By Jordan Collins
Among animal rights advocates, there is little disagreement about the fundamentals: we can all agree that animals used by humans suffer, and that that suffering is unacceptable. To varying degrees, we accept that the effects of our animal agriculture industry is destroying the planet and exacerbating the starvation of individuals in less developed countries. There’s a lot we have in common and that’s an asset to our movement. But there is one major point of contention that so far appears insurmountable: how to advocate.
In this day and age there are a number of convenient and effective mediums for advocacy. The internet overflows with forums and Facebook groups where advocates can share facts. Brochures, while a little less immediate than online conversation, allow for direct access to people who would not otherwise seek out this information. Even old-fashioned one-on-one conversation is effective, although a common prerequisite is an established relationship with the non-vegan.
The issue isn’t the means of communication, it’s the method. I recently read two books on vegan advocacy, which promoted starkly different approaches. Veganomics is full of statistics. Author Nick Cooney compiled reams of dull data and transformed it into a palatable guide to vegan advocacy. He describes the groups that are most likely to go vegan, the reasons most people give for going vegan, the effectiveness of different approaches to vegan advocacy and much, much more. His conclusions can’t be argued with: this is what research has proven to be true. The data Cooney presents shows that encouraging people to take steps, no matter how small – Meatless Mondays or the elimination of beef, for example – is more effective than asking them to go vegan. They will stick with it longer and even that little bit of effort is miles better than nothing at all.
It all makes sense – which is why I’m surprised at how much I am wrestling with Cooney’s suggested tactics. I understand the truth of what he’s written, don’t get me wrong. But I respond much more to the methods proposed by Casey Taft in Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy. Perhaps it’s just the idealist in me that appreciates Taft’s bottom line: veganism needs to be the end goal. Vegan advocates want those around us to choose veganism, and sooner, rather than later. But Taft’s ideas are rooted in his history as a clinical psychologist: when working with domestic abusers, he explains, you don’t ask them to decrease the level of violence they perpetrate. You make it clear from the very beginning that the end goal is no abuse. There is nothing muddy about it: the behaviour is wrong and it needs to end.
Taft is not saying the non-vegan must immediately cease their consumption of all animal products, just that they need to see that as a goal that they intend to reach. And I have to agree with his logic, even if the statistics aren’t behind us. If there is something morally wrong with the behaviour, hemming and hawing is unproductive and insulting. The animals are dying right now.
I know how unpopular this view is, and perhaps it makes me seem harsh, but what’s curious is that in my personal life, I practice Cooney’s tactics. I don’t suggest to my parents, who are trying hard to decrease their consumption of meat, that they see veganism as the end goal. I don’t want to scare them away from their efforts. More than that, I don’t want to alienate them. They’ve been courageous enough, taking in all the information I’ve thrown at them and altering the way of life that they’ve been living for 60 + years.
I don’t think that there is one perfect way to get everybody to go vegan. A million unseen variables factor into a person’s decision. I see the value in these guides in that they help us determine which individuals might be affected by which tactics. I suggest reading not one or the other, but both, because the animal rights movement is evolving. To be the best advocate you can be, you should read everything you can get your hands on. Whether you agree with the opinions expressed or not, it will help you decide which approach – and there are many! – makes sense to you and it will ultimately make you a more effective advocate for the animals and the earth.