Effective Vegan Advocacy Workshop (Part 2)

Part 2: Sunday, 5th of March

Admittedly, I was a little late to the first Sunday session – Tobias’ presentation about Making Compassion Easier. But when I got settled, Tobias was discussing how people are more likely to do something if you don’t ask to much of them and the birth of the reducatarian movement. You may have heard of flexitarian (plant-based with occasional inclusion of meat), pescetarians (people who consider themselves vegetarian but eat fish that grows on tress) but reducatarians? I’d never heard of it. This is a definition of the movement from a reducatarian website:

“It is composed of individuals who are committed to eating less meat – red meat, poultry, and seafood – as well as less dairy and fewer eggs, regardless of the degree or motivation. This concept is appealing because not everyone is willing to follow an “all-or-nothing” diet. However, reducatarianism is still inclusive of vegans, vegetarians, and anyone else who reduces the amount of animal products in their diet.”

Cool, sounds legit. Tobias explained that we owe reducatarians a lot more credit. They have raised the demand for our animal-free products more than we ever could have alone. This phenomena Tobias likened to the gluten-free movement. Although on the one hand people with Celiac disease must be annoyed when people use the term “gluten-free” loosely because they have adverse reactions to even slight traces of gluten. On the other hand, the health-conscious-gluten-intolerant-or-avoidant people are to be thanked for giving people with Celiac disease an enormous increase in the amount of gluten-free products and menu items available to them.

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What does an increase in nut mylks, alternative meats and vegan menu items mean? It means that there is one less obstacle in place for people to transition to veganism – if they wish. Therefore, reducers make it easier for everyone to go vegan. Don’t diss the reducatarian, encourage them every chance you get! The reason this is an effective vegan advocacy strategy was counter-intuitive to me. We learn it psychology, to change behaviour you must change the thoughts, feelings, beliefs or attitudes from which the behaviours have manifest. I had always understood this as universal law. Tobias explained that actually, when it comes to veganism, it could actually be considered more effective to do the opposite, to get people to change their behaviour (try/enjoy vegan foods) and let their attitudes about veganism evolve as a symptom of that behaviour change.

Okay, next question, why might this be the case? Tobias shared that there was an interesting scientific study conducted in which people, the following is the abstract:

“People enjoy eating meat but disapprove of harming animals. One resolution to this conflict is to withdraw moral concern from animals and deny their capacity to suffer. To test this possibility, we asked participants to eat dried beef or dried nuts and then indicate their moral concern for animals and judge the moral status and mental states of a cow. Eating meat reduced the perceived obligation to show moral concern for animals in general and the perceived moral status of the cow. It also indirectly reduced the ascription of mental states necessary to experience suffering. People may escape the conflict between enjoying meat and concern for animal welfare by perceiving animals as unworthy and unfeeling.”

Tobias explained that it is easier to condemn something you are not participating in rather than something you are complicit in. Hence, shaming people who eat meat by telling them that they are doing a bad/cruel/inhumane/immoral thing (apparently, especially whilst they are in the act of this) is not only likely to start an argument/damage a relationship/perpetuate the angry vegan stereotype/lead to more denial, but it ineffective in advocating for animals.

This gets us to look at the big picture.

Tobias spoke about the different modalities of vegan advocacy. Of course traditionally, the only vegans were self-realised people who were working from a moral framework that eating animals is wrong (of which many vegans and non-vegans may agree). They might have picked some other “low hanging fruit” through their active or passive advocacy who also came to the realisation that it was/is wrong to eat animals. Although I can’t imagine the hit rate was not very high – obviously not, as people identifying as vegan a decade ago, were a scarce minority. Tobias explained that in the last decade there has been a new cog in the vegan machine – the health and environmental factors. I’m happy to share that this was the part were myself and some of my friends found our membership in the club, and we were in good company with thousands of people around the world (thanks to Forks over Knives and Cowspiracy!) Most recently and perhaps most significantly, we have entered the age of vegan businesses – the best way to get critical masses of people trying and enjoying vegan food and hence changing minds about veganism. Once critical masses of people are vegan or vegan-ish then it will be easier to get law reformed around animals killed for food.

