Part 3: Putting it All Together

The first two posts in our vegan mentoring series provided an introduction to mentoring and profiled several successful programs. It’s clear from our exploration that many people who are receptive to veganism benefit from one-on-one guidance and support. So, let’s now put all our learning together and look at some guidelines, tips, and resources for starting a successful program in your community!

STEPS FOR STARTING A MENTOR PROGRAM

1) Learn about existing mentor programs. As you familiarize yourself with existing mentor programs, you can get a better sense of what’s involved, understand the options for organizing a program, and have a network of support available.

2) Define your program. Mentoring doesn’t need to be complex. Informally mentoring a family member, friend, or coworker interested in veganism is a great way to get started. Alternatively, you may be able to connect with someone via Facebook, at an outreach event, or in person elsewhere and offer your support. If you’re interested in initiating a formal program, more planning and advertising are necessary. In considering the kind of program you’d like to develop, ask yourself the following questions to help organize your thoughts:

  1. Do you want the program to be structured around a time-limited pledge or will it be ongoing?
  2. Will you:
    • Develop a custom menu of various events, programs, and workshops to support matches (e.g., nutrition workshops, cooking demos, film screenings, potlucks, restaurant outings, field trips, discussion groups, book clubs, and/or market tours)?
    • Tap into already existing programs to support matches?
    • Provide extensive suggestions and guidelines to mentors?
    • Create a program based on a combination of any or all of the above?
  3. Will mentors need to meet certain requirements?
  4. Will mentors and mentees be required to attend certain programs or events?
  5. How will mentors be supported by the program organizer(s)?

3) Reach out for support. Once you’ve decided on the kind of program you’d like to initiate, reach out to other mentor programs with any specific questions. If you aren’t already affiliated with an organization, you may want to contact a local group (Meetup.com is a great resource) about your idea to see if a partner can help get the program off the ground. If you wish to structure your program around a vegan pledge, consider contacting the Peace Advocacy Network. They have a successful program model, offer extensive materials, provide guidance, and are looking to expand the pledge to other cities.

4) Plan and organize the program. Meet with one or more volunteers or staff to discuss how the program will work. Create a program outline with all of the agreed upon policies so you can have everything in writing to use as a reference. This document will also help you develop marketing materials and communicate with volunteer mentors. If events and workshops need to be planned to support a monthly pledge or ongoing mentor program, develop a calendar of events and an action plan.

5) Develop program materials. You’ll need mentor and mentee application forms. If you are conducting a vegan pledge, you’ll also want to have a vegan pledge sign up form. See the Resources section below for samples. We also recommend developing evaluation forms for mentees so you can gauge the success of the program.

6) Create outreach materials. To attract mentors and mentees, consider creating various tools such as a flyer, brochure, website, Meetup.com group, or a Facebook page that advertises the program.

7) Spread the word. Advertise the mentor program to the vegan community and recruit mentors/ other volunteers to support the program via social media platforms, Meetup.com, meetings, email, local organizations, etc.

8) Recruit mentees. Conduct outreach to potential mentees through the above publicity suggestions, at events, and through other advertising strategies.

9) Seek funding to support the program. Consider applying to VegFund’s Merit Awards Program for assistance with specific costs.

MENTORING GUIDELINES & TIPS

There are numerous ways a vegan mentor, also referred to as a coach or buddy, can provide meaningful guidance to someone interested in vegan living. Some key mentoring principles to keep in mind are:

1) Begin wherever someone is on the vegan journey. If a person is not participating in a vegan pledge and is initially only willing to give up meat but not dairy, focus on helping him or her do that. As the person meets with success and has a positive experience, he or she will typically become more receptive to expanding and sustaining changes in their food choices.

2) Offer general support and resources. As a mentor, your role is to answer questions as they arise, point your mentee toward online and community resources as needed, inform your mentee about relevant events that may be of interest, and be there consistently for guidance and to acknowledge success.

3) Get to know your mentee. In order to connect with your match, it’s critical that you take some time to understand their interests. Does your match like to read, cook, or spend time on the computer? Once you understand their interests, you can suggest activities to do together or encourage your mentee to pursue independently. For example, if your mentee likes to cook, suggest one or two cookbooks they may wish to purchase or check out at the library. If he or she enjoys spending time on the computer, you can share some popular vegan blogs, recipe sites, chat forums, or cooking videos. VegFund’s VegVids has an expansive video library that might appeal to your match.

4) Respect preferences and boundaries. Your mentee will most likely have preferences about the kind of support they want and how they wish to connect. It’s important to respect these boundaries. For example, if your mentee loves to go out to eat but doesn’t like big crowds, be on the lookout for smaller vegan dining out gatherings or intimate potlucks. It’s always best to discuss your mentee’s preferred method of communication and your availability so that your mentee can have realistic expectations for your support. If your mentee prefers to ask questions or share concerns via email, then respect that and don’t call him or her on the phone to check in regularly. On the other hand, your mentee may like to talk on the phone rather than connect via the computer if he or she has a question.

5) Respond appropriately to specific challenges and concerns. Perhaps your mentee is overwhelmed by animal suffering and doesn’t understand why his or her family doesn’t care. Maybe your mentee tried a vegan meat product for the first time, didn’t like it, and now feels discouraged. Another person may be worried about not being able to have favorite foods any longer. And another may not know their way around a kitchen and gets intimidated by the thought of cooking. There are various ways a mentor can support each of these challenges and we encourage you to consider the next section for options.

SPECIFIC WAYS TO SUPPORT YOUR MENTEE:

As you remain cognizant of the principles above as well as your mentee’s schedule, availability, interests, and level of preferred engagement, there are many additional ways to provide support. Whether you are mentoring informally or plan to develop a formal program, consider the following:

  • Meet with your mentee in person to discuss their goal, the kind of support they are looking for, what you can offer, and develop an initial plan for working together. It’s a good idea to plan something (market tour and shopping, restaurant outing, etc.) at this first meeting to get your mentee started.
  • Share your own journey toward vegan living to help build a connection. Discuss the benefits and any challenges that you faced and how you coped.
  • Establish a scheduled check-in weekly/monthly by phone, email, or in person.
  • For a mentee who doesn’t enjoy cooking, focus your support on vegan friendly dining out options, a grocery tour with a focus on convenience foods, and simple meals to prepare at home with ready-made products.
  • Recommend one new product a week for him or her to try with some easy preparation suggestions (e.g., coconut milk ice cream, Vegenaise-based dip, Daiya cheese pizza, etc.).
  • Meet at the market to show your mentee products and go on a market tour.
  • Join other mentors and mentees for available support and discussion circles. If none exist and there’s an interest, establish one with other active matches.
  • Read an animal rights related book and discuss chapters or join a vegan book club.
  • Share an activity together that you both enjoy like walking, a trip to a museum, etc. as an opportunity to discuss how things are going.
  • Watch an animal rights related film together and talk about it.
  • Invite your mentee to vegan Meetup or local organizational activities, restaurant outings, vegan nutrition workshops, etc.
  • Help your mentee veganize favorite recipes or cook together to discover new foods.
  • Attend a vegan food festival or potluck together.
  • Visit or volunteer at an animal sanctuary.

