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.