In my Environmental Ethics class we were discussing strategies of how to talk about climate change in a way that brings about community action and engagement. I watched Per Espen Stoknes' TedTalk on How to Transform Apocalypse Fatigue into Action on Global Warning and thought it offered wonderful strategies that can also help in many other social justice movements like animal and human rights issues.
As an animal rights activist, I am often speaking to many different people and trying to find ways to connect. What I love about Per Espen Stoknes' speech is that it makes us look at the human condition. Why are we passionate about some things and not about others? How do go from disengagement to engagement?
Below you will find a post that I did that breaks Stoknes' steps in bite-sized pieces. Be sure to click on the photo to see them all!
Every vegan will tell you that their only regret is that they didn’t go vegan sooner.
A year ago today I became vegan. It started as a regular Sunday morning. I was excited to be going to my first New England Vegfest. I was already a vegetarian but had been toying with the idea of veganism. I knew that the dairy and egg industry were just as cruel as the meat industry but I needed a push. I needed to expose myself to the truth.
I wanted to go to the Vegfest to see if I could fit in as a vegan. I didn’t know any vegans in real life and only had heard of the stereotypical “angry vegans”. I didn’t want to be an angry vegan. I was worried that these people would not be my tribe. I was a 32-year-old mom originally from Pennsylvania and I was on the plan. I got married, bought a house, had a kid, played happy families and at the dinner table we smiled and laughed as we ate our "humane" chicken dinner. I really questioned whether I was ready for this lifestyle change. Could I be a vegan and still conform into societal roles? I knew deep down that after I walked out of my front door that day that I would be coming home a vegan. I remember making myself my “last meal”, a caprese salad with cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil. I remember that I wasn’t even hungry and it wasn’t even that good but I ate it anyway because 1.) I was worried that I would find nothing to eat at the VegFest (ha!) and 2.) I wouldn’t ever have cheese again.
At first I was completely overwhelmed at the VegFest. There were SO many people there but I was pleasantly surprised to see that everyone was so diverse. They couldn't all be angry vegans, could they? Food trucks were serving things like Seitan and Jackfruit. What the hell was seitan anyway? I decided to dive in head first. I remember trying a Boca “chicken” burger…oh my gosh. It tasted just like chicken. I then tried the Earth Balance Cheddar “Cheeze-it’s”…oh my gosh. It tastes just like cheese. As the day continued I tried more and more food and realized that just maybe, everything was going to be okay.
The VegFest put on guest presentations and I decided to go to the “How to go Vegan” talk. I thought, okay, this will give me more information about how all of this works. Well little did I know, the infamous James Aspey was the guest speaker and that I had hit the vegan jackpot. The room was packed. People were sitting on the floor, against the wall and standing outside of the ballroom just to hear him speak. He walked into the room like a celebrity. People started cheering and clapping. My first thought was wow, vegans are really passionate about other vegans. Maybe there is something to this. James Aspey gave the best damn speech that I have ever heard. Here is a link to the speech he gave at the New England VegFest. Please watch it. By the time James was done speaking he had converted me. I could no longer live a life that did not align with my values. I walked out of that room feeling sky high. I went home and knew there was one more thing that I needed to do if I wanted this to stick. I watched Earthings. That was the longest 1 hour 35 minutes 47 seconds of my life. I watched with my hands covering my tear soaked face. Every 10 minutes I had to pause to collect myself but I made myself continue until the very end. I’d be damned if I didn’t finish this documentary. If the animals had to endure this abuse and exploitation, then I could watch it and bear witness to their suffering. That’s when I made the connection. All of the doubt of whether I could do this immediately vanished. It wasn’t an option to not do it. I declared that not in my name will this happen. I was willing to endure anything that people threw at me. My part is easy. There are so many options and alternatives. It’s the animals who suffer.
The first month was filled with learning and educating myself. I researched what vegan options I could eat at restaurants, found new recipes to try, learned more about what clothes and products are vegan and why I shouldn’t go to the zoo anymore. What I loved most about transitioning was that I got to try so many new different types of fruits, vegetables and vegan alternatives that I’d never heard of before. My life was filled with more food than it ever had been. I was eating more of a variety of food then when I was eating meat, dairy and eggs. I started feeling better, I lost weight and had more energy. I had a complete mind-shift. What right do we have to exploit animals? We are also animals, just a different species. How would we like it if what was done to the other animals was done to us, day after day, until the tragic end? I realized that they are here with us, not for us. We can co-habitat on this beautiful world. How did I not see it before?