RESOURCES TO GET YOU STARTED

1) Sample Forms and Materials 

2) Advertising

3) Funding

4) Existing Mentor Programs

We hope you are now inspired to think about the possibilities for vegan mentoring in your community and have the tools to get started. We look forward to hearing about your experiences and wish you much success!

Part 2: A Closer Look at Vegan Mentor Programs

There’s a growing recognition of the value of vegan mentor programs. As a result, a number of great programs are being established. From college campuses to community wide initiatives, there are a variety of ways to plan and structure a successful mentor program. While some programs simply ask that volunteer mentors are vegan, have a basic knowledge of veganism, and are interested in taking the time to help new and aspiring vegans, others have more specific requirements. To give you an idea of what’s possible, let’s take a look at some thriving programs from around the world.

1. Penn Vegan Society’s Vegan Mentor Program

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Unique features: University-based and open to all students, faculty, and staff.

Program duration: Ongoing.

Advice from the members: Always have vegan food at events. It’s a great opportunity to show people how delicious and nutritious vegan food can be. It’s also good to have familiar snacks available that people do not realize are vegan to show that vegans are not deprived or restricted. One of the most frequently asked questions they receive is, “What do vegans eat?”

Website: http://www.pennveg.com/vegan-mentor-program/

 At the University of Pennsylvania, the Penn Vegan Society formed the Vegan Mentor Program in response to students’ growing frustration with the dining hall food and campus fast food options. Students were seeking healthier foods and wanted to incorporate plant-based cuisine into their diets. To participate in the mentor program, students are asked to fill out a simple form stating their individualized goals such as how long they wish to adhere to a vegan diet, reasons why they want to become vegan, and preferences on communication via email, Facebook, etc. The application is then reviewed and the mentee is matched up with a compatible personal mentor. Once enrolled in the program, each mentee also receives a gift basket filled with samples of vegan products and educational literature. VegFund supports this initiative through the Merit Awards Program by funding the provision of these educational gift baskets.

The Penn Society Vegan Mentor Program is open to all staff, faculty, and students on campus. There is no training or orientation provided to volunteer mentors at this time as their general knowledge of veganism seems to be adequate preparation for working with a mentee. In regards to the time commitment for mentors, Barbara Jun of the Penn Vegan Society explains, “It’s dependent on how much the mentee wants to get out of the program. It can be as little as an hour a week where mentors and mentees just exchange emails about questions, to much more than that where mentors take mentees grocery shopping, teach them how to cook, or eat out with them.”

Many mentor/mentee relationships are so successful that participants frequently refer friends. The University of Pennsylvania has become very receptive to the mentoring initiative and a number of students who are interested in improving their diet are referred to the Penn Vegan Society from Student Health Services. Regarding the impact of the program, Barbara Jun says, “Because of the success of our program, an increasing number of people are becoming interested in switching to a plant-based diet. More people want to be educated about veganism and the issues surrounding it.”

2. London Vegan Campaigns’ London Vegan Pledge

Location: London, England.

Unique features: Extensive kick-off/ closing day events and activities for matches such as guest speakers, film screenings, and cooking demos.

Program duration: One month annually (no set date).

Advice from the members: Have “buddies” meet and get to know their matches before a pledge begins.

Website: http://www.vegancampaigns.org.uk/pledge.html

Moving across the Atlantic Ocean to England, the volunteer-based organization, London Vegan Campaigns, organizes a free, annual London Vegan Pledge event where vegan buddies are matched with pledgers for a month. In September of this year, seventy-five aspiring vegans participated in what they consider their most successful pledge year yet! This mentor program incorporates formal group activities as well as individualized one-on-one support.

Robb Masters of London Vegan Campaigns explains how integral the buddies are to the program:

“We have two full-day events, one at the beginning and one at the end of the month. For both of these events, each “buddy” mentors a group of around 10 “pledgers,” running a discussion with them on the expected challenges of the month, for example, and generally coordinating their activities (cooking demos, a film, lunch, talks by guest speakers, etc.). Between these workshops, the buddies send their pledgers weekly emails on related topics and are on hand by phone or email to answer any questions that they have. This year, we’re also thinking of allocating pledgers to buddies earlier, so they can provide some support before the first meeting. We usually have three optional events between the two workshops as well including a budget meal out to show that vegan food needn’t be expensive, a more upmarket meal out to show how inventive it can be, and a trip to an animal sanctuary as most people have never met the animals that end up on their plates.”

London Vegan Campaigns carefully compiles all the data on the pledge participants and has each pledger evaluate the program. This allows them to fully understand the program’s success and provides information for improving future events. Based on evaluations for the 2012 event, which marks the fifth London Vegan Pledge, 70% are planning to stay vegan. In addition, ten friends and relatives of pledgers also went vegan for the month without attending any meetings. The remaining pledgers stated that they plan to continue transitioning to a vegan diet or will reduce the animal products they consume. To learn more, check out the 2012 report that includes a more in-depth look at the pledge event outcomes, data on participants, and information on the kickoff and final gatherings.

3. Open the Cages Alliance’s Vegan Living Program

Location: Baltimore, Maryland.

Unique features: Various comprehensive activities scheduled for matches including five core required gatherings and seven optional workshops/cooking demos. A highlight for many is a field trip to an animal sanctuary.

Program duration: One month annually in the spring.

Advice from the members: Contact the Peace Advocacy Network as they offer great resources and support to people who wish to start vegan pledge and mentor programs in their own community. Open the Cages Alliance also encourages anyone to contact them about their Vegan Living Program and use their materials. ”We’re thrilled to speak with other grassroots activists who wish to start something like this in their own community.”

