September 6, 2007


Posted in philosophizin, vegan, veganism at 3:07 pm by nevavegan

Recently Animalblawg wrote about vegevangelism, that is the effort to spread veganism the way religious people spread their particular beliefs, through “testifying,” revivals, and ready-made support systems for the new comers.

In many ways the analogy is apt, as Animalblawg pointed out, many people are already deeply uncomfortable with how our culture treats animals and the environment. Lots of people want to do better, but they’re not sure how or are intimidated by the process.

I’ve been thinking lately about community and building community and also who benefits from and who suffers when community breaks down. I guess I’ve been thinking about these things because 1) Gary over at Animal Writings has been posting up a storm about ways to bridge our differences within the Vegan/AR movement, and 2) because I participate in a vegan on-line forum where I see and hear about some of the isolation many new vegans face and also observe the hostility some vegans direct toward other vegans.

Then I read Pattrice Jones’ AfterShock and she told me there’s not enough time for me to build bridges, I need to start being the bridge.

Ok, so I know I just went off on like fifty tangents here, but trust me they’re all connected and then some.

When I was out leafleting on Thursday it occurred to me that I am a vegevangilist. I was smiling at everyone and it wasn’t a fake thing. I love being vegan and I think it does so much good, and I see so much good in everyone walking past, that I’m just thrilled to be out there sharing something that means so much to me with them. I know that sounds totally corny, and it’s not like I’m consciously thinking that the whole time or anything. It’s just that I didn’t have to plaster a smile on my face because I just saw all these beautiful people walking past me on a beautiful day and it seemed like such a wonderful privilege to ask them to take a few moments and think about the animals.

At the same time I’m not sure I’m much of a vegevangelist, because I’m not really a great public speaker or anything, so aside from leafleting, this blog, and feeding people cake I’m not really getting out there and testifying so to speak. And I have to realize there are some ways that I’m maybe not the ideal spokesperson for veganism, because I hope I’m decent at outreach, but I’m not a movie star or anything like that. I just hope somehow the people who listen to movie stars get that message and the people who aren’t impressed by movie stars see that ordinary people like me are vegan and doing just fine.

In those moments I am being the bridge too—I’m putting myself out there trying to be the connection, not just form a connection. It’s small but it is about bridge building in some respects.

Which brings me to Gary’s thoughts on trying to resolve differences in the Animal Rights/Vegan community and find common ground. It’s a great idea naturally, because I’d love get along with absolutely everyone. But, I’m older and more realistic now than I used to be. I feel that some of us just aren’t going to agree no matter what. And that’s actually a good thing because it shows that veganism isn’t some cult where we all chant and lock-step with each other, but it’s a dynamic living approach to making the world a better place and each of us have our own interpretation of what that means. So we might not always agree; we might not even like each other, but nobody can accuse us of employing brainwashing, because if we did, we’d all be on the same page.

I’m reluctant to be the bridge with other activists because I’ve been burned before too. Which is maybe a whole different entry for a whole different time. It’s just that with time and energy at a premium I’m not willing anymore to put myself on the line, or spend hours spilling my guts if I’m pretty sure from the outset that the other person has no intention of hearing anything I’m saying. There’s no reaching compromise if the only outcome acceptable to the other side is for me to either agree with them completely or be quiet and get lost. So why would I waste my time?

However, I’m trying to tell myself whenever I encounter another animal rights/vegan activist who is insulting, rude, untruthful, or whatever else rubs me the wrong way, that this is actually a positive. It demonstrates that people don’t have to be super-empaths, or peace and love types to be vegan. All you need to be vegan is ethics and/or compassion when it comes to thinking about animals, there are no other prerequisites at all. So anyone, polite or rude, from a close family or a shattered home, gregarious or painfully shy, loud and obnoxious or total wallflower, anyone can become vegan and stick with it and find it meaningful enough to want to share with others.

That said, one thing struck me about the part of AfterShock where Pattrice advocated organizing groups on a collective model with shared power and real listening, with value placed on each individual member. She contrasted this with the typical organization which is set up like the spokes of a wheel, with all power and decision making concentrated at the center. I wrote previously of M. Scott Peck’s theories on building community in church groups and how he said that those with considerable power prior to the formation of true community often resist the painful process of community building. This is because true community divests prior leaders of the power they hold when community is absent and they alone are the glue holding everyone together.

We’ve probably all worked (if only for a little while) at companies where the corporate atmosphere tended to divide rather than unite employees. Some company founders make this decision consciously because they fear the collective power of their workers if they were to unite. In other places it’s less of a decision, and more a culture that develops over time because the leaders are uncomfortable sharing power, not welcoming of new ideas, and adhere to old ideas regarding workplace hierarchy.

