Alex Bonfiglio, founder of the Green Mountain Veggies club, is turning her passion for veganism into a schoolwide initiative.
By Alli Guaman, Marymount Manhattan College
Alex Bonfiglio is a first-year student at the University of Vermont (UVM) who’s getting more done at her college than the typical freshman.
Bonfiglio is majoring in Environmental Science, but has recently declared a second major in Ecological Agriculture, due to her interest in agricultural food systems. So, it isn’t a surprise that when Bonfiglio began classes at UVM, she quickly noticed the lack of healthy options at the cafeteria. The freshman wasted no time in founding the Green Mountain Veggies club, the first club in UVM to promote the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle.
“The club’s goal is to help increase the prevalence and awareness of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles and diets to help promote proper treatment of animals and the environment,” she says. De-stigmatizing the word “vegan” is part of raising awareness of veganism and vegetarianism. There’s so much more to the lifestyle than the “restriction of diet,” Bonfiglio says. What enters your body defines your outlook on life, and eating in a healthy manner gives your body the energy and proper care that it needs.
Along with health, a veggie-filled diet can have a positive impact on the surrounding community. “When people think of veganism, they think about the things that they lose–like you’re not eating meat, or dairy, but I like to focus on the things that you save and on the things that you gain.”
The gains can be as personal as avoiding saturated fat, which is key for Bonfiglio, whose family has a history of heart disease, but they can also have the large impact of saving a rainforest that would have been cleared down for pasture land. “I think that your diet is so much more than yourself, and once you get that perspective, you cannot go back.”
There isn’t anyone in particular to blame for the misunderstanding of the veganism/vegetarianism concept. Society always broadcasts the pretty TV commercials that show happy families sitting in fast-food chains, enjoying chicken sandwiches, and science textbooks teach students how versatile and protein-filled the egg is.
Bonfiglio had thought about being vegetarian for a while, but once she did her research on the dairy industries and discovered the not-so-pretty process of preparing dairy products, she decided to go vegan, cold turkey. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! How is so much being withheld?’” she says. As a result, Bonfiglio wasn’t surprised by her family’s opposition to her choice. Her father is Italian and her mother is Puerto Rican, both cultures that are heavily reliant on both dairy and meat, so she can’t eat many of the dishes she used to anymore. “The only time I really miss anything is when I’m in a family social setting, and I’m sitting there with my plate of vegetables,” she says.
However, aside from that one familial issue, not many people question Bonfiglio’s decision to become vegan. The main issue for her is providing her body with the necessary nutrients that dairy and meat had provided, whether through supplements or an increased intake of nuts. This lack of knowledge on how to maintain the vegan lifestyle, Bonfiglio suspects, is another reason why people avoid veganism. Green Mountain Veggies aims to provide just this type of information. “We want to have talks about vegan athletes and what they do to maintain themselves. We want to talk about vegan cosmetics and clothing, and we want to have different educational workshops so people can expand their knowledge and those who are more knowledgeable can share their knowledge with others.”
Currently, Green Mountain Veggies distributes pamphlets all across the UVM campus with the intention of gathering people from all different areas. Their most recent petition calls for “Meatless Mondays,” which, with enough signatures, would be implemented into the school cafeteria schedule. Members are trying to work with local animal shelters and are undergoing volunteer training to make working with animals a reality. To encourage students and locals to try vegan food, Green Mountain Veggies also host potlucks. Next year, they’re aiming to have educational sessions that talk about veganism 101.
“Green Mountain Veggies Club aims to be an inclusive environment where vegans and non-vegans could just come and gather and also to promote the idea that you can be vegan for so many different reasons.” Bonfiglio says that the club would have done more to spread awareness to a larger audience if they were recognized by the Student Government Association (SGA), who has not yet fully approved of the club. “It’s a little bit difficult because we’re not directly recognized by SGA yet, so you can’t really reserve a room and stuff like that,” she says.
Another downside to not being approved by the SGA is the lack in funding. The members of Green Mountain Veggies have been trying to make a GoFundMe so that they could get a budget going. A recent event the club had, which was a hit, was a midnight vegan cookie sale that raised $300. However, that’s still some ways off from the $2,000 goal to set the club for next year.
Despite these challenges, Bonfiglio keeps moving forward. “Nothing changes if nothing happens. When people think about changing something, they feel alone and it’s because they don’t really want to challenge anything or speak their mind. It’s isolating being someone who makes change, but at the same time, you’re being the voice for a bunch of other people who are thinking the exact same thing. So by taking the initiative to do something, you’re helping a bunch of people who would have never said anything to begin with, but who agree with what you’re trying to do.”
It’s all about mentality, says Bonfiglio, who, at one point, considered taking a gap year. She was upset, because she was in college when she didn’t want to be. It was the abundant resources at UVM that prompted her mental switch and spurred her into action. “You know, I’m here, in this place, with so many resources and opportunities, so I said I’m going to create this club and I held an informational meeting in February.”
Bonfiglio expected only a couple of people, but once the small table was set up, fifty showed up to voice their opinions, proving that only one person needed to take a stand for change for the rest to follow. Currently, there are 30 core members, with plenty more helping with events and managing emails.