Website: http://www.openthecages.org/vlp/index.html

This past spring marked the second year of The Vegan Living Program, an initiative that’s also modeled around a monthly pledge. Twenty coaches worked with almost thirty mentees. The program requires that volunteer coaches have been vegan for at least one year and must attend an orientation meeting before working with a mentee. In addition, coaches need to participate in five core sessions with their mentee that include presentations on vegan living and nutrition and a field trip to an animal sanctuary. Between the weekly gatherings, the coach works individually with his or her mentee, staying in touch in person, on the phone, or through email. One common activity is to go shopping and buy ingredients to veganize a favorite recipe.

According to Erin Marcus, one of the directors at Open the Cages Alliance, The Vegan Living Program has been incredibly successful as many mentees continue to remain involved in events after the program has finished. Some have even gone on to become coaches. While they are planning to do more follow up and tracking of participants for the 2013 Vegan Living Program, she states, “It has been the most successful community building project we’ve done. For us it was the most rewarding effort we’ve carried out as Open the Cages Alliance. It’s our hope that every city has a grassroots program like this.”

Jamie Cohen, one of the mentors in the program who has also taught a workshop for pledgers on easy vegan ingredients, echoes Erin’s sentiments, “This program to me should exist in every city and town in America. The materials they’ve developed are so comprehensive, friendly, informative, simple, and wonderful. Last year, I was set up with someone who had just gone vegetarian and wanted to go vegan. It was so great to have a conversation with her and talk about our experiences. We’re still in touch.” To attract program participants, Jamie explains that Open the Cages has developed very attractive postcards that are posted on Facebook and other social media platforms. They are also distributed at conferences, outreach events, restaurants, and various community venues.

4. Animal Rights Coalition’s Vegan University; Find The Vegan You At Vegan U

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Unique features: Many events and gatherings available for mentors and mentees including Community Circle discussion groups, market tours, and workshops.

Program duration: Ongoing.

Advice from the members: Utilize vegan Meetups as a way to advertise your mentor program and connect with others who are interested in mentoring.

Website: http://animalrightscoalition.com/programs/veganuniversity/

Started almost two years ago, the Vegan University; Find The Vegan You At Vegan U incorporates vegan mentoring as part of a larger initiative with various support components. Anyone interested in being matched with a mentor can fill out an application online, at an outreach event, or at their office. A binder featuring bios on all the volunteer mentors is available for people to look through and choose a mentor that feels like a good match. Dallas Rising, the Program Director, explains that in their mentor program, “Veganism is not framed as a diet but as a value system and a set of beliefs that resists abuses of power.”

Before accepting a mentor into the program, the staff takes the time to get to know the person to make sure he or she will be able to reflect the organization’s core beliefs and values. They also require that prospective mentors have been involved in the group in some way that allows them to gauge how responsible they are and whether they can take on the responsibilities of mentoring. Once accepted into the program and matched, mentors are required to check their email twice a day, give out a home phone number, and meet their mentee in person.

Currently, Vegan University has seven active mentors. Once a mentor is matched, he or she typically offers to first go grocery shopping with the mentee. Mentors also ask their matches about their favorite foods or dishes they enjoy that they would like to veganize. Matches will often go out to eat, get together to cook, and some even go hiking to connect and discuss being vegan. In addition, mentors invite mentees to events like Thanksgiving potlucks, dinner outings, and other social gatherings. These gatherings help new vegans learn from others, feel included, and provide opportunities to socialize with other vegans. As part of Vegan University, there are also periodic market tours, workshops on transitioning towards vegan living, and Community Circle discussion groups on various relevant topics available for mentees to attend. Mentees are not required to attend any particular events or participate at any particular level. Dallas explains that the mentor program structure is designed to be flexible and allow people the opportunity to participate where they feel comfortable and within their own time frame.

As the mentors in the program are very invested and passionate about helping support aspiring vegans, the biggest challenge they face is the discouragement and sense of failure that occurs when mentees don’t follow through or seek out their support. Dallas, who checks in with mentors monthly, explains that 40% of the people that initially sign up for a mentor don’t pursue it and the reasons typically have nothing to do with the mentor. The level of engagement among mentees is quite wide ranging from those who only seek occasional email support to those who get actively involved in outreach events. Dallas comments, “It’s been amazing…There’s a constant trickle of people who are interested in this, and this is who we want to support.”

While there are other active vegan mentor initiatives to explore, we hope that taking a peek at these programs has demonstrated their diversity and offered ideas for implementing a mentoring program in your community.

In our final blog on mentoring, we’ll provide additional ideas, general tips, and guidelines. Stay tuned!

Part 1: The Value of Vegan Mentoring Programs

What happens after someone attends a Pay Per View event, reads a starter guide, or samples vegan food at a local festival and becomes receptive to veganism? Do they forge on and adopt a vegan lifestyle, or do they return to their former non-vegan ways? One powerful approach to helping new vegans is mentor programs, which offer personalized guidance and support. They can help individuals confront and overcome obstacles that may otherwise disconnect them from their desire and motivation to stay vegan. Let’s take an in-depth look at the benefits of mentoring, explore some of the existing programs, and review how you can start your own vegan mentor program.

The film Vegucated, which follows three participants willing to try veganism and be mentored for six weeks, is a wonderful testament to the value and impact of mentoring. New vegans often need basic guidance to help them figure out what they will eat at home and out in the community. In addition, many aspiring vegans seek guidance on how to handle family events and how to have conversations with friends or family. Vegan mentor programs have many positive attributes and benefits:

  • Increase the likelihood of aspiring vegans to reach their goal, thereby increasing the overall success of the vegan movement.
  • Provide mentees access to a support system during critical stages of their transition toward veganism.
  • Give mentees individualized guidance based on their needs and lifestyle.
  • Offer mentees a safe and supportive outlet for discussing questions, concerns, and challenges.
  • Provide mentees tools, resources, and encouragement to sustain their motivation and celebrate successes.
  • Give mentors an opportunity to utilize their knowledge, experience, communication skills, and passion in a powerful way.

If you wish to become a mentor or start your own program, we encourage you to look into the various established vegan mentor programs below to learn what’s involved and how they are structured. If you live near one and wish to get involved, contact them to discuss your interest or fill out an application form as requested on some of the websites.

