Eco-Club members Julia Labricciosa and Tessa Piccolo (right) with Science Program Leader Sharon Keller. NATE SMELLE PHOTO

Fruit smoothies in service of saving planet


Recognizing that the human species depends upon the Earth for its survival like all living beings, students from E.L. Crossley Secondary School’s Eco-Club decided to show their appreciation in an extraordinary way — by giving up meat. From April 18 to April 21, the Eco-Club held its 3rd Annual VegFest to raise awareness of how a plant-based diet can “heal the planet” and improve one’s health. Funding for the week-long event was provided by The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada’s Roots and Shoots Program, Learning for a Sustainable Future, and the RBC Foundation.

Science program leader, Sharon Keller, was instrumental in founding the first VegFest in 2015. She said she is inspired to see how the event evolves and student participation grows year after year.

“Veganism and vegetarianism is on the rise within the youth population in our nation and around the world,” said Keller.

“This week’s events are a way of raising awareness about how adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet can reduce the size of our ecological footprint.”

One’s ecological footprint is the measure of their demand on nature to maintain the lifestyle they are living. It can be measured for an individual, a community or on a national basis. Keller said the Eco-Club chose to make VegFest an annual event because they want to encourage people to take a look at their own ecological footprint and then make a conscious effort to reduce it.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean they have to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Even committing to eating vegan or vegetarian one day a week will make a huge difference,” she said.

“If a family of four were to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet for a week, [it’s like reducing] the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere as removing one car from the road for 35 weeks.”

Last Tuesday, Eco-Club members handed out 450 fruit smoothies to their classmates. Keller said they expected to serve 325 colourful plates of salad with vegan dressing on Wednesday. On Thursday, students had the chance to watch and discuss an environmental documentary, and on Friday they were treated to vegan desserts.

Hungry students swarm the veggie buffet set up in Crossley’s lobby last week for VegFest. NATE SMELLE PHOTO

Grade 10 student Tessa Piccolo helped to organize last year’s VegFest. Taking a break from serving salad on Wednesday morning, she explained why she decided to become a vegetarian three years ago.

“When I learned more about the impact of meat production on the environment and about the animal cruelty that takes place I decided to stop eating meat,” she said.

“I have always loved animals, so when I saw a bunch of videos from slaughterhouses that was it.”

Piccolo said transitioning away from meat was easy for her because her mother is a vegetarian and an environmentalist, so she has had a lot of support. The more she learns about environmental issues the more she wants to get involved in making a difference. When Justin Trudeau was elected as Prime Minister in 2015, Piccolo was hopeful that he would keep his promises and become a leader in the fight against man-made climate change. So far, for the most part he has been a disappointment to Piccolo.

“In the beginning, he said he was going to be doing a lot of great things, but then he’s gone ahead with all of these pipelines. I understand politically he wants to make everyone happy, but as an environmentalist who doesn’t want to see any new pipelines it is still disappointing. I do support his carbon tax though. I think it could do a lot to reduce greenhouse emissions.”

This is the first year for Grade 11 student Julia Labricciosa as a member of the Eco-Club. She decided to become an environmentalist after meeting primatologist, activist, and author Jane Goodall.

“One of the things I learned from her that really stood out for me was the idea of thinking globally and acting locally,” said Labricciosa.

“If you look at the big picture and keep sustainability in mind, you can find ways to make a difference in your own community and your own school. Joining the Eco-Club and getting involved with VegFest is one good way I can contribute.”