Opportunities for Individual Activism, Part 3

Opportunities for Individual Activism, Part 3

As I mentioned in Part Two of this column, you don’t necessarily need to be a lifelong activist to engage in the following activities, but you will find that these particular suggestions may require more time, energy and practice to get to a point where you are as comfortable with them as my previous suggestions. Don’t let that hold you back! You can do everything I’m proposing below, and the results can be extraordinary.

Vegan buddy: Encourage someone to go vegan for a week, or for 30 days, and make that person your project. Go shopping with him or her, share tips to flatten out that learning curve, cook and eat together, and continue discussions on veganism and animal rights over those 30 days, perhaps even watching a film like Earthlings together to reinforce the decision. After those 30 days are up, it’s much more likely that you will find yourself with another long-term vegan friend in your life, rather than someone who made a stab at it on his or her own for a week and found it too difficult.

If you’re ambitious, you might list the people in your life you think would be particularly suited to this type of outreach. Prioritize the people you want to approach based on factors such as their openness to veganism in general (already vegetarian?), or whether a person is a prominent person in the community, whose example of veganism could have an impact well beyond their own choices.

Health education: While the health aspect of veganism is not the most airtight argument for getting most people to go and stay completely vegan — there’s just too much room for argument (and for “cheating”) — there’s little disputing the science indicating that, overall, a plant-based diet is the healthiest way to eat if you’re a human being. Of course, if you’re most interested in advocating veganism for sake of animals, this particularly activity might prove to be too much of a distraction, as it was for me.

I spoke numerous times in Los Angeles to various Rotary and Lions Club chapters about the benefits of a plant-based diet, and I did get results. These clubs are generally populated with older individuals whose health and the health of those around them are a more significant concern than for most younger people. They may be taking cholesterol-lowering medication, perhaps even have experienced a heart attack already, or they know someone who is experiencing health-related problems due to a standard American diet. You won’t convince everyone, but it was pretty inspiring to have a number of people tell me the impact I had on their thinking. Ultimately, this is not my favorite kind of advocacy, because I am much more concerned with promoting veganism for ethical reasons rather than health.

However, if this sounds like the type of work that makes more sense for you, educate yourself at the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine’s website (they actually have a heart health talk you can volunteer to present if you demonstrate an aptitude for public speaking) and find out how you can persuade people that a shift to a plant-based diet can transform their health. While you won’t be educating people about animal ethics, you will at least getting them thinking favorably about strict vegetarianism (i.e., “dietary veganism”).

Restaurant veganization: Several members of The Boston Vegan Association, including myself, have had great success encouraging local restaurant owners to add or increase menu options, and even to fully veganize dishes that are most of the way there already. It is easiest to do this if you regularly frequent the restaurant.

Recently I’ve been consulting with the owner of a local café to expand its vegan options. The café has free wireless internet, so of course I was already spending significant time there working on my laptop and enjoying coffee with soy milk and the occasional vegan cookie, mini carrot cake or mini banana loaf. After a few months as a frequent customer, getting friendly with the owner and sharing my copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, this café now sells several varieties of vegan cupcakes, muffins, french toast and sandwiches (with Tofurkey and Vegenaise), and more options are on the way. The owner is devoting an entire menu board exclusively to highlighting her vegan options. Obviously your results may vary.

Cafeterias are another important target for activism, whether at the corporate, high school or college level. The people that plan the menus at these cafeterias are relatively accessible, so it is worth the effort to let them know the benefits of offering vegan options. For step-by-step guides to this form of activism, stop in here, here and here (PDF; you can work up your own versions of these documents, but it’s nice that the research and materials have already been provided for you).

Cooking classes: Whether raw or cooked, once your culinary skills are established, you can share these not just one-on-one as a vegan buddy, but in rooms full of people eager to learn the mysteries of vegan food preparation.

Ideally you will offer at least the initial classes for free to gain experience and recommendations. You can work your way up to offering classes at a cost if there is demand in your area. Of course, if the space you are using to offer the class requires a fee, it is perfectly acceptable to charge for your classes so you can reimburse that cost, along with paying for the supplies you need and any advertising costs. Another thing to keep in mind is that people tend to take classes more seriously if they are paying for them (it helps guarantee attendance, too).

Try working with local health food stores or community colleges to find space and get the word out. Publicize your class in local weeklies and holistic news magazines, on community boards and on the internet. While this will take a significant commitment on your part, it can be quite rewarding.

For more ideas on incorporating animal and vegan activism into your daily life, look for Mark Hawthorne’s recent book, Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism [January 2008, O Books, $19.95], in which a wide variety of activists share their tips for effective advocacy, including me. I wrote a review in January, and I recommend you read it first, since I do have some misgivings you might want to consider before starting to read the book. I will address these concerns–as well as the current state of animal activism in general–with my next column, wherein I will discuss doing more than just something.

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

Originally posted on February 22, 2008

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