This helpful article was written by vegan freelance writer Tanya Hardy. It looks at ways shy and introverted vegans can be more active in promoting veganism.
"We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world." ~ Howard Zinn
Having strategic, content based conversations with friends, family and acquaintances about veganism is certainly a powerful way to take the movement forward. So much so, that regular courses are run to help people who want to pick up promotional skills. Street activism, which targets people who might otherwise never encounter the raw reality of animal farming, is also powerful, but it's not for everyone, and no one can do it every day. Aside from these actions, which many regard as being at the cutting edge of veganism, there are plenty of opportunities to help build an environment that supports cruelty free change, by helping people encounter more aspects of the vegan message more often. Every encounter contributes to veganism seeming more familiar and less alien, whereby non-vegans can reach a critical "Aha!" moment where they make the connection between their values and their behaviour. Seeing positive vegan messages, vegan items listed on menus, and vegan labelling, all contribute towards the sense that veganism is easy, mainstream and enjoyable. Establishing a culture where a vegan identity is a positive thing, associated with compassion, health and environmental sustainability helps people become and, importantly, remain vegan.
Here is a list of simple actions that you can take. Some only take seconds and most require very little emotional labour. Perfect for the days when you are feeling down and want the antidote of taking some small positive action.
- Learn to cook. Note that I didn't say "be able to cook" - very few of us come out of the womb with a julienne peeler in our hand. If you add just one recipe to your repertoire a month, after a year you will be quite handy in the kitchen. You tube lessons cover every conceivable cooking topic, but the knife skills videos are a very good time investment for new vegans. Learning to cook also silently refutes the most popular criticism of veganism; that vegan food is not pleasurable food to eat.
- Be healthy. Yes, raw vegan marathoners set an amazing standard for what is possible, but not all of us want to do that, and some of us may have health issues that will be with us for life. So "be healthy" is relative; feeling happy that your veganism can sit comfortably at the centre of your best, healthiest life is something that will radiate to those around you. Even if you consider yourself to be vegan for the animals, please still eat enough wholefoods to avoid the sickly vegan stereotype and the second most common criticism; that being a committed, long term vegan is harmful to one's health. People will be more open to the idea of veganism if they have known someone personally who is thriving as a vegan. If you have doubts, a consultation with a vegan nutritionist or dietitian might seem pricey now, but improved eating habits will pay you dividends for the whole rest of your life.
- Be informed. It is much easier to stay cool, calm and friendly in a discussion when you know your facts and feel confident in them. This stance nicely subverts another common stereotype, of the bleeding heart vegan who has been blackmailed into a life of lettuce by PETA videos.
- Sharing vegan flyers. Various vegan and animal rights flyers are available for sale online, but you may have plenty of literature that you've accumulated on your way to and through veganism. Now that you know their content, recycle these documents by putting them inside magazines in cafes, doctor's waiting rooms, train seats and letter boxes. Leave one behind as a bookmark in a book that you are lending or returning. Just don't put them in the recycle bin.
- Request that your library stocks books on vegan subjects. If you have a library card, chances are that you can log into your system and request items. This helps establish demand for vegan titles and means that they are ready on the shelves for the vegan-curious browser. Libraries often display their new acquisitions on a special table, so the frequent arrival of new vegan books helps maintain consciousness of veganism being mainstream and accepted. Classic vegan titles such as: The China Study, Animal Liberation, Forks Over Knives, Eat to Live, Striking at the Roots, Vegan Cupcakes take over the world, Vegan for Life, The Oh She Glows cookbook, The Kind Diet, No Meat Athlete, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease are all good to start with, but new vegan books are being published constantly, so feel free to explore and request titles that are of interest to you.
- Post positive (truthful, of course!) reviews of your favourite vegan restaurants. If you have had a good experience at a vegan or vegan-friendly venue, make sure that the internet knows. Positive reviews drive traffic to restaurants, so this is a key way for us to make sure that businesses that are catering for us get rewarded and prosper.
