The vegan activist Jordi Casamitjana gives some tips about how to help plant-based people to take the next step and become vegans.
We need the vegan world.
Half of a vegan world will not do. A quarter even less. We need a complete vegan world, as soon as possible. Too many living beings, sentient or not, desperately need it. We cannot afford a world where only companion animals are respected. We cannot afford a world where only mammals are treated with dignity. We cannot afford a world where people only avoid exploiting animals for food, but not anything else.
Humanity is responsible for very serious global problems we need to resolve: animal exploitation harming so many sentient beings, the environmental destruction happening in habitats all over the globe, the pandemics of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and zoonotic infections, and the climate crisis that threatens everyone.
Because of the urgency and magnitude of these problems, the philosophy of veganism has given birth to a transformative socio-political movement that aims to apply the final solution: the vegan world, where animal agriculture has been replaced by regenerative veganic agriculture and fermentation plants, where all forms of speciesism (including racism) have been eradicated, where eco-vegan rewilding has stopped global heating, where ahimsa politics have replaced conventional politics, and where all forms of animal exploitation have been abolished.
Part of this movement is “vegan outreach”, the process of spreading the vegan philosophy and helping non-vegans to become vegan sooner than later. Being a philosophy, you cannot force veganism on anyone — as you cannot force feminism or pacifism — but you can help those pre-vegans to take the final step if, for lack of information or determination, they have not taken it yet. Some of these pre-vegans may need a lot of time and help to get there because they have been heavily indoctrinated into carnism and they live in an unsupportive environment very hostile to veganism. Others may be quite close to it, and they just need a final gentle notch.
Among the latter, we could find those often labelled as “Plant-Based People”. They should be the “low-hanging fruit” of vegan outreach because they have already travelled far in their vegan journey, but, for some reason, they seem to have stopped just before arriving at their destination. And, unfortunately, some vegans do not help them — and may even be hostile to them — which would delay even more their veganisation process.
There are many ways to veganise people — and I have written an article titled 50 Tips to Veganise Another Person describing some of them — but there may be some particularly tailored to plant-based people. In this article, I would suggest a few.
Who Are the Plant-Based People?
First of all, I need to explain who are the plant-based people I am talking about, as not everyone may use this term — I actually do not like it, but many people use it anyway. I think there are two types. One is what I would call “proper” plant-based people because they define themselves as such. The other types are what I would call the “labelled” plant-based people because they do not use this term to describe themselves, but other people have given them this label. The former are people who follow a plant-based diet (without any animal product in it) but who do not consider themselves vegan because they do not apply the philosophy of veganism to any other aspect of their lives. The latter are people who often say they are vegan even if they only apply veganism to their diet, but vegans say they are misappropriating the term and should be called plant-based people instead because they deliberately do not follow the official definition of veganism. This philosophy has been already defined by the Vegan Society for decades, as “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
Although it is not perfect, I like the official definition of veganism, and I agree that people who do not follow it to the full (and this does not mean people who have not managed to avoid all animal exploitation yet, but people who only seek to avoid it in some aspects of their life when they could easily try to do it for all), could not receive the same adjective than people who do — in the same way we do not call someone a pacifist if is only against some wars and not others. However, on the other side, I like to see a growing mainstream vegan movement that is as inclusive and welcoming as possible, not becoming an elitist fringe minority with very little influence in society. Therefore, I am happy if many pre-vegans start using the term even if they are just learning about the philosophy and their lifestyle is not quite aligned with it yet.
For me, the solution to the conflict between these two forces (maintaining the integrity of the concept but being welcoming to new people who may want to explore it) is to use adjectives to qualify the label ‘vegan’. Therefore, my preferred terms are using “ethical vegan” for those who try to follow the definition of veganism to the full (aka “true vegans”, “full vegans”, or “proper vegans”) and using “dietary vegan” for those who only follow veganism on their diet. Since the 1980s, these two clarifying adjectives have been used to successfully solve this conflict (even the Vegan Society has embraced them, as it has maintained its current definition of veganism since 1988, but now accepts dietary vegans as voting members of their society).
I have also used different terminology: “full vegan” for those who follow the definition, “half-vegan” for dietary vegans, and “quarter-vegan” for vegetarians, but most people don’t like these labels (and I can see why), so the “ethical” and “dietary” adjectives attached to “vegan” remain my preference.
