Effecting Meaningful Change

At the corner of Cambridge and Brighton lies a Boston vegan’s haven.  Nestled in Allston, and all on the same block, you will find Grasshopper, a vegan/vegetarian Asian fusion joint, Peace of Pie, vegan and gluten-free pizza, and Fomu: Alternative Ice Cream and Café. On Saturday, October 13th, friends, family and members of the Boston University Vegetarian Society gathered at Grasshopper, not only for lunch, but also to participate in a workshop presented by Farm Sanctuary’s own Nick Cooney, titled “Effective Animal Advocacy 101”. For the most part, anyone reading this blog, or attending BU Veg events are already committed to changing the plight of farmed animals through personal eating choices. But what Nick sought to remind us this past weekend was that in addition to practicing the theories of vegetarianism and veganism in our own lives, as vegetarians and vegans we also have an obligation as activists to help others effect meaningful change for animals and to help shape compassionate communities. It is simply not enough to practice veganism; we must reach beyond ourselves in order to maximize our impact.

So what does effective animal advocacy look like? Nick honed in on some key points starting with the fact that effective change can start in understanding resistance. From day one we are indoctrinated to believe an array of myths about meat and animal products and thus it is understandable that some may be reluctant to change. Remember that when engaging with our friends, family and peers, we do not just aim to change eating habits, but an entire way of life, to alter a worldview. To be frank, our task is not easy, and tensions may rise as you attempt to engage in purposeful dialogue, but we must accept any step, however small, as a step in the right direction. A person who decides to reduce their red-meat intake still effects change in terms of reducing animal suffering.

Nick also touched on the importance of story telling. It is common practice when leafleting or protesting to throw out the numbers. The facts of the livestock industry’s impact on our planet are startling. They are terrifying. But often times, the numbers are not what prompt change in someone’s everyday life. They exclaim ‘Oh that’s terrible!”, and they move on. While statistics highlight the breadth of the enormous task of reducing animal suffering that lies before us, unfortunately, people are not necessarily always interested in the numbers. Most people, however, always care about other people. Given that animals are people too, with personalities, thoughts, and feelings, a more effective way of evoking change can come by telling the story of just one animal, by making it personal.

And lastly, Nick noted that attaching a social context to going veg can sometimes be helpful in swaying the opinions of who you are trying to persuade. By no means is “everyone’s doing it” a good reason to become a vegetarian and in turn, an animal activist, however it can be a starting point. As more and more people become aware of the impact of meat and animal product consumption on our planet, and on our hearts and minds, the notion that vegetarians and vegans are healthy, conscientious and informed citizens shifts to the forefront of the social stage and going veg becomes accessible. By bringing to attention the fact that “everyone” is going veg, we aim not  to convert vegetarianism and veganism into fads, but instead to demonstrate that the lifestyle is conceivable and worthwhile.

Encouraging us to share vegetarian and vegan foods with non-veg friends, to leaflet and engage in meaningful dialogue, this past weekend Mr. Cooney provided important insights to what it means to be veg: the needed change isn’t just personal. Instead, our influence on others is our real impact on this world.

Nick Cooney is the Compassionate Communities Campaign manager for Farm Sanctuary. Nick is also the author of Change Of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change.

This was written on October 15th and can also be found here  on the Boston University Vegetarian Society blog. I’m reposting to better acquaint myself with WordPress, heh.