As the days went on I definitely drank the vegan Kool-Aid. I got the t-shirts, the buttons, the books, etc. (By the way, vegan t-shirts are a great way to spread the message if you are a new vegan and/or introverted.) I watched more and more videos, subscribed to podcasts, visited r/vegan and felt like I had a community I could go to for support. I found this aspect to be extremely important. You need people. The best days are when you meet vegans in real life! It is awesome.
I also decided to become certified in plant-based nutrition through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. I now give presentations to communities about the benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet in hopes that it improves the health of families everywhere. My now four-year-old son is thriving on a plant-based diet and has overcome many health challenges due to the nutrition he is getting from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts and seeds.
Becoming vegan has been a catalyst for a lot of internal growth. I’ve always shied away from confrontation. I hated voicing my honest opinion when I knew that others may disagree. My words don’t always come out properly when I’m nervous and I tend to shake in fear. The more time that went on however, the more I knew that I couldn’t be passive any longer. I needed to speak up for the animals, even if I trembled as I spoke. Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone and I wanted to be an activist. As a birthday gift to myself I joined the Boston’s Anonymous for the Voiceless Cube of Truth and I LOVED it. I’ve since done more cubes and demonstrated against Canada Goose and look forward to being involved in more activism this year.
I will be a spokeswoman for the animals. I will speak for them since they cannot speak for themselves, no matter the opposition that I face. I may shake and tremble but I will not be silent. Veganism is about fighting injustice. I want to inspire change! I look forward to making a difference and standing up for those that are oppressed. My heart has opened like a flower on a warm summer morning. My compassion extends to all beings, including my fellow human, the animals and the earth. I'm so lucky to have a husband and son who followed suit. We are a happy and healthy vegan family. I look forward to what year 2 brings and yes…. I found my tribe and they are awesome.
...Who was I kidding?
I know veganism gets a bad rap. I get it. Vegans are passionate and sometimes that passion comes across as holier than thou. I promise you that we do not feel this way. You have to remember, the majority of us were meat eaters and not always vegan. We are only here to help the animals and to wake the world up. In my experience, when you go from being a non-vegan to a vegan you immediately connect that a beautiful sentient being had to die just because you like the taste of a burger. That's not a good enough reason for me. Cognitive dissonance is very strong and is built up over the years in order to avoid the reality of what happens when you buy that steak (cow) or sausage (pig), etc. Vegans are breaking that facade and showing us the reality. I believe that if you look at the issue at hand and why we are advocating so strong for the animals and if you can get past the human conflict then you may feel the same as vegans. When a child is in a room with a pig and an apple they will naturally eat the apple and pet the pig. We need to get back to this point.
"The question is not, can they reason nor, can they talk but can they suffer?
We may not speak their language but we hear their cries. We must not sit back and do nothing. We must act on their behalf.
I am now at a point in my vegan journey where I feel compelled to be peaceful activist. The jump from passive vegan to vocal advocate did make me feel a little nervous at first. I'm an introvert, people-pleaser, hate conflict and not always confident in conversation. How in the world would I be able to advocate on the animals behalf when I wasn't fit to be an activist? I learned that this was not the case. There are different types of activism for all types of people. I decided to start with participating in a "Cube of Truth." This was a perfect first step for me since I would simply need to hold a computer and stand in a cube with other people and I wouldn't have to speak.
The Cube of Truth was developed by Anonymous for the Voiceless. Anonymous for the Voiceless is an animal rights organization that specializes in nonviolent street activism. The Cube of Truth's goal is to show the public what happens in the meat, dairy and egg industry and provide thought provoking conversation. I believe that people cannot see what they do not know.
My first experience as a vegan activist was incredibly powerful. I left filled with so much energy that I felt like I was going to burst. I felt like I could do anything. It was amazing to be surrounded with people that had the same passion and determination to help the animals.
I implore you to learn more about the meat, dairy and egg industry. Watch Earthlings or one of these other documentaries to get an idea of what actually happens before the food reaches your plate. I know you may not want to watch because it is too hard but just imagine how difficult it must be for the animals. Try Challenge 22 and get access to free resources and recipes to help you on your vegan journey.
May you go out and fight for what you believe in!
Photos by Laura Ray, AV of Boston Organizer