Animal activism need not mean protesting a fur boutique or even handing out vegan leaflets at a local college (though I recommend both). Advocating for animals can be as simple as telling one person why you adopted a plant-based diet. In fact, such one-on-one conversations can often be more effective than a large demonstration, allowing someone to see that animal activists are not that different from other people. In the spirit of simplicity, here are ten very easy things you can do for animals.

1. Wear pro-veg buttons, a t-shirt or hat. Bruce Friedrich has a great technique for engaging strangers in conversation about animals. He wears a shirt reading “Ask Me Why I’m a Vegetarian.” When someone asks, rather than launching into an angry diatribe about animal abuse, Bruce asks the other person, “Do you eat meat?” The person generally says, “Yes,” to which Bruce responds, “Why?” The person will answer with something like, “Well, I like the taste.” Bruce will then ask, “Well, what do you know about factory farming?” And so a dialog begins. I wear a button reading “Ask Me Why I’m Vegan” (which I coincidentally bought from Bruce at a PETA event years ago). I’ve learned to keep my responses simple, and I always keep some pro-veg literature with me, in case someone is interested in learning more.

2. Add an animal-friendly message to your voice mail. If you’ve ever been put on hold (and who hasn’t?), chances are you’ve listened to a pre-recorded message touting commercial products and services. This same idea can be applied to animal rights using your home answering machine by asking callers to go veg. You can also do this on your cell phone. It can be as simple as recording your usual greeting and then adding, “Before you leave a message, I’d like to remind you that a great way to relieve animal suffering, help the planet and improve your health is to switch to a plant-based diet. For more information, please visit goveg.com.” Of course, your recording can promote any campaign or urge callers to adopt from shelters rather than buying from pet stores ― just keep it to one message or call to action per recording.

3. Take advantage of social-media sites. Web sites like Twitter and Facebook have doubled or even tripled in membership over the last year. In the words of Internet consultant Clay Shirky, media is now “global, social, ubiquitous and cheap.” That’s good news for us and good news for the animals we’re working to protect. So use social sites to the fullest by becoming an active community member on Facebook, Twitter, Care2, MySpace or whatever sites appeal to you and allow you to share campaign news, undercover videos, links, recipes, etc. If you post blogs, ask friends to vote for your posts via sites like StumbleUpon and Digg. Votes result in higher visibility — and more attention on your cause. Also, remember that new social media sites pop up constantly, so keep current on what’s happening in the world of Web 2.0. A great place to do this is by visiting the social media guide Mashable.

4. Use charity search engines that donate to animal organizations. Charity search engines earn revenue by displaying advertisements alongside your search results, and you use them as you would normally use Google, Yahoo or other search engines. While there are a lot of these charity-based search engines, not all of them allow users to designate which non-profits receive donations. Two sites that do allow users to choose animal-advocacy organizations are iGive.com and GoodSearch.com. You should also note that some sites, without any input from users, donate to organizations many animal advocates oppose. CharityCafe.com, for example, donates to Oxfam, which exploits animals. So be sure to do a little homework before signing up. For a list of charity search engines, click here. By the way, Mashable is building on this donation model to create a large-scale online charitable campaign called the Summer of Social Good, half the proceeds of which will go to the Humane Society of the United States and WWF.

5. Add a link to the auto-signature of your email. Auto-signatures are an easy way to automatically distribute information every time you send an email. And the possibilities are endless: you can link to campaigns, videos, free veg starter kits, organizations ― you name it.

6. Bring a batch of vegan cookies or brownies to work or school. Nothing brings people together like delicious treats. This is a great way to show people that, yes, you can make wonderful food without animal-based ingredients. Click here for some sweet recipes.

7. Use animal-friendly URLs when posting comments on blogs. Take advantage of the Internet by commenting on any blog post that focuses on animal issues — pro or con. And if the blog allows you to include a Web site, use a URL that relates to your comment. For example, if you’re commenting about how easy it is to be a vegan, you could use goveg.com or tryveg.com; if your comment has to do with circuses, use circuses.com, which exposes the truth under the big top. You get the idea. My point is, don’t waste the opportunity to provide a link that I guarantee you people will click on when they see your name highlighted. Tip: A great way to find blogs in the first place is to use Google Alerts, which will automatically email you any time a news story or blog is posted with the key words you’ve chosen (e.g., “vegan,” “animal testing,” “puppy mills”).

8. Bring a vegan entrée to a family gathering. Social occasions need not be awkward for the veg-minded. By bringing a great vegan dish, you not only show others how fantastic and satisfying plant-based meals are, but you’re sure to have at least one thing to eat! If you don’t have a favorite vegan cookbook ― or you’re just looking for some simple ideas ― check out this list from Erik Marcus. You might also want to visit vegcooking.com.

9. Ask your school cafeteria, favorite restaurants and grocery markets to offer more vegan options. In the world of the almighty dollar, nothing ensures a business will carry animal-friendly items like consumer demand. So be sure to tell managers and owners where you shop and eat that you’d like to see more vegan items on shelves and menus. Oh, and if they do honor your request, encourage your friends to vote with their wallets by ordering or buying the vegan items.

10. Keep a few leaflets with you. It’s a good idea to have some pro-veg brochures or other vegan-advocacy literature in your backpack, purse or jacket when you’re out in public. I find these to be incredibly handy, especially in situations where there’s not a lot of time for discussion or if you’re somewhat new to activism. Some excellent choices are Why Vegan?, Even If You Like Meat and a Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating from Vegan Outreach and the vegetarian starter kits from FARM. PETA offers a guide to compassionate living that’s a nice resource to have on hand, too.