Jordi Casamitjana, a vegan activist, lists 50 tips to help vegans make other people vegan — one of the goals of vegan outreach
Walnuts are my favourite nut.
I eat them every day, in my breakfast porridge. I buy them in big quantities, I put them in jars, and I keep eating them. It’s an easy way to get healthy fats. But it’s easy because I already buy them without shells — and halved. If I had to get them from a tree, that would be far trickier — I don’t know of any walnut tree close to where I live now in London, but I grew up in the Mediterranean and I remember the sweet smell of their flowers.
There is an evolutionary reason nuts have hard shells difficult to open. To protect the seed inside while the environment is too dangerous for it, and to guarantee that only the best seed dispersers of the land take them and place them in the right spots. This is what I feel vegan outreach is all about.
Confused? Hear me out, then.
When vegans decide to become activists, one of the many ways they can manifest such activism is by doing vegan outreach. Outreaching in this context means participating in organised actions taken place in the street or in particular venues aimed to encourage passers-by or attendants to do a particular action. In the case of vegan outreach, that action is to take veganism seriously (in the hope we can help them to become vegan sooner than later). In other words, vegan outreach is a common method for vegan activists to veganise other people. I have recently written an article about the verb “veganising”, and my proposed definition: “changing an object, a product, a service, a situation, an institution, a person, or a community by eliminating, at once or gradually, and as far as practicable and possible, its direct links with any form of exploitation of animals, in line with the philosophy of veganism.”
Vegan outreachers can become very skilful in veganising people, and this is not all down to talent. Their knowledge can be passed to others, as this is how they got theirs. And the longer they try, the better will become at it. This article is my way to pass to others what I have learnt over the years about veganising people, so more vegans can get better at it.
Veganising People in a Nutshell
As many vegan outreachers would tell you, veganising others is easier said than done. Most people they will speak to, even the more polite ones, would leave a conversation without taking veganism seriously enough to become vegan any time soon. Most people are — and here it comes — difficult nuts to crack.
A nut is a whole tree enclosed inside a small hard case. The entire potential of a whole tree is inside, in the seed, dormant. It’s waiting for the right environmental conditions to come along, and when they do, it will germinate into a tall and strong tree capable to stand storms and other harsh weather. In the same way, I think everyone who is not vegan is nevertheless a vegan in the making. Everyone has the potential to become vegan because veganism is a philosophy everyone can choose to adhere to, even if they manifest it differently according to their circumstances. But before they become vegan, they are “nuts” keeping their vegan potential hidden inside, waiting for the right conditions. They are pre-vegans who, when they get what they need, will hopefully grow to become full vegans.
But for now, like all nuts, they have a hard shell outside aimed to protect their precious inside, so when vegan outreachers talk to strangers (or even acquaintances or friends), oftentimes they encounter that hard shell. That protection, that defensiveness, that barrier. However, it’s not the job of vegan outreachers to crack (and possibly damage in the process) the nut. Their job is to provide to the nut what it needs so it germinates on its own. And what is it that a nut needs to germinate? It needs several things to happen at the same time. It needs warm temperatures, enough water, fertile soil, and to settle on stable ground.
When vegan outreachers meet pre-vegans (“closed nuts”), their job is to find out what their need to germinate. Perhaps that nut has had nothing so far, and still needs water, soil, light, etc., and the outreacher cannot provide all that there and then — it may not be the right time for them. But some nuts, for what they have learnt elsewhere, and for being now in a stable enough phase of their life so can begin to consider growing into the tree they are capable to grow, they just need the last missing ingredient. The role of the vegan outreacher is to find out what it is, and, if possible, provide that missing piece of the jigsaw. It could be light (critical enlightening new information about animal exploitation). It could be grounding soil (evidence and proofs of the foundations of the vegan philosophy). It could be cleansing water (dispelling unfounded fears). It could be nutrients (compassion, respect, ahimsa). And for some nuts with a very hard shell, it could even be an initial crack (a shocking revelation or a compelling image).
