By Angeline Judge, Resource Centre Chair, and Barbi Lazarus, Donor and Volunteer Resources Coordinator
There’s no shortage of debate about the best form of activism to end the horrific cruelty taking place on this planet. Compassionate advocates talk openly about atrocities on factory farms, organize marches, hand out literature, and raise awareness about easy and yummy vegetarian options. Different forms of activism reach different audiences and they all have their place.
TVA often hears from new vegetarians about the frustration and hopelessness they feel as they learn more and more about the treatment of animals killed for food. They feel helpless, depressed, or overwhelmed by negative stories, and are afraid they aren’t doing enough. They start to feel alienated from or angry with their relatives and friends who don’t get it. Some feel torn between making responsible plant-based food decisions for their children, and respecting the traditions of well-meaning family. Some find little support from their doctors. People ask us, how do you stay positive amongst all of this?
The good news is that even if you shy away from explicit animal activism like protests or vegetarian outreach, you are helping animals every single day just by living vegetarian or vegan amongst meat eaters. Every dollar you spend on vegetarian food and products sends a message to companies that there is profit in making them, and that animal based foods and products are declining in popularity. When people see how healthy and appealing you and your plant-based meals are, they are more likely to want to try what you do. Seeing how you do it makes it easier for others to believe that they can too.
It may not happen over-night, but over time, we all influence the people around us. They find out we are vegetarian, and they ask us why. They see us eating delicious vegetarian food, and they realize we aren’t deprived. We inspire them to try nutritious and delicious foods they may not have tried without our example. They serve a vegetarian pasta when you’re over instead of the steak and potatoes they would have eaten on their own. They ask why your hair and skin look so great, and rush out to buy the products you use. Sometimes, influence is gradual.
This is why it’s important to be patient with the omnivores in our lives when we go vegetarian. We have the power to influence people just by being ourselves and setting a good example. We have known several people who have dated omnivores who over time became vegetarian, without prompting. Their partners accompanied them to vegetarian restaurants, cooked vegetarian meals with them, and sometimes maybe even had deep discussions about the issue. We know a few couples where one partner never gave up milk and dairy, but their home meals are all, or mostly, vegan. Even this compromise saves lives.
A recent visitor to our Resource Centre said people keep calling his veganism a phase, and that bothers him. We assured him that will change. Angeline’s family thought she was a “disgrace” when she first went vegan, but now many of them admire her lifestyle, ask her for nutritional advice, and rush to her food at potlucks.
Animal rights demonstrations are definitely also effective. However, just as people who respond to protests will not be affected by humbler approaches, those who respond best to calm reason will shut down emotionally at graphic images and confrontation. Living a quiet vegetarian life is a subtler form of activism, but it is also valuable and effective.
People around you will catch on, in their own way.
For example, Barbi was recently on a family vacation and her aunt served a nearly entirely vegan dinner for the whole family. There were several vegan side dishes, and her aunt proudly brought Earth Balance to the table and declared that she had bought it to use in preparing mashed potatoes and even the apple crumble for dessert. She wanted to make sure her niece would enjoy a delicious and satisfying meal, and to send a message of support. As a result of that, the five other people who were there that night also ate the side dishes prepared with Earth Balance instead of cow’s butter. In fact, at every family gathering nowadays, at least one dessert is vegan (and Barbi’s not even the one bringing it!). If they have family gatherings on average once a month, that’s 12 vegan desserts that would otherwise have been made with a couple of eggs and a few cups of milk – all of those eggs and cups of milk add up over the year.
We encourage you to believe in yourself and the power and influence you have just by being a happy vegetarian walking around with your head held high. Let others see the joyous, healthy life you are living openly. Every day that you do this, you are helping animals.
Do you have a story of how you’ve influenced someone in your life to vegetarian or eat less meat? Email your story to email@example.com. We’d love to share it with others!