London Vegan Pledge through London Vegan Campaigns (London, England)

Mentor Me Vegan Mentor Program through endXmeat (Jacksonville, Florida)

Rent a Vegan Buddy through Animal Friends Croatia (Zagreb, Croatia)

Vegan Buddies Program through Northwest Animal Rights Network (Seattle, Washington)

Vegan Living Program through Open the Cages Alliance (Baltimore, Maryland)

Vegan Mentor Program through Animal Rights Advocates Inc. (Mount Lawley, Australia)

Veggie Mentor Program through Bay Area Veg Society (San Francisco, California)

Vegan Mentor Program through the Penn Vegan Society (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Vegan Pledge Program through The Vegan Society (Birmingham, United Kingdom)

Vegan University through Animal Rights Coalition (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

If there isn’t a vegan mentor program in your community, consider starting your own program. Here are a few general steps to help you get started:

  • Once you have explored the existing mentor programs listed above, reach out to them with any questions. It may be helpful to ask to speak to a few mentors directly to get tips, learn about challenges, and get a better sense of the experience.
  • Spread the word about your mentor program to the vegan community and recruit mentors via Facebook, email, local organizations, etc.
  • Meet with volunteer mentors to discuss how the program will work. Discuss expectations, mentor roles, and best practices.
  • Develop a flyer, brochure, website, or Facebook page that advertises the program.
  • Recruit mentees at vegan outreach events and through other advertising strategies, through an application / sign up form (example from NARN) or vegan pledge form (DOC).

Consider applying to VegFund for support of your mentoring initiative through our grant programs. Some of the potential program elements we fund include vegan cooking classes, educational gift baskets for mentees, film screenings, guest speakers, and Meetup.com fees.

There are many forms of activism, and mentoring is an engaging strategy that expands our outreach tactics and efficacy. One aspiring vegan participant who completed the London Vegan Pledge program remarked about her experience, “It’s been life changing!”

As we know, new people who commit to vegan living will impact others around them, and the positive impact will continue to grow and multiply.

In our next blog, we’ll take a closer look at some of the active vegan mentor programs.

Make Every Day Earth Day: Tips on Eco-Friendly Activism

By Elana Kirshenbaum, VegFund’s fall 2012 intern

For many activists, veganism is a way of life that extends far beyond our food choices. It’s a philosophy of living that embraces compassion and reverence for all species. And since we have reverence for all species, it’s important to consider how our choices impact the planet we share. When buying materials for events, concerns of price are always a factor, but what about the costs to the air, forests, rivers, oceans and wildlife caused by sourcing ingredients and manufacturing? For example, one of the materials you may be using regularly during food sampling events is plastic. While convenient and cheap, our modern dependence on plastic is devastatingly harmful to the oceans and many species. When event items are thrown away throughout the day and during cleanup, do we stop and consider where it goes? While it certainly can be overwhelming to gauge the best ways to minimize our environmental impact, here are some tips to get you started and help make your activism kinder to the earth and all beings.

Bring Your Bags: When shopping for food sampling events, bring your reusable bags.  Store them in your car or leave them in a visible place near your door so you don’t forget them. If you don’t have any, they can be purchased inexpensively at many supermarkets. Natural foods markets and online sources sell bags made from recycled fibers like Chico Bags that easily stash into a small pouch. In addition, many organizations give reusable bags away to promote their business or cause, and friends may have extra bags that they would be happy to give you.

Easy on Earth Set Up & Storage: Reusable tablecloths will spruce up your display, keep trash out of the landfills, and reduce our reliance on disposable plastic or paper tablecloths. In addition, reusable storage containers (e.g., used boxes, large canvas bags, recycled content plastic bins) can be used to neatly store cutting boards, knives, literature, etc.

Trade in the Plastic: Food samples that can be eaten without plastic utensils reduce the garbage produced and potential for plastics to get into the ocean. Quartered sandwiches, ice cream sandwiches, and dips/spreads with crackers etc. are great because people can eat them without utensils. Other bite-sized samples can be held together with toothpicks. For scooping, earth friendly wooden taster spoons work well. If you are serving soy milk samples in small cups, or need small plates for food samples, consider post-consumer paper goods or bio-plastics made from wheat, corn, or other starches that claim to biodegrade more quickly. These can be purchased easily online and you can save money by buying in bulk from online sources such as Green Home and Eco Products where shipping is typically free. Buying in bulk also saves time as it allows you to have materials in stock for future events

Choose to Reuse: When serving food, consider using serving utensils, platters, trays, and bowls that can be washed and used repeatedly.  While VegFund is typically unable to reimburse for these items, they can be purchased inexpensively at discount or thrift stores and yard sales. Even better, you may already have some items at home that you don’t use or don’t want anymore. These items can become dedicated outreach-ware!

Clean Up With Kindness: Reusable cloth towels to wipe down your table and keep your area clean can be laundered with other items and save money long term. A spray bottle with one-part vinegar and one-part water is a great homemade non-toxic, inexpensive cleaner to keep on hand as necessary. Garbage can be placed in plastic bags made from 100% recycled plastic which are readily available in many natural foods stores and online. Just make sure that the bag is tied securely when full to prevent garbage from escaping.

Seek Donations and Older Models: Technology is changing fast and many people are frequently upgrading to the latest equipment, and plenty of perfectly fine but used equipment is trashing the earth. Some local companies or friends may be happy to donate laptops that they no longer want. If you are interested in doing pay per view events, consider seeking a donation or buying used laptops or other electronic equipment on Ebay, Craigslist, or Used Laptops to help ease the electronic pollution burden on earth.

What is Your Paper Trail?  As we all know, paper comes from trees, yet half of all the world’s forests have been cleared or burned already. For event flyers, brochures, recipe cards, and signs, invest in paper that has a 100% post consumer recycled content which harms less wildlife habitat. Soy and vegetable based inks are less polluting and there are more and more printing companies adhering to greener principles. To learn how to save money, the article, A Nonprofits’ Guide to Green Printing offers great information, tips, resources and ways to save money on earth friendlier printing. If serving food, napkins and paper towels made from post consumer fibers and no chlorine bleaching as whitening agents are readily available. They can be purchased in bulk online and in natural foods stores.

Through the materials we use, there are many ways to show reverence for the earth and all living beings. When planning future events, ask yourself the following three questions before making a purchase:

  1. Do we really need this particular product? 
  2. How does this product impact the earth, people, and other species?
  3. Can we find less harmful alternatives?

These questions can go a long way toward shifting our perspective and developing creative solutions. If you have additional suggestions, resources, or ideas on making activism more earth-friendly, we welcome your comments!

Part 3: Nonverbal Communication

When people approach your food sampling booth or pay per view display to make a comment or ask a question, how is your posture? What is your facial expression? What does your appearance convey? And, where are your eyes focused? To help maximize your vegan outreach effectiveness, here are some great tips and strategies on nonverbal communication.

