2017 – Year of the vegan

Five major wins for veganism in 2017 setting us up for a successful year ahead

We’ve seen so much progress in the vegan world over the past twelve months that it’s safe to say that 2017 was the year that veganism went mainstream. And that makes 2018 an exciting year to advocate for veganism!

A quick look at Google Trends shows a marked growth of interest in veganism over the past two years. Plant Based News recently reported on a study by market analyst, GlobalData Retail supporting this trend. Molly Johnson-Jones, senior analyst noted, “I don’t think it’s a fad. I think it’s a genuine shift.”

Google Trends graph - vegan

But what factors are influencing this recent growth in interest in veganism? Social media and the easy availability of information on vegan living, foods, and recipes have certainly played a major role. But what else is spurring this trend? Are we entering an era of more deliberate thought about what we choose to eat?

We’ve highlighted five of the big vegan wins from 2017 that are already setting a precedent for 2018.

  1. A record number of media hits

Throughout 2017, mainstream media platforms around the globe, whether online, print, or television, ran news and opinion pieces on all things vegan — from HuffPost and The Washington Post to Sky News and The Guardian — so many that it’s becoming a challenge to keep up with all the coverage.

  1. Three influential documentaries hit global screens

2017 brought a diverse mix of vegan-themed films to global screens, from What The Health by the creators of the award-winning documentary Cowspiracy, Netflix’s very own action-adventure, OKJA, and The Last Pig, screened at film festivals and in communities across the world — something to suit everyone’s taste.

Consider screening one of these groundbreaking vegan films in your community this year. Find out how VegFund can support you today.

  1. Big brands and supermarkets jumped on the vegan bandwagon

Ben & Jerry’s launched a dairy-free range. Yes, that’s right — you can now indulge in many of their classic ice-cream flavors! That may be a good thing or bad thing, but it’s dairy-free, so we’ll take it, thank you. Stock up on a few tubs for your next food sampling. They’ll be a hit with passersby.

Major international dairy brand Danone entered the plant-based arena through its acquisition of WhiteWave, producer of well-known organic, non-GMO, plant-based brands such as Silk and So Delicious.

Tesco expanded its Free From range, adding a number of new vegan products, and then topped off their efforts nicely by launching a plant-based line of convenience foods — Wicked Kitchen — a great way to ring in the new year.

  1.  Celebrity influencers embraced plant-based living

More influential figures, including actors and elite athletes, embraced plant-based living during 2017, claiming it to be the best decision they’ve ever made and adding themselves to the ever-growing list of famous vegans. Celebrity influencers who switched to a plant-based diet in 2017 included:

  • Laverne Cox of Orange is the New Black
  • Lewis Hamilton, Formula One world champion race car driver
  • Edie Falco, known for her role as Carmela on the HBO series The Sopranos
  • Ne-Yo, R&B Singer
  • Anthony Mullally, international rugby player

… to name just a few!

  1. Chain restaurants rolled out new menus

“Can we see the vegan menu please?”

“Yes, of course. No problem at all.”

… just a normal exchange when you walk into a fast-food or chain restaurant these days!

Building on progress seen in chain restaurants, cafes, and takeouts during 2016, many global chains added even more vegan options to their menus in 2017, making it easier than ever before to eat out with friends and family or grab something when you’re on the move.

Veganism is thriving

It’s not uncommon these days to overhear people talking about eating less meat and discussing plant-based alternatives when you’re out and about. The vegan conversation has officially broken into mainstream dialogue, and it’s expanding by the day.

A recent U.S. study from Mintel states:

“non-dairy milk sales have seen steady growth over the past five years, growing an impressive 61 percent since 2012, and are estimated to reach $2.11 billion in 2017.”

More and more studies are suggesting that plant-based food will be the biggest food trend in 2018.

What better time than now to be advocating for a more compassionate world? Whether you’re advocating for human health, the environment, or animal rights, these wins from 2017 will surely help make your work a little easier in the months to come. After all, food is the way to our hearts, right?

We can’t wait to see what this year has in store for veganism and for your outreach activities. And, don’t forget that VegFund is here to help. Find out more about our grant programs today!

What are your vegan outreach plans for 2018? We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a reply by commenting on this post.

What We Learned About You: VegFund’s Survey of Animal Activists

Just who is your average animal rights activist? VegFund wanted to find out — and what we found out is that there is no “average” animal rights activist — you are a diverse and highly active bunch!

In August 2017, VegFund surveyed vegan activists to learn more about your backgrounds and experiences in vegan advocacy. The results will help guide us in refining and expanding our grant programming, resources, and systems to support your excellent work. We hope you will find them interesting too.

VegFund distributed the survey at the Animal Rights National Conference in Washington, D.C., and the International Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg. We also emailed the survey to more than 3,600 individuals on our email list and posted it on our website and through our social media channels (Facebook and Twitter). The following is a summary of the survey results as of September 11, 2017, at which time we had received 429 responses.

What We Learned

The Basics

Locations: VegFund supports vegan advocates worldwide with grant funding and online resources. As a U.S.-based organization, the majority of our grantees are located in the United States, but we have an ever-growing international base of grantees.

This map indicates where our grantees are located, followed by a “top three” overview (country, city, U.S. state).

