Opportunities for Individual Activism, Part 1

Opportunities for Individual Activism, Part 1

In my January column I discussed starting your own grassroots organization, which may well exceed the scope of your time, interests or ability, so I promised to cover opportunities for individual activism. I have quite a few ideas to share, which resulted in my February column being split into thirds. If all goes as planned, you’ll have the first part in January, with the other two actually coming in February.

Surely you’ll come across something in these suggestions that you have either already done, or that you could do within your own circle of influence starting today. You’ve got no one holding you back from most of these opportunities, except possibly for yourself, and even fairly introverted people could pull off a variety of them. There’s much to cover, so let’s get started.

Be healthy: One of the primary things you can do to make an animal-friendly life look appealing is to be a positive representation of veganism. This means staying in shape and eating healthfully most of the time (not to mention having a positive attitude). We all like vegan cupcakes and cookies, but these are “sometimes foods” that should not displace the variety of produce, legumes and grains that are the staples of our diet. I’m not suggesting that you try to become the next Kenneth Williams or Brendan Brazier, but at least walk more, ride your bike to work and take the stairs instead of the elevator. You’ll be a better example of veganism as well as having more stamina to carry out other forms of activism.

Develop ‘mad cooking skillz’: This applies whether you’re an “uncook” (raw) or not. There are many times when your culinary skills could mean the difference between a non-vegan perceiving your choice to be vegan as difficult or easy. If you work swiftly in the kitchen and your food turns out delicious every time it comes out to the table, your family and friends will quickly gain an appreciation for veganism, as will others.

The Eazy Vegan
The Eazy Vegan has tons of helpful cooking videos

If you’re not one of those people that can throw together disparate ingredients from the cupboards to concoct a fabulous meal, I encourage you to check out as many of the top-rated, bestselling vegan cookbooks as you can. Recent favorites include Veganomicon, Eat, Drink & Be Vegan and The Joy of Vegan Baking. These books will not only increase your repertoire, they will advance your knowledge of the art itself.

Attaining a high level of kitchen mastery also makes it easier to pass these skills (and your knowledge) along to others. You’ll handle questions like, “How do you bake without eggs?” with confidence, and might find those you educate trying their hand at vegan cooking, too. Many a vegan has been the delighted recipient of a vegan surprise from a non-vegan friend who is eager to impress them with their efforts.

Vegan Merch
Taste Better’s designs are available at Vegan Merch dot com

Advertise: When circumstances permit, I like to wear shirts with thought-provoking (but nonjudgmental) statements and imagery, and I have stickered the lid of my iBook so that anyone who sees me working at a wireless café also sees a Boston Vegan Association sticker, a Food Fight Vegan Grocery sticker and a couple of Herbivore message stickers. In fact, I noticed someone checking them out while I was writing the first draft of this column at a local bagel shop. Sure many people dismiss such things, but there’s something to be said for the ubiquity of animal-friendly messages.

Affinity cards and checks: Speaking of ubiquitous messages, my wife and I use checkbooks that say “Vegan for life” on them. It’s not the biggest form of activism in the world, but it’s just one of many small ways to keep an animal-friendly message visible, and it supports the organization that offers the checks. Credit cards are also available for these purposes, but I don’t like to encourage anything other than the most responsible credit card use, and I haven’t found a provider that contributes to an animal organization I trust to use my proceeds in a manner consistent with my own thoughts on activism. However, it may be an option for you, so GoodSearch around.

Goodsearch: The BVA receives about a penny per search performed through GoodSearch.com as long as we’re first selected as the preferred charity at the home page. You only have to set your preferred charity once, and you can add GoodSearch as your default browser search in both Firefox and Internet Explorer. GoodSearch uses Yahoo’s search engine instead of Google, but it is more than adequate for most searches.

Other charitable contributions: If you have the means, you might consider making tax-deductible donations to organizations doing the kind of work you support. This can often be done directly through an organization’s website. You might also consider adopting an animal from a farmed animal sanctuary, either physically (if you have the time, money and accommodations) or financially with your donation.

Animal sanctuary volunteer: Animal sanctuaries need your help in other ways, too, so don’t worry if you can’t afford to donate. Before moving to Boston, my wife and I volunteered on occasion at Animal Acres. It was a great way to reconnect with our “mission,” so to speak.

Going out to physically serve the animals that our society treats as commodities is incredibly revitalizing. It’s not necessarily the stall cleaning, the feeding or the other chores that do it, though the physical work is rather satisfying for someone who spends that vast majority of his life sitting in front of a computer. Being out there and meeting the animals as individual beings renews our commitment to them and deepens our understanding of them.

Audrey the Goat
Audrey’s the one on the left

Connecting personally with Audrey the goat rewarded me with a warm memory of a specific nonhuman being rather than an abstract idea of goats as individuals. For me, Audrey is someone with whom I shared some nuzzles and scratches, not unlike the cats and dogs I have known throughout my life. And you probably know how special those memories can be.

If you can bring someone who’s not vegan with you, all the better. Even non-vegans can get excited about seeing animals up close and personal, though they may not be quite as excited about the chores. Still, if you get them up there (or to one of the sanctuary’s various fundraising events), you may well find yourself contributing to the development of a new vegan.

Petitions: It can be hard to determine the value of a petition, but petitioners depend on thousands upon thousands of signatures just to have a measure heard by the government, and they must collect them one-by-one. Read what you’re signing, make sure it aligns with your values, and then add your name. They need you, and it takes less than 5 minutes. Supporting these activists is a form of activism in itself.

That’s enough to digest for now. Mull over what you might be able to incorporate into your daily life, and stay tuned for Part Two of “Opportunities for Individual Activism,” coming in just a couple of weeks.

Eric is the publisher of An Animal-Friendly Life and co-founder of the Boston Vegan Association.

Originally posted January 20, 2008

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