Know Your Audience: Cultures throughout the world have varying norms and expectations regarding nonverbal communication. Some facial expressions, like the smile, tend to be universally understood. However, what is considered friendly or respectful in one social milieu may be interpreted as disinterest or rude in another. Simply being aware of that can go a long way toward conveying the kind of respect that helps open peoples’ minds and hearts.

Consistency is Key: Imagine having a face-to-face conversation with someone who is speaking about a joyful memory but who slouches, frowns, has no inflection in his or her tone and looks off into the distance. Such nonverbal cues can express distraction, apathy, and inconsistency with the story’s content. This causes the story to not have the impact the teller intended. Now imagine the same story being told by a person with an exuberant tone who looks at you, smiles, and stands upright with their arms open. As activists, it’s vital that what we say is consistent with our tone and the nuances of our body language.

Know Your Tone: In addition to consistency, the tone of your voice, which includes pitch, volume, and inflection, is extremely influential. The same words said in varying ways will have different impacts on listeners. For example, if something is said in a strong, assertive tone, a listener will sense enthusiasm or authority. If something is said in a hesitant tone, a listener may interpret the content as untrustworthy or less valid. You may want to practice by recording yourself speaking a sentence commonly expressed during your outreach in different tones. You can emphasize different words or phrases, and gauge the impact of your tone when listening to the recordings. In addition to the recordings, you can also practice this exercise with friends and ask them for honest feedback. These awareness exercises help to ensure that your tone expresses what you intend so that your vegan message resonates.

Be Posture Positive: The way we stand can exude confidence and authority, or nervousness and disconnection. Our posture expresses attitudes about how we feel, and people quickly pick up on these cues. If you tend to slouch, practice standing straight with your shoulders back in a natural manner when doing day-to-day activities. Maintaining an open posture with your arms and legs uncrossed tends to make people feel more comfortable approaching. Leaning forward slightly when speaking with someone is a great way to indicate interest and receptiveness.

Face Up: Our facial expressions communicate our feelings. Yet, we often aren’t aware of the subtle movements in our face that inadvertently express negative emotions such as judgment, disapproval, or anger. One simple tip is to focus on smiling with your eyes and mouth. A happy, friendly face is welcoming and invites engagement. A smile also shows acceptance and respect. Don’t smile throughout your exchange, as that would be unnatural and some of what we share with people is upsetting so a smile would not be sincere.

Look Their Way: Making consistent eye contact can go a long way because it demonstrates that you are listening and care about what the person has to say. Eye contact also helps build rapport and can encourage the person you’re speaking with to respond.

Open Hands, Open Heart: Folding your arms and hands in front may be interpreted as annoyance, anger, or distance. Repeatedly touching your face, pushing your hair away from your face, or folding your hands together, can express tension or nervousness. If you have a tendency to do any of these things, consider alternative behaviors to break the cycle. Some suggestions are to tie your hair back so it’s less distracting, put your hands in your pockets, or hold a piece of literature. Keeping your arms and hands open in front of you expresses a welcome and receptive attitude. Offering a firm handshake when introducing yourself or saying goodbye is another wonderful gesture that demonstrates respect, a willingness to connect, confidence, and assertiveness.

Stay Focused: At busy times, you can be pulled in various directions preparing food, grabbing materials, reorganizing the space, etc. One of the advantages of having two or more volunteers available at all times is that if one person is pre-occupied, another person can fully engage an interested visitor. When doing outreach, if a person approaches your table with interest but senses body language that indicates you are disengaged, he or she may feel that you are disinterested and refrain from speaking. If you are alone temporarily and preparing some food samples  when someone approaches, pause to speak with the person so you can give your full attention. If you are under time constraints and have difficulty staying focused, converse briefly and acknowledge that you’d love to speak further but can’t give your full attention at that moment. Invite the person to return in a few minutes and offer some literature and your contact information.

Appearance Talks: The reality is that the way we look communicates information about our attitude and personality. Consider what your clothing says about you and how you feel about the cause. A suit typically says you’re serious about something and commands respect and authority. However, it would be inappropriate to wear a suit at a summer festival! Typically, you want to dress in a manner that is slightly more professional than your audience. Be cognizant of how people respond to your style, and make sure you’re not communicating something unintentional.

Watch For Cues: One of the best ways to understand nonverbal communication is to simply observe people. Seek out situations where you can unobtrusively assess people’s nonverbal cues. Live television shows, waiting in line in a public space, or hanging out at a park, the beach, a coffee shop, etc. are all opportunities for you to examine the power of nonverbal communication. Pay attention to all of the above: tone, facial expressions, body language, and appearance. As you focus on the impact of these cues, it will help you become more conscious of how you communicate non-verbally in your vegan activism.

Observe Yourself: It’s incredibly challenging to realize how we come across to others as many of our nonverbal communication styles are habitual and we don’t watch ourselves in action. If you have concerns or wish to assess your nonverbal communication style, have a video taken of you talking to others at an event. If you observe something unappealing, simply pay closer attention going forward so you can refrain from the behavior next time or replace it with something more effective.

As activists, we want to showcase confidence, trust, and a willingness to engage others so that our words have more impact. By being mindful of our nonverbal communication style, we can make enhancements and adjustments, and develop positive nonverbal strategies for moving the vegan message forward. If you’re interested in exploring this subject further, below are some suggested online resources.

Listen With Your Eyes; Tips for Understanding Nonverbal Communication

How to Read Body Language Signs and Gestures

Nonverbal PhD

Nov/Dec 2012 Volunteer Spotlight: Elana Kirshenbaum

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While I have always felt a deep kinship with other species, I was fifteen before I began to connect my daily choices to their suffering and start my journey towards cruelty-free living and vegetarianism. Years later during a memorable trip to an animal sanctuary, I learned the horrific reality of cow’s milk and instantly became vegan. My animal advocacy began in college, has continued throughout my adult life, and has ranged from picketing, vegan outreach, and humane education to extensive animal rescue, running a small rabbit sanctuary, etc. While I am passionate about ending all forms of animal enslavement, oppression, and exploitation, I have chosen to primarily devote my time towards vegan advocacy.

I co-founded RIVA (Rhode Island Vegan Awareness), an all-volunteer run organization that engaged in various forms of outreach including films screenings, workshops, events, food sampling outreach, and much more. As the president for ten years, I gained extensive experience in organizational and program development, effective outreach strategies, event planning, advertising, and working with volunteers. I am so grateful to the support VegFund provided to RIVA that helped us expand our outreach with delicious vegan food sampling!

