Creative, Non-Violent Vegan Education—Easy and Effective

Dear Colleagues:

I recently posted several essays (e.g.,1, 2, 3) on various creative, non-violent vegan education. I am interested in canvassing the range of things that people are doing. So I posted a note on Facebook asking for people to tell me about their efforts at non-violent, creative vegan/abolitionist education. In one day, I got dozens of excellent replies.

Here are some:

  • A number of people stated that they were having a great deal of success educating people on Facebook or other social networking sites, as well as on websites and through blogs and videos.Comment: Social networking sites, websites, blogs, and video materials are invaluable. I have in the past written about the remarkable efforts and amazing success of the Vegan Freak podcast and forums, as well as the efforts of other advocates, who are effectively using the internet. There are now a number of excellent blogs and sites that focus on the abolitionist approach.Until the internet came along, the large animal advocacy groups, which were all welfarist, controlled communication by deciding what went into their newsletters or magazines or who got invited to their conferences. There was no practical, cost-effective way for those who disagreed with the welfarist approach to find or communicate with each other. The internet has changed that. The large organizations are becoming increasingly irrelevant as alternative communities are forming. Moreover, mechanisms such as Skype and other tools are allowing us to have audio/visual contact at little or no cost. Last week, I gave a lecture in Dublin, Ireland, over Skype—from my home office!
  • A significant number of people do what I call “food activism”—they invite family, friends, and members of the community to try vegan food in order to dispel the myth that vegan food is boring, unappealing, tasteless, unsatisfying, etc.People do this in a wide variety of contexts: some have vegan food parties at their homes; some hold birthday parties at vegan restaurants or insist that when they go out for dinner with others, that the venue be a vegan restaurant; some provide food samples at tables at local community events or bring vegan food into their workplace to share with others. Several people mentioned that they accompany the food with literature or other types of information (including our Abolitionist Approach videos and pamphlets) so that they reach not just the stomach but the head (and, I hope, the heart).Comment: “Food activism” is extremely important. We live in a world in which eating is not just something we do to live; eating is symbolic on a number of complex levels. One of those levels involves our celebration of our supposed “superiority.” Three (or more) times a day, we celebrate our power and the concept of hierarchy by eating animal flesh and animal products that we know are the result of death and suffering. In a sense, eating for most of us is a spiritual act of a dark nature—it is the eucharist of violence. If we can uncouple the act of eating from the concept of violence, we can change the world. Food activism is essential.
  • One advocate reported that he was working with others to produce a World Peace Yoga Conference Oct 23-25, with people coming from all over the world to learn and talk about veganism, animal slavery, health, a peaceful world, ahimsa and more.Comments: Although there are plenty of “animal conferences” to attend (indeed, going to these conferences could be a full-time job), very few are promoting a clear and unequivocal message connecting nonviolence and veganism.
  • One advocate, a musician, is going to mention veganism in the liner notes of his forthcoming album; another advocate, an artist, is offering a piece of his art to a non-vegan who will make a pledge to go vegan for one month (and by vegan, he means that the recipient will not consume, wear, or use nonhumans in any way and will not patronize zoos, etc.); another advocate reported that she and her partner sat in a small cage for three days in a public spot and distributed literature about why all eggs involve suffering and encouraging people to go vegan.Comment: Art, including non-violent, non-sexist street theater, is important because so much of our culture is conveyed through art. The importance of artists using their various mediums to convey the vegan/abolitionist message cannot be overestimated.
  • One advocate reported that he was developing a network of people who would call the toll-free number of a supermarket chain and request that tofu be carried by the stores. This same advocate said that whenever he goes into a store, he demands vegans products even if he knows that they do not have any. He wants store owners to know that there is a demand that they are not filling.Comment: A terrific idea. We need to let stores know that they are not carrying vegan products and that there is a demand for such products. If there is a local shop that sells only vegan, we should patronize that store (just as we should patronize vegan restaurants). But many people do not have such a local shop and educating the large chains about vegan demand is, in any event, a very good thing to do.
  • Several advocates reported that they have set up local, independent vegan/abolitionist groups that produce and distribute literature, run food stalls, etc. Some advocates do not have a formal organization but table or otherwise distribute literature about veganism.Comment: The “animal movement” as it presently exists is, for the most part, an oligarchy of wealthy welfarist organizations that have reduced activism to writing a check—to them. We need advocates who see themselves first and foremost as providing support and education so that everyone can become a leader. If we are ever going to shift the paradigm away from violence and exploitation, we need people to recognize that each and every one of us must assume responsibility. Local, independent organizations and independent advocates who table or otherwise distribute literature or distribute food can help very much in this regard.
  • One advocate said that she has “VEGANMOM” on her license plate.Comment: This sort of thing is capable of provoking more discussion than you can imagine. Every time this advocate drives her car, there are people who are saying, “hey, look at that plate” and in a fair number of cases, discussions are starting with people saying things like, “look at that plate—you know, I always feel funny about eating meat” or “do you know what they do to dairy cows?”
  • A number of advocates reported that they just talk to anyone and everyone they can—family, friends, other students at their school, complete strangers they encounter in a store—about veganism and animal exploitation; that they try to engage people in the substance of the arguments.Comment: In many ways, this is the most difficult type of advocacy. Most of us feel alienated anyway; many of us are shy and that alienation only exacerbates feeling uncomfortable about talking with strangers—or even with friends and family who think that our commitment to ethical veganism is peculiar.But this sort of advocacy is essential—as difficult as it may be to do. I want you to consider three things.First, be thankful that you feel alienated. After all, the alternative is feeling comfortable in a world of complete madness and relentless violence. Embrace your feeling of alienation; it is an indication of mental and spiritual health!Second, however uncomfortable you feel, think about the suffering that we are imposing on animals (as well as on vulnerable humans). However uncomfortable we are at any time, there are billions of beings who would trade places with us if they could. Put it all in some sort of perspective.