But many people do not like to use the term “dietary vegan” or “half vegan” and prefer to use the term “plant-based people” instead. So, for this article, I would be using the term “plant-based people” (PBP for short) as dietary vegans who either define themselves as plant-based people because they do not like the term ‘vegan’ or they do not want to be associated with the philosophy and social movements of veganism, or those dietary vegans who use the term ‘vegan’ without adjectives to describe themselves, but who, for willingly not wanting to follow the entire definition of veganism in their lifestyle choices, ethical vegans call them “plant-based people”. I would therefore lump together the two types of PBP because I don’t think giving them different identities may be helpful (imagine calling “People-Who-Prefer-To-Be-Called-Plant-Based” PWPTBCPB!).
Therefore, PBP may follow the diet that vegans follow, but may use animal products in their clothes (e.g. leather, silk, fur, wool), fashion accessories (e.g. tortoiseshell, horns, feathers), furniture (e.g. leather, wool, ivory), cosmetics (e.g. honey, beeswax, Shellac, gelatine), household products (e.g. lanolin, collagen, bone), and hobbies (e.g. riding horses, keeping exotic pets, visiting zoos), as well as not caring that much whether a product has been tested on animals.
I personally rather use an umbrella term of “vegan” in inverted commas composed of dietary vegans (half vegans) and ethical vegans (full vegans) — in the hope that dietary vegans are just transitioning into ethical vegans — than just split the group into vegans and PBP, as if the latter is a fully formed identity separated from veganism that people can choose for life. That is why I am not too keen to use the term ‘Plant-Based People’ as I feel it gives them an excuse to stay put and not progress. I rather see them as pre-vegans who need some help to get more veganised.
But, of course, if people define themselves as PBP, and they feel this is their identity separate from the vegan identity, it is entirely up to them and I should respect that. However, this does not mean that I will give up the hope that one day they may become vegan, in the same way, I do not give up with avid meat-eaters who tell me that “they could never become vegan.”
For me, every non-vegan is a pre-vegan in one degree or another, so I would be happy to help them to become vegan if they are open to exploring the possibility of embarking on their personal vegan journey. That is what vegan outreach is all about.
Tips for Outreaching Plant-Based People
Two things can make outreaching PBP quite unique. Firstly, it could be the easiest outreach of all, as people who do not consume any animal product in their diet are already avoiding a great deal of animal exploitation, they already have experience in changing their lifestyle successfully, and they can understand how to be disciplined with their choices. Secondly, if they have gone that far in their veganisation process but they have stopped, it may not just be that they are slow in progress, but perhaps there are powerful “obstacles” that are stopping them (which could be stronger than those found in the average carnist considering veganism for the first time). Such obstacles could be more ideological than practical and may have a lot to do with previous experiences the PBP had with other vegans. In other words, outreaching PBP may be either very easy or very difficult.
To help to deal with all this, here are 25 tips that occurred to me, inspired by the memory of doing vegan outreach for years:
- The most important question for vegan outreach is “what stops you from being vegan?” but the same question is even more powerful when asked to PBP because the answer may be less obvious. Once you learn about the obstacles, you can focus on ways to overcome them.
- Don’t be prejudicial and assume that there is something wrong with someone having gone all the way from carnism to plant-based and stop there. The obstacles people must overcome during the veganisation process can appear at any stage, and how close they are to the destination may be totally irrelevant. Don’t forget many vegans went through a plant-based phase before becoming vegan, as many went to a vegetarian phase — and some a pescatarian phase.
- Using the Socratic method (asking questions rather than casting statements) could even be more effective in this type of outreach because you need to find out first if the people you are interacting with are proper PBP or labelled PBP (as I defined them above). The approach you should take could be very different in each case. For instance, if they are the former, then the process may not be that different than with other carnists who think “they could never become vegan”; if they are the latter, they could be confused as, in their eyes, they have already arrived at veganism.
- Don’t put all PBP in the same category as the reasons they are not vegan may be quite diverse. Some may not like to be labelled in any way, others may not like the vegan “tribal” element (they may think it is cultish), others may have experienced racial discrimination in vegan or animal rights groups they interacted with, others may not know much about veganism and genuinely thought that it was just a diet, others may have had a bad experience of the “vegan police” type that made them react against all vegans, others may not be interested in ethics and they only follow the diet for health reasons, and others may just be pre-vegans transitioning from vegetarian at a slow pace. Your approach to each of these should be different.
