Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Leading the Horse to Water

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
—Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist (1901–1978) was what ignited my interest in activism. I've been working on living a compassionate lifestyle for over 15 years now, but my efforts to effect change have been mostly restricted to talking to the people around me.

It hasn't been for nothing. I have several friends who have gone vegan, and many more that have at least reduced meat consumption or made some other efforts. However, my approach changed after reading a post called Animal Advocacy and The Power of Asking.

I'd always offered up treats, information, and ideas, but I'd never outright asked anyone to try veganism. However, Marcus asserts that "the world would be a happier, more compassionate place if more people were more comfortable with making requests." So I took the plunge and asked someone. Granted, I went with a pretty easy first target. He was a vegetarian who I'd already turned on to Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese and almond milk, but he was also a cheese lover. I asked him to got vegan for the month of August, since July was just petering out. He's been vegan since.

I was amazed at how easy it was. I was nervous to ask someone outright, but it wasn't hard. I was afraid he'd balk or have difficulties, but he was up for it and is going strong. Granted, I had known him for some time and had paved the way a bit by sharing food and information, and by introducing him to new things so that the jump to vegan didn't require much. But that's an important part of the process: "Any salesman will tell you that after you’ve made your pitch it’s time to ask for the sale. More animal advocates need to learn this lesson" (Marcus). Teaching, advocacy, and sales all share a similar process. This process requires you to pave the way by priming the student with knowledge to make it easier for them to grasp the big point.

Additionally, you can't ask someone to go vegan, wish them good luck, and go on with your day. Have resources at the ready, and make yourself available to help. If it's possible, offer to make or buy vegan dinner as a welcome. On the flipside, don't overwhelm. One of my flaws is that when someone expresses interest in anything, I get excited an bombard them with every bit of information I have. I've learned to start with a few items, and then supply more as questions arise.

When handing out resources, I like to suggest both web and book resources, as well as organizations. I tend to edit my lists based on what interests a person has. Everyone gets the basics on health and animal issues, but if someone is a an athlete, loves to cook, hates to cook, is an internet junky, is worried about money, or has other dietary considerations, I throw in a few extra links. I also look for an animal sanctuary near them and suggest they pay a visit.

My biggest concern is getting them the best basic information, but paying attention to details, and showing that veganism is suitable for anyone really helps to welcome a person into something that they may be a little afraid to do. I want this to be easy for them. They'll have to face the challenges that we all face, but having someone there to guide them and take some of the guess work out of it will make it more likely that they'll stick to it.

I don't go right for the heavier animal rights spots immediately unless I know that the person is interested in them. I keep the new vegan in mind and what's most important to them right now, which is food. As they get more comfortable, they'll delve into other materials on their own. Of course, they may never be interested in the animal rights side of it, so if it feels like a club requirement, they may give up their membership.

My list of favorites is below. It's not an exhaustive list of my favorite vegan spots, but a list of resources I copy into any email to those who want to know more about veganism. What did I miss? Let me know and I'll update!

Web Resources
21-Day Vegan Kickstart
Vegan Health
Vegan Outreach Starter Guide
The Problem with Animal Products

Becoming Vegan
Eating Animals
Diet for a New America

Vegan Essentials
Herbivore Clothing Company

No Meat Athlete
The Post Punk Kitchen
Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen
Vegan on the Cheap
The 4-Ingredient Vegan
The Gluten-Free Vegan
Appetite for Reduction

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