Many vegans tell me that aligning their lifestyle with their ethics is only the beginning of what they feel is their responsibility to nonhumans. Yet while they often desire to advocate, some are lacking in self-confidence, others are unsure of how to deal with challenges, many are wary of confrontation or weighed down by the importance of their task. Even more discouraging than the perceived enormity of the process itself, perhaps, is the mistaken belief that advocacy is only successful if it results immediately in new vegans, and that a failed advocacy effort will entrench the interlocutor’s views permanently and unalterably.
The good news is that advocacy doesn’t have to be monumental. In fact, it doesn’t have to be very different from anything else you do on a daily basis. It doesn’t have to be performative or dramatic. It doesn’t have to involve a prepared speech. It doesn’t compel you to set up a stall in the middle of a busy street and talk to strangers. It won’t necessarily result in a debate. Its success isn’t measured by the interlocutor immediately becoming vegan. Most importantly, it’s not a competition or a race, and if you advocate well and consistently, then your success may not even be capable of being measured.
There are many different forms of advocacy, and some are highly visible: tabling, the use of social media, and so on. All of these forms of advocacy are worthwhile, if they are approached with a solid theoretical foundation and with adequate preparation. Because of their visibility, they require a particular set of abilities that some people have in abundance: confidence, openness, adeptness at fielding debate. But what if I told you that you may already have the skills to advocate in a very powerful way, that you can do exactly what you do every day but help to make change happen, and that the only thing you’ll need is one word? That word is ‘vegan’. Do not underestimate its power.
You may be the kind of person who talks to cashiers in the supermarket as they’re ringing up your groceries. They look at your unusual assortment of vegetables and ask if you’ve got something special planned for dinner. You smile and say, ‘I’m vegan, so I’m making a vegetable lasagna’. You see an old friend who compliments you on something you’re wearing. You say ‘Thanks; it’s from a vegan shop’. You bring some food to a friend’s house, and you tell them it’s suitable for vegans. Anytime you use the word ‘vegan’, you’re doing some advocacy work. Write it, type it, say it, sign it; it doesn’t matter how you do it, but don’t underestimate the power of a simple word.
So, now you’re wondering how this could be of any benefit to nonhuman animals. Each time you use the word ‘vegan’ in this way, you’re normalising it; you’re removing any taboos, breaking down stereotypes, getting the word into public consciousness. Not being reticent about the word and letting people know that you are vegan is actually quite a powerful first step, and it will certainly help lay the foundation that will open up the conversation about the ethical principles, and may even steer people towards doing their own research into what being vegan means.
(Image shared with permission from Grumpy Old Vegan; the text on the image reads ‘How many seeds that we plant germinate and flourish without our knowledge? This is why vegan education is so important; tangible results never reveal the full picture of what we do.’)
There are other forms of quiet advocacy in which you can engage, like sharing recipes that are suitable for vegans to your social media site, posting pictures of your meals and treats on the same, cooking and sharing food, collaborating with others to use the talents that are unique to you (making posters for someone else’s outreach; baking cupcakes for a tabling event; proofreading the work of others). None of these things ought to be undervalued, because advocacy is not just about persuasion.
There will be benefits to you as a new advocate, too, from engaging in ‘invisible’ advocacy. Seeing that people don’t recoil in horror when you use the word ‘vegan’, and participating silently in the visible advocacy of others will probably increase your confidence and may lead you to seek out opportunities for discussion about your ethical stance, which will be the topic of the next blog post.