- If you don't have many restaurants serving solid vegan options in your area, consider giving them some friendly 'vegucation'. Vegan options can be very cost effective for restaurants, which are always having to keep one eye on their bottom line. You could send a friendly email letting them know that you would like to eat there, suggest a menu item that fits with their cuisine or give them information about substitutions that vegans will accept (for example, replacing cow's milk cream with coconut cream in a curry.) Keep your tone open and friendly, and you may be pleasantly surprised at the responses you get.
- If you are in Sydney, you can get behind the artichoke sticker initiative. Did you know that there is already a program aimed at rewarding restaurants that provide labelled vegan options? Restaurants providing labelled vegan options get a free artichoke sticker and a listing on the Sydney Vegan Club page, to help vegans choose vegan friendly venues.
- Write a letter to your MP's to let them know where you stand on animal issues. Let them know that animal welfare will be a determining factor in how you vote. If the only MP's you ever write to are your own state and federal representatives, then that is an excellent start. Writing a short, personal letter supports and reinforces the messages that animal rights lobby groups are working so hard to get across. If MP's never hear from their own constituents it is easy for them to dismiss the work of Animals' Australia and others as that of a vocal fringe. Getting personalised letters from voters in their electorate will show them that the treatment of animals is increasingly a mainstream concern.
- Facebook likes and shares. Facebook can be much more than sharing confronting images on your timeline. Sharing funny videos and pictures of happy animals doing happy animal things may be easier for your friends and family to engage with, while promoting a message that animals are unique and intelligent, and deserving of kindness. Liking vegan comments in discussions and adding your own is a good way to help reinforce a vegan message and the people who are speaking out for it. If you prefer that your Facebook interactions be invisible to your non-vegan friends, closed Facebook pages allow you to like and comment without any of your friends outside the group seeing. You can be generous with likes and friendly comments in these spaces, knowing that you are building the morale of the movement without affecting your newsfeed.
- Be a member of an animal protection organisation. Boosting the numbers of members of organisations increases their power. The Animal Justice Party is always looking for members, and the more members an organisation can claim, the more influence they can show they hold when having discussions about policy. Members make a small financial contribution towards the costs of running the group and in return you will often receive information about the latest actions and achievements that you might not receive from the mainstream press. Being a member is a great way to add your voice to an existing collective to strengthen it, while helping you to stay informed. You might get a side benefit of some stickers and literature to pass on, too.
If you are happy talking to people, but just like to do it on your own terms, some of the following ideas might be suitable for you:
- Display vegan patches, pins and stickers; you can seed little vegan messages all over the place, the more you do it, the more creative you are likely to become. You can put vegan stickers on your wheelie bins, your letter box and on your car. Sometimes you might even notice a public place that seems to welcome stickers, and put one there.
- If you have a relationship with a vegetarian or vegan friendly business, consider asking them to display vegan or animal rights pamphlets. My local vegetarian cafe has started carrying flyers for the Animal Justice Party to raise awareness about their work to improve the lives of animals through changes to the law. My health food store, which predominantly stocks products that are not tested on animals, agreed to have a stack of postcards supporting a campaign to have cosmetics tested on animals banned from sale in Australia (this law has just recently passed.)
- Contribute to vegan education events: Sydney and Melbourne now have regular 'vegucation' events where films are screened, food is offered, and vegans mingle with the vegan-curious. You can contribute to running these events by volunteering, baking, mingling or financially.
- Similarly, there are animal charities and lobby groups working at every level; from shelters and rescues, to political groups, and awareness raising societies. If you have the skills and desire to volunteer something, it is likely that you can help out a lot, while having limited direct contact with people. For instance, design and marketing skills for new logos and campaigns are always in demand, for the skilled person this can be done at home, and yet is highly valuable to the movement.
Do you have any other ideas for how we can all help make the world vegan? Please leave a comment below.