A Tribute to Rena Roseman: Making a "Rena Difference"

Foreword by Erica Meier:  I first met Rena in the summer of 2011 at Taking Action for Animals, a conference in DC where I’d given a presentation about Compassion Over Killing’s successful campaigns to persuade national food chains to add vegan options to their menus. She approached me after my talk, eager to find out how she could get get involved.

She radiated warmth, compassion, and a determined energy to make a difference: she was going to help get vegan options on restaurant menus. And that’s exactly what she did, volunteering with COK’s VegWeek campaign, which is celebrated annually in April as a way to empower people to choose plant-based foods to protect our health, the planet, and animals.   

In celebration of Rena, COK’s 2019 VegWeek includes a special benefit event at Cedar Restaurant on April 23.  

COK also released a new undercover video earlier this month, and thanks to the Rena Roseman Memorial Fund, all donations to support our investigations and related pro-vegan campaigns are being matched, dollar for dollar, up to $75,000.

Erica Meier is the Executive Director of Compassion Over Killing


Making a “Rena Difference”

By Elliot Roseman

My wife of 31 years, Rena Roseman, collapsed suddenly on her 63rd birthday, the night of November 2, 2018.  Not to be melodramatic, but since “Rena” is the Hebrew word for “joy”, you could literally say that joy went out of my life that night.

Yes, she had so much more to live, and to give.  However, this article is not to mourn, but rather to celebrate what she accomplished for animals, and her legacy, and what it may mean for you.  For Rena, it took four steps: a transition period, a decision to focus, a serious commitment, and a lifelong legacy — and you may be somewhere along this spectrum too!

Rena was not flashy. She was not the type to stand up and give a speech, or rally people to the animal cause in a public way.  Rather, she was a quiet ambassador for animals, changing minds and raising the awareness of those around her, and choosing just a few organizations to on which to focus her time and her giving.  

The Transition. Rena’s transformation to the animal cause was not immediate, though she always had sympathies in that direction. She had a masters in public health from UCLA; trained as a public health inspector; organized corporate wellness programs; and was the youngest intern ever for the World Health Organization in Copenhagen.  When I met her in 1985 (in a jitterbug dancing class), she was working for the Boston Public Health Department, and she later worked for companies that did health research and ran anti-smoking campaigns. So the health aspect of eating less meat, and working with corporations to encourage others to do the same, always resonated with her.

Nevertheless, for several decades, we were “foodies” who ate all manner of things that I’m ashamed to admit now.  After her animal “awakening”, Rena became vegan first, and then after I went with her to an Animal Rights conference, so did I, and we were vegan for years.  More recently, we admittedly were not perfect vegans, but Rena would say with determination “I’m going to be vegan again – very soon!” She meant it. Rena was the most purposeful person I ever knew.

Rena’s intense caring for animals began with our four-footed daughter, Cami, who came into our life in 2006.  As Rena would put it, “You cannot look into those eyes, or know when she licks your face when you’re sad, that animals do not have souls and deep emotions.”  She took courses through the Humane Society University, educated herself about factory farming, and after that, knew that she could not support a system with such cruelty at its core.  Once you know, you can’t not know. At that point, she had to work to end it.

The Focus. If you go to an animal conference, you know that there are many dozens if not hundreds of groups – all with good intentions – working to improve animal welfare and working for animal rights.  While the diversity and enthusiasm of each group is exciting, Rena decided that as a volunteer and supporter, she could make the biggest difference if she focused on a few. Also, we had other passions (like family, travel, theater, etc.), so Rena had limited time but wanted to make an impact.

So Rena did her homework, and found four groups that she could believe in and focus on, including Compassion Over Killing (COK).  She started engaging in COK’s activities such as soliciting restaurants to offer vegan meals, and to promote them. For example, in her outreach for COK’s VegWeek campaign in April, she convinced Cedar Restaurant  in DC to offer several vegan options during the week, which were so popular she then convinced them to keep them permanently on the menu! . Just ask their general manager, Mikias! When Rena put her mind to something, she made a difference.

The Commitment. She admired – even revered – those who would bravely put themselves behind the closed door of factory farms, posing as employees, and in real danger to conduct investigations that would expose the violence perpetrated on factory farms and fight the meat industry’s dangerous “ag gag” laws.  Few organizations conduct these important and eye-opening undercover investigations, and COK is one of them.

When Rena discovered Farm Sanctuary at animal conferences, we made a “pilgrimage” to Watkins Glen, NY. Rena was never so happy as when she was with animals who were happy, and after petting his tummy, we “adopted” a pig – Sebastian.  Seeing how happy, safe, and well-treated the animals were there, setting a shining example for others, it just made it all the more painful to know how many hundreds of billions of them were treated so mercilessly in factory farms and slaughterhouses across North America and around the world, further solidifying Rena’s commitment to supporting undercover investigations.

What I brought to the table was the environmental angle.  As an energy consultant for decades, and a campaigner to fight global warming and promote renewables, I recognized the massive pollution created and resources required to raise animals, including food, fuel, transportation, and waste, and the environmental devastation caused by such a system. When I taught at George Washington University, I would tell my students that the single biggest thing they could do individually to benefit the environment and mitigate climate change was to eat less meat.  My interests completed the “trifecta” of reasons that Rena and I supported for reducing our meat consumption – for the animals, for our health and for our planet.

Rena RosemanThe Legacy.  So when it came time for us to prepare our wills, there was no question about where Rena wanted a significant share of her resources to go: to the four organizations she had previously selected.  She wanted to concentrate her giving so that the money would make a difference – would enable those organizations to do something that they otherwise could not have done, or not done so soon. My own will is more focused on environmental causes.  

Rena wanted to make lives better for animals, not just for animals’ sake – though that was a powerful motivator – but also because she knew that if people cared for their animals (not just their pets), they would care for each other and for the world in a much deeper, more profound way.  Call it corny if you like, but Rena dreamed of making the world a better, more mindful, less violent place. In caring for the most vulnerable of us–animals included–we can bring about a more compassionate world; a world Rena was committed to building.

What About You?  If Rena had lived longer, who knows what else she would have accomplished for animals?  In her passing, however, she ironically is doing more sooner. Her legacy will be through people like you – those who have read this article – and importantly through the programs, and campaigns, and memorials that will now be in her name with the four organizations she chose to make the focus of her philanthropy.

And I know that if you can find a slice of your time, and your resources, to make a difference for those animal causes that resonate with you – in any amount – you will have moved the emotional and environmental needle in the right direction, making a Rena difference, and adding more joy to the Earth.