria.
  • Since students don’t live on campus it’s harder to get them to attend events because transportation is a concern.

Overall, there are a few differences, but you’ll definitely be able to pull this off at a high school or middle school!

Imagine if every school had something of the sort! Imagine if every school had a month where students could try out vegetarianism and veganism with tons of support and informative events available to them! This would make such a huge difference, and it would really advance the vegetarian movement, thus benefitting animals, the environment, and everyone’s health.

I think a 30-day veg challenge is a great idea, and I hope you were inspired and informed by this post to start something similar in your school!