One of the (very few) things I share in common with Oprah Winfrey is that we were both mentored by our 4th grade teachers. Mine was Mrs. Kellogg, who worked extra hard to bring me out of my shy-kid shell, encouraged me to write, and made efforts to build my self-confidence. She had a profound impact on me in just a few months.
Over the years, other people, including college and grad school advisors, mentored me as I explored academic and career options. Without a doubt, my most important mentor in nutrition has been my husband Mark Messina. He’s the person who really taught me how to interpret studies and weigh the scientific evidence. My attempt to be balanced in how I present nutrition information —even when it calls the prevailing vegan dogma into question—is largely due to his influence on me. (So, if you find this to be an annoying thing about me, you can blame him 🙂
Reed Mangels of the Vegetarian Resource Group was an important professional mentor to me in my early days as a vegan dietitian, too. I was kind of in awe of her vast knowledge of vegetarian nutrition, but I quickly learned that she was generous with that knowledge as well as kind and encouraging. (That pretty much sums up my definition of a good mentor: knowledgeable, generous, kind, encouraging.)
Jack Norris considers me to have been one of his mentors, and that makes me proud since he has also become a trusted colleague—someone to whom I turn for advice on interpreting and presenting nutrition information. Given how much I rely on him now, I guess I must have been a pretty good mentor! Lately, I’ve been mentoring a dietetic student through the Vegetarian Nutrition dietetic practice group, and that’s been a wonderful experience, too.
There is a growing recognition among vegan activists, I think, that new vegans often need mentors. Going vegan is so much more than figuring out what you’re going to have for dinner tonight or finding good recipes (which couldn’t be easier these days). It’s about deciding how you’ll handle your parents’ big anniversary party, where to find comfortable non-leather shoes, what to do about your kid’s class trip to a petting zoo, or what to say when the neighbor brings a gift of non-vegan brownies. Living vegan in an omnivore world is way easier when you have support.
Mentoring new vegans can be a simple matter of striking up a facebook or twitter relationship to help a newbie (or to ask for help if you’re the newbie). But, in academia and especially in the business world, mentorships are planned and structured because they are so highly regarded as important. It’s encouraging to see how many vegan organizations, including local ones, are doing the same by offering vegan mentoring programs.
Some of these programs ask prospective vegans to take a 30 day pledge or challenge, with the promise of support, coaching and mentorship. That’s an approach that works well for some, although for many others, a more gradual transition to veganism might be more realistic. Different approaches work for different people, so mentors should be open to that. The key really is to give support to new vegans or aspiring vegans, meeting them wherever they are and helping them to learn, troubleshoot, and move forward.
If you’re looking for some structured opportunities—as either a mentor or mentee—these are some organizations that offer vegan mentoring programs. I know there are plenty more out there, so if you know of other good ones, please share them in the comments below.
Northwest Animal Rights Network
I love the idea of vegan mentors. I think that for me the blog world has provided a lot of that support and encouragement. Even if it wasn’t one-on-one it helped me get the ropes and gain confidence as a vegan.
I am curious, though, what to do about that question you listed regarding your neighbor bringing brownies. Obviously, I wouldn’t eat them, but what is the polite way to tell them…or should you not tell them?
Oh, I think this is such a sticky situation that there is absolutely no good answer! I usually try to find a way to work the issue into a later conversation, to let the person know I don’t eat eggs, but at a time when it won’t feel dismissive of their generosity.
That seems like a good way to handle it. It’s just so hard not to hurt people’s feelings sometimes, especially when their intentions are nothing but kind.
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I love this, Ginny! I have definitely been mentored via bloggers, Tweeters and meet-up groups. I think in many ways that’s why I started to blog (and coach), too – to give back. I also like your point that you can be mentored in fourth grade – and in your fourth decade! Learning is life-long!
Thank you so much for this, as although I’m still technically just a “strict vegetarian,” I’m doing the best I can to educate myself about the transition and everything that entails. I’ve found the blog world to be an incredible resource, especially seeing as my area is not especially rampant with vegans and options. Knowledge is power, and I appreciate anyone who is willing to share theirs with me.
Vegan mentors is a really good idea. I used to have a “vegan guru” go-to guy back in the day.
I think for many prospective vegans though, even just finding another vegan in their local community is not realistic, unfortunately. That’s when Internet forums a.k.a. message boards are really useful. I run a really active vegan and vegetarian message board, and my members answer the kinds of questions you mentioned all the time. So in a way, on a message board you have not just one mentor, but potentially hundreds! Of course, a real person is still better in many ways, but when that’s not possible, then the Internet comes to the rescue.