With a professional background in social work, teaching, program development, and volunteer coordination, I sought a full-time career in the animal advocacy field. Through my studies with the Institute for Humane Education, I began teaching humane education programs to youth about living compassionately towards all beings and the earth. Then two years ago, I relocated to New York to work as the Programs Coordinator at an animal sanctuary.

I am excited to be interning at VegFund as I have been impressed by the organization’s mission and approach from the beginning. They are catapulting vegan advocacy forward and supporting grassroots activism in a truly unique way. My work incorporates various writing, marketing, and outreach projects that are all intended to support the work of activists around the world. The small staff has been very welcoming and receptive to ideas. I am grateful that I am able to contribute to such a fantastic mission and moved by all the vegan revolutionaries supported by VegFund who are advocating on behalf of the most critical issue of our time.

Motivation and Behavior Change

By Kimberly Dreher, VegFund Program Director

As the holidays approach, many people are starting to think about their New Year’s resolutions. But, what motivates people to make these changes, and what factors enable people to sustain them? The Nutrition & Health Foundation, an organization that aims to inspire a healthier society in Ireland, conducted over 600 in-depth interviews that help answer those questions. Their report, entitled Motivational Aspects of Behavioural Change, presents findings that can inform vegan outreach strategies. Specifically, their study aimed to address:

  • What motivated people to make changes to their lifestyle habits?
  • What factors contributed to their success?
  • What prevented people from implementing desired changes to their lifestyle?

Here are some of their findings to consider:

  • Women tend to be motivated by an internal desire to improve their appearance, lose weight, and/or improve their health.
  • Men tend to be motivated by external influences such as advice from doctors and other health care professionals.
  • The term diet is considered a “restrictive term” and a barrier to change as it doesn’t showcase the positive aspects of healthy food choices.
  • Advice from family and friends is not a significant factor in motivating people to change. However, the support of family and friends is vital to help people sustain lifestyle changes.
  • Individuals who attempt dietary changes on their own are less likely to sustain the change. Families that attempt a change together are more likely to be successful.

While it’s important to note that this research does not take into account how ethics and values impact motivation and behavior change–key reasons that many people choose to be vegan–the findings still offer some insight into how we can be more effective in our activism.

Consider the Impact of Words: Language is key and the word “diet” does not inspire. When speaking with people, focus on positive, life-affirming terms such as “abundant vegan food choices,” “compassionate living,” “animal-friendly cuisine,” etc.

Provide, Don’t Push:  Support friends, family, and aspiring vegans once they’ve committed to change, but avoid trying to force them to change as that can backfire. If you know of someone who resolves to go vegan in 2013, here are some ways you can offer positive support:

  • For a holiday gift, showcase the wonders of delicious vegan cuisine. Bake some brownies or cookies, or veganize their favorite food and include the recipe. If the person likes to cook, give him or her a vegan cookbook. Or, consider a gift certificate to a nearby vegan restaurant.
  • Another gift idea is to give the person a gift certificate to a local supermarket so s/he can stock up on vegan products. As part of the gift, you can offer your time by taking him or her on a supermarket tour to show the best tips and strategies for shopping vegan.
  • Help the person veganize a favorite recipe for their holiday meal.
  • Offer yourself as a resource or mentor to discuss challenges and provide resources.
  • If the person lives with other family members, empower him or her to engage the whole family in exploring new foods together.  If he or she is the primary cook in the house, suggest that vegan meals be prepared for everyone. If not, encourage the person to get involved in cooking and offer to prepare vegan meals for the whole family to enjoy. In addition, you can encourage the person to do the food shopping and replace non-vegan products with vegan versions for everyone in the house to try.
  • Check in periodically by phone, email, or in person.
  • Watch a vegan film together and discuss it as this can provide inspiration.
  • Invite the person to vegan events, restaurant outings, etc.

Know Your Audience: Appeal to women’s internal motivators by showcasing the benefits of vegan food choices in regards to potential weight loss and disease prevention. If you have experienced these benefits yourself, share them with other women. Since men tend to be moved by healthcare professionals, try to tap into these individuals at your outreach events. Invite a vegan doctor or registered dietitian to give a short presentation or answer questions after a movie screening. Health professionals among your volunteer team are great assets at outreach tables and food sampling events as they can lend additional credibility to the benefits of vegan living.

During the holidays, the message of peace and joy is promoted on cards, on television commercials, and in songs. Yet throughout the entire year, vegan activists are connecting people to the message of peace for all living beings and showing them that going vegan is the most powerful way to create real change. As we learn to enhance outreach strategies and be mindful of our approach, we can inspire far more people to choose a lifestyle of compassion.

We invite you to read the full research report from the Nutrition & Health Foundation for more information on motivation triggers and barriers.

Part 2: Interview with Linda Bower

 

VegFund recently caught up with Linda Bower, a dedicated vegan activist and VegFund grantee in southern Florida, and discussed the outreach she does in schools and the larger community, her communication strategies, and how she copes with challenges.

VF: You are a very committed activist. How did you first get involved?

LB: I picked up an EarthSave flyer in a health food store that advertised their monthly potluck. The mission statement, “EarthSave promotes food choices that are healthy for people and the planet. We inspire people to shift towards a plant-based diet and to take compassionate action for all life on earth.” was so profound for me that I went to the next monthly potluck. That statement was the first time I ever made a connection to what was really going on. I must have been primed for it for so long. Between the time I picked up the flyer and went to the potluck, I think I began the process of going vegan even though I didn’t know what I was doing. The guest speaker was a doctor promoting a raw vegan diet. I wasn’t interested in being raw but thought vegan will be easy!  At the next potluck, there was a “State of the Animal Kingdom” presentation by longtime animal rights activist, Susan Hargreaves. She had a slideshow presentation with images of factory farming and exploitation of animals in every industry. I sobbed uncontrollably. I knew that night that my life was going to change radically. I came home and declared the change to my family. I even wrote an open letter to our local paper about it.

I’m ready for everyone to join me in knowing how joyful harming no one can be. And of course, the animals have been ready for a long time.

VF: Please tell us about the outreach you’re doing and the impact it’s having.

LB: I do outreach through leafleting, food sampling along with graphic photos or video, tabling at festivals and going into schools. I also helped create a vegetable garden at my son’s school and gave them vegan outreach literature. I knew nothing about gardening. I connected with a garden club in my community to get involved. I reached out to companies for donations. The reason I latched onto EarthSave from the beginning was because it was very palatable to schools, libraries, stores and places where I wanted to get my foot in the door. I used the EarthSave name, logo, message and mission statement as people could swallow it better.