    Third, for those of you are not confident about the substantive arguments—that was and is the primary motivation for this website. We’re trying to provide you the tools that you need to educate others. We have our Abolitionist Approach pamphlet available (in 12 languages); we have video presentations that focus on substantive issues such as the Theory of Animal Rights and Rights vs. Welfare; we have a FAQ section; and we have these essays (now more than 100), which are intended to help you learn what you need to know to address any issue that comes up.

There is one sort of advocacy that was not mentioned in any of the Facebook posts but was sent to me privately. Someone wrote and asked:

Is taking care of individual animals an abolitionist act?

My answer: absolutely! The abolitionist position is that we stop bringing domesticated nonhumans into existence But what about the ones we are here now? Given that they are here because of our selfishness and moral blindness, don’t we have an obligation to them? In my view, the answer is clear. That is why I support groups that do TNR (“trap, neuter, return”) work, such as The Animal Spirit/Homeless Animal Lifeline, and no-kill shelters. It is why we have four rescued dogs living with us (and have had up to seven at one time). These nonhumans are all refugees in a world in which they do not fit and in which they cannot, thanks to us, care for themselves. So yes, caring for individual nonhumans is not only consistent with an abolitionist animal rights position, it is, as far as I am concerned, an integral part of it.

In sum, this is what I got in one day of responses. Think of how much is being done without big organizations with multi-million dollar budgets who are responsible for the “happy” meat/animal products movement and who are making the public feel better about continuing to consume animal products.

It is clear that there is an emerging network of vegan/abolitionist advocates who, with few resources other than their caring and creativity, want to change the world in a non-violent way and who are doing so. When I think of how many people have already been affected by just the people referred to in this essay, it becomes clear to me that if all of the “animal people” spoke with one non-violent vegan voice, we could have a most dramatic impact on animal suffering and death both in the short term and as we build a new peace movement that rejects all violence—including the violence that starts with what we eat, wear, and use on our bodies.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione