Reflections on an Internship with Compassion Over Killing and a Summer in DC: Part 1

Way back in May, I embarked upon a summertime adventure in Washington, DC for an internship with the fabulous national animal advocacy organization Compassion Over Killing. 85 days, 7558 distributed leaflets, 3 feed-ins, 1 veg fest, 1 national conference, 1 letter to the editor published in the Washington Post, 1 animal sanctuary visit, and an innumerable amount of stuffed envelopes later, I’ve returned home to Madison to enjoy nearly two weeks of repose before heading back to New York to commence my sophomore year at Vassar.

I largely refrained from posting about my DC shenanigans during the past three months—save for my restaurant and farmers market reviews—since I wanted to reflect upon my summer outreach as a whole before sharing my experiences in the public realm. Now, after having the opportunity to gather my thoughts in a space physically divorced from my internship, I can confidently deem my stay in DC an overall positive one, though certainly not without fault.

In this and the next three posts, I’ll first narrate the highlights of my summer chronologically before elaborating on my general views of both my internship and life in DC. This particular post will focus on my experiences during the month of May.

After arriving in the nation’s capitol on the 25th and settling into my apartment, I began my foray into the world of DC-area animal advocacy and vegan living by attending a Memorial Day vegan potluck-barbeque with my boss, Erica Meier, and fellow intern, Katie. Star-struck even before setting foot in the COK office, I disbelievingly hob-nobbed and shared veggie burgers with prominent figures in the animal advocacy movement whose work I had followed since the early days of my veganism—COK executive director Erica Meier, journalist and author of “Green is the New Red” Will Potter, Sticky Fingers Bakery founder Doron Petersan, and co-author of “The Animal Activist’s Handbook” Bruce Friedrich, to name a few. The next day provided a “welcome-to-DC” lunch with Erica at Sticky Fingers, while the day following marked the first of my actual internship.

Sticky Fingers storefont.

Sticky Fingers storefont.

During my preliminary week with COK, I met five of the organization’s nine full-time employees (the other four work in COK’s LA office), learned basic nonprofit tasks such as fulfilling requests for merchandise and literature, and stuffed an office full of goodie bags in preparation for the Rehoboth Beach VegFest that weekend.

VegFest goodie bags, stuffed by yours truly! Image courtesy of COK.

Not but four days after the onset of my internship, I and the rest of the COK team ventured east to Delaware for the first-ever Rehoboth Beach VegFest. The first large-scale AR event I had ever helped to organize, the VegFest attracted over 600 attendees who spent the unexpectedly windy day browsing the wares of 35 exhibitors and listening to entertaining and informative speakers like The Humane Society of the United States’ Paul Shapiro and vegan cookbook author John Schlimm.

Image courtesy of COK.

VegFest speakers tent.

VegFest speakers tent.

My role at the festival included staffing the Tofutown table to offer event attendees samples of Viana sausages and soy- and rice-based whipped creams—though, the aforementioned wind complicated this task by completely overturning my table’s tent on multiple instances throughout the day. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed my time at the VegFest, where I first discovered my love of interacting with the public while tabling. While I spent much of my summer internship completing important assignments and projects in the COK office, I reveled most in the occasions during which my outreach assumed a more tangible form, such as leafleting, tabling, or hosting a feed-in. For me, no other endeavor—in terms of the positive impact for both animals and the environment as well as the immense satisfaction of having truly made a difference in an individual’s life—surpasses aiding said individual in transitioning to a compassionate, vegan lifestyle. Every leafleting, tabling, and feed-in opportunity this summer provided an ideal venue for doing so, and the Rehoboth VegFest proved no exception.

Tabling with Katie at the COK booth.

Tabling with Katie at the COK booth.

Handing out free vegan sausage samples to festival attendees. Image courtesy of COK.

Dinner on Friday as well as lunch and dinner on Saturday came from a veg-friendly to-go café called Root Gourmet, located across the street from the festival, which specialized in freshly prepared deli salads, made-to-order sandwiches and flatbreads, and packaged dips like hummus and guacamole. Root, along with such beachside restaurants as Hobos, (a)Muse, and Cake Break (which supplied vegan cupcakes for the festival’s cupcake-eating contest) served their vegan menu items at the festival, to the annoyance of a small handful of attendees who complained about seeing non-vegan restaurants featured at an all-vegan event. However, I see the inclusion of such establishments as yet another form of activism; non-vegan eateries can meet and interact with the vegan customers they’ve already at least somewhat acknowledged, thus solidifying the importance of offering animal-free menu items.

Nage & Root Gourmet festival menu.

Nage & Root Gourmet festival menu.

(a)Muse festival menu.

(a)Muse festival menu.

Cake Break cupcakes.

Cake Break cupcakes.

Cupcake-eating contest in action! Image courtesy of COK.

After bidding goodbye to the last few festival goers, disassembling the last tent, and wiping down the last table, I and the rest of the exhausted COK team retired to Nage, the more upscale sister restaurant to Root that would host the VegFest benefit brunch the next morning. Though Nage’s usual menu only features a small handful of vegan dishes, our party enjoyed a sampling of appetizers including shoestring sweet potato fries, hummus and flatbread, and chickpea fritters with lemon marmalade. While my fellow intern Katie and I thankfully could partake in our three square meals on the day of the festival, even amidst the behind-the-scenes chaos integral to event-organizing, many other COK members had not eaten anything more substantial than vegan cookie samples all day—apparently, the hecticness of vegfests frequently leads event organizers to forget to nourish themselves, as our COK co-workers would inform us. I, however, fully intend to never allow this phenomenon to affect me, for I believe that taking the time to tend to one’s personal needs proves necessary in avoiding activist burnout, even if only on one particular day.

Hummus & flatbread.

Hummus & flatbread.

Chickpea fritters.

Chickpea fritters.

Shoestring sweet potato fries.

Shoestring sweet potato fries.

Before heading to brunch at Nage the next morning, Katie and I journeyed to the Rehoboth beachfront in order to experience the real draw of the largely touristy town. With the sand in our toes and the clear water lapping at our ankles, we spotted a dolphin swimming close to shore—a picturesque way to end our weekend at the beach.

rehoboth beach veg fest (9) rehoboth beach veg fest (6)

Nage’s vegan brunch featured an impressive array of vegan pastries, pancakes, grilled veggies, fresh fruit, oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit, tofu scramble, curried coconut cauliflower and peas, and mushroom scrapple—the latter two items absolutely knocked my metaphorical culinary socks off. Plus, as COK interns, Katie and I enjoyed the normally $35 brunch for no charge. Ah, the benefits of nonprofit internships.

Brunch buffet line.

Brunch buffet line.

My plate of mouthwatering brunch fare.

My plate of mouthwatering brunch fare.

After a whirlwind week-and-a-half in DC, I entered into June with bountiful optimism toward the following month of my internship. And that, dear readers, will have to wait for another blog post.

Until next time, Ali.

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