PAWS Magazine

Issue 41, Spring 1999

PAWS crafts a progressive, animal-friendly workplace food policy

All PAWS staffers love animals. It is this love of animals which invariably brought them to PAWS in the first place.

For many on the PAWS staff, the ultimate way to demonstrate their love of animals is to live a vegetarian or vegan life-style. Others on the PAWS staff aren’t vegetarian, but show their love of animals primarily through their dedication to improving the lives of the animals that pass through the PAWS Companion Animal Shelter and PAWS Wildlife Center.

Through this continuum of attitudes and feelings regarding vegetarianism, PAWS has crafted a workplace food policy that is at once respectful to animals, and also respectful to the variety of opinions of the staffers and volunteers who eat on the PAWS campus.

As the Northwest’s leading animal-welfare organization, PAWS believes it is important to set an appropriate public example on behalf of the animals. Clearly, serving animals or animal products as food at a PAWS-sponsored event would be sending a mixed signal to members of the public who look to PAWS to set an appropriate animal-friendly standard.

Last summer the PAWS management team and board of directors approved a policy specifically designed to reinforce PAWS’ animal-friendly direction. It was decided that all food at PAWS-sponsored events would be vegan (meaning no animal products are used, including dairy and eggs).

In the eight months since the policy has been in effect, it has proven to be an unqualified success. A summer garden party, several staff luncheons and birthday parties, and the annual Wild Night auction have all featured 100% vegan fare, all earning raves from staff and guests.

An unanticipated side benefit was also quickly discovered: vegan food can be significantly cheaper than meat-based meals.

The policy has also laid to rest any notion that vegan food is bland and lacks variety. The PAWS board threw a winter holiday party for PAWS staffers in late December featuring food provided by the Teapot Vegetarian House (see review on page 12). Try as they might, few staffers were able to sample everything on the buffet tables; there were simply too many choices! The non-vegetarian staffers were amazed at the Teapot’s ability to mimic traditional meat offerings like beef satay.

To make the new policy easy for everyone, Vicki Nelson, who shares time in the PAWS Administration offices and in the Advocacy Department, recently put together a quick reference guide for PAWS staffers needing to shop for vegan snacks for PAWS-sponsored meetings. The guide lists dozens of brand-name chips, cookies, and crackers that are 100% vegan (see the side-bar on this page to learn how to get a free copy of this credit card-sized guide).

But adopting an animal-friendly food policy for occasional PAWS-sponsored events was relatively easy. Much harder to create would be an animal-friendly workplace eating policy to guide PAWS staffers and volunteers. After all, PAWS staffers and volunteers reflect society at large: a mix of vegetarians, non-vegetarians, and vegans. How do you craft a policy that is respectful to each of these groups of people, while still allowing PAWS to be consistent in its message?

Complicating this was the fact that there are two areas on the PAWS campus where food is generally cooked and eaten. In the main shelter building there is a large kitchen and eating area, and the Advocacy building has a kitchen and dining area as well. It was decided by the management team that the people who regularly utilize each kitchen and dining area should decide any food policy for that area. It was also decided that these policies would be voluntary, meaning that staff and volunteers would be on a honor system, and there would be no "food police" inspecting lunch bags.

The shelter staff decided not to place any limits on consuming meat or animal products in the shelter eating areas. They did decide to limit the kitchen to cooking of vegetarian meals only, and to limit their refrigerator to vegetarian foods.

The PAWS Advocacy Department directly addresses farm-animal issues, among their many other roles. Because of their direct role in educating the public about vegetarianism, veganism, and farm animal issues, the Advocacy staff decided to adopt a policy that offers an ideal in animal-friendly eating practices. The Advocacy staff decided to make the Advocacy building fully vegan.

Recently the staff of the Advocacy building chose to revisit this decision to make the building vegan. Though only one of the four staffers who currently work in the building is vegan, the group decided unanimously to reaffirm the policy. "I felt that it was important for the staff of our building to model the ideal behavior," says PAWS Communications Director Richard Huffman. "Though I’m only a vegetarian, I haven’t found our policy to hinder me at all. If I really feel like eating something that isn’t vegan, the shelter is only 50 feet away."

Bill Hall, PAWS Webmaster, also voted for the policy. But Hall, who also is not a vegan, expressed some concern on how the policy would appear to the general public. "I worry that it might distance us in some way from the society at large," says Hall. "Most people in our society don’t believe that treating animals humanely requires a vegan lifestyle."

Others in the Advocacy building share Hall’s concerns. But ultimately they hope their choice won’t alienate the public, but inspire them.

How do you feel about the PAWS animal-friendly food policies? Please e-mail comments to

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