In July 2020, when COVID-19 outbreak was spreading rapidly across the globe, Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) volunteers formed groups in their respective zones to advocate vegetarianism. Acutely aware of the urgency to promote meatless diet, Brother Poh Kiew Chai set up a communication platform for this purpose and invited other volunteers in his zonal area to brainstorm creative ideas together and take practical actions to promote vegetarianism.
“We must go vegetarian ourselves.”
“We must share this with others.”
“We must promote vegetarianism to all.”
“These are guidance which Master Cheng Yen has been constantly reminding us since the outbreak of COVID-19. I am touched by Master Cheng Yen’s daily teachings and this has motivated me further to promote vegetarianism. Thus, I decided to take the initiative to promote vegetarianism,” Brother Poh said.
Not long after making the decision, Brother Poh found out that Sister Su Jin Yan, a fellow volunteer, is working in a food manufacturing factory. After Brother Poh and Sister Su came to an agreement, both volunteers decided to reach out and encourage factory workers to adopt a vegetarian diet. However, they soon see the problem of having only one eatery in the factory with very limited food option. Many of the workers would eat out or prepare their own lunch if they wanted something different. With the hope of getting her colleagues to try vegetarian food, Sister Su decided to bring vegetarian lunch menus to them by providing food delivery service.
Promoting vegetarianism is easier said than done
At the beginning, Brother Poh approached several vegetarian restaurants and vegetarian stalls situated in the heartland. He explained to the vendors the purpose of promoting a meatless diet with the hope that the vendors would support the cause and give some discounts. Not only that, Brother Poh also asked for the recommendations of their signature dishes as he realized that in order to convince non-vegetarians to try vegetarian meal, they must first find vegetarian dishes to be equally delicious or taste better than meat dishes. Considering that they were reaching out to blue-collar workers, Brother Poh did not forget to ask the vendors to add more rice for the workers. Once everything is in place, Brother Poh or other volunteers would deliver the orders that Sister Su had collated and placed at the respective vegetarian stalls. It was a good start for the programme as responses have been good. On average, there are about 15 orders daily with some days fetching about 20 orders.
“Going vegetarian is not a one-off practice. We must share with them the purpose of adopting a vegetarian diet and through this, allow them to understand that all lives are precious, and animals are equally afraid to die. And when livestock are slaughtered, there will inevitably be an accumulation of animosity and karmic debts that in turn result in disasters like this pandemic,” Sister Su explained.
One of Sister Su’s colleague then added, “Sister Su spares no effort to share with us about the benefits of having meatless meals and often encourages us to order vegetarian food through various means. Initially, I did not have the habit of having vegetarian meal, but I decided to try it for the first time due to her sincere encouragements and also my curiosity. It wasn’t a bad experience, but to have frequent meatless meal is still an uphill task for me.”
Setting an example and creating a positive cycle
Not only does Sister Su promote vegetarianism within her factory, she also advocates towards food companies on the other floors. Huang Sheng Wei, owner of a food company on the third floor, agrees with the vegetarian philosophy and appreciates the volunteers’ time taken to distribute meals to promote vegetarianism extensively. Since then, he also encourages his employees to go vegetarian. He is even willing to provide free meals to employees who are willing to become vegetarian. “Adopting a vegetarian diet can reduce killing. It is also good for our health and friendly to our environment,” Huang expressed.
After learning about the factory’s plan to promote vegetarianism, Sister Tan Siew Kiak who works at a hospital finds it worth emulating. She said that since the spread of COVID-19, Master Cheng Yen has been appealing to everyone to repent and thank Mother Earth.
Sister Tan expressed that she was able to cook vegetarian food at home and bring it to her office for her colleagues as she did not have to go to work every day during the circuit breaker period. When her colleagues shared with her their difficulties in going meatless, she would explain to them the reasons to become vegetarians. Since encouraging her colleagues in the hospital to order vegetarian food, Sister Tan revealed that from the practice of eating vegetarian food once a week, her colleagues gradually felt that the number of times they were going vegetarian was “too little”. Her colleagues now order vegetarian lunch almost every day, while some other colleagues have been having vegetarian food every day.
Volunteers are constantly persuading and advocating vegetarianism to the public with the hope that everyone would turn vegetarian one day. The more people becoming vegetarians, the lesser number of animals will be slaughtered. Master Cheng Yen said that this pandemic is a great lesson of our time, if everyone can be vigilant and repent, we can gather goodness and blessings to eliminate this round of crisis.