What happened in college is staying in college for Joe Kirkenir.
“I was active in a fraternity,” said Kirkenir of York. “So, I partied, ate and drank a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have.”
Then he made an “overnight decision” to change his lifestyle.
“I became vegan in 2014. I dove right in and turned things around, basically because of the ethics around it,” he said. “From my perspective, the main reason I’m still doing it is to live the most morally and ethically life I can.”
What exactly is veganism? A vegan doesn’t eat meat or any products derived from animals—such as eggs and cheese—but it’s more than a diet. Because vegans believe in treating animals with compassion, it’s also a lifestyle. That means using and wearing products that aren’t created from or tested on animals—from cosmetics to clothing.
“I can’t recommend the lifestyle enough. It’s a great way to make the world a better place,” said Kirkenir. “Becoming vegan is more mainstream than ever.”
He should know—Kirkenir currently serves as president for one of the area’s go-to vegan groups, Animal Advocates of South Central PA (AASCPA). The nonprofit’s mission is “to spread compassion for animals in a peaceful and respectful way.”
And January is a great time to give it a whirl, through AASCPA’s free 30-day “Vegan Challenge.”
“There are a lot of national resources, but we want to build a local community and show people there are local resources,” Kirkenir said. “We want to fill that void.”
He wants people to know they don’t have to do it alone—like he did, or go cold turkey on meat—like he did.
Veganuary Rhymes with January
January’s challenge ties into a national movement called Veganuary, plus New Year’s resolutions. This is AASCPA’s fifth Vegan Challenge organized by Seth Dellinger of Harrisburg—the group’s director of community engagement.
“The most common thing you hear is that people don’t want to eat animals anymore, but they just don’t know how to do it,” Dellinger said. “The way people are raised, sometimes they feel that animal products are inescapable. And sometimes people want to do it for health or environmental reasons, but the friction is still the same—they don’t know how to do it.”
Dellinger turned vegan about five years ago, after stopping by AASCPA’s booth at Kipona. Now, he enjoys sharing what he’s learned with others.
“We give you the tools to gradually step away and become vegan,” Dellinger said. “The goal isn’t to be vegan on day three, but to be vegan by day 30.”
Daily emails provide 30 different tools and resources, and everyone who signs up for the challenge is matched with a mentor.
“You can ask questions like, ‘Is there vegan whipped cream?’ and ‘How do I talk to my parents about this?’ and ‘What do I do during a business luncheon?’” Dellinger said.
One of the common misconceptions about veganism is the cost.
“It’s not expensive—that’s what a lot of people view as a barrier,” Dellinger said. “When you first walk into the grocery store, everything you see is vegan because you’re in the produce section. There are thousands of edible plants in the world, and most people eat the same three animals or the same fast food sandwich all the time—but there’s so much variety in inexpensive plant life.”
The couple that goes vegan together, stays together—that could be the mantra for Jamie and Zach Albrecht of Carlisle. They signed up for one of AASCPA’s previous challenges, in September 2020.
“It was lockdown—we went vegan together, got married a month later and had a vegan wedding,” said Jamie, with a laugh.
So what motivated the couple to go vegan?
“I was interested in zero waste and minimalism, and I noticed that our meat packaging was a huge contributor to our waste,” Jamie said. “But in addition to that, going back to my childhood, I’ve always been a huge animal lover.”
Meantime, the health benefits intrigued Zach.
“I love being in the kitchen, I love cooking. So, I was looking forward to broadening my horizons with cooking and also the benefit of eating healthier,” he said. “Within a few weeks, I knew this would be something that wouldn’t end after 30 days.”
The couple educated themselves through AASCPA-recommended documentaries, but “everything clicked” when they visited a local sanctuary for rescued farm animals.
“Becoming vegan has given me more peace of mind,” Zach said. “I feel really good about what I’m eating, my impact on the environment and animals. It’s more of a mental health thing. I feel like I’m making a positive impact.”
His advice to those contemplating veganism?
“To be completely honest, it wasn’t as big of a change as I thought it would be,” Zach said. “There hasn’t been a single thing that I used to eat that I can’t veganize.”
One of his favorite dishes is tofu scramble, similar to scrambled eggs with veggies—replacing the eggs with tofu seasoned with turmeric and black Himalayan salt.
Although it’s too late to sign up for AASCPA’s current Vegan Challenge, future challenges are always being planned and website resources are available 24/7, including lists of local vegan-friendly restaurants, recipes and events.
Sometimes, connecting to a community is the best first step.
“Even though it’s called a vegan challenge, it’s really fun,” said Kirkenir, poking fun at their use of the word “challenge.”
“Veganism shouldn’t be a challenge,” he said “It’s more of a lifestyle, and it’s fun to be a vegan.”
For more information about Animal Advocates of South Central PA, visit animaladvocatesscpa.com.
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