Q3 Location

Top three countries:

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada

Top three cities:

  • Toronto, Canada
  • New York, United States
  • Cape Town, South Africa

Top three U.S .states:

  • California
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania/Florida

Age: Activism is not just for the young crowd. Eighty-eight percent of our respondents are between the ages of 26 and 55-plus.

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Twenty-seven percent of survey respondents were millennials (age range 26–40), but we were pleasantly surprised to see a broad range of ages represented, with 60% of respondents being over the age of 40.

Gender: Females appear to be the more active gender in vegan outreach (72% of respondents), which is consistent with other findings in the AR/vegan movement — either that or they are more active in completing surveys (“self-selection” bias). Twenty-six percent of respondents were male. Let’s boost that number!

Vegan and Advocate Identity

Now, let’s dive into some of the interesting stuff. What aspects of vegan advocacy inspire and motivate vegan activists?

The insights that follow are an overview of some of the key questions from this survey, but they are not inclusive of all data gathered.

Path to becoming vegan

A large majority of respondents were motivated by animal welfare concerns (88%) on their path to becoming vegan, and most transitioned from being vegetarian to vegan (74%). A significant number of people (32%) were also motivated by health and environmental concerns. We anticipate that health and environmental concerns will become a greater motivating factor as the significant effects of animal agriculture and meat consumption in both areas continue to gain publicity.

Q12_journey

What you like best about being vegan

Using a word cloud, we generated a display of 1100 open-ended responses to the question “What are three words or phrases that capture what you like best about being vegan.” While the word cloud is hardly analytical, it’s certainly powerful in conveying the values around your vegan lifestyle and activism.

Q14 Word Cloud - What liked best about being vegan

The words “compassion,” “health,” and “animal” appeared more than 100 times. Many statements expressed emotions such as happiness, love, empathy, and anger, while others noted data or facts. Environmental and personal health and the concept of living one’s values also appeared a number of times.

Vegan values

We asked activists to rate how well they identify with each of the following three statements (most strongly, somewhat strongly, least strongly).

Eating vegan food makes me feel healthy and has improved my daily life. This aspect of my lifestyle makes me feel healthier and good about myself Most strongly 12%
Somewhat strongly 22%
Least strongly 66%
Adopting a vegan lifestyle lets me be a conscious consumer. My daily purchases reflect my values regarding climate change and animals. I’m proud of this aspect of my life and know that I’m living my values with my dollars and behaviors. Most strongly 45%
Somewhat strongly 48%
Least strongly 7%
Being a vegan means I’m part of a community that cares about health, the earth, and animals. My veganism is part of my identity; I love spending time fighting for animal rights and environmental protection. Most strongly 54%
Somewhat strongly 28%
Least strongly 17%

Fifty-four percent of our grantees emphasized the importance of being part of a compassionate community and highlighted their passion for spending time speaking up for animals and the environment.

These responses point to the importance of community and sharing as primary motivators for our grantees’ veganism and advocacy efforts.

Grantee Advocacy Interests

The survey asked a number of questions relating specifically to the outreach activities and interests of current and potential VegFund grantees.

What kinds of activism are you engaged in?

Activists surveyed are involved in diverse types of outreach activities — from event organizing, leafleting and food sampling to online campaigns, screenings and video outreach, and everything else in-between!

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We learned that vegfests are the most popular form of community outreach used by respondents, which is a supporting factor in VegFund’s project to launch a vegfest community of practice — the Vegfest Organizers’ Network.

If you are involved in vegfests and would like more information on the Vegfest Organizers’ Network, please join our mailing list. The vision of this community is to mine and share the extensive practical knowledge of vegfest organizers. Lessons learned will serve as the basis for trainings, technical assistance, and resource development funded by VegFund with the goal of increasing the quality and quantity of vegfests everywhere.

Other popular forms of outreach fall within the core VegFund grant program areas, which we were pleased to see.

How many animal-right-related events do you participate in annually as an activist?

Forty-five percent of respondents participate in 10 or more outreach events each year. That’s impressive stuff!

Q10_how_many

How would you describe your feelings about activism/advocacy?

We asked activists to select the statements below that most apply to them regarding how they feel about their activist work. The need for more time to devote to activism (50%) and adequate funding (55%) rated high (help us spread the word that VegFund is dedicated to supporting vegan activists through grant funding!) Forty-four percent of respondents indicated that engaging in online communities for connection and growth is important to them. Twenty-nine percent prefer to volunteer as their form of activism, and some individuals (12%) prefer not to engage in one-on-one activism or find activism daunting.

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Inspiring the Future Generations of Vegans and Advocates

We asked respondents what they think are the best ways to inspire others to get involved in vegan activism. The responses were thoughtful and detailed, and — because it was an open-ended question — not simple to summarize. Some of the themes that emerge are empowering others; providing skills, mentorship, and training; making it fun, inclusive, and simple to take action; focusing on the impact of activism; sharing success stories; meeting farm animals; creating volunteer opportunities; avoiding evangelizing; and meeting people where they are/finding what resonates with them.

In your opinion, who are the three audiences most amenable to adopting a vegan lifestyle?

