Pam Wijnans: ‘A burger with fries is also delicious, as long as it’s vegan’
Living in lockdown means that little is allowed. Lectures and meetings are mostly online. But in limitation, mastery can also awaken. This is the pre-eminent time to start something new. Univers spoke with a number of students who did just that. This week Pam Wijnans, the founder of a vegan student organization.
Animal-free food is gaining popularity, even Tilburg University has noticed. The new caterer in the mensa will, therefore, present more plant-based food. But what we didn’t have yet in Tilburg: a vegan student association, like in other Dutch university cities. A great mission for psychology student Pam Wijnans. Due to the lockdown, she had time to spare anyway, so since this year there is also a Tilburg VSA (Vegan Student Association).
“I’ve always been very active in addition to my studies; I’ve done all kinds of volunteer work. I also had student jobs, but joining a student association never necessarily suited me. During the pandemic I lost my jobs, I didn’t have to go to lecturers anymore. Then I thought: how can I still make myself useful?
“I see that many students in Tilburg are involved with veganism and the climate. In that respect, it is quite a progressive city. Because I am a vegan myself, who started out as a vegetarian like most people, I thought it would be nice to have an association for that. But I thought: why isn’t there one in Tilburg yet? Let me start one. Tilburg could not stay behind of course; it is such a big student city. Now we are the tenth in the country with our VSA.”
“I then contacted VSAs in other cities and asked them for tips. First, I quietly started with administrative things. What is the mission, what committees should there be? Social media had to be set up. And since June 1, we are no longer with 3 but with 5 board members. These first months are still mainly a trial period, after that we have big plans.
“I started a little modestly, in terms of ambition. I also didn’t have any experience in founding an association. My goal was to get 500 followers on our Instagram. We managed that in a few weeks. I wanted 50 members, I succeeded; we already have over 100. Next academic year, we want to have weekly activities. That way we bring people together.”
Unhealthy is also allowed
“You don’t have to be vegan to become a member. Meat eaters and vegetarians are also welcome. We’re not Jehovah’s witnesses, we don’t have to convert everyone. We just want to facilitate and encourage students who are already conscious to make vegan choices more easily.
“The core of veganism is to avoid exploitation of animals. We want to make it much easier for students to be vegan with tips and education. For example, we’re holding a vegan sushi workshop, which I love myself. Great to learn how to make that yourself. It’s not even always about eating healthy food. I also like to eat an unhealthy burger with fries, as long as it’s vegan.
“It’s not about partying and boozing, it’s about general interests in life”
“The VSA is primarily a lifestyle association. It’s not about partying and boozing, but more about general interests in life. We hold parties, of course, but not like Olof or Plato. We have already had several online events. A pub quiz about the earth and sustainability, an online Seaspiracy viewing, a raffle with prizes from local vegan-friendly businesses.
“And also a workshop on how to argue veganism. How do you tell your family? Because that can be quite difficult. When I go to visit my grandmother, for example, I make sure I bring some goodies myself. It can be hard for others to know what we eat or do not eat.”
“Our association is very international; there are quite a few international members. You can see that veganism is very different among the various nationalities. In some countries, it is even less common, so those students have more questions. A lot of members study psychology, just like me, which is remarkable.
“One of our goals is education. We would like to cooperate with sports clubs. We could, for example, educate them about plant proteins. For example, a few weeks ago we had a cook-along. Someone from our association and someone from the running club Parcival showed us how they make a meal. In the meantime, we are also in discussion with other bodies. Also with the TOP week. Furthermore, we are working on posters and merchandise.”
“We have a committee that contacts external parties, for example restaurants. We have already agreed with ten restaurants to give discounts to our members. We also contact stores that sell vegan products. Ideally, we want to enter into as many collaborations as possible. That is a win-win. We can also introduce our members to the vegan-friendly stores in Tilburg.
“It was surprising to see that so many companies and restaurants were very willing to cooperate with us and offer discounts, for example. Beforehand I thought it would take a lot of effort, but it wasn’t that bad. That is really great. I now also know how many funds there are that have money available for this kind of initiative.”
Ask for help
“I’ve found that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. In the beginning, I wanted to do everything myself, I’m quite a perfectionist. But people are also very willing to help you and it is important to involve them in your project. If you want to set up an association, it is important to be very aware of your own priorities. Everything seems fun and interesting, but you should realize that you have to be able to maintain your motivation and enthusiasm for a long time.
“My whole adult life I’ve actually done everything very project based. If something comes my way, I’ll start working on it. The next project for me would be to get on the city council for the Party for the Animals.”
After the lockdown
“The first thing I want to do when the restrictions are lifted is to have a giant potluck dinner with a group of people. Everyone then brings something to eat. In the Spoorpark, or something. Most VSA units started out that way, too. When I saw the parks so full in recent months, it did get itchy, but we’re sticking to the rules.”