Effective Vegan Advocacy - tips & resources
Pretty much everyone who learns about the atrocities of animal farming and decides to go vegan feels a pressing necessity to share the facts with others and spread the ‘vegan message’. If you have ever tried to explain how milk is produced, suggested a vegan option over animal-based foods, been asked for your reasons for going vegan, you have already somehow advocated for veganism.
Now, to do that skillfully is to do that in a way that doesn’t build walls but understanding between you and your interlocutor. Seems hard or even impossible… especially as it happens in both of our worlds – the real one and the digital. But luckily our skills in that field can and should be trained and improved. After all, we all want non-vegans to listen, understand and decide to act on what they’ve learned. And for them to be able to do that, we need to grant them the same – we need to listen and to understand what is preventing them from going vegan. That’s called vegan advocacy – a respectful, level playing field with non-vegans.
To equip you with the tools and theoretical background to do this, we have compiled a list of fundamental concepts & great resources that can help you get up to speed with effective vegan communication.
1. Understand carnism
Melanie Joy is an amazing woman with a PhD in psychology and years of experience in effective communication training. She coined the term carnism, meaning “the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals”. The notion of carnism is absolutely crucial to understanding a non-vegan mindset and all the biases that go with it. Everything Melanie Joy has written is worth reading and will greatly enrich your communication skills, but books you should start with to cover the basics are Beyond Beliefs and Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows (both available at our cafe).
2. Attend webinars & workshops
As if the above mentioned books weren’t great already, Melanie Joy’s organisations called Beyond Carnism & Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy (CEVA) host numerous webinars and workshops on the very topic of effective communication. You can check CEVA for any events in your area and keep an eye out for all the free-of-charge webinars from Beyond Carnism. Not only will you listen to speakers’ lectures but also get a chance to ask questions in a Q&A panel afterwards. Beyond Carnism has also produced a series of mini videos about vegan advocacy that are available on YouTube – cute, concise and informative.
3. Realize how change happens
They say nobody likes change. And yet we need so much of it- as peoples, as societies. It becomes crucial for anyone engaged in any social justice activism or advocacy to learn about how such change can actually happen. The book Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change by Nick Cooney comes to the rescue here. It examines years of empirical research in different areas, offering advice on how to make science-driven decisions in our advocacy work and spread progressive social change.
4. Learn strategies for promoting behavioral change
It can be easy to get lost in what’s effective / what is or is not within our vegan outreach. Before you give up or lose yourself to despair, let’s read up on which principles and methods the field of clinical psychology suggests. The book Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective discusses just that; considering the effectiveness of different methods, displaying how they can be applied within our advocacy, and providing hope and inspiration at the same time.
5. Remember that language matters
What we say and how we say it can either make or break a conversation. A lot of the time, it is the emotions and feelings we inflict on others that are remembered more than the facts we share or the words we speak. However, in our best attempts to advocate for animals we cannot forget to observe ourselves and the language we choose to communicate with. We do want to lead by example, right? Our languages have multiple flaws, limited concepts and speciest sentiments. And that comes on top of linguistic and cultural differences, nuances lost in translation and languages that aren’t native to us.
In a great book called Tongue-Tied (available in our cafe), Hanh Nguyen unpacks “the many metaphors, meanings, and grammatical formulations that speak to and echo our physical exploitation of other-than-human animals, and shows how they constrain our abilities to relate to our animal kin fairly and honestly.” We’d highly recommend diving into that read to help rid your language of hierarchies, so that we can not only communicate effectively but also inclusively and progressively – being part of the change we wish to see.
6. Find your own way to advocate
Vegan advocacy can take multiple forms and shapes… and yes, we need all of them. But no, we most probably cannot cover them all ourselves. Finding our own best way is key to effectiveness and our well-being in the long run. A good source of inspiration and information about different models of activism and ways of advocating for our fellow Earthlings is a book called Striking at the Roots. Dive into reading up on matters like direct action, leafleting, using vegan food as outreach and more.
7. Be ready for what’s coming
Want it or not, most of the conversations about veganism might end up in the same place: plants have feelings too; but other animals eat animals too; what about the backyard chickens though… and many other classics. As much as you might want to roll your eyes or jump to the very end of that seemingly ridiculous conversation, make sure to remember that those concerns are valid questions that non-vegans really might not know the answers to. It is very important for any animal advocate to stay calm and be prepared to answer them. Sentiments aside, there are logic- or fact-based answers to all of those questions and they really do come to the rescue when we’re trying to stay composed, respectful and still make a good argument. For a list of the most common questions non-vegans ask and great answers to them, check out a free PDF from Earthling Ed. You can also take a look at the lists of possible justifications & excuses for systematic animal cruelty and think about what one could respond to that. For such list visit Vegan Speak, Carnism Debunked, or Vegan Sidekick. And when you’re surprised with a remark you have not expected in the animal advocacy context – be comfortable with not knowing what to say. Take it home with you, figure it out and come back to your interlocutor once you have your thoughts gathered. We are all constantly learning, right?
8. Exercise active listening
We are all probably guilty of listening to reply, not to understand…aren’t we? That’s why it’s crucial to learn about and exercise active listening – the way of listening that aims at truly understanding what is being said and where is the message coming from. Active listening helps build a healthy environment for thought exchange, mutual respect and non-judgmental dialogue. Only in such a safe conversational space do we have a chance to really see the struggles one might face in going vegan or even granting animals a moral consideration. Once we really get what’s going on in someone’s mind on that topic, can we effectively advocate for animals. Read more about active listening and how to practice it in this article.
9. Practice (radical..ish) kindness
Vegans often pride themselves on being kind. Be kind, go vegan. Be kind to animals. Be kind to your planet… No wonder it is expected of us to always be flawless and kind no matter what. It is reeeeally hard to live up to that though. We are only people – we make mistakes, we have bad days, we lose our temper. And yes, there surely will be situations in which we have to stand up for ourselves, put our food down and not let someone just do or say whatever! In the vegan outreach context, however, it is actually wiser of us to practice (sometimes even radical) kindness for a number of reasons. As we’re trying to make the world a slightly better place for animals, we need to try putting our egos aside in our vegan advocacy. We don’t need to win an argument, prove someone wrong no matter what or make someone go vegan on the spot. We want our listener to consider vegans to be kind (we are in fact somehow representing) and therefore pay attention to what we say and stand for. We also need to be kind to ourselves – not to mull over a not-so-greatly effective conversation, not to feel guilty for not knowing the matter inside and out, not being able to make your friends listen. Even though the notion of radical kindness might at times be problematic, it’s worth taking a look at what this is all about. Letting go and forgiving is, after all, a powerful thing.
10. Understand your limits and care for yourself
Not every situation must be turned into a vegan advocacy showcase…after a while it can even get tiring or draining. In order not to let that happen we should always take care of our mental health. Understanding our advocacy limits, the emotional labour we put in, as well as caring for ourselves, should always be a part of sustainable activism. Read our post on Vegan Self Care for further resources and tips to help you help yourself.
Now: I really wish it was all so easy to implement in any situation. Trust me, there are no experts. Even the ones with a solid theory base might find themselves in trouble when advocating for veganism. I guess it’s all about trying and learning to do better and better every time. I do hope you find at least some of the resources I shared useful and worth checking out. Let me know what I’ve missed!
About the author
Marika – vegan chef, animal advocate & educator. Professionally: creator of Plant Base & all its food creations, workshops & events, media & design. Privately: book worm, intersectional feminist, dog fanatic, Aquarius. Big on vegan food, even bigger on food for thought. Here to grow, open dialogues & share resources with those who also believe that veganism is only the beginning.