When asked to consider what audiences are most easy to persuade in terms of adopting a vegan lifestyle, respondents highlighted the following:

  • people motivated by animal suffering – 81%
  • people motivated by health or environment – 61%
  • people who are already vegetarian – 60%
  • anyone who will listen – 26%
  • people of a specific age group (please specify) – 22%
  • people in urban areas – 21%
  • those who know nothing about veganism – 8%
  • other (please specify) – 36%

The “other” responses were varied, but these responses suggested that people under 25 years of age are considered the most amenable to adopting a vegan lifestyle, which is consistent with other research in this area.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to complete this survey. Your thoughtful feedback will help guide VegFund’s program development in support of our current and new grantees.

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All percentages given are in relation to the number of respondents to the survey and number of responses allowed per question.

 

 

Celebrate World Vegan Day – Screen The Last Pig in your Community!

Looking for outreach ideas to mark World Vegan Day? Why not host a screening of The Last Pig? World Vegan Day, November 1st is an ideal time to raise AR awareness in your community (or any time in November). VegFund is eager to support animal rights activists like you in sharing this powerful film in communities across the globe! The film has just finished screening at independent theaters and on the festival circuit and is now available for community screenings. Read on to find out more about the film and how you can host a screening.

“THE LAST PIG is a lyrical meditation on what it means to be a sentient creature with the power to kill. Deeply immersive, the film follows a pig farmer through his final year of slaughtering pigs. Through sparse, intimate musings, the farmer reveals the growing conflict of a life spent ‘peddling in death.’ ”

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About The Last Pig

This intimate and deeply moving film asks its audience to understand the sanctity of life, with the goal of expanding our capacity for compassion. The Last Pig documents the journey of farmer Bob Comis’ final year farming pigs, with a soul-bearing and honest narrative about the ghosts that will haunt him forever and the struggles he faces to reinvent his life. Comis has been chronicling his life as a pig farmer via HuffPost and his personal blog for the past ten years.

The pace of the film is unhurried and meditative, enabling the viewers to absorb life on the farm and in the slaughterhouse. With stunning cinematography and a beautiful backdrop, Argo documents the life of this small-scale livestock farmer in meticulous detail. Her work illuminates the reality of this industry on a most humane level — from the always entertaining and unique nature of pigs, to the unsettling sounds of the slaughterhouse where their lives draw to a close.

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This feature-length documentary will move your audience and inspire them to question the role of farm animals in our lives. Interested in hosting a screening? Read on for some recommended steps to get started!

Host A Screening

  • Review Screening Guidelines:

Review our screenings guidelines and consider whether you’d like to plan a screening event on your own or in partnership with a local vegan or animal rights group. Also consider what kind of venue you’d choose to screen the film. VegFund is able to cover some of the costs associated with renting a space as well as vegan food samples for audience members.

  • Apply for a grant!

Once you decide you are ready to host a screening, please visit VegFund’s grant application portal to apply for grant funding to cover the film’s license as well as certain event-related costs.

We’ve already heard from activists across the globe expressing their interest in hosting a screening of this film. Join them and play a part in changing hearts and minds. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact us via conferences@vegfund.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

For the pigs.

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About The Filmmakers

The Last Pig Director/Producer, Allison Argo of Argo Films:

Allison Argo is a six-time Emmy-winning filmmaker and noted animal advocate. Her inspiring films, all broadcast by PBS and National Geographic, have won more than 80 awards internationally and have reached audiences worldwide. Argo has worked on the frontline for over 20 years, fighting for the just treatment of nonhuman beings. She is known for her emotionally-charged and meaningful films, particularly her intimate portraits of endangered and abused animals.

The Last Pig Producer/Cinematographer, Joseph Brunette:

Producer and Director of Photography, Joseph Brunette, is an award-winning cinematographer whose work has appeared on National Geographic, CNN, PBS, NOVA, Nature, Discovery, and History. Brunette has an ability to capture the essence of even the most poignant moments, and his sensitive work behind the camera enables a level of intimacy and honesty that reveals the vulnerable heart of any story. The Last Pig holds special meaning for Brunette, who has long been an advocate for animal welfare and the environment.

Food, Glorious Food!

“From Grant-Based Activism to a Plant-Based Career” – A webinar with a former VegFund grantee

As vegans, we celebrate plant-based foods as delicious, healthful, ethical, and compassionate. Plant-based foods are now one of the fastest-growing segments of the food-service industry. If you’ve ever entertained thoughts of working in the area of vegan food service, read on!

Last month, Liz Gary, founder of the New Options Food Group in San Diego and former VegFund grantee joined us to present our third activist training webinar “From Grant-Based Activism to a Plant-Based Career.” Liz shared her experience in the vegan food business along with her insider recommendations for finding or creating new career opportunities as plant-based foods professionals — whether full-time/career-track or part-time.

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We hope those of you who joined us found the topic inspiring. For those of you who were not able to attend, you can view the full presentation at VegFund’s  Activist Resource Center. Below is just a “taste” of the valuable information Liz conveyed in the webinar.