I know–sadly, most people will not find a vegan mentor in their immediate community. So thank goodness for the internet. Most of the organizations I listed provide online mentoring, I believe. But, the kind of help offered through message boards is really important, too. Thanks for doing that!
I joined MyFitnessPal late last year to track my food and activity in an effort to lose weight. My name VergingOnVegan was suggestive of my hope and desire to be completely vegan in an imperfect world. Since I joined, almost 100 people have ‘friended’ me. Some contacted me to ‘mine’ my food diary for ideas, since they want to go vegan. This costs me very little time, but helps some people over the hurdle. Plus, everyone knows I’m available by private messaging and I *do* answer my mail. I don’t know if you would consider this mentoring per se, but I think it’s a way to give support and encouragement to newbies and I am so happy to do that.
Linda, whether or not it counts as true “mentoring” (and I think it probably does), it’s amazing outreach and education!
Thanks for this great post, Ginny! It’s right in line with what I’ve been thinking. I’ve been living as a committed vegan for almost four years now and have learned so much along the way. When I encounter anyone interested in following in my path, they have so many questions about making the move! Fellow vegans often ask me questions related to vegan recipes, using vegan products, and coping with non-vegan family and friends. I’m a psychologist in private practice and have opened up my work to include nonclinical coaching on a variety of life issues. In particular, I have been inviting people interested in having a vegan coach (or a meditation coach) to contact me. I don’t pretend to be a nutritionist or dietitian, but I can help with those sticky issues many newbies and fellow travelers present because I’ve struggled with most of them, too. And when people need more nutritional or medically oriented help, I know to refer them to someone like you. I’m so glad to have you in my corner!
Thanks, Shielagh. It’s true that biggest things most people need help with don’t require you to have a degree in nutrition or anything else. Most of it is just experience–the things we’ve all learned along the way. I’m glad to have you in my corner, too. 🙂
I never had one. Being one, many times, have been some of my most gratifying experiences.
What a lovely post. I had so many vegan mentors as I got started–thank heavens for blogs–and I’m not sure it would have been as easy as it was were it not for them.
On a professional level, I could not hope for a better mentor than you. I hope you’re willing to accept the title; just as Mark helped you figure out how to interpret research data, you have helped me to do the same thing. It’ll serve me well in the many (many) years of research study to come!
Gena, that means the world to me, of course–because you know I’m among your biggest fans. <3
What a great post!
This is what I need right now – I am a vegetarian and want to transition to being vegan.
Do you know of any Australian mentors?
Also, what are some great sites for newbies needing a mentor?
Many thanks for your time 🙂
Amanda, try this website: http://www.vegansocietynsw.com/vs/html/index.html. Even if they aren’t in your area, they may be able to help you find someone closer or could help you online.
I am a mentor for the “Vegan Easy” Challenge – http://veganeasy.org/ & https://www.facebook.com/veganeasy
It is based in Australia (but people from other countries can sign up too)
I just got a new mentee (?) today through the Vegan Society pledge. I like doing it.
Just wanted to add PAN Vegan Pledge to the list – they provide support for groups wanting to start their own mentoring programs as well as having programs in Philadelphia, DC and NYC.
Thanks, Francesca. I had actually meant to include PAN.
I am helping to lead a “healthy eating” ministry at church. Can you help me advise parishioners on the best resources for changing one’s diet to a more vegan one.
Is there a curriculum available? It does not have to be religiously based to be appropriate to my purposes. Thank you, Diane
Diane, I don’t know of an actual curriculum. In terms of a friendly guide to making a transition to healthier eating, I would recommend the Plant-Powered Diet which I reviewed here. http://www.theveganrd.com/2012/08/the-plant-powered-diet-and-best-resources-for-vegans.html
I think your group would probably enjoy following the chapters in the book as a way to transition to more vegan eating.
It’s great that you’re doing this at your church!
I am a mentor through Viva la Vegan’s online mentoring program. But I’m happy to help anyone through my website, It’s Easy Being Vegan (http://www.itseasybeingvegan.com). Anyone can email me at email@example.com.
While the worldwide web has made it easy to get information on veganism, people should be very careful about that adivce. There are still lots of uneducated vegans assuring you that your body contains/recycles/doesn’t need Vitamin B12. Or that you can get enough calcium if you eat enough spinach and other dangerous, inaccurate information.
Just because someone claims to be “vegan” and is willing to mentor you doesn’t mean you should accept their advice.
Vegan Outreach’s fairly new vegan mentor program: http://veganoutreach.org/vegan-mentorship-program/