Not all nuts are the same because they come from different trees that have evolved in different habitats. Acorns would grow into oaks and the conditions they need to germinate are different than those that a hazelnut may need to become a hazel tree, for example. Some need more water, some need higher temperatures, etc. And some nuts are quite fragile and would get smashed easily. The same with pre-vegans. Different cultures, nationalities, ethnology, genders, or even education may create different types of pre-vegans who may need different amounts of nourishing “ingredients” to germinate their veganism. Some may respond better to animals, others to the environment, others to health, others to social justice, and others to spirituality — and a good outreacher should be able to provide any of this if that is what it takes.
It’s not easy for a nut to get all that it needs at once, so more often than not they have been getting it over time (their vegan journey). They may have gotten some when they watched a documentary. Or through a particularly poignant experience with an animal. Or when they suffered oppression and exploitation themselves. Or with all previous conversations they had with other vegans. Little by little, like a fruit that gets ripe with any new ray of summer sunshine, or a bee who gets ready to make honey after collecting drop after drop of sweet flowery nectar, pre-vegans get to the point they can make the jump into veganism with their natural volition.
And as happens with nuts all cramped together in a sack transported from one place to another, some pre-vegans just happen to be in the wrong place in their lives to germinate. And we should not forget that, sometimes, nuts don’t grow, no matter what, because the embryo inside did not survive either a too harsh environment (as a pre-vegan who received a particularly nasty long dose of carnist indoctrination), o its genetics were messed up (some people may no longer be able to hold a philosophy or act freely on it).
So, a good vegan making vegan, a good vegan outreacher who knows how to tell apart those pre-vegans who are ready, would be like a skilful “nut farmer”. Someone with knowledge, care, and expertise who successfully veganises others, and gets better at it with time. And like in any “farming”, you can learn from tips from other farmers, who in turn learnt from trial and error and from listening to those who know the craft.
Although I have been an ethical vegan for over 20 years, I would not say I am a very experienced vegan outreacher in the classical sense of the term. But I am not a novice either and I am experienced enough. I have tried many ways to veganise people, and I am happy to report that several of them have been successful. So, I may be able to conjure some tips that perhaps may help others who like to veganise more people or do it better. 50, to be precise.
Classical Vegan Outreach
The classical vegan outreach tends to happen in the streets when a handful of activists get together at strategic locations and talk to strangers who stop to either read a sign, take a leaflet, or watch a video. Here are ten tips that may help in this scenario:
- Chat only to those who want to talk to you. People who approached you asking questions or have stopped to read your signs or watch your videos. This is the first sign that these people may be pre-vegans with an open enough mind to be able to progress from your conversation. Vegan outreach is a service to pre-vegans. Let them come to you asking you to provide it for them (even if they don’t realise it yet and their subconscious led them to the conversation).
- Be always polite and friendly, even with those who may not be that way to you. Veganism is about non-violence, about not harming others, and this should show up even in your attitude and demeanour. Your best argument is who you are, not what you say. Everyone can read about veganism, or watch a documentary, but meeting a vegan face to face should be a much more enriching experience. They should feel your kindness, not your righteousness.
- Make each conversation unique, tailored to each individual. The more you repeat yourself, the less authentic you will sound. If you follow a “script” as opposed to listening and moving where the conversation will take you, this will show up in your facial expressions and body language, and you may come across as “selling something” as opposed to genuinely trying to help.
- Don’t give medical advice without being qualified to do so, as that would be unethical, and veganism is all about ethics. And this includes psychiatric advice. Veganism is not quackery. Promising to cure everything with a simple medicine or diet is what quacks do.
- Ask questions rather than make sweeping and grandiose statements. Use the “Socratic method” in which continual probing questions will not only make your interlocutors share their thoughts and feel more relaxed, but you will learn about them so you can tailor your arguments to the kind of pre-vegan they are, and your advice to the things they need to make their final step to veganism.
- “What stops you from being vegan?” should be the most important question of all, and you should build the best part of the conversation from there. This question puts you in a “helping” position at the same level as the other person, rather than in a “superior” position telling others what to do, or a “judgemental” position shaming others for not being vegan. You are there to help, not to lecture. You are there to assist in overcoming the obstacles that this question should identify. Sharing what stopped you for many years and how you overcame those obstacles, can be very useful.
- Don’t be judgemental and acknowledge that everyone is different and their internal and external circumstances will determine the path, tempo, and duration of the process of veganisation. The important thing is to get to the final destination, no matter how long it takes. You will drive people away if they feel judged or shamed.
