This post if for my fellow vegans who struggle, as I have, with how best to promote veganism. Does calling it “plant-based” sound less intimidating? Will encouraging the reduction, as opposed to the elimination, of animal consumption result in more change? Should I lead by example, or speak out? Needless to say, as an over-analyzer, psychologist, and person passionate about ending animal cruelty, I was thrilled to find a book written by a clinical psychologist on effective ways to motivate people to become vegan: Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy.
In his clinical practice, the author, Dr. Casey Taft, works to end interpersonal violence. He views working to end non-human violence as a natural extension of this work. I encourage anyone interested in this topic to read the book themselves—it’s clear, succinct and has tangible take-aways. If sticky tabs are an indication of how much I like a book, I’ve placed over 50 throughout this one’s 113 pages. Anyways, book crush aside, I hope you find some of these key take-aways helpful.
Promote Veganism as the End-Goal
Veganism is a social movement that seeks to end all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals.
As with other social movements, it seeks to change the way people see an oppressed group--in this case, non-human animals. Many animal advocacy organizations promote a reduction approach, such as Meatless Mondays, or a vegetarian diet.
Dr. Taft argues that supporting reduction as the end goal conveys the message that we support animal abuse in moderation. This idea is easier to understand if we swap non-human animals with an oppressed human group. For example, is it okay to hurt women in moderation? Of course not. Counselors working with abusers (e.g. Dr. Taft) must promote an end to all violent behaviors.
When exposed to the realities of slaughter houses and dairy/egg industries, some people go vegan overnight and some people don’t. Either approach is okay, and everyone is on their own unique journey. In my books, we should celebrate and praise any change, no matter how big or small. The small stuff adds up!
But promoting the reduction of animal consumption as an end goal does a disservice to the paradigm we’re trying to shift: we should not have the right to exploit or harm animals, period. (There is no compassionate way to kill a sentient being that doesn’t want to die, and we do not need to do so for our survival).
How can humans commit acts of cruelty? Oftentimes, by disconnecting from the victim. Words are a powerful tool for promoting disconnect.
Take, for example, the Rwandan genocide, in which the Tutsis were reduced to “cockroaches”. Animal cruelty is full of euphemisms. Instead of pig flesh we say “pork”. Instead of cow we say “beef.” Instead of dead animal, we say “meat”.
Using direct, accurate terms might help others make the connection. Of course, we should also avoid shaming language. Clearly, calling non-vegans “murderers” will just isolate potential allies and does disservice to the compassion we're trying to promote.
Just as we should avoid shaming others, we should also avoid internalizing shaming labels sometimes placed on vegans (e.g. “crazy”, “people-hating”, “irrationally angry”). If we avoid calling ourselves vegan out of fear of these labels, we’re internalizing the rhetoric from people who want our movement to fail.
Communicate Assertively and Compassionately
If we respond to non-vegans passively, we miss out on educational opportunities; if we respond to non-vegans aggressively, we shut down communication. I found Dr. Taft’s examples incredibly helpful, and want to share one below:
Janice: I have a lot of respect for vegans. Good for you for showing such self-restraint. I could never do it, though. I love cheese too much!
Passive response: Well, veganism isn’t for everyone.
Aggressive response: Did you know that mother cows are raped and baby cows are killed for your precious cheese? You are beyond selfish.
Assertive response: Of course you could do it! After you’ve been vegan for a month or so, you won’t even miss animal foods. If you ever find yourself in a moment of weakness and need motivation, just think about the calves who are taken from their mothers at birth.
Meet People Where They’re At
In psychology, there’s an influential model of behavioral change, called the “Transtheoretical Model,” or the “Stages of Change Model.” In the pre-contemplative stage, people haven’t yet recognized the need to change their behavior. In the contemplation stage, people are first considering the benefits of veganism. In the preparation stage, people are getting ready to change their behavior. In the action stage, people are actively transitioning to veganism. And, in the maintenance stage, people are trying to stay vegan.
If people have never considered changing their behaviors (e.g. think eating animals is necessary for health, that there are essential nutrients only found in meat, or that animals are not sentient) then this is the stage in which we can provide compassionate education.
But no matter how good your communication is, some people will not be ready to hear your message. So, move on to the contemplators; there are plenty of other fish in the sea (and will be plenty more fish if more people go vegan 😉). People in the contemplation stage are more open to hearing ethical arguments. Because people often align their actions with their behaviors (which includes speech!), Dr. Casey suggests asking people, “Are you interested in going vegan?” Making a public commitment can be a powerful first step.
For people in the preparation stage, we can provide resources and tips, so people don’t feel overwhelmed with the approaching transition. Finally, for people in the action and maintenance stage, we can continue to offer our support and encouragement. I personally find vegan meet-up groups and animal sanctuary visits very replenishing.
I hope you found some of this information helpful for your own advocacy work. There is so much wonderful information and thinking in this book that I didn’t review, including why advocacy strategies based upon market research are likely flawed, and why social movements should include intersectionality. I’d encourage anyone interested in more information to give the book a read.
I also appreciate how the author not only gives “take-aways” but also his rationale behind them. This allows you to make your own decisions on what kind of advocacy you think would be most effective.
You may disagree with some of the approaches encouraged in this book. That's okay. The world is full of all sorts of people and needs all sorts of advocates. Your communication style will connect with some, and will off put others.
I think we need to acknowledge that by simply existing we'll piss people off. At the same time, I think it's important to be receptive to feedback and try to be increasingly more compassionate communicators. Ultimately, I hope this book provides some tools for you to incorporate into your own unique advocacy voice.
Peace and plants,