The most obvious example is that some workplaces actually have policies against workers discussing their salaries with each other. When this culture is enforced it allows the company to pay workers as little as possible and employees rarely complain because they don’t know their co-workers are paid more. However, when the rules are broken and salaries revealed the results can be devastating. I once worked in a place where all the women were paid considerably less than the men, and even men with only a high school diploma were being paid more than women with degrees in positions of responsibility. In the short term this benefited the corporation as they gained the skills and hard work of women on the cheap. However, when the women found out it caused great disillusionment and bitterness, and even deep scars in some of the women who had never encountered such blatant devaluation and discrimination before. So the consequences were not easily repaired.

I’m using the analogy of a workplace when I’m talking about the activist community as a whole because it fits in some ways. We’re a bunch of different people with different ideas, values, and approaches thrown together by one common cause. Leaders function like bosses in many ways, though for people like me, they don’t hold power over my paycheck. There is all kinds of jostling for status and money going on too. So it seems to me that we can work on making communication better, and we can work on building bridges, but there are some out there who have pretty compelling reasons to resist that effort.

But as I said before, were we all agreeing all the time that might be a little frightening. As is, nobody can accuse us of being “pod people.” So a healthy dose of individualism and independent thought could be a good thing.

It would be nice though, if as Animalblawg advocates we could unite enough to form support systems for new vegans and wanna-be vegans to ease their transition and mentor them along. Worth thinking about at least.



  1. bazu said,

    Oh, this makes me so sad. I often get accused of evangelicalism with my veganism, and I consider that an insult of the deepest sort. As an atheist, I find prosthelytizing of any sort objectionable, and strive to stop myself. I think vegans have to be careful to differentiate themselves from religious zealots, and have nothing to gain from taking on their tactics and language. We have logic, facts, and common sense on our side, so we shouldn’t emulate those who eschew such things.

  2. Neva Vegan said,

    I can understand why religious outreach, especially things that employ high pressure tactics would make you uncomfortable. I’m not an atheist and it actually makes me really uncomfortable. But I don’t think that I’m talking about (nor is Animalblawg for that matter) using the exact same tactics or language, but instead learning from the way that religious groups build community and support systems. That is something I find valuable, because I fear a lot of vegans and vegetarians quit because they don’t have a lot of support from other vegans and face incredible pressure from meat eating friends and family.

    I do think it’s worth considering how someone can use an insult to more or less shut you down. Because you find religious proselytizing offensive, when someone compares your efforts to talk about veganism to evangelism, then you say you try to stop. But as you yourself say we have logic, facts, science, ethics, etc on our side, so when we do outreach or talk about veganism it’s actually quite different from religious evangelism. But it does seem to invoke such fear in many of us. We don’t want to seem pushy, we don’t want to seem preachy. The truth is that everyone is a little hyped about stuff they care about and it’s natural to share that. People who love tennis will talk about what great exercise it is and how it helps kids to learn math. I once had a guy talk at me, enthusiastically, for nearly 45 minutes about how the use of couture terms to describe mass produced fashions was wrong and had to stop… So we have every right to talk about this, especially since it affects so many innocent lives and the planet as a whole.

    In any case, I’m poking some fun at myself in there. I really am all happy and smiley when I’m out leafleting, and I do wonder if it makes me seem kind of strange. But I wouldn’t be vegan if nobody had ever taken the time to give me information or talk to me, so what else do we have except our voices to pass on the word?

  3. mark anson said,

    Hi Neva,

    I feel deeply disturbed by Christian evangelists but at the same time I myself would probably be described as a Vegevangelist by lots of people.

    I don’t want to seem pushy with people but then when the parents at my children’s school are organizing a fete and I decline to work in the kitchen because they are serving meat, I find my actions put me in the category where I get called “anti-social”. I’m said to be judgemental of other people’s way of life.

    What to do?

    In the past few months my friends and I have built a new site – EthicalNews.Com

    I think that in building this I’m trying to speak out and tell people to change their thinking – but without being pushy.

    The site is focused on human rights, environmental and animal rights/welfare issues.

    Bringing together news items about the good, the bad and the ugly things that are going on in the world, we want to alert people to the issues that really matter which are not getting proper coverage in the media.

    Some people are working for envionmental causes while others in involved in human rights campaigning. Vegetarianism and the concept of non-violent political change are the best way forward towards a brighter future for all of humankind. We all want to see the world become a peaceful place where no children ever starve, where dolphins and whales can continue to exist for millenia in clean open seas, and where birds fly in the breezes in a clean, unpolluted sky.

    If mankind stops wasting resources and focuses instead on removing the scourges of war, poverty, curable diseases and climate change then this world will become a very beautiful place.

    Please take a look at EthicalNews.Com and drop me a note if you can.

    Peace, now!

    Mark Anson

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