- Realise that is not about winning arguments, as often this does the opposite to veganise someone, pushing the “loser” away to a “defensive” narrow-minded position, which will later be reinforced with carnist contra-arguments when you are not there to debunk them. It’s not about arguing, but about helping. If the other person tries to lead you into an argument, try not to fall for it. Don’t be afraid to say things like “you may be right, but…” or “you got a point there, but…”, to make the interchange more like a conversation than an argument.
- Be truthful, and never make exaggerated health claims or use conspiracy theories to promote veganism. Say what you know and don’t make things up. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.’ The more things you show you don’t know or are not sure about, the more natural the conversation will be, and the more receptive the other person will become.
- Recognise that some people may not be ready to try veganism yet, so don’t waste time with those who only want to argue or are only interested in challenging you with stereotypic anti-vegan carnist arguments. All the time you are wasting with them could have been used helping a pre-vegan who really needed your help.
You can veganise other people without being a vegan activist or participate in classical vegan outreach. There are other more subtle ways that, in my experience, have been very effective in doing so — especially regarding friends rather than strangers. Here are ten tips for these other more subtle ways to veganise people.
- Show humility and empathy through life, rather than pride and righteousness. Seek the points of identification with others to show you are not better than them. In some respects, they are as you were in the past, no better or worse. You are not a hero for becoming vegan, as you were not a villain before becoming vegan. We all were the victims of carnist indoctrination, and we should help each other to survive the treacherous waters now that we jumped the carnist ship and we are trying to reach the vegan land.
- Show how easy following the veganism philosophy can be (while respecting the fact that people in different circumstances can struggle more than you) and be understanding of the difficulties people of some marginalised groups may experience. Being often content — and grateful — with the vegan options you may find, as opposed to always being unsatisfied and demanding more, can go a long way to show how easy translating the vegan philosophy into a lifestyle can be.
- Show how “mainstream” veganism can be, in the sense that it’s no longer the radical or fringe movement that some people fear it is — being vegan does not make you an extremist. Doing mainstream things in a mainstream world, living a “normal” life as much as possible, and still adhering to the philosophy 100 %, without hiding it or making a big deal about it, may attract the interest of people and may debunk many myths without you having to find arguments to debunk them.
- Help others to acquire a taste for vegan products by letting wannabe vegans try them. Be generous and share your vegan food with vegan-curious people, but don’t be discouraged if they tell you they don’t like it, because perhaps they do but they are not prepared to accept it yet. You will find that their reaction may be quite different if they did not know the food was vegan.
- Reassure people about their health concerns regarding veganism by showing how healthy vegans can be when eating healthy vegan food (not just “junk” vegan food). Without becoming a “health freak” and aiming to be ultra-fit, just showing how healthy you are, or how well you cope with any health challenge you face, may dispel many myths about veganism. But remember that being healthy does not make you better, it makes you luckier. Don’t fall into ableism.
- Introduce pre-vegans to a variety of healthy food made of fresh and little processed plants and fungi, from different cultures and countries. The vegan diet is everything bud boring, as there are more plant-based, fungus-based, and algae-based ingredients than animal products meat-eaters and vegetarians eat. You don’t’ have to imitate carnist food. There is much more out there than carnist-looking vegan food (such as burgers and sausages). If you get excited by colourfully wholemeal varied vegan food, that excitement may become contagious.
- Be generous and show great hospitality to pre-vegans as they may be a bit nervous about exploring the vegan world, and the more comfortable they feel around vegans, the sooner they will take the final step. Invite vegan-curious people to have a vegan meal in a nice friendly non-pushy environment.
- Say “no, thank you” with a polite smile when offered something with an animal product, as it may be all that it takes to veganise someone. You don’t have to add “I am vegan”, just politely reject the product. Let others ask you why and reply with minimum information at first. Let their curiosity ask you for more, and gradually engage in answering their questions without making deep statements. Using this method allows others to have control of the conversation and become more open to what you have to say.
- Your behaviour manifesting your veganism may be more effective in veganising others than your words, as we humans are still animals who communicate mainly by facial expressions, body posture and behaviour. Besides, when we talk to others, their barriers and defensiveness rise up, but they are more relaxed when they just observe us, so they may become more receptive to vegan ideas. If they see you successfully negotiating the obstacles vegans have to navigate in everyday life without making a fuss of it and appearing content and satisfied, that is a very powerful lesson to learn.