“Everywhere you go there is opportunity.” ~ Liz

Liz’s tips on getting started in the vegan food business and where to find or create jobs fell into the following categories:

  • Community engagement
  • Rewarding jobs in education
  • Representing plant-based foods manufacturers and consulting in the food service industry
  • Culinary travel and tourism
  • Special events and media

Community engagement

Get involved in the local community

  • Find out what events are happening near you — green fairs, cooking classes, food tastings, community markets, etc.
  • Better still — organize your own vegan food fair! You can apply for grant support from VegFund here.
  • Watch for paid and voluntary opportunities at nonprofit animal rights organizations such as The Humane League, Vegan Outreach, Farm Sanctuary, and FARM
  • And network, network, network!
Photograph courtesy of VegFest UK

Photograph courtesy of VegFest UK

 “Outreach and community engagement translate into growth in the plant-based foods economy.” ~ Liz

Rewarding jobs in education

Consider teaching or setting up a “vegan cook club” within your local community! The following venues offer great opportunities to educate and engage with your community:

  • Retail kitchen stores
  • Cooking schools
  • Local community colleges, high schools, your local public library
  • Hospitals
  • Test-kitchen Tuesdays (donation-based community classes)

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Representing plant-based foods manufacturers and consulting in the food service industry

Offer your plant-based food expertise and consult with the main drivers of the food network:

  • Represent locally made plant-based products
  • Sell your products and services to your local hospitals
  • Consult with chefs
  • Get \on-board with popular political food days, such as Meatless Mondays and California Fresh Thursdays and use these as an opportunity to work more closely with your local schools
  • Work with food administrators and distributors at correctional institutions
Photograph Courtesy of Food Tank

Photograph Courtesy of Food Tank

 Culinary travel and tourism

Excite your local community with the offer of organized day trips to learn more about the benefits of plant-based foods. The following suggestions are popular options:

  • Vegan restaurant trips
  • Trips to Whole Foods Market
  • Visit an animal sanctuary
  • Vegan food and fashion shopping trips
  • Visit a nonprofit animal rights office
  • And more!
Moses the Pig (Photograph Courtesy of Catskill Animal Sanctuary)

Moses the Pig (Photograph Courtesy of Catskill Animal Sanctuary)

 Special events and media

Holiday-themed events are a great starting point for engaging your community, especially if they translate well into a great local story or news item.

  • Organize events around annual vegan holidays and national events, and get your community involved along the way; for example, Vegan Valentine’s Fun Run, Vegan Octoberfest, Cookie Bake-a-thon
  • Talk to news organizations (whether print or TV) about vegan food
  • Arrange lunch-time talks within local schools and workplaces
Kindred Spirits Care Farm Food Day LA 2015

Kindred Spirits Care Farm Food Day LA 2015

There are many opportunities waiting for you. Take the first steps today and build from there. Find out more about VegFund’s grant programs to support activists in their vegan outreach efforts.

The full webinar recording and slide show summary of key points are now available in our Activist Resource Center, where you can view all webinars from the training series so far. We also provide other online resources to support you in your animal advocacy.

If you have suggestions for resources you’d like to see featured on here send them our way for consideration. Email info@vegfund.org or tell us on social media. You can find us on Facebook and on Twitter. If you have specific questions for Liz on the content of this webinar, you can contact her directly via email: liz@newoptionsfoodgroup.com.

 

The We Animals Archive — changing the world for animals, one photograph at a time

Last month, photojournalist, author, and educator Jo-Anne McArthur launched the We Animals Archive,* a free archive of photography depicting our relationships with animals around the globe.

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Creator of the We Animals project, author of two books (We Animals and Captive, due for release this summer), and subject of the critically acclaimed documentary Ghosts in Our Machine, McArthur has been documenting the plight of animals for more than a decade, telling their individual stories with her thought-provoking and moving imagery.

McArthur’s photography evokes a spectrum of emotion —  from heart-wrenching and haunting to joyful and beautiful.

Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

The We Animals Archive is a collection of hundreds of images and videos of animals in the human environment, many of which have never been seen before — animals we use for food, clothing, research, experimentation, work, entertainment, and companionship.

Some words from the photographer:

“I’m thrilled to be releasing the We Animals Archive into the world. My work has shown me that, so often, the animals languishing in cages on fur farms, suffering at the end of a rope, or even resting peacefully in the arms of their rescuers, are invisible to so many of us. I want these images to be used in the hope that people truly see the way animals currently exist in our society.” – Jo-Anne

The archive is a free resource for individuals, organizations, and media outlets around the world who are working to help animals. To date, the We Animals images have been used widely on social media, for banners and posters, in slide shows, newsletters, and even on book covers and for billboard campaigns. Browse the We Animals images and start planning how you might use them to educate and enlighten!

Find out more about this wonderful archive and the simple steps required to request photos in  this short video by McArthur herself:

VegFund highly recommends that you take advantage of this great resource in your outreach efforts. And please share widely with your activist buddies!

Support this project: weanimals.org/support

*The We Animals Archive is free to use for animal rights groups, not-for-profit and charity organizations, and educational organizations. The archive is also available on a commercial basis to commercial and media organizations. View Terms of Use.

California College Students Share Vegan Food Samples for Meatout 2015

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Volunteers from Vikings for Animals in CA discussing veganism with their fellow students.

Every first day of spring, thousands of vegan activists take part in Meatout, and VegFund is thrilled to be a source of funding for some of these activists through our Food Sampling program. These events vary widely in size and layout, but what they all have in common is vegans banding together to show others how wonderful vegan food can be and to encourage them to move toward a more compassionate diet.

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It’s always best to have multiple volunteers to ensure you’re able to greet each person and keep everything going smoothly!

