An Interview with Laura of Rhode Island Vegan Awareness
The team behind the vegan homeless meals
by Laila DeMartino
Veganism often gets a bad rap for being a pretentious, extreme, and financially unaccessible diet that is associated with privileged millennials. Fortunately, these false stigmas are being vigorously challenged in the state of Rhode Island by Rhode Island Vegan Awareness, or RIVA, a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2001 and strives to educate the Ocean State on the importance of veganism, and make it an option for everyone. One of their most influential undertakings in helping veganism become accessible to more people has been providing vegan meals for the homeless community of Providence, RI. Impact Everything recently became involved with this project by running a public vegan food drive at our shop on Thayer Street, which ended up collecting about three boxes of food.
I recently spoke about this project with Laura Barlow, an active member of RIVA with twenty years of a committed vegan diet under her belt. She not only told me more about this project but also debunked some widely believed veganism myths that we are constantly force-fed (no pun intended) by the meat and dairy industries. We delved into some of these most limiting lies, such as eating vegan when you are financially limited, how this diet actually does not lead to health risks, and why it is important to consider veganism in the first place.
“We are dedicated to creating a more peaceful and just world for all life. We do that in a variety of ways and we try to spread vegan awareness all throughout Rhode Island”
Vegan For the Homeless
“We were talking about it at one of our meetings that we felt like if you were vegan and you were homeless you weren’t gonna have a lot of options available to you, you might have to take whatever the shelter has”
Once a month at Mathewson church in downtown Providence, RIVA hosts their entirely vegan meal for the homeless community, and they have served up to 150 in a single day, with more and more people expected to seek help as the months grow colder. According to Laura, they usually get around 20 volunteers, who generously donate all of the food right out of their own pockets. Knowledge of this program is spread by word of mouth and it is known for providing a variety of different choices all the way from Sandwiches to Vegan Mac n Cheese.
Vegan food collected by Impact Everything food drive
“We’ve been told from the guests that we actually have more options than they’ve ever had, we usually have 20 different types of dishes.”
This project is more important than it may appear. In initiating a vegan homeless meal, RIVA is actually changing the low standards that the homeless are held to by providing them with quality, healthy food. The whole idea of a vegan food drive may seem a bit unusual to some because in our minds we completely separate the homeless community from ’regular people’. Many forget that the homeless are not different from those of us who are lucky enough to have access to food and shelter; we are all human beings and we all could end up in an unfortunate situation. Although many of these people are usually lucky to find a meal at all, they still deserve the option of veganism with a variety of healthy foods to choose from.
Misconceptions of Veganism
Unfortunately, there are many myths around the vegan diet, which often leads people to completely dismiss the whole concept as an impossible, impractical lifestyle change. First of all, you do not have to be a devout, full-time vegan to be involved. For some of us simply taking soy milk in your coffee, eating more veggie burgers, and just trying to avoid meat and dairy in your day to day life is enough, and could maybe lead to full out veganism later on. The thing is, many of these myths are circulated by the actual meat and dairy industry; in other words corporations are spreading misleading information so that vegans won’t run them out of business some day. RIVA is aiming to spread awareness, true information, and consumer accessibility to vegan foods for this very reason. In fact, after asking Laura about my vegan concerns, I discovered that I actually held some false ideas of my own.
Is Veganism More Expensive ?
Many people, including myself, have automatically assumed that eating a vegan diet is much more costly, and this is completely false. When I asked Laura how financially people such as students and struggling families could afford to eat this way, she immediately set the record straight.
“It is sort of a myth that it is more expensive to eat vegan, and if you break down some of the cheapest foods on the planet by pound, its actually vegan food; foods like rice and beans and vegetables”
She went on to talk about how the items that really rack up the bill at the supermarket are the “specialty vegan foods”. This means all of those fancy meat substitutes, specialty cheeses, and tofu treats being devoured by the hipsters at your local Whole Foods. Laura asserts that the trick to living an affordable vegan lifestyle is focusing on healthy bulk grains (e.g. beans, rices, pasta, quinoa) and organic produce. The only catch is that these foods require planning and cooking, which can be hard to make the time for if you are used to the convenience of low prep meals. For this reason it is actually not so much the cost that makes veganism such a challenge, but the inconvenience and commitment. In order to make vegan food more accessible, RIVA has been advocating for restaurants (especially inexpensive restaurants) to offer their patrons more vegan options.
Rhode Island Vegan Awareness is actively aiming to support and educate the Rhode Island community, and they would be happy to help if you have questions or wish to become involved. You can find them at their online website.