- Even if you cannot help yourself judging them, try not to sound judgemental, but curious. Show vulnerability by saying you find it difficult to understand why people dare to leave meat eating behind, but not go all the way to veganism. If they try to explain it to you, they may listen to their own arguments for the first time and realise they are weak. Ask them if they think it would have been better if you had become a plant-based person instead of a vegan, and see what they say. The more you draw the arguments for the PBP identity to the surface, the weaker they will sound, and if you let them put them out there rather than you, they will not become defensive.
- Even if you think they are not vegan, do not directly tell PBP they are not vegan, as if you know better than them who they are (which always leads to defensiveness). Respectfully ask them how they define themselves. If they say they call themselves “vegan” but it has already become clear they only apply veganism in their diet (they may be wearing leather and wool while talking to you), ask them how they call any vegan that goes beyond food and follows the definition of veganism to the full. Explain that some people call PBP ‘dietary vegans’ and those who follow the definition to the full ‘ethical vegans’ and ask them how they feel about these labels. By framing this conversation through questions, rather than judgements, you may begin to establish in the other person’s mind the idea that veganism is a much more coherent position than anything less than that.
- Consider that the indoctrination of carnism is powerful and it could take a lifetime for anyone to get rid of most of it. Even if you are already an ethical vegan, your veganisation process has not ended, and most likely you are still carrying the relics of such indoctrination — which may manifest itself in all sorts of blind spots and cognitive dissonances not that different from those experienced by the PBP you are talking to. Although crossing the line from pre-vegan to vegan is quite memorable and identity-defining, the forces you used to propel yourself through the veganisation process, and the forces your environment placed on your way making it more difficult, continue to operate after you crossed the line, so you and the PBP are in the same continuous journey. You are all in the same boat.
- If those who you are outreaching are proper PBP who define themselves as PBP, ask them why they do not call themselves vegan. The answer to this question may be crucial. It can reveal they used to call themselves vegan but they were told off by other vegans (which may have left some resentment which led to unconscious prejudice against veganism), that they are perfectly aware of the official definition and they accept they do not follow it to the full yet (so they recognise they are pre-vegans and the conversation could be then focused on logistics), that they have some prejudices regarding the vegan community (that you may be able to dispel), or that they are only interested on their health and not on ethics (which may be tricky, but there could be ways around this).
- One of the unique characteristics of doing vegan outreach with PBP is that they may stop you in your tracks with sentences such as “Don’t worry, I am one of you. I am already vegan.” They may well be, but they could also be labelled PBP who consider themselves vegan. Rather than either accept their claim or doubt it straight away, it would be best to engage in causal conversation asking where they get their shoes or where they shop, as this may reveal they are only dietary vegans. If that is the case, rather than challenging their use of the label ‘vegan’, it is better to focus on showing them where you get your non-food vegan products, as in this way they will not close up and become defensive.
- If those who you are outreaching are labelled PBP who define themselves as vegans, but they openly tell you that they only apply veganism in their diet, maybe a good idea to ask whether they mind being called ‘dietary vegans’ rather than just ‘vegans’, to prevent confusion. If they don’t mind, this may be an indicator that they are quite open-minded and then the conversation would be better directed to help them change their behaviour by eliminating their remaining contribution to animal exploitation one by one, rather than a discussion on semantics and definitions. If they do not want to be called dietary vegans or PBP, then the situation may be trickier as it is possible that they had a bad experience with other vegans in the past of the type that starts with the accusation “you are not vegan!” If that is the case, they may be very defensive, so you need to show them that you do not judge them as others did.
- Holding the philosophy of veganism is a shortcut to the vegan lifestyle. Once you adopt this philosophy, you more or less will know which would be the right choice for you in each situation, even new ones. However, if you are talking to PBP who, for whatever reason, feel very averse to the philosophy, the community, and the movement of veganism, they could still end up adopting the full vegan lifestyle if reject the exploitation of animals one exploitation at the time. In these cases, you can help by going through each of these exploitations and finding out which ones the PBP in question still actively participate in, and then help them to see more ethical ways to address them. In other words, veganising someone without even using the word vegan.
- Ask PBP what made them jump from omnivorous to PBP and see if you can find an equivalent trigger. If it was a documentary, direct them to another documentary that goes beyond food. Earthlings is a good one (narrated by the famous vegan actor Joaquin Phoenix), especially the section about leather — it was a revelation for me when I first watched it in 2013, as I had no idea that the leather industry was not simply a by-product of the meat industry. Remind them how important had been for them to watch documentaries to morally grow, and they should keep doing it.