“There is no moral obligation to present veganism as a moral obligation. Celebrate all the reasons people go more vegan” – Tobias Leenaert

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After a break Tobias run his second session about Effective Vegan Outreach. He gave about 10 noteworthy advocacy strategies including:

  1. Adapt your ask. Given everything covered above, really welcoming and encouraging people who are open to the idea of reducing is very effective. Even suggesting someone reduce their meat and dairy consumption is a lot less confronting and harder to deny than asking someone to change their ideology.
  2. Adapt your arguments. Your personal truth will not always resonate for others. I think I have been effective with almost passive vegan advocacy in the early days because I almost left animals out of the equation, telling people my story – of which the short version is that it was a health choice (if you are interested in my story in is the first blog post on my website). I think there is a perception that being vegan for the animals is a selfless act and being vegan for health is selfish, which may be true. However I am of the belief that over time the emotional, cognitive, spiritual and political aspects of the vegan voyage align and that you eventually end up as vegan for “all the reasons”. Be mindful not to ask people to run before they can walk.

“Any reduction is okay and any reason to reduce is okay” – Tobias Leenaert

  1. Put yourself in their shoes – you are not your audience. They have their reasons for eating meat, primarily they are likely to believe that it is normal, natural, necessary and/or nice. This may be infuriating to you as a vegan but remember back to a time when you were likely to share their same carnistic beliefs. Tobias used the term “vegan amnesia” – almost every adult vegan today is unlikely to have been vegan their whole life. Remembering your own justifications for meat eating helps us to be humble and show empathy to others.
  2. Apply basic psychology and communication skills. Sea Shepard is a wonderful organisation and they have a huge following from vegans and non-vegans alike. Why is this? Because people don’t eat whales in our culture! Even meat eaters in Australia aren’t complicit in the killing of whales. Also, Tobias spoke about how as vegans we feel we have so much to say and no reason to listen as we have heard it all before. Unfortunately this is to the detriment of the movement and the animals. Listen.
  3. Think about the impact will be over speaking your truth or winning an argument. Impact is doing or saying stuff that opens people to our cause. If it’s not going to opens a person’s heart or mind to veganism, is it still worth saying?

“What goes into your mouth is less important than what comes out of it” – Tobias Leenaert

  1. Forget purity and perfection. Hallelujah. I actually believe anyone with the boldness to call themselves vegan is wholly committed to avoiding animal products wherever possible, but sometimes mistakes are made and sometimes people get misunderstood and sometimes you don’t know what that additive on the label even is and sometimes you buy shoes thinking they are vegan then on closer inspection you find they have leather in the sole or whatever – I could go on. But these things don’t matter! It was so refreshing to be told this. That good enough is good enough. I already have pathological perfectionism, I don’t need to be giving myself a bad time about the occasional vegan blunder. When it comes to doing your research about how vegan goods and services are Tobias made an important distinction about public and private behaviour. And if there is that one person that demands of you, “did you check to see if that wine you’re drinking is vegan, I don’t think it is,” don’t take the bait. Being vegan doesn’t mean you have to be perfect and this doesn’t even make you a hypocrite! It makes you a person trying to do the least harm, the best way you know how. You can explain this to them and that when you’re eating out, you drink non-vegan wine if there is no vegan one available because that is you ethical bottom line – I like wine. The book I’m reading at the moment Living Among Meat Eaters suggests then asking an interrogator politely, “So, what is your ethical bottom line?”
  2. Use food. You can give people theoretical and practical information, a feeling when you speak to them but even better than any of those you can give them a taste experience. That is what they will remember.

“Food comes first, then morals” – Bertolt Brecht

  1. Be patient. It’s not up to you to turn the world vegan. Veganism is a young movement, around 95% of people aren’t on board, yet. Celebrate small changes.
  2. Advocate in a way you can sustain, keep yourself healthy as well as a healthy belief in people.
  3. Practice slow opinion by leaving dogma at the door. Be modest and understand that showing some self-doubt can be effective.