- Be as good and kind as a person you can be and show how veganism is helping you to grow morally. Veganism is a philosophy of non-violence in which compassion and kindness flourish. It’s a highly ethical philosophy that should show up in the way you relate to other sentient beings, including humans — and also including carnist humans. Ethically inclined people should feel it, and that could be what push them to move into veganism
There is a middle way between doing classical vegan outreach in the streets and veganising people more subtly and passively. You can simply be a proactive vegan who only attempts to veganise people when the opportunity arises, and who is very well prepared for when that happens. Here are ten tips for this type of pro-active veganisation that is likely to happen more often with acquaintances or work colleagues, rather than friends, family or strangers.
- On request, provide compelling facts regarding animals, the animal exploitation industries and vegan alternatives. You can memorise the easiest ones, but it’s also good to have some written down somewhere accessible to you, as you never know when you may need them. Be sure, though, that they are all accurate and that you can provide a reliable source to back them up (and be careful if they come from vegan echo chambers, because they may have changed from the original).
- Debunk myths that veganphobes, vegan-deniers or animal agriculture propagandists are propagating to discourage people to become vegan. They created those in their carnist echo chambers, so as they multiplied all over you can easily find them. Plants have feelings, canine teeth in humans, protein deficiency, and that sort of thing. There are different ways to debunk them, so pick up your favourite, and learn it for when you may need it.
- Promote vegan products so people are aware of them. This will allow pre-vegans to find them if they want to try them when nobody is looking. It could also remove any excuse carnist may give you when claiming ignorance for not offering you vegan-friendly alternatives. Be selective with what you promote, though. Ensure the products are really vegan (and having a vegan certification helps), and that the company is ethical. Do some research, and even asks questions directly to the manufacturers, before going on full-on promoting their products.
- Provide references and resources about veganism (such as books, documentaries, videos, websites, scientific papers, etc.) to support your arguments, You may not have the credibility you think you have, so better use the publishers, scientists, and authors who definitively have it, and use them to send the vegan message for you. Avoid facts you learnt on social media without knowing the source, as they may be misinformation. Stick to reliable sources.
- Teach about the history of veganism, with its multicultural roots that go back millennia. To do that, you need to learn it yourself first, and there are credible sources out there that you could find helpful (for instance, by book “Ethical Vegan” — it has a whole chapter about the history of veganism many vegans know little about). Anything that has historical foundations that go a long way back and are not limited to a single culture tends to be taken more seriously.
- Teach about the main four principles of veganism: a) ahimsa (“do no harm” applied to all sentient beings); b) all animals are sentient (capable of experience); c) anti-speciesism (don’t discriminate on the bases of species or any other “difference”), and d) all exploitation of sentient beings cause them harm (not only killing them but also keeping them captive or making them work against their will). Not just talk about them, but “teach” them so people understand them and learn how to apply them to everyday life. To become vegan, first, you should learn the philosophy, and then the behaviour. Behaving like a vegan but not following the philosophy is just acting.
- Become familiar with the “grey areas” of veganism where different vegans manifest the philosophy quite differently than others, and where there is no consensus about the “vegan way” to deal with something. By all means, choose a position on them if you want to, but be tolerant and accept that the position other vegans have taken may be as valid as yours. This only applies to grey areas that, by definition, don’t involve breaches of the core beliefs and principles of veganism. I am talking about issues such as vaccination, service animals, transport, buying vegan products from non-vegan companies, palm oil, cat food, non-organic vegetables, financial products, fake meat, etc.
- Reward people’s curiosity about veganism with answers. Without being condescending, answer all the questions people ask you (even those that may seem obvious) but be honest if you don’t know the answer. Some questions may sound stupid to you, but perhaps are genuine and for some reason, that person does not know the answer. Also, the more you answer a question, the more you will understand your answer (sometimes you only learn something when you try to explain it).