- If the PBPs chose the vegan diet for animal welfare reasons rather than only health reasons, that is a good opportunity to inform them about the suffering caused to animals by the wool, fur, leather, pharmaceutical, circus, zoo, and entertainment industries. If the reason the PBPs use to follow the vegan diet is the environment, then inform them about the environmental impact of the animal fibre industry. They may then discover that the same cognitive dissonance that once made them eat animal products is making them use animal products outside their diet.
- Ask PBPs to explain why they are plant-based rather than just vegetarian, and for any argument that made the vegetarian position ethically insufficient for them, find an equivalent argument where the plant-based position also seems insufficient. For instance, if they say the dairy industry causes a lot of suffering and increases considerably global heating, point to the leather industry doing the same. If it was not good enough to become vegetarian rather than plant-based, they should begin to realise that becoming plant-based may not be good enough either.
- If the PBP only chose the diet for their own health, you could discuss mental health, and how, subconsciously, if you know that you are behaving selfishly, the guilt may gradually be eating you inside. You could also talk about psychosomatic effects, and how one’s physical health may be influenced by different states of mind. Behaving coherently and kindly may give them a piece of mind that may have a positive influence on their health. Some health-centric PBPs may be comfortable with terms such as “holistic” and “organic” — they may even be people who follow “New-Age” type philosophies — so you can use these terms to connect animal suffering and environmental destruction to their health concerns. One way to bridge them into caring for others could be asking if they have children — or want to have them —suggesting how a future vegan world would be a much healthier world for them.
- If the problem is simply that they do not like to be labelled, point out that “plant-based” is also a label. But is a less useful label as it is more ambiguous. Different people interpret different things with this label. As there are no official definitions of Plant-Based, or there is not a Plant-Based Society to defend the concept, even some flexitarians may claim to be PBP. On the other hand, the ‘vegan’ label is universally recognised, and the ‘vegan’ word has been well defined for more than 70 years. They may as well embrace the more coherent and accepted label, as whether they like it or not, people will label them. And if they are in the UK, remind them that ethical veganism has been accepted as a protected philosophical belief, but vegetarianism or “plantbaseditism” have not.
- If a PBP does not want to be associated with the “tribe” vegan, explain that they can easily follow the vegan philosophy to the full but don’t’ describe themselves as neither vegan nor plant-based. If it helps, they can make up a new word that works for them. The important thing is to stop contributing to any form of animal exploitation, not to use a particular word to describe why you do it. They could become a “closeted vegan” if they want to. That would be better than staying just PBP and ignoring the suffering of the animals exploited beyond the food industry.
- Like any form of outreach, provide credible sources of information the PBP may not be aware of. Direct open-minded PBP to vegan books and websites that are not aimed at omnivores, but at vegans, especially those that show the perspective of ethical veganism. Resources that show how deep veganism goes, and how many more dimensions it has. I wrote my book Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world because I realised that we need this type of resource not only to make more vegans out of PBP but to make ethical vegans for life.
- Ask PBP what they think about describing vegetarians as “quarter-vegans” and PBP as “half vegans”. This will highlight the fact that both can be seen as “less than” something, and therefore not a genuine position to take for life, only as a transition to something better. If they do not like the quarter and half descriptors, ask them which percentage they think would be more appropriate. This quantifying approach could make them realise how insufficient is the PBP lifestyle to solve the problems they wanted to address when they adopted it.
- If the PBP you are talking to seem to be fitness-obsessed people who only care about their image and nobody else, it may be a waste of time to engage them in vegan outreach. It would be great if, through compassion and kindness, we could make all PBP care about the world and its inhabitants, but sometimes people just do not care, so better move along and find someone who might.
- In vegan outreach is always better to show things than to say things. Using yourself as an example, show PBP how easy is to extend boycotting animal products beyond food. Show your vegan clothes and fashion accessories, dispelling any myths about price and durability. Show how easy they are to obtain. If you are talking with friends or colleagues, offer to let them burrow some so they can see for themselves. This may also apply to any non-food vegan product you may be using in front of them, such as cosmetics or household products.
- Memorise good stats and information about non-food-related animal exploitation. Learn about the plight of sheeps in the wool industry and be ready to present facts if the conversation arises. It’s better to learn about wool than fur, as many PBP may already be against the use of fur. And wool is a much easier subject than vivisection, as it is extremely easy to avoid woolly products. For some PBP it may take longer to make the final step, so you may need to help them to avoid one product at a time.
