Guiding Lights

The PETA Vegan Mentor Program pairs beginners with experienced vegans to help navigate their new diet and lifestyle—while forging genuine connections and advancing advocacy.

Posted on February 24, 2021

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At People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the guiding statement is “Animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment or abuse in any other way.” Veganism for all is an obvious goal of the organization, but it acknowledges that this lifestyle can intimidate newbies who are interested in making the switch but don’t know where to start.

Enter the PETA Vegan Mentor Program, a service that began in 2016 to connect beginners with established vegans, helping demystifying the process. “Veganism means living your life in a way that causes the least amount of harm to animals, and the mentor program helps people be vegan and embrace this guiding statement in their own lives,” explains Kearney Robinson, PETA Vegan Mentor Program coordinator. “This program provides new and aspiring vegans with free information and acts as a pen-pal service, connecting those who sign up with experienced vegans who volunteer as mentors. Mentors are available by e-mail to answer questions, offer advice, and otherwise be a good resource for as long as needed.”

Inside the Experience

Mentors in the Vegan Mentor Program must be 18 or older, must have been vegan for at least two years, and must complete a series of email correspondence and a video call with Robinson to display their personality and expertise. (PETA occasionally has openings for more mentors, so if you want to get involved or learn more, email veganmentorprogram@peta.org.)

Meanwhile, prospective mentees can sign up at peta.org/veganmentor. The program provides free information and pairs everyone who signs up with a personal mentor. “Those who sign up for a vegan mentor get a personal connection with someone who cares,” Robinson says. “There is so much great information on the internet, but nothing compares to having someone available to support you who is invested in your personal growth and success.”

After signup, the program is guided by the mentee. PETA prompts mentees to determine a goal and an initial question about veganism for their mentor when they contact their mentor for the first time. A mentee can be in the program for as long as they need. “We’ve had mentees who stuck around for a few good questions, and mentees who were in the program for many months and eventually became mentors themselves,” Robinson says. “Some mentees correspond with their mentors regularly, and others let many weeks go by before reaching out again. This program is as unique as those who sign up for it.”

Feedback from mentors and mentees alike has been overwhelmingly positive, Robinson reports. “Both groups have expressed that they learn a lot through the program and build meaningful connections,” she says. “Teaching others is an excellent way to increase one’s own knowledge and advocacy skills, and having someone available to share their personal experience with can be life-changing for someone new to veganism.”

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Kearney Robinson, PETA Vegan Mentor Program coordinator

Changing Perspectives

The vegan diet and lifestyle generates common misconceptions, which is why vegan mentors are a great resource to break those persistent myths. But if one looks deeper, the fundamental problem is often less about veganism and more about a lack of basic knowledge of dietary needs and the human body in general. “Lack of knowledge in basic nutrition is pervasive,” Robinson notes. “Many people don’t know what protein and calcium are, or that plant-based diets can provide all the nutrients the body needs without the health risks that come from eating animals.”

For example, Robinson recalls that in her early years of vegan advocacy, she’d meet people who would scoff at the idea of “surviving” on plants. Nowadays, she finds that if someone scoffs at vegan foods, it’s typically because being vegan is “too healthy.” However, she emphasizes that vegan goes beyond what’s on the plate. “Veganism is about not harming or eating animals, not about having a specific diet,” Robinson says. “Causing less harm to animals can fit into anyone’s eating habits or health goals, and to get a small glimpse of how varied vegan diets can be, just look up ‘whole-food plant-based’ and ‘junk food vegan.’ Everyone can be vegan!”

For the future, Robinson hopes that the vegan and animal rights movements prioritize mentoring. “Whatever one is doing to make the world better for animals, mentoring should be incorporated, so the future of this movement continues to thrive,” she concludes. “Sir Isaac Newton said, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ We must be those ‘giants’ and embrace mentoring.”

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