- Learn the definitions. Let pre-vegans know about the definition of veganism of the Vegan Society (with its “as far as practicable and possible” phrase), and talk frankly about the different types of vegan identities and labels there are. You may consider yourself one particular type of vegan (such as an eco-vegan, an ethical vegan, or a Straight Edge vegan), or disagree with how other people define veganism or categorise vegans, but be honest about the variability within veganism as perhaps others are closer to another type of vegan, and knowing they exist may encourage them to try veganism sooner than later. It’s useful to see the different types of vegans as gateways to enter veganism, not as separate competing philosophies.
- Provide practical information about where and how to get vegan products (including making your own) or services, as logistical difficulties tend to be the biggest obstacles to veganism (or at least are often perceived as such). Giving practical advice will go a long way to help those pre-vegans who are a bit scared and think it would be too difficult for them. If you keep yourself updated about where to get anything a vegan may need, you will become more useful to other vegans.
Veganism is not only a philosophy, but it has become a transformative social movement. Together, we can create a vegan world where animal exploitation no longer exists and ahimsa is everywhere. But we could only get to that world if all of us work for it together. Not just a minority of vegans, not just an “elitist” group of privileged people, not just the Global North, but all of us. So, being as inclusive as possible is the way to go. Here are ten tips to veganise inclusively.
- Show the existence of a diverse supportive community of vegans with shared values that can help out during transitions or in places where being vegan is harder. There are plenty of vegans out there that can help, not just you, so it is good to make sure pre-vegans know where to find them.
- Make anyone who wants to be vegan feel included in any community of vegans you belong to. Ensure that in your vegan communities there is no discrimination for race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity, etc., and if you find any, challenge it appropriately. Part of the vegan philosophy is to avoid discriminating against any sentient being from any group, including humans (which is what being anti-speciesist is all about).
- Help to overcome the other person’s obstacles to veganism by finding non-judgemental practical solutions that may work for them in their environment and culture. Don’t assume that you know what will work if their culture is different from yours, so ask first and try to understand what the differences are. Don’t’ make assumptions based on stereotypes, but be constructive and optimistic, because if there is a will, there will be a way.
- Be respectful of other people’s cultures and ethnicities and try to learn about them to facilitate identifying the interpretation of veganism that best fits their culture. One thing is the philosophy of veganism, and another is how to manifest it, which can vary from person to person or culture to culture without abandoning any of its core values. Sometimes is just a matter of semantics and finding the right word or expression (avoid those terms and arguments that can become triggers). Sometimes is just a matter of changing the narrative. Veganism is, by its very nature, transcultural, but most people are not, so bear that in mind.
- Give encouraging positive feedback for any progress pre-vegans are making in getting veganised, and don’t be discouraging about any setbacks, which will be more common in some circumstances and places where veganism is new or not always understood. And remember that circumstances are not only external but also internal, so you don’t know how much effort a person is putting to overcome psychological obstacles.
- Show how compatible veganism is with other beliefs people may hold (such as religious beliefs) by learning about them from vegans who hold them. Ask questions about such beliefs and try to find the ahimsa equivalent from which you can help the pre-vegan to get to the right interpretation that not only can remove any obstacles but may even reinforce the need to try veganism. Concepts such as Karma or abstinence can help to make the right connections.
- Accept the five gateways (animals, environment, social justice, spirituality and health) as valid entry points into veganism, as long as they are seen just as gateways. These five dimensions are worth exploring, so it doesn’t really matter which one people chose as their first — or their favourite — because, after a while, they will probably feel at home in all of them. In the beginning, though, people may feel more comfortable with one of them, so don’t fight that and use it instead.
- Show all the intersections between veganism and other good causes (such as feminism, egalitarianism, environmentalism, pacifism, etc.) because they do exist and they are very useful to veganise people already invested in them. Ahimsa, the “do no harm” side of veganism, doesn’t have any limit of application, so it can refer to yourself, other people like you, other humans, other sentient beings, and the environment. That will help you to find general intersections. But some may be more specific, such as the racial injustices of dairy or the sexual exploitation of animals in the agriculture industry.
- Don’t’ dismiss vegetarians. Becoming vegetarian in certain cultural environments is a big deal and you should not ignore the effort of those who made that “radical” step there. If you do not appreciate that, you may delay their progress towards veganism. This does not mean that you should apply this in all situations. Some vegetarians are pre-vegans genuinely moving towards veganism in environments where this process tends to take longer, but others may be anti-vegans and don’t want to progress further, even if it would be easy for them to do so. Don’t’ assume that both are the same.
