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Don’t despair, animal activists: your vegan advocacy is never in vain

Conversation-with-textAre you an animal advocate or vegan who wonders if the world will ever change? Every day, do you feel you’re taking one step forward and two steps back? Do conversations become more difficult with non-vegans, with people seeming to ignore the message of animal cruelty and instead opting for the latest fashions, foods, cosmetics and practices that contribute to animal suffering? Maybe you wonder if a vegan world is possible and once you leave your little bubble of a vegan get-together, festival or social event, you feel outraged with a world that seems so selfish? If you feel like this, you’re not alone but feeling and thinking that a vegan world is impossible to achieve, is counterproductive to what needs to be done to usher in this new era. It’s also incredibly hard to live in a place of desperation and despair and be a good example of what it is to be a happy, healthy vegan, writes Clare Mann.

3 September, 2017

In the past year, my heart has been warmed because I found out that something I had said many months or years ago, was pivotal in numerous people becoming vegan. I share these examples with you not to impress you, but to impress upon you that your vegan advocacy is never in vain. It’s just that you won’t always get to hear the outcome of the message you share.

Where we give out is not necessarily where it comes back

As a child, my mother told me, “Clare where you give out love is not necessarily where it comes back”.

I didn’t understand what she meant until her words gave me comfort in my teens and twenties when my heart was broken several times. Loving someone and losing them is painful but I held on to her words, believing that my efforts for love were not in vain.

Today her saying has greater significance as I hear vegans tell me how difficult it is to get people to understand animal cruelty issues and then change their behaviour. I realise that where I give out effort in educating people about veganism will not necessarily result in me witnessing their conversion.

Also, those who may become vegan through my words are hearing what I say after information has reached them from many people and many sources. It’s just that I get to hear them say, “I am now a vegan!” Surely that means that there are people who I have spoken to who later become vegan but I never get to hear about it?

The story of Gigi Pizzeria

About three years ago a woman said to me, “You know it all started with you?” I didn’t recognise her until she reminded me that three years earlier she served me in a health food shop in Sydney, Australia, and was curious as to why I returned a product because it contained milk. With her permission, I explained what happens in the dairy industry and how calves are taken from their mothers so humans can consume their milk. She was shocked and I returned the next day with literature from Animals Australia so she could check out what I was saying. I walked away believing I had done my best and didn’t hear from her until I saw her three years later.

gigi-pizzeria-newtown-Jessica-MatinoShe explained that she was horrified by what I told her and decided to do her own research. Over the next weeks and months, she started to explore what happens to animals in the industrial process and her worse fears were realised. Not only was my account true, but her eyes were opened to the billions of animals that suffer each year for our food, fashion, cosmetics and entertainment.

She started to make changes to her own life but the weight of knowing about animal suffering meant she had to go further. She decided to call her family together and share what she had learnt. This was a brave thing to do because her son was in catering and ran a well-known Italian restaurant in Sydney.

It was through her advocacy that her family made a collective decision that they could no longer collude with the suffering of animals for the sake of tradition, profit or tastebuds and they decided to turn their successful restaurant vegan. That restaurant was Gigi Pizzeria in Newtown, an inner-city suburb of Sydney.

This example highlights to me that my mother’s principle was right. Where we advocate for animal social justice and veganism is not necessarily where it comes back. I had the rare opportunity to find out that my advocacy contributed to this extraordinary family putting ethics before tradition and profit, and choosing to ‘veganise’ their restaurant. However, most of the time, particularly where there’s indifference or ridicule, we don’t get to hear what happens. It’s easy to tell ourselves that people are selfish and it’s not worth bothering to advocate because the world isn’t changing.

Advocating in the supermarket

In a recent conversation with a checkout assistant at a supermarket, I said, “I don’t want the plastic bag, thank you. I’m not using them anymore!” She said, “They really build up, don’t they and come billowing out of the cupboard?” I told her about the plastic in the oceans and the effect on animals and wildlife.

As I told her about birds washed up on the beach with plastic bags in their stomachs, she was horrified, saying she would stop using them too. Customers were waiting as she asked me for more information, and as I left, she looked directly at me and said, “You’ve had a real effect on me. Thank you!”

This example shows the importance of sharing information that is relevant to the situation. Our conversation flowed and I used phrases like, “We have to find out about these things because it affects us all”, indicating that we are all in this together rather than being righteous and she and other people are in the wrong. If I had talked about factory farming or the horror I felt as I walked past the meat counter, she probably would have glazed over or felt personally criticised.

Finding the hooks to engage the listener

Every day there are opportunities to talk about animal social justice and veganism. It’s important to listen carefully to other people for clues about how to catch their interest. I call these hooks.

For example, telling the checkout assistant that I didn’t want a plastic bag hooked her into asking me, “Why?” particularly when I had several items which would have been easier to carry in a bag. Look for hooks to hang your topic on which lead naturally into talking about animal or vegan advocacy. These hooks tend to fall into the following categories:

  •        Animal welfare
  •        Social justice
  •        Diet and health
  •        Economics
  •        Job security
  •        Environment
  •        Culture and personal choice

When you are a passionate vegan and animal advocate, you may want to share everything you know about the issues but this can result in resistance.

What you want to say is not necessarily what the other person is interested in hearing, and forcing your own agenda won’t establish rapport so you can open other subjects later.

Bombarding someone with details of animal cruelty in factory farms, while relevant and important to share, may result in resistance if they have indicated they are most interested in health or environmental protection. When you have explored their interests, you can add more information that expands their understanding.

Your job is to move people along a continuum of awareness

Imagine that every person you meet (including yourself) is on journey towards increased consciousness, compassion and awareness. Let’s imagine it’s from 1 to 10, with 1 representing absolutely no interest in veganism and 10 indicating a person is very interested in hearing more and likely to be a vegan sometime soon.

lightbulbs-300Your job is to listen carefully to assess where someone is on the continuum and to provide the information, insights and education that will move them towards increased awareness.

You do this by identifying the hooks and providing them with information that makes them expand their thinking on an issue. If you use information that doesn’t relate to their interests or current world view, you’ll lose rapport and they’ll resist you. You don’t need to change people overnight to your way of thinking, or dramatically change their behaviour. Some people see images or hear information and become vegan right away; others take time. Your job is to move them along the continuum so they come to their own conclusions.

After all, you don’t want people to change their mind about something because of a kneejerk reaction to an image. You want them to change their behaviour permanently. Time spent moving them along the continuum provides greater probability that any attitude, value or behaviour changes will be permanent.

Becoming a voice for veganism

Every day you have the chance to give people information that will move them along the continuum of awareness to becoming vegan. Often, you won’t have the satisfaction of hearing them say, “I’m now vegan!”

However, every time you talk about veganism, you’re contributing to collectively creating a more compassionate world.

Keep sharing information with people about veganism without preaching to them, knowing that someone out there will get to see their conversion, as you will of others who have heard from other vegans who are in the same collective endeavour as you.

Clare Mann is an Australian-based vegan psychologist, best-selling author and passionate animal advocate. She is the co-founder of the Vegan Voices Smartphone App ( ), co-contributor to the Sydney Vegan Club 30-Day Vegan Challenge and contributor to the books Plant Powered Women and Everyday Vegans. She provides skills training to help vegans and animal advocates communicate more effectively and animal welfare organisations to collaborate for increased effectiveness. Access her free video program Essential Skills for Vegan Advocacy.

Image of Gigi Pizzeria by Jessica Matino

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