VF: Can you speak more about your school outreach?

LB: I collaborate with James Wildman, the humane educator for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, for presentations at schools. I oversee the food and he handles the presentation. When conducting outreach to schools to schedule talks, I usually start out by looking at departments such as ethics, religion, philosophy and nutrition. The school presentations are a combination of lecture, slide show, video and food sampling. I recently did outreach at a culinary school and we served mini veggie dogs and mini vegan ice cream sandwiches. Next time, I plan to bring pita bread and fixings for making vegan pizza. The high school teacher is not vegetarian but wants to give the kids all the information. Reception at the schools is quite good. The biggest challenge is resistance at home. I recommend that students be as proactive as possible with shopping and cooking.

VF: Have you experienced any resistance or complaints from parents or schools?

LB: When parents have occasionally complained, nine times out of ten, the schools and staff have handled it and supported us 100%. There have been just a few incidences over the 10 years and I consider them to be minor and mostly in the beginning when the term vegan was foreign. Some rules to follow are: 1. Be sure to inform the schools ahead of time if you plan to include graphic video, 2.  Always have some less graphic “back-up” video on hand (from Peaceable Kingdom or Evolve, etc.), just in case, and 3. Be VERY friendly and accommodating in all of your dealings before, during, and after, even if you feel you are being attacked. If you have the opportunity, try to speak privately to any students that are visibly shaken, explaining how common their reaction is and how fortunate they are to do something about it. Encourage them to stay connected and offer to speak to their families as well. James will usually include that type of general message to the students during the presentation, telling them that the video is upsetting, but it is shown to provide people with the truth so that they can make an informed choice. He also includes a good section on health, and he stresses how they can help their families ward off and fight diseases.

VF: What kinds of food do you like to serve at schools?

LB: At schools, I really want to have a meat substitute such as veggie dogs or riblets that I cut in two or three pieces. I have been using the Lightlife Smart Dogs because the local market usually has them. The riblets that I have been using lately are the Vegetarian Plus Vegan Citrus Spare Rib Cutlets, but I have used Morningstar in the past as well. I used the Gardein Beefless Strips this week. I sautéed them with onions, thyme, salt and pepper, and added a little Bragg’s for more moisture. I put them in hot dog buns and then cut in half for little sandwich samples. They were a VERY BIG success so I will probably start using that a lot as well as some of the other Gardein products. I also like the SoDelicious ice cream mini sandwiches. I cut them in half the night before and then pick up the dry ice on my way to the event. I notice people really like the coconut milk ones, but they usually run about $1 more per box.

VF: Are there any books or reading materials you would recommend for activists?

LB: Matt Ball’s essay, “A Meaningful Life.” I highly recommend anyone who cares about animals to read it. The key points that I took from Matt’s essay were that: 1. Sincerity and humility are imperative for advocates because no one has all the answers, 2. Recognize that our time and resources are limited; farmed animals suffer the most in the world, so focus on veganism, 3.Target youth as they tend to be more open-minded, 4. And finally, stay healthy and positive to be a good role model for veganism.

VF: What have been some challenges that you’ve learned from or encountered as an activist?

My biggest challenge is that I am a loner by nature. It surprises people to learn that I am not comfortable with a lot of attention or stimulation. But I didn’t choose what I do. It chose me. So that’s where the yoga comes in. A two-hour practice is like ten hours of solitude. I use my yoga practice as a tool to fuel my activism. Right from the beginning when you discover that people don’t want to know or seem to care, for me that was very difficult to accept. It makes me very angry and I know that I need to come to people in ways that aren’t offensive, otherwise I hurt the animals more. The yoga helps to tone that down. At the same time, I don’t want to be a pushover. The yoga helps create that balance between being super forceful and not offending. If it’s too much, people are only going to be looking to react. I just want to draw the compassion out of them. I want to remember it’s not about this argument of compassion over evil or compassion over not caring. It’s about stimulating that compassion inside them. I set the same intention at the start, each and every time – going on 10 or more years now. It’s powerful beyond words.

VF: Communication is critical to how we engage others effectively. Do you have any additional tips to share with other activists about best practices?

LB: Communicate honestly and authentically, but also, try to see where an individual is coming from. Hear people out; don’t just give your spiel. Engage people but don’t spend a lot of time on one. We don’t need everyone, just critical mass. I have a tendency to lay out all my points and close off my ears to whatever people have to say especially while tabling. It’s important to listen. Listening is my chance to discover what way is going to be best to deliver my message. If someone reveals to me they have a health problem or love dogs and cats, that’s an opening and I can come from that angle.

VF: What words of wisdom do you have for activists?

LB: Know yourself. Never stop trying to figure out what makes you tick. Always try to do your best and just keep moving on your own path. Look for the tools to facilitate that process: exercise, meditation, journaling, simplifying….whatever helps.

Animal Place Veganic Farm: Summer and Fall 2012 Update from Dr. Greg Litus

Thanks to support from VegFund, Animal Place Veganic Farm has truly thrived this season. The micro-farm experiment evolved into a definitive farm with the sale of produce to visitors and vegan restaurants. Efforts in community outreach and education have expanded to include public workshops, farm tours, elementary school connections and a live-in farm internship program.

Farm to School

Farm to School is a USDA funded program in Nevada County that promotes healthy eating through partnerships with local small farms. As a partner farm with a local elementary school, Animal Place stocks an after-school garden cart with fresh, veganic produce. The cart makes healthy eating accessible for student and their families and promotes veganism through the Animal Place brochures and newsletters that are displayed with the cart.

Third grade and sixth grade students will visit the sanctuary this autumn and next spring as an educational field trip, meeting all of the resident animal ambassadors, helping with age-appropriate activities in the veganic farm, and completing program lesson plans on plant anatomy and insects found on the farm.

Restaurants

The veganic farm has generated income for the sanctuary with the sale of vegetables to two vegan restaurants in the Sacramento area and one vegetarian café in Nevada City. Selling to vegan and vegetarian businesses has opened up a new channel of promotion for Animal Place, while spreading the message of compassion to an audience that may have originally patronized the restaurant for health reasons. The partnership with businesses also allows us to sustain the farm financially while offering restaurants and their customers the choice to go veganic.

This season we have sold tomatoes, basil, green beans, kale, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and eggplant, and in the process have learned the logistics necessary for restaurant customers – pricing, a certified scale, packaging, delivery and the estimation of crop availability.