One of the best recaps we have gotten so far from Meatout 2015 that just passed was from Vikings for Animals, a local college student group in California. They reached an estimated 350 students at their school with vegan food samples and literature. They even gave out information on how to eat vegan in their local community and how to get involved with their group. It is always a good idea to give potential new vegans information like this that they can use to follow up on their good intentions once your food sampling table is gone!

At their table, Vikings for Animals gave out vegan cookies, milks, and deli slices, all of which passersby found interesting and tasty. The food and information led to some great conversations, including with former vegans, someone who was dating a vegan, someone whose mother was an activist, and more! All of this shows how important and helpful it can be just to get the vegan message out there and be available to answer questions and clear up misconceptions.

Missed Meatout this year? No problem! As our many past and current grantees know, VegFund gives out Food Sampling grants year round and it is a piece of (vegan) cake for any eligible vegan activist to get started. Check out our guidelines today!

Embrace and Encourage: Lessons from Three Decades

Speech, as prepared, for the 2015 San Diego VegFest
Matt Ball, Senior Advisor

Before we open it up for discussion, I want to share a bit of my story with you, as a way to frame some of the lessons I’ve learned about being vegetarian since I first stopped eating animals nearly 30 years ago.

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Loved meat, and groovy pants!

Growing up, and then when I went off to college in 1986, I was not even close to being a vegetarian. I loved going out to eat (in my funky pants!). I loved steak and pizza. I didn’t like any vegetables except corn on the cob.

But then, my roommate in college was an older transfer student, two inches taller than me and probably 70 pounds heavier. Fred was an imposing guy. He was also a vegetarian. And of our circle of friends, he decided I was the most likely to change, so he regularly told me about the cruelty of factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses.

Believe me: I did my best to tune him out.

lalalala-listening

I didn’t want to know anything about what went on. But before the end of the year, I had stopped eating animals. I lived on the cafeteria’s Captain Crunch, and cheese sandwiches on white bread. And french fries — lots of french fries. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t particularly happy. My Mom was sure I was doing permanent harm to my health. I couldn’t really argue.

So I went back to eating meat.

But I was never able to put what was being done to animals completely out of my mind. I had lost the bliss of ignorance.

ideas1The next year, I lived in an apartment, responsible for my own food purchases. One day, I was looking in the mirror and the thought just came to me: “How can I consider myself a good person if I continue to eat animals?”

I had no answer.

I have never eaten meat since.

After that, I joined the local animal rights group. I learned about the reality behind eggs and dairy. But again, I didn’t immediately jump to veganism. I bought free range and amish products — “happy” eggs and dairy, if you will.

Again, I evolved over time. The more vegans I met, the closer I came to being vegan myself. Eventually, I stopped eating all animal products and entered the next stage:

angryvegan

The angry vegan.

As I discuss in the essay, “Letter to a Young Matt” (in TAA):

I had finally, finally come to recognize the brutality that went on behind the scenes. But it seemed almost no one around me cared. Even worse than that, they mocked and attacked me for being vegan! I mean, not only did they support cruelty, but they ridiculed me for not eating animals!

Of course, I had to show them: how ethical I was, how much cruelty I could purge from my life, how far I would go for the animals. Being vegan became my defining characteristic, and I became obsessed with justifying and glorifying veganism (and, thus, of course, myself).

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Debates about language, philosophy, and hypotheticals all took on vital importance. I had to take part in any protest that came along: driving long distances, being out in sub-zero weather, getting arrested. I couldn’t “turn my back” on the animals. I was just that dedicated!

Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t blame Young Matt. In the face of what is being done to animals, being angry is entirely justified. Feeling desperate to “do something, do anything” is understandable. And coming up with new arguments, new claims, new chants and slogans and protests … well, it all seemed logical at the time.

I had one more lesson to learn, which I had to learn the hard way.

I finally realized that the irreducible heart of what matters is suffering. Back then, even though I was absolutely sure I knew everything, I really didn’t know anything about suffering. Since then, though, I’ve developed a chronic disease and have experienced times when I thought I was going to die, times when I wished I would die. Back then, I worried about abstractions and words and principles; I argued about exploitation and oppression and liberation. I didn’t take suffering seriously. Now, knowing what suffering really is, and knowing how much there is in the world, all my previous concerns seem, well . . . to put it kindly . . . ridiculous.

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I first ended up in the emergency room almost exactly 20 years ago. I then spent months and months bouncing from doctor to doctor. It was only then, once I had first-hand experience with real suffering, that I knew my life’s true calling. Veganism, animal rights, anti-speciesism, definitions, abstractions, arguments — all these are relevant only inasmuch as we use them to actually reduce suffering.

And that’s what I’ve dedicated my life to ever since.

So what are the lessons we can take from my journey?

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First, my experience is in keeping with one key fact: the vast majority of people who stop eating animals eventually go back to eating meat. The Humane Research Council’s survey found this to be the case for about 80% of people who go vegetarian (see also Ginny Messina RD’s take).

80%!

As advocates, we haven’t had a lot of success since Peter Singer published Animal Liberation in the 1970s. Given this absurd rate of recidivism — 4 out of 5 quitting! — it isn’t surprising that the percentage of vegetarians in this country hasn’t grown in proportion to our efforts.

Clearly, we have a lot to learn if we are to make significant progress. There are two important insights from the HRC study.

