This past Friday, our campus was visited by a familiar sight. For the past three years, vegan and animal cruelty activist Steve Erlsten has stopped by UC Merced on a journey that begins in Bakersfield, California and goes all the way to Ashland, Oregon. Along the way, Steve visits between 90 to 95 college campuses, stops by high schools when practical, and meets with volunteers everywhere he can.

Steve works for an organization called Vegan Outreach, both helping to design and update their booklets, and going from place to place spreading their message. The main goal of Vegan Outreach, according to Steve, is to reduce animal suffering as much as possible.

“We’re a very small organization, so we have very limited resources, so we try to use those as best we can. We’ve found our most perceptive audience is younger people, students… It’s a very formative time in people’s lives. The mission is not really to change anybody’s mind about anything. I think most people would agree that animal abuse is not acceptable. Most people just don’t realize how easy it is to cut that out of their lives.”

Steve started out volunteering with an organization in Florida which traveled across the country along with Vans’ Warped Tour as many of the performing artists were vegan and supported the cause. Eventually, he ended up in California, decided he liked the weather, and settled into his “semi-retirement” job. Just last week, here at UC Merced, he handed out his 500,000th booklet, a huge accomplishment. “That’s halfway through a million, which is a number I’ve always had in mind… I think I’ll definitely get there. It’ll just take me a few more years.”

Steve enjoys traveling from campus to campus because each is unique and allows him to answer so many more questions from so many different people. He enjoys helping people along on their journey to a vegan lifestyle. Some of his favorite experiences are when he hears back from students who are ready to change. He shared the story of one student who took a flyer, decided later that day to become vegan, and by the end of the day had helped pass out about 500 booklets. “It was pretty inspirational to see someone so quickly, not only to take action and change their personal diet, but really to take action and change the world.”

If you want to learn more about becoming vegan or vegetarian, if you have any questions on the subject, or you have already made the change, Steve encourages you to visit veganoutreach.org. They have several resources, from recipes and nutritional facts to information for becoming an activist. For those on a budget, he recommended plantbasedonabudget.com, a food blog dedicated to easy and affordable vegan meals. And if you’re looking for vegan options in your area, Steve recommends happycow.net, a resource for locating vegetarian and vegan restaurants. 

Steve encourages, whatever your dietary preference, remember the effect that you are having on the world around you, and how you can make a difference in your community.

Photo Credit: veganoutreach.org

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