- The true meaning of Outreach is going beyond reach, beyond your normal scope of influence of family and friends. But it also could mean reaching over to other communities in need, moving out from your comfort zone and learning what other communities lack. You can help them to create vegan-friendly environments that not only will veganise more people but will help you learn new approaches and points of view that reinforce your philosophy.
In the end, how, when and where you veganise someone may be a very personal thing to you, done in your idiosyncratic way very uniquely. It may boil down to your personality and charisma, rather than to any fact, argument, or technique. You can even discover completely new ways to do it. Here are ten tips that may help to channel your unique inner-vegan outreacher.
- Be the vegan you are, not try to imitate another vegan. Be authentic, be real, and show honesty in the way you approach veganism. There may be something very unique about how you manifest your veganism, so use it to inspire others. Pre-vegans may be reassured in learning that they don’t need to lose their individuality if they choose the vegan philosophy as moral guidance for their behaviour.
- Veganising people includes yourself. From the day you became vegan you never stop veganising yourself, learning how to be a better vegan every day. Instead of outreach, you can call this inner-reach, and if you neglect that one, your effectiveness as an outreacher will decrease.
- Look after your health, both physical and mental, as it is essential if you want to veganise others effectively, not only as a matter of “image”, but because otherwise your attention would not be focused on what the other person needs and your ability to express ideas with clarity could be compromised.
- Have a break from activism, as it may help you to avoid burnout and give you time to dig deeper into the philosophy of veganism and find new ways to embrace it. The more in tune you are with the philosophy the better your vegan message will sound — like any instrument, after being played for a while, it needs to stop playing and be tuned.
- Don’t rush it. It’s better that you let some time pass between becoming vegan and beginning to attempt to veganise someone else, as you need to “learn” the logistics of veganism in your circumstances, and need to successfully navigate a few conflicts before you can help others to deal with theirs.
- It’s not a competition. Saying to others how many years you have been vegan may help them to trust your expertise on the subject, but you should not see this as alcoholics see years of sobriety, as being vegan is not about resisting an addiction that may return at any time (so the more you resist, the better you are doing), but instead is getting rid of the addiction altogether so there is no merit in adding any day once you are finally free from it.
- See labels as what they are, unimportant additions aimed to aid communication and avoid confusion, rather than an accurate description of what they are labelling or an aspiration to become what the label says. Some people don’t like the labels “vegan”, “plant-based”, “ethical vegan”, “dietary vegan”, “raw vegan”, etc. and that is OK. Use the labels when they are useful, but do not become obsessed with either promoting them or rejecting them, as they are just labels.
- Remember that carnist indoctrination is very powerful, especially if it is inculcated at a young age, so many vegans, including yourself, still have relics of it and it may take years to get rid of them, so don’t judge other vegans for their remaining carnist tendencies as most likely you also have some.
- Learn to place your identity as a vegan within the array of other identities that you also identify with (gender, sexuality, nationality, race, profession, relationships, etc.), without feeling any pressure to prioritise one over the other. They should not be mutually exclusive, and you can carry them all at the same time if you so wish. But remember that other people may choose to prioritise them differently than you, and that is fine.
- Rejoice in the amazing news of someone you care about telling you they have become vegan, but don’t get too disappointed that others seem to take too long, because the longer they take, the happier you will feel when they finally do it.
As you can see, all these tips are based on seeing the process of veganising someone as a service you provide to that person. Most activism comes from within, from a capacity to act motivated by an internal drive to “do something” about the problems we care about. Outreach, on the other hand, is a response to someone who needs your help. It should not be going out to make a vegan out of a resolute carnist, because this is not what vegans normally do (even if they often think they do it). It should be going out to help pre-vegans to overcome the obstacles that have prevented becoming vegan until now. You are serving them, so they need to want your help. Only willing pre-vegans can be veganised because they are the ones that do the work, you only help them to do it quicker and smoother.
Veganising people is both an art and a science. There is a technique in it so you can get better by learning and practising, but a huge part of it is intuition, talent, instinct, inspiration, and even luck.
But when it happens, it feels like “magic”.
Something worth experiencing.