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First: The data clearly shows the biggest difference between those who are currently vegetarian, compared to those who stopped being vegetarian, is that current vegetarians are motivated by “Animal Protection” — 68% of people who are still veg, vs only 27% of those who went back to eating animals. The people who were motivated primarily for health were the ones who went back to eating animals. So obviously, if we want to help animals, we should give up trying to “trick” people into going veg for health or other forms of self-interest. Rather, we will help animals the most by actively advocating for animals.

Second, the people who go veg the quickest are also more likely to go back to eating animals. I’ve seen this over and over. For example, two close friends of mine went vegan overnight. Now, neither of them are even vegetarian.  On the other hand, people who, like me, slowly evolve to an ethical diet are more likely to keep making compassionate choices.

The take away from this is to embrace and encourage everyone who has ever taken steps to help animals. I was a failed vegetarian. I bought “happy” animal products. I can tell you — if people had screamed at me, attacked me for my failings, the issue in my mind would have changed. I wouldn’t have still been thinking about animals; I would have been focused on the angry, fanatical vegans who were attacking me.

Veganomics

This is backed up by the data on two levels. The first, as referenced in Nick Cooney’s book Veganomics, is that people who buy “humane” meat eat less meat than the average person, and are more likely to go vegetarian.

Related to this is the most important point: the number of animals killed in this country is going down.

Given that reducing the number of animals suffering and dying is the bottom line, it is worth unpacking this good news a bit.

feweranimals

For decades, the number of animals killed in this country skyrocketed. Prompted to “eat healthy,” people replaced red meat with chickens. Since it takes over 200 chickens to provide the same amount of flesh as one cow, the move to “healthy eating” led directly to billions more individuals suffering. Given that chickens are much more intensively raised, the amount of suffering went through the roof!

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But since 2006, the number of animals killed in the US has fallen, even as the human population has gone up. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been because of a significant rise in the percentage of vegetarians and vegans. Rather, fewer animals are suffering and dying because of the number of people who are eating fewer animals — meat reducers.

Knowing this reinforces a point made previously: We shouldn’t attack or obsess over people who don’t immediately go veg — those who cut back on meat, who talk about “happy meat.”

Instead, we should embrace — and encourage — every evolutionary step anyone takes to help animals.

My example shows that the path to a compassionate life is often an uneven journey. There are many similar stories. A friend of mine went veg as a teenager, and his brother mocked him relentlessly. That brother?

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Paul Shapiro, who later went on to found Compassion Over Killing. He is a member of the Animal Rights Hall of Fame, and one of the most important voices for animals in the country.

In addition to not giving up on anyone, we should also look into what specifically causes people to change their diet in a way that helps animals. In addition to HRC’s survey, the best source of this information is a large study by The Humane League.

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Here are two graphs of the motivations for people who are veg or semi-veg. I know you can’t see these clearly, but they show that of the activist tools available to us, video is very important — documentaries and online videos. This is why my group, VegFund, focuses on the most modern tools available to us, rather than what is easiest, most popular, or what was cutting edge 20 years ago.

These graphs also show the importance of conversation, which gets to another important lesson: The power of example. I would actually put this in an even broader context:

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The impact of what we personally eat absolutely pales in comparison to the impact we can have with our example, our advocacy, and our donations. Imagine if you have a conversation with someone, or convince someone to watch an online ad, or fund the screening of a documentary, and as a result, just one person stops eating animals. With just that relatively minor effort, you will have done as much good as will be accomplished by every compassionate choice you will make the rest of your life.

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Now there’s tons more we can discuss, which is why I wrote two books and tried to keep my prepared remarks short. But before we open it up, this last point bears repeating: each one of us can have a profound impact in the world.  We don’t do this by being the angry vegan. The key to changing the world is to set aside our ego, to refuse to be driven by dogma, to refuse to give into anger and hatred.

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Instead, we can focus on positive, pragmatic, practical outreach that is entirely dedicated to helping as many animals as possible.

As I hope I’ve made clear, it was extremely difficult for me to stop trying to glorify my veganism. I was the worst offender in terms of worrying about words and definitions and winning arguments. But now, I think back to times when I was in so much pain that I wanted to die. Wanted to die. And I know there are animals out there who are going through that right now.

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You know that, too. You know that what is being done to animals right now is so brutal, so terrible, it hurts just to watch the footage. It hurts to even think about it.

Embrace your empathy! Let your fundamental compassion drive you. Your basic goodness can keep the focus on the bottom line — helping animals as much as possible — while preventing distractions like dogma and definitions.

We should do this because a truly different world is possible! When I stopped eating animals nearly 30 years ago, I didn’t believe the world could change.

Now I know it can.

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The future is in our hands. The world can change if enough of us embrace radical pragmatism and set a realistic, reasonable example. If enough of us let our advocacy and our contributions be guided by having the greatest possible impact. If enough of us recognize the unstoppable power of compassion matched with reason.

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It is an incredible time to be vegetarian. Billionaires investing in vegan companies. Brilliant, bottom-line dedicated individuals building companies to reach the mainstream, not just vegans. Food technology advancing like crazy.

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Restaurants like Veggie Grill and Native Foods spreading like wildfire and reaching an ever-increasing audience. The number of animals slaughtered going down.

We are at the start of a fundamental transformation of our society. You can play a pivotal part. Please do — and you can start by visiting VegFund.org today. As an activist and/or a donor, you can truly change the world!

