The vegan movement on how to effectively advocate for change
by Maria Dorthea Skov
Just this morning George Monboit stated in The Guardian that "the best way to save the planet is to drop meat and dairy" (and he has the evidence to prove it). Although veganism is growing, and science is finally catching up, there still a long way to go for these changes to start having a positive impact on state of our planet... So how can we inspire more people to make the shift to a plant-based diet - now?
We've previously blogged about the vegan & conscious-living start-up Vevolution. At their monthly events they bring the vegan community together to explore exactly that - from the point of view of different topics such as Food Innovation, Health & Wellbeing and Environment.
Earlier this week we finally got to experience it. The topic of the evening was 'effective advocacy' and the headline question was - How do we challenge people and institutions to change a lifetime of habits? A stimulating question and also essential to the work that we do here at The Alternative UK.
In the same way as the vegan movement want people to lose their interest in animal-based product, we want people to lose interest in the toxic debates of existing party politics, built on habits (and ideological positions) formed over centuries. We do this by platforming other, non-divisive ways of doing and thinking politics.
At Vevolution, we got to hear from Gavin Fernsback, founder of The Fields Beneath (a vegan café in Kentish Town), Robbie Lockie, co-founder of the vegan media platform Plant Based News, Laura Callan, creator of the vegan lifestyle magazine Bright Zine and Matthew Glover, co-founder of Veganuary – the increasingly popular yearly campaign for veganism (which we've also blogged on the Daily Alternative).
Gavin from The Fields Beneath kicked off the programme with talking about the numerous of creative ways he is using his café (vegan since 2017) as a platform for advocacy.
Speaking from his hands-on experience he developed "4 rules of engagement":
- "I always speak from my own perspective"
- "I don’t tell people they are doing something wrong"
- "I remember that veganism isn’t perfect"
- "If my advocacy is not going well - I back out"
He ended with assuring that we should not feel discouraged when our advocacy is not producing results. Effective advocacy can feel “slow” and it is a lot of “planting seeds and watering them ever so often”.
Where as Gavin spoke of advocacy on a more personal level, Robbie from Plant Based News offered a big picture outlook. He compared carnism (defined as a prevailing ideology in which people support the use and consumption of animal products, especially meat) to a tree, which pervades our entire culture. Its branches represents the places or situations in which animal suffering happens - the dairy, slaughter and fur farms, live export, circuses and puppy mills. The roots of the tree are the traditions and social conditions that keep those places alive and running.
Robbie explained how effective advocacy is working at the roots, as oppose to shaking off a few leafs or chopping of a few branches. If the roots are strong and healthy, leafs and branches will eventually grow back. Too often we are focused on the effect, as this is what we see, feel and experience, and we forget to consider and examine the cause. Effective advocacy starts with asking why we choose to behave and exist the way we do. And what can be done to change the culture we have created?
He gave examples of why it is not effective to go after the butchers, the dairy farmers or the truck drivers. Instead we should talk directly, with patience and understanding, to the people who would buy the products that come from the butchers or dairy farmers. We should create and show alternatives - and make these more attractive, fun and cool. We should lead by example and show people that it is fun and enjoyable to be vegan as well as tell them about inspiring examples of people who have gone vegan and are thriving - or be that example yourself.
Next up was Laura from Bright Zine who truly embodies the approach Robbie presented. Her magazine features inspiring stories from the vegan scene’s frontrunners and also takes on more serious topics, although always with light-heartedness. We particularly enjoy their comic strip on the “life of a vegan queen” (see picture to the left)
She encouraged those who want to be better vegan advocates to begin at the personal level, asking: what do I enjoy doing and what am I good at? And then to a find a community to do those things with. She emphasized the power that community has in making you more inspired and motivated to do things, which is why the Bright Zine team considers building a stronger and more inclusive vegan community a vital part of their work.
Matthew from Veganuary rounded off the evening with a perhaps slightly controversial talk on why we should not describe the big food corporations as ‘evil’ and advise against buying their product. Rather, we should embrace the effort they are currently putting into developing meat and dairy-free alternatives and rejoice in the sheer fact that there is now profit to be made from these.
Together, the four speakers conveyed a holistic approach to advocacy and we left feeling inspired and encouraged. With their events Vevolution offers a space for the various communities within the vegan movement to unite on their common purpose – a more healthy future with less animal exploration and suffering – and discuss how that can effectively and cohesively be achieved. They open the door for new collaborations and practices.
In March Vevolution launched a new podcast to further inspire the plant-based generation. Listen on iTunes here.