- From all the changes a person goes through during veganisation, changing food habits is one of the most challenging, as these are often very engraved in people’s minds through strong indoctrination when growing up, and having to make decisions on food choices happens many times a day. Recognise that PBP have already achieved this critical milestone in the veganisation process, so congratulate them for that. Let them know that moving further will become easier, as the rest of the changes they need to make to become vegan tend to be easier (for instance, once you know where to buy your favourite vegan shoes, you don’t have to worry about shoes anymore and the right decision for you has already been made).
- Don’t rely on celebrities and sports people, but if you mention any, choose those who are genuine ethical vegans as opposed to PBP. Spread the news of them rejecting leather costumes or campaigning against vivisection, as opposed to opening vegan restaurants or having vegan food for dinner. Avoid vegan sticking because it will backfire (many sports people labelled as vegan are not even PBP, but pescatarians or flexitarians).
- In social media, try to move away from food-related vegan stories and share more those that have to do with the other aspects of veganism, such as alternatives to leather, products not tested on animals, or showcasing the wrongs of zoos or horse riding, for example. Most mainstream vegan stories tend to be about food, so it is up to us, ethical vegans, to spread the news of the other types of animal exploitation. In the same way, we think every vegan message out there may be a seed that could make a carnist become vegan in the future, any non-food-related vegan message could eventually make a PBP become a vegan too.
Why We Should Not Leave Plant-Based People Behind
One may be tempted to think that we should concentrate our efforts on making vegans out of carnist rather than out of Plant-Based People. And some may think that it would be more effective to make reducetarians and flexitarians out of carnists, rather than to help them become vegan. I disagree. For me, there is nothing short of a vegan world that is acceptable.
I take the definition of veganism seriously, so when it says, “seeking to avoid all animal exploitation,” I would not ignore any exploitation from my efforts. Not only to be faithful to the concept that deserves to be preserved, but because, as the animal rights person I try to be, I am not a pure utilitarian only interested in numbers. For me, any individual of any species matters, and any suffering of any type also matters. I do not want to aim for only a reduction of human-made suffering, but its total abolition instead. It may well be that we cannot eliminate it all, but we certainly can aim for it (if we aimed for the right goal, falling short will not be our fault).
If it is ethically justifiable to try to help as many carnists as possible to stop their contribution to the exploitation of animals, it would also be to try to help as many PBP to do the same. And if Plant-Based People feel that it is acceptable to help meat-eaters to give up meat and dairy, they should not be against vegans trying to help them to give up leather and wool.
But even if you are a utilitarian who wants to help as many sentient beings as possible, it makes sense to aim for a totally vegan world, rather than a world where people eat plant-based food but continue to exploit animals in masse. The numbers speak for themselves. It has been estimated that there are at least 115 million animals across the world who every year suffer and die in tests of the biomedical research and pharmaceutical industries; around 100 million animals are raised and killed for their fur; about 1.16 billion sheeps are exploited by the wool industry worldwide; in 2018, 2.29 billion cows, calves, buffaloes, goats, and pigs were killed for their hide and skin to make leather; Australia exports approximately 3 million kangaroo skins every year; 3,000 silkworms are killed to make a single pound of silk; more than 125,000 animals are killed each year for hunting trophies; there are approximately 800,000 terrestrial animals kept captive in AZA-accredited zoos, which only represent a tiny percentage of the more than 10,000 zoos that exist worldwide; the equine industry breaks more than 17 million horses; over 1.5 million crocodilian skins are exported legally from about 30 countries every year; developing countries exploit more than 42 million working donkeys used to pull trucks, tractors and cars; up to 106.1 million birds are released into UK shooting states every year for the shooting industry.
All these animals (which only cover some types of non-food-related animal exploitation) add to about 30 trillion animals a year. And many of these animals — if not all — are being abandoned by Plant-Based People. If we do not help these people to become vegan, if we leave them behind, we are also failing all these animals. And if we look down on PBP dismissing them as if they were ethically deficient — or even treating them as if they have betrayed the vegan movement — rather than looking at them as pre-vegans (as we once were) who need support to transition, they may become defensive and stay stagnated in their PBP identity cocoon for life — which would help no one.
It’s not good enough that only ethical vegans avoid animal exploitation. We need everyone else to avoid it too. The carnists, the omnivorous, the pescatarians, the reducetarians, the flexitarians, the vegetarians, and especially the Plant-Based People. We need them all to become vegan and build the vegan world together.
One complete vegan world for everyone.