Thank you so much!

matt@vegfund.org

 

The Health Argument vs. Ethical Argument: Which Is More Powerful?

By Sarah Hanshew, 2014 Summer Intern

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Cease Animal Torture hosts a table at their university in California, including some vegan health information and an environmental argument for going vegan.

“I’m vegan because I’m really concerned about animal welfare.” “I chose to become a vegetarian because I wanted to lose weight.” “The environment really suffers from animal agriculture, and that’s why I chose not to eat meat.”

All of these are common reasons for choosing and maintaining a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, but is there one reason that’s more common among non-meat eaters? Are health arguments more convincing than ethical arguments? Activists could benefit from knowing these answers because they are frequently questioned about the reason(s) behind their lifestyle choice. By knowing which argument is most effective, activists could be more fruitful in encouraging their audience to choose vegetarianism or veganism.

Published research studies on vegetarianism reveal that there are two primary motivations for a meat-free diet: health concerns and ethical considerations (Fox & Ward, 2008). A recent online study conducted by Winthrop University showed that a majority of vegetarians (including vegans) chose to be and stayed vegetarian for ethical reasons. A little over 80 percent of the subjects that were surveyed online stated that their original reason for becoming vegetarian was of an ethical nature. Almost 83 percent of those subjects also stated ethical reasons for why they have remained vegetarian (Hoffman et al., 2013).

So now that we have this information, how can we as activists use it to our advantage?

Because a majority of people choose to be vegetarian and remain vegetarian due to ethical concerns, an ethical argument is what we can best use to persuade our audience to choose a compassionate lifestyle. Here are some tips on how to be as effective as possible during activism:

  • Make your words powerful. This is especially important. Try to use strong, vivid language as you share with your audience the facts and atrocities behind factory farming and why you believe it isn’t ethical.
  • Create powerful imagery. Ask them if they can picture their cat or dog in the same place as a factory farmed pig, cow, or chicken. That’s something that is sure to stay with them.
  • Prepare. This is something so crucial for activists. If you want to appeal to people with an ethical argument, it is important to know your facts. Maybe you can learn the statistics on the numbers of animals killed or harmed, specific types of abuses, and answers to some common objections you will hear.
  • Be positive. In addition to sharing negative statistics, you may also want to spread awareness of how many animals’ lives are saved each year just by maintaining a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
  • Be confident. This may be easier said than done, but showing confidence really makes a difference during activism. If you believe in yourself and what you are saying, your audience will have an easier time believing you!

Do you have any great activist tips? Please share them with us in the comments!

References:

Fox, N. & Ward, K. (2008). Health, ethics and environment: A qualitative study of vegetarian motivations. Appetite, 50(2-3), 422-429.

Hoffman, S.R. et al. (2013). Differences between health and ethical vegetarians. Strength of conviction, nutrition knowledge, dietary restriction, and duration of adherence. Appetite, 65, 139-144.

Common Vegan Myths Debunked

By Sarah Hanshew, 2014 Summer Intern

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While vegan diets mainly consist of health-supporting, whole plant foods, the common misconception that we can’t indulge is also false, as shown by this beautiful dessert spread from French vegan activist group L214.

Whether you are vegan or non-vegan, it is likely that you have heard some negative notions regarding veganism. Vegan myths can relate to many different things, such as nutrition, budget, ethics, and identity, and can be heard from various sources. Whether they are acting defensively or simply uninformed, people may approach you during activism and express their misunderstandings about veganism. Sometimes friends and family might use vegan myths to justify why they are not vegan themselves.

Regardless of where vegan myths come from and why, it is important for omnivores to know the facts behind these misconceptions. This also makes it imperative for activists to have a good understanding of the facts so they are able to answer the misconceptions of others. There are countless vegan myths, but here are some of the most common:

Myth: Vegan diets are unhealthy.

Fact: According to the American Dietetic Association, when properly planned, vegetarian or vegan diets “are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” A vegan diet typically consists of mostly whole, plant-based foods and is low in cholesterol and fat. Being vegan does not mean compromising your health, as long as your daily diet contains all necessary nutrients for healthy living. A poorly planned diet, vegan or non-vegan, is always unhealthy, so make sure your vegan diet is full of fruits, vegetables, grains, healthy fats, protein, complex carbohydrates, and plenty of water.

Myth: Vegans cause harm to plants.

Fact: Plants do not have pain receptors or central nervous systems, so it is not likely that they feel pain as humans and animals feel it. At any rate, more plants’ lives are saved by not eating meat because of the large quantity of vegetation required to feed farmed animals. For example, a pound of beef can use up to 20 pounds of feed grain. So regardless of whether you’re concerned about plants or animals, if you want to preserve the most lives possible, a vegan diet is preferable.

Myth: Eating vegan is expensive.

Fact: Eating a vegan diet doesn’t mean that you have to buy all specialty products. Beans, lentils, nuts, grains, and tofu (all great sources of protein) are typically cheaper than meat, especially when bought in bulk. The money saved by leaving meat off your grocery list can go toward buying fresh fruits and vegetables or even non-dairy milk. A vegan diet is manageable with any budget!

Myth: All vegans are hippies.

Fact: This seems to be the vegan stigma, regardless of the fact that vegans come in all shapes and sizes and from different backgrounds. Vegan isn’t synonymous with hippy; there are vegan NFL players, politicians, actors/actresses, singers, and the list goes on and on. Vegans can’t be labeled with just one word, but what can be said about all vegans is that they have many good reasons (moral, environmental, and health-related) for keeping animal products out of their diet.

