In the the course of researching Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, I interviewed more than 120 activists from around the world. Everyone had something interesting to say about animal activism, and I continue to get input and ideas of my own. Following are five suggestions – and one bonus tip – not included in my book.
1. Don’t make veganism look difficult. It’s no secret that the biggest threat to veganism is the misconception that it’s complicated. Someone might say to you, for example, “Oh, I could be vegan, but I could never give up ice cream.” Well, if you believe that person is genuinely ready to give up meat, eggs and all dairy but ice cream, I’d say that’s an incredible win for animals. So, rather than lecture that person about the horrors of the dairy industry, mentor them. Bring them over from the Dark Side. And then, when they’ve been mostly vegan for a couple of weeks, introduce them to So Delicious or one of the other outstanding non-dairy ice creams out there. If an egg habit is keeping them from making the transition, let them have those eggs – for now. Later, you can show them how easy it is to bake without eggs, and you can make them some tofu scramble. Just remember that no one wants to sign up for something that is going to make their life harder. Being vegan can be a fun, life-altering experience, so let’s treat it that way.
2. Stay healthy. I admit it: I love cupcakes as much as the next guy. Okay, maybe a little more than the next guy. But “vegan” isn’t always synonymous with “nutritious,” and one way we can make veganism and animal rights look appealing is by staying healthy. So eat well, get your vitamin B12 and your omega-3s; in fact, check out www.veganhealth.org.
3. Enhance your knowledge. Although I included a list of resources and discussed a few specific books activists will want to read, I didn’t go into great depth about the many excellent books available. I highly recommend activists familiarize themselves with the issues surrounding animal rights by reading such books as Why Animals Matter by Erin Williams and Margo DeMello, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, Meat Market by Erik Marcus, Farm Sanctuary by Gene Baur, Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz, Diet for a New America by John Robbins and Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman. Also, be prepared to answer some of the common questions, such as, “Where do you get your protein?” or “Don’t plants feel pain?” (um, no).
4. You don’t have to be an expert. Having just advised you to learn about the issues, I don’t mean to suggest you have to know it all. As an animal activist, you don’t have to memorize a bunch of statistics, numbers or ratios – such as, it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef … or how much the use of animals in research has increased. Ultimately, all you have to know is that you do not wish to support the suffering of animals. No need to get into long debates. Now, if you’re tabling or doing some other form of outreach, and someone asks you a question for which you do not have an answer, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t know, but if you give me your contact information, I’ll find out for you.”
5. Learn to cook and bake great vegan food. Relax: it’s easy. There are plenty of great cookbooks out there, and there are even videos that take you step by step through the process of preparing delicious vegan recipes. Some of my favorites include Vegan Planet; The Joy of Vegan Baking; Eat, Drink & Be Vegan; and anything by Jo Stepaniak. You might also check out a great DVD called “Vegetarian Cooking with Compassionate Cooks.”
Food is our common touchstone, and it’s one of the easiest ways to show others that being vegan is not some strange lifestyle. Just remember that when you share vegan food with those not familiar with it, make sure it’s outstanding vegan food.
Oh, and when you bring a dish to a potluck or family gathering, bring the recipe … especially if it’s a dessert, because anyone who tries your cookies or cake or brownies or whatever is going to want to know how you made this fantastic dessert without eggs or dairy.
Bonus tip: Use special links when posting comments. Many online articles and blogs allow readers to post comments. If you’re asked for a URL or Web site address in addition to your name, consider using a site that relates to the article or your posting. For example, if you’re posting a comment about the meat industry, try www.meat.org. If you’re leaving a comment about going veg, use www.goveg.com or www.tryveg.com. Once you post your comment, your name will be highlighted and become a hotlink to the Web site you listed. Other readers are always interested in who else is posting comments, and this additional link gives them one more connection to the world of animal protection.