Farm Stand Fundraising

Animal Place debuted the veganic farm stand at the annual fundraiser, Music in the Meadow, on September 22nd.  Hand-painted signs welcomed over 400 visitors with phrases like “Peace Love Veg!”, inciting the curious to ask about the definition of veganic, the purpose of the model farm at Animal Place and the ethics and how-to’s of food production. The veganic farm generated an additional $800 in produce sales and donations for the sanctuary.

 

 

 

Visitors

Animal Place is open to the public for both guided and self-guided tours on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Visitors are welcome to roam the wide aisles of the veganic farm and marvel over the bounty and luster of our crops. Many visitors are surprised to learn about the option of veganic agriculture, and ask questions to our staff and volunteer farm team. Guided sanctuary tours now include an overview of the veganic farm, sometimes stopping for awhile to pick sweet, cruelty-free strawberries. This summer we also hosted a tour and Q&A for the Master Gardeners group of Sacramento.

Internships and Volunteers

This year Animal Place introduced a live-in internship program for activists to learn and contribute to programs in animal care, advocacy and the vegan farm. Three consecutive interns joined the veganic farm team during the busy months of June to September. Interns were an invaluable addition in the field, and without their help the expansion of the farm would not have been possible. Interns also tabled at outreach events, engaged in organized discussions about animal rights with Animal Place staff and visited other sanctuaries. One intern has gone on to work as a caretaker at the House Rabbit Society in Richmond, CA, where she applies her new skills by growing bunny food in their backyard garden.

The veganic farm also attracts all kinds of volunteers, including local gardeners, an animal rights advocate all the way from Australia and a team from Americorps.

Outreach and Education

 Staff horticulturist Greg Litus presented a workshop on veganic farming at Eco-Life Festival in Grass Valley. The festival itself was not well attended, but Greg’s workshop drew in at least one dozen attendees. Greg’s account of the Turlock hen rescue and how it relates to feather meal used in many organic farms was particularly affecting to one local woman who, although not vegan, had come to the workshop to learn about soil inputs that did not originate from factory farms. Greg’s workshop, while hard-hitting on the cruel facts of animal-based inputs, hit on all the practical points of compassionate, plant-based farming and encouraged attendees to just go veganic.

 In June, Animal Place hosted a screening of the film Vegucated in Nevada City. Veganic lettuce, chard and kale were offered on a donation basis before and after the film, completely selling out after guest speaker Dr. Don Forrester answered audience questions about health and veganism.

 Future Seasons

 With the financial support from VegFund, we were able to accomplish all of this and still share much of our produce for free with the community; we have donated produce to a local homeless organization, supplemented the catering at Animal Place fundraising events and most importantly nourished our non-human animals at the sanctuary with food grown on the same land that they take refuge. Thank you, VegFund, for contributing to our success and giving us the experience and confidence to move forward with the veganic farm next season.

In 2013 we will continue with the outreach and sales markets established this year, with the restaurant, school and special events.  We are not yet financially self-sustaining, but that is our ultimate goal in proving that veganic agriculture is a viable option for other farmers.

Our goals for 2013 include:

  • Obtaining an organic certification,
  • Starting produce sales at farmer’s markets while educating the public about veganic agriculture,
  • Promoting veganic agriculture through increased outreach in local schools and events,
  • Establishing an on-site farm stand to draw more visitors to the sanctuary and
  • Expanding our offerings to additional vegan restaurants.

Part 1: Honor Your Vegan Story

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” -Robert McKee

As activists, we are all teachers, and one of the best tools is within you right now- your story! The facts about animal suffering and the plethora of information about the benefits of veganism are critically important to share. But for many people, personal experiences leave more of an impression than statistics about billions of animals they can’t see or hear. As activists, every little seed that’s planted is integral to inspiring people and creating fertile ground for receptiveness to change. Your unique story, which isn’t in any of the literature you distribute, may be the best catalyst for change.

What can sharing your personal story do?

  • Reduce feelings of defensiveness; by using “I” statements, you avoid being judgmental and focus on your individual experience without preaching.
  • Help re-connect people to the compassion within themselves and ignite a desire to learn more.
  • Dismantle stereotypes of vegans that the general public may harbor (“It’s too difficult”…”I’d miss this and that too much”…”How would I get my protein?”…).
  • Allow others to see you as a thinking, feeling person with experiences that shaped your choices.
  • Open others up to share something about themselves – ask questions.
  • Make people feel less judged and more comfortable about asking you questions they wouldn’t have otherwise.

When engaging in activism, we often only have a brief time to connect with someone.  Whether it’s 15 seconds or five minutes, consider the key pieces of your story. You can share a lot in 15 or 30 seconds! For starters, you can tell someone the pivotal moment or milestones that persuaded you to choose a vegan diet. For some of us, there were moments in our life that  brought us closer to veganism; a piece of literature, a film, a friend, a book, etc. Others decided at the family dinner table one winter night and never looked back. I know someone who went to a bookstore, randomly opened up a biography, read two pages, and went home to clear her fridge of all animal products.

Below are some key tips on making your story as compelling as possible.

Find Your Vegan Tagline- This is the nucleus of your story around which its details revolve. Colleen Patrick Goudreau offered this gem: “I’m vegan because I don’t want to contribute to violence against animals, which goes against my ethics. It feels so good to manifest my values in my everyday life.” If that sentiment rings true for you, but it’s not the way you’d say it, develop one to two sentences that reflect your perspective.

Be honest- Maybe you grew up in an Italian family and missed lasagna when you first went vegan. Tell the truth. It creates an opportunity to mention new products, such as  Daiya, etc. Perhaps you felt isolated in the beginning but joined a local group and met many other vegans with whom to share recipes or have dinner. Maybe you transformed your health by losing weight or getting off some medications. Tout the positives but don’t be afraid to share the challenges and how you have coped with them.

Gently Dismantle Assumptions- Most of us didn’t grow up vegan. We grew up eating animals and didn’t question it. If that’s true for you, sharing it opens a door for those who assume you came out of the womb with tofu in one hand and celery in the other.

Here are some questions you can reflect on for expanding your story to further connect with other potential vegans:

  • Did you know any vegetarians or vegans growing up?
  • What were your perceptions of being vegan before you became one?
  • Do you have a poignant memory of an experience with a farmed animal who was suffering or living in peace at a sanctuary?
  • How did you transition? Was it easy/challenging and why?
  • How do you feel being vegan? You can speak to health, emotions, knowing that your life is honestly aligned with your values, etc.

Sharing your personal story is one of the most potent forms of  activism. If someone connects with even a small piece or detail of it, they are connecting to veganism that much more.