Tobias made several other interesting points during his presentation and his post-presentation discussion:

  • Let people have their exceptions if they want them, like “vegan except for cheese”
  • Reducing to chicken and fish is not a solution. The idea of starting by reducing red meat does not ethically stand up as less animals are killed in the production of “red meat” than “white meat” (my concern with this is the environmental impact of red meat)
  • Women may often be vegetarian/vegan as they identify with oppressed groups
  • The difference between meat eating and domestic violence etc is that one is condoned even celebrated, whereas the other is condemned.

Then we had this awesome lunch!

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The final session of the whole workshop was Melanie Joy’s presentation on Sustainable Activism. Melanie defined sustainability as the intake being greater or equal to the physical, emotional, social output. In regards to activism Melanie suggested that resilience must be greater than or equal to the stress response on our “psychosocial immune system”. As well as the slight hypocrisy of asking justice and compassion of others when we don’t practice the same for ourselves or others. Melanie suggested:

  1. Prioritise sustainability in your activism. You should aim to be here for a good time and a long time! Priorities are beliefs that are acted upon. This means, if you -like me – are planning on prioritising leisure and self-care, find practical ways to make this a reality. This might include time blocking (that is, clearing your schedule) for half an hour in the morning or night for meditation, or planning leisure with strictly no activism on the weekends.
  2. Get informed about Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder (STSD): often present in people who witness violence to others. More on this in a second, but similarly to PTSD there are triggers and symptoms. Get to know your own triggers and symptoms. For me a prominent one if watching artificial insemination procedures, the symptom of which is repulsion and a feeling of personal violation and helplessness. An awareness of these triggers and symptoms can help you avoid this imagery and hence reduce the stress associated.
  3. Become aware of your own physical, psychological, emotional, social and spiritual needs in a culture were self-neglect is the norm. When others don’t meet our needs we feel deprived and unattended too but the same is true for ourselves albeit more subtle.
  4. Then take care of your needs, they are normal, natural and necessary!

Melanie then elaborated on STSD including some of the common symptoms is traumatic framing or traumatic slitting in which a complex situation is framed by the individual as having a victim, perpetrator and hero. Melanie explains that she has observed this play out as animals being the victims, an individual’s significant meat eating others as the perpetrators and themselves – the vegan – being the hero. Traumatic framing is rigid thinking and can be associated with perfectionism. Another symptom of STSD Melanie described with was very close to home for me was that of survivors guilt. For those that don’t know, this is guilt after surviving (or not having had to survive) a terribly traumatic event or life. I have literally said to myself and to other vegan friends that I watch graphic factory farming footage through a feeling of obligation because I have such a good life by comparison; “the least I can do is watch.” But in fact you don’t have to over-witness – it induce a stress response and that stress response can have an accumulative affect. If someone asks you to watch you could say “I’m at my maximum capacity for traumatic material.” If you wish to show people traumatic material, such as factory farming footage, it’s important to get their consent. Some other STSD symptoms include:

  • A sense that you can never do enough
  • Minimising the suffering of others (by comparison to animals)
  • Avoiding and feeling overwhelmed by others
  • Disassociative moments (feeling disconnected from the self/world)
  • Guilt, helplessness and/or hopelessness
  • Increased anger
  • Cynicism and/or loss of faith in humanity
  • Grandiosity
  • Intrusive thoughts or images
  • Sleep disturbances

STSD is both the cause and consequence of self-neglect. Learn how to meet your own needs, so you can advocate for the animals for as long as possible.

It was a privilege and a joy to learn so much from two incredibly humble activists. I could never thank them enough for coming to Melbourne, it was an experience I will never forget.

Thanks for reading,

Meg x

References and Resources

Tobias’s presentations including some of the ones included in this workshop: http://veganstrategist.org/vegan-strategy/

For more on reducatarianism: https://reducetarian.org/

A website and book Melanie Joy recommended: http://traumastewardship.com/

Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows – Melanie Joy

Living among meat eaters – Carol J Adams

Melanie Joy’s website: https://www.carnism.org/

Tobias’s blog: http://veganstrategist.org/

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