Animal rights and an animal-free lifestyle are interests that weren’t always at the forefront at the University of Maine. Now the Student Action for Animal Rights Initiative is making its case known.
SAFARI was founded this semester by Laura Andersen, a third-year early childhood education student and her friend Kristie Flowers, a fourth-year journalism student. Their hopes for the club to educate the student body about pressing animal welfare issues and to create an accepting community for students who feel estranged due to their lifestyle or beliefs.
They have attracted a fair amount of interest in the club. The club held its first meeting Sept. 29, with 10 people in attendance.
Projects are already under way. SAFARI will be hosting a 1.5-mile walk on Sunday, Oct. 18, at 11 a.m., with the majority of the proceeds benefiting the Bangor Humane Society. The walk is tentatively set to start on the mall by Fogler Library and loop around campus. A $5 donation is requested to participate.
SAFARI plans to actively volunteer in other areas of the community. Plans are in the works for other events such as bake sales in the Memorial Union and guest speakers. Although the speakers are not definite yet, the group hopes to bring members from Maine Friends of Animals or the Maine Animal Coalition to campus.
“We have people of all strains, from people that eat meat, to the extreme of raw vegan, and everywhere in between. Everyone’s accepted and everyone’s welcome to join and learn more,” Laura Andersen said.
“I’m not vegetarian, but I am interested in animal rights, and I adjust my diet accordingly,” said Ben Andersen, a fourth-year sociology student and member of SAFARI.
After searching last semester for a club that expressed interest in animal rights, or a lifestyle free of animal products, Laura Andersen and Flowers were left with nothing but their own ideas.
“We were talking about it, and we were like, ‘well, if we want this to happen and we want changes to be made on campus, we’re going to have to start it ourselves,’” Laura Andersen said.
Laura Andersen and Flowers are familiar with the struggles that come along with their cruelty-free lifestyles. These complications play a predominant role in the ideals and origin of the club. Laura Andersen has worked up to a raw vegan lifestyle, starting as a vegetarian in high school. Flowers also started as a vegetarian, and gradually became vegan.
“I went vegan in May because I actually lived on campus, and it was really hard to be vegan. There’s not a lot of options, so I waited until summer so I could pick my own food,” Flowers said.
Although there are already some vegetarian and vegan alternatives on campus, there’s not much variety. SAFARI hopes to work with the university to expand dining options.
“I know that there are a lot of vegetarians and vegans that live on campus that are having a hard time with the dining plan,” Laura Andersen said. “We can try to work with the campus and try to make changes to suit the needs of students, faculty, and whoever else.”
“They do already have some vegetarian and vegan options, but I know that when I was a freshman and lived on campus, all the vegan meals were stir-fry … and I got sick of it.”
The members of SAFARI hope to not only spread the knowledge they have but to provide comfort for students feeling alienated for their lifestyle choice.
“They get attacked a lot for their diet,” Ben Andersen said. “It would be good for them to just have other people as a resource, to make friends with similar interests, and to work together to create some sort of awareness.”
“If you even just say vegetarian or vegan, people think ‘oh my god, PETA followers, they’re crazy; they’re psycho,’” Flowers said. “They just don’t listen. We just want to have a place where these people can go and meet other people that share the same opinions as them, and meet new friends.”