UPC’s Forum on Promoting Veganism Widely and Effectively (Part II)

On August 16-17, UPC held its 4th Annual Forum at the University of Colorado, Boulder campus. Following are summaries of talks by Zoe Weil of the International Institute for Humane Education (iihed.org), Paul Shapiro of Compassion Over Killing (cok.net), and Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns (upc-online.org). We thank Nalith Inc for assisting us in putting on the Forum. Part III appears in the next issue.

“Inspiring People to Be Vegan”
by Zoe Weil

Zoe Weil
Photo By: Annie & Neil Hornish

How do we motivate people to make more compassionate choices? Take the contest between the sun and the wind to see which one can get a person to take her coat off. The wind blows and blusters but the person simply wraps her coat tighter, whereas the sun simply SHINES, and finally the person removes her coat under the sun's warmth. In the contest between the forest fire and the campfire, people flee from the forest fire but are drawn to the campfire. When we are the sun and the campfire, people will want to join us. To get people to want to be vegan, we must be the best person we can be - warm, loving, and kind. Our judgment should be against injustice, not against people.

As a humane educator, I want to turn students on, not off, to educate not indoctrinate. A humane educator inspires others by providing accurate information, teaching critical thinking, and inspiring the 3 R's: Reverence (the emotion), Respect (the attitude), and Responsibility (the action).

We can help students come to their own conclusions, for example, by showing them the "happy hen - pretty farm" logos on egg cartons versus photos and video of how the hens really live. Have them stand barefoot on a plastic crate for 20 minutes and imagine if they had to stand that way for a year. Have them examine the cost to the environment of producing a hamburger versus a veggie burger with this question: which one harms less? In asking to address a classroom, I let teachers know my bias: living a life that causes the least harm.

“Effective Vegan Advocacy on a Tight Budget”
by Paul Shapiro

Paul Shapiro
Photo By: Annie & Neil Hornish

I hope animal advocates will allocate a lot more resources to farmed animal issues because 99 percent of exploited animals are dying to be eaten. Here are some things I've learned about practical advocacy. Nothing is cheaper than teaching by example. Since we are the ambassadors for animals and people don't separate the message from the messenger, we need to be and look like the kind of people other people will want to be and look like - "he looks great and he's vegan!"

I used to say I would "die" for animals but wasn't even willing to wear a nice shirt for animals - my identity was more important to me than being an effective advocate. To be effective we need to be as close to other people as we can. Lecturing on diglycerides to people who are gnawing on an animal's leg bone, giving them lists of 100 ingredients to boycott, is not effective. We should applaud people for even small steps, which for them may be big steps, like being vegetarian 3 days a week or choosing a "free-range" egg over a battery-hen's egg. Imagine if we could bring each person down from consuming 300 eggs a year to 200 - what a downturn for the egg industry! At the same time, we should not encourage people to substitute one animal for another - that's not progress. Here's a list of some of the cheapest, easiest ways to promote veganism:
Leafleting on busy street corners and campuses.

  • Letters to the editor and op-eds.
  • Library displays including free literature: many libraries are delighted to have attractive free displays.
  • Feed-Ins - choose a place to feed people delicious vegan "chicken nuggets," say, and bring the box.
  • Restaurant Outreach: going to restaurants and getting one or more vegan meals on the menu; getting your local deli to carry mock turkey and ham; getting the meat distributor to carry mock meats to receptive outlets. These are all things that COK has done, and does, success- fully in Washington DC. It works better than picketing the meat distributor.
  • Put videos on cable access: it's usually free and people watch!

It's important to show people exactly what happens to animals as a result of meat, dairy, and egg consumption. Even if we don't do undercover investigations ourselves, we should use the footage that COK and other groups provide. We must show people that meat means misery. The least we can do is to bear witness. As I lie in my comfortable bed at night, I think of the hens on wire mesh floors with no comfort ever. People should know exactly why we are so adamant about standing up for animals.

“Should Animal Advocates Support a 'Humane' Animal-Based Diet?”
by Karen Davis

Karen Davis
Photo By: Annie & Neil Hornish

Imagine if suddenly there were no more animal products and people had to eat the delicious vegan food we had for lunch today – people would be happy!

Vegan advocates are faced with media promotion of chicken and fish farming "to alleviate poverty and feed the world." We're faced with media promotion of diet books with lots of salads, whole grain products AND meat linked to images of healthy-looking "South Beach" glamour. Even progressive publications like The Nation urge readers to view solutions to low-income people's dietary inadequacies as a meat, dairy and egg-based solution.

Animal advocates should read movement literature but we should also read outside our movement to see how the rest of the world is thinking in order to shape our message more effectively in terms of that thinking, and to write letters to the editor in order to move farmed-animal and vegan issues into mainstream discourse - something that is starting to happen because of our clamor.

A problem with supporting "alternative" animal products (organic, "free-range," etc.) is that it can lead people to feel so morally satisfied they won't even bother to try vegan food. An environmental conference I recently attended served nothing vegan, and the litany of "animal stewardship" was invoked like scripture. If people are willing to invest time and money in "organic" meats, antibacterial kitchen sprays, and so on, let's encourage these people to invest in, say, a vegan cooking class. Most important is to be confident and positive. When I travel I wear my "Stick Up for Chickens!" button and somebody always asks "what does that mean?" This opens up a discussion and gives me a chance to hand the person a brochure. From my experience I believe people are open to our message.