Activist Profile: Jenna Calabrese
I was born and raised in Rochester, New York. After graduating from college in 2006, I took off running and found myself in Washington state, Boston, and now finally Brooklyn, NY.
What do you do for relaxation / entertainment?
I’m an avid bicyclist, so you’ll often see me tooling around the city on my hot pink 1973 Schwinn Varsity cruiser (with glitter grips and pink dice valve caps). Say hi and stop by Critical Mass if you’re ever in New York on the last Friday of the month. I also love all things creative: art, music, film, live theater. Since going vegan, I’ve also developed a love for food and cooking, so every house in which I’ve lived has always hosted potlucks and dinner parties, a trend I plan to continue in Brooklyn.
Who has been / is a major influence in your life and why?
I learned my compassion and empathy for animals from my mom, who taught me to be respectful of animals and was always a wonderful guardian to the dogs, cats, and rats in our home (not to mention the kids!). I owe a great deal of respect to my friends and fellow activists in Rochester, NY, with whom I worked in the group Compassionate Consumers; from them I learned to dedicate my life to animal advocacy and learned a lot about patience, persistence, and determination. And of course, the guiding principles of my animal activism today are derived from the teachings of VO’s own Matt and Jack!
How long have you been involved in animal rights and how did you get interested?
I went vegetarian when I was really young, but it wasn’t until high school that I was given a copy of Animal Liberation and realized that there was more to activism than just the choices I made at each meal. I adopted a vegan diet at age seventeen and from there started getting active on behalf of the animals. From my first animal rights conference in 2003 to adopting my college during my freshman year to helping promote a documentary film about an open rescue at a battery-cage egg facility to working for Vegan Outreach full-time, my interest and dedication to animal activism has only increased as the years have gone on.
What made you decide to start
leafleting? If you were nervous
the first time, how did you get
I remember receiving an email about the start of Vegan Outreach’s Adopt a College campaign in 2003, and at the time I was just trying to do every bit of animal activism I could get my hands on. So I ordered the literature and committed myself to tabling in our campus studio building at Montserrat College of Art once a month. Our school was a little too small for any actual leafleting (there were only 300 students and just two buildings at which the students took classes… although this past year I did leaflet a college with a whopping 80 students) but I did do a lot of outreach from my table.
What was your most positive leafleting experience this year and why?
During the course of the 2006/2007 school year, I was so surprised and pleased to discover how open to and interested in this material students really are. No one likes to have their habits challenged, especially when you’re implying that their habits have caused an endless amount of suffering to other beings. However, I found that a majority of the high school and college students who received a brochure from me this year were at least interested enough to flip through the literature. Many, many students thanked me for doing what I did, and each time someone told me that they had gone vegetarian because of an Even If or a Why Vegan?, all of the trials and tribulations of being a full-time leafleter paled in comparison.
What would you say to individuals hesitant about leafleting?
Leafleting is definitely intimidating, so don’t feel bad if you’re nervous. Even now, after leafleting every day for the past year, I still get nervous on certain campuses. However, the best thing you can do is take that first step and hand a brochure to a student. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and the less hesitation you’ll feel. Remain positive and upbeat – a smile is a huge icebreaker for people. You don’t have to have all the answers: that’s what our website is for. Often, people want to hear about YOUR experiences as a vegetarian. And don’t worry about leaflets that get discarded; that’s just the cost of getting people to go veg.