Myth: Vegans don’t get enough protein or calcium.

Fact: “Where do you get your protein and calcium?” This is a question that vegans are often asked, but if you are vegan, it is usually an easy one to answer. Tempeh, lentils, soymilk, tofu, quinoa, cashews, beans, peanut butter, and rice are all amazing sources of protein for vegans. Protein sources for vegans are abundant, as are sources of calcium. Just because your diet doesn’t include dairy doesn’t mean it is without calcium. Some of the best calcium sources for vegans are kale, collard greens, almond butter, broccoli, blackberries, oranges, and sesame seeds.

Can you think of some other vegan myths and how you can refute them? Let us know in the comments!

Caring for Animals and Caring for Yourself: Combatting Activist Burnout

By Sarah Hanshew, 2014 Summer Intern 

Open the Cages Alliance vegan pledges and mentor trip to For the Animals Sanctuary.

Open the Cages Alliance vegan pledges and mentors trip to For the Animals Sanctuary.

Have you ever felt drained and disheartened after an animal rights outreach event? Do you feel as though your activism work is less interesting or exciting? If so, then it is possible you are feeling burned out.

By definition, activist burnout “is a phenomenon that occurs when an activist feels overwhelmed, frustrated, hopeless, or depressed, usually after a period of extensive activism.” Recognizing common burnout symptoms is the first step on the way to a healthier you; some of these symptoms include: loss of interest in usual activism activities, a sense of hopelessness, feeling irritated or angry with those around you, and blaming yourself for lack of progress for your cause.

Animal rights activists can gain a strong sense of purpose from their involvement in the animal rights effort, but this type of work can also deliver a multitude of negative emotions (Jacobsson and Lindblom, 2013). These negative emotions can take a hefty toll on activists and cause them to crash and burn. That is why it is imperative that activists make self-care a priority and ensure that they handle their emotions in a positive manner.

Animal activists can often be involved in the management of emotions, or “emotion work” on a daily basis. Some emotion work for activists includes: suppressing negative emotions, venting those same negative emotions, using vivid images to sustain commitment to the cause, and developing feelings of guilt (Jacobsson and Lindblom, 2013). Recognizing the emotional costs of activism and learning how to deal with such emotions can benefit the individual and the movement as a whole.

When participating in an advocacy event, it is not unusual for activists to receive hostile or unfriendly reactions from those around them. For example, in a society that is ruled by science and technology, there is always a risk that the public will not take animal rights seriously (Groves, 2001). If activists hastily react to negative words or actions from those around them, revealing anger, it is unlikely that the public will ever acknowledge the moral principles of animal rights (Jacobsson and Lindblom, 2013). The alternative to reacting this way is to bottle up the anger and resentment felt towards those issuing the negativity. Instead of suppressing these emotions, activists can try releasing negative emotions to other activists who will understand their situation (Jamison, Wenk, and Parker, 2000). By doing this, activists can avoid releasing negative emotions at inappropriate times.

Even if activists can release negative emotions caused by the public, some still experience deep feelings of guilt or a worried conscience, simply by being a part of the animal rights movement (Jamison, Wenk, and Parker, 2000). Animal rights activists often feel like they do not do enough and feel responsible for the countless animals that need their support (Jacobsson and Lindblom, 2013). While these feelings of guilt may always linger in their minds, activists can still take steps toward realizing and accepting that they alone are not responsible for all animals. They can look to other activists for solace when having guilty feelings.

Though discussing the negative aspects of activism with other activists is a great way to release emotions, it will not always do the trick for troubled activists. Realizing when it is time to momentarily step away from the cause is essential. This does not mean that the activist has to quit a project or not participate in all of their advocacy events; it just means that emotional health is important. In order to take care of and do things for others, you first have to take care of yourself.

There are many things activists can do to combat burnout and engage in self-care, but here are some of the most helpful suggestions:

  • Find allies at work or in your organization. Identify one or two people that you feel comfortable talking to and who will support you.
  • Consider joining a support group. If you are an activist who feels burned out, it is likely that you are not the only one.
  • Eat well and exercise regularly. This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but sometimes activists can become very busy and neglect eating properly and making time for exercise. Making this a priority is essential in maintaining good physical and mental health.
  • Make time for things that really matter to you. Make a list of things in your life that you enjoy doing, and try to spend time each week doing those things. Revive your mind and body with your favorite things!

It is evident that participation in animal rights activism requires a significant amount of emotional incentive and involves many emotional costs. Activists should invest their time not only in fighting for and advocating animal rights, but in their emotional health as well.

If you have additional tips on handling feelings of activist burnout, please leave them in the comments below!

References:

Groves, J.M. (2001). Animal rights and the politics of emotion: Folk constructions of emotion in the animal rights movement. Passionate Politics: Emotions and Social Movements. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 212–229.

Jamison, W.V., Wenk, C., & Parker, J.W. (2000). Every sparrow that falls: Understanding animal rights activism as functional religion. Society & Animals, 8(3), 305–330.

Jacobsson, K. & Lindblom, J. (2013). Emotion Work in Animal Rights Activism: A Moral-Sociological Perspective. Acta Sociologica, 56(1).