Students participating "VegPledge" have given up meat from April 13-22.

The light-brown bun shines and reflects the fluorescent overhead light. A slight movement of the wrist reveals a crispy burger topped with fresh lettuce, tomato and onion and sided with piping-hot fries. But this isn’t your typical burger — it’s as rewarding for your conscience as it is for your tastebuds.

“I was awfully shocked at how closely it resembles the taste and texture — it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely pretty cool,” Joe Stefanik, a freshman computer science major, said referring to his Top Dog Beyond burger.

Stefanik, along with many other JMU students, have taken the “VegPledge” and signed away all meat for one week, April 13-22. The VegPledge is a nationwide event that aims to raise vegan and vegetarian awareness by encouraging people to fully commit to the diet for seven days. The Food for Thought club, working alongside Dining Services has brought the pledge to JMU.

“There are 52 weeks in a year, why not make one meat-free?” Kennedy Eakin, a freshman geographic science major and member of Food for Thought, said.

The club will host various events throughout the week ranging from a “VEG OUT” at E-Hall to the farmer’s market in front of Madison Union. On Monday, guest speaker Hanh Nguyen will give a lecture titled “How Bigotry Begins” and discuss the ethical issues within the meat and dairy industries, providing a timeline showing the human reliance on meat.

Food for Thought takes a positive approach to activism, meaning it encourages people to educate themselves about the industry and have an open mind to change. According to Sophie Barrowman, a junior geographic science major and president of Food for Thought, the pledge is completely optional and works to engage people through a hands-on approach.

“Whenever you know the detrimental effects that eating dairy and meat have on our earth and just our health in general, it can be really easy to feel negative about it,” Eakin said. “We prompt them to do it, rather than shaming and making them feel guilty.”

Food for Thought has high hopes for the upcoming week, but most importantly, it wants to stress how easy and rewarding a plant-based diet can be. Barrowman explained how much Dining Services has expanded and how the vegan options have drastically increased just in three years of being here. Not only is a plant-based diet a lot easier than it may seem, but it’s also more sustainable in terms of the environment, labor and animal rights.

“I hope that it will open JMU students’ eyes to the already amazing options that JMU dining provides for people who are vegan and vegetarian,” Barrowman said.

While there are some difficulties that come with such a restrictive diet, the organization acts as a support group for one other. It works to combat the negative stigmas surrounding veganism and show the JMU community its message without diluting it with guilt.

“I hope it gets people thinking and allows them to fiddle with the idea that eating can be ethical,” Eakin said. “It doesn’t just have to be something that we do to survive — there can be compassion behind it.”

Food for Thought is creating a like-minded community on campus where members have a support system and can advocate for sustainable choices. A plant-based diet isn’t a requirement to be a member of Food for Thought and they encourage anyone with an interest to come out and experience it for themselves.

“I’m a huge environmental advocate,” Stefanik said. “The amount of methane, the amount of water and the amount of effort extended into creating animals … just to raise and slaughter them has a huge environmental impact. Any way I can reduce my carbon footprint is a step in the right direction.”

Contact Natalie Lavery at For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.