Recently I read the new book from Tobias Leenaert "How to Create a Vegan World: a Pragmatic Approach" which is a really thought-provoking book, using his almost 20 years experience in vegan advocacy and campaigning.
I like to think I'm pragmatic with my approach to promoting veganism, but we can always learn more about what strategies, objectives and communication styles REALLY work. All info in the book is backed up by statistics and a heap of resources. I’m open to learning new things and new ways of achieving things, and when I read this book with an open mind, I learned a lot. Tobias focuses on behavioural change, so that less motivation is required, due to the fact that people often change their attitude - after - not before they alter their behaviour. Just because we're vegan and we think it's easy (now we've made the choice) doesn't mean it is for other people. There are so many reasons why people see being vegan as a really insurmountable choice that will effect their lives - it can and does. Health concerns, taste and social exclusion are the main issues for most people in starting/continuing a vegan lifestyle.
There's also many people who call themselves vegans nowadays but I would say they are eating more plant-based diets. Why do we necessarily need to have this division? Why do we not only want people to do the right thing, but also want them to do the right thing for the right reasons - or even for our reasons? I’m sure we can all work out how to be more compassionate and effective in the ways we relate to others. Tobias mentions a lot that people often change their attitude after and not before they alter their behaviour, so it's really important that we support ALL veg people no matter what stage of the journey they're on, or whether or not they're as vegan as we'd like them to be!
With 84% of veg people abandoning this diet at some point (the average is 7 years), we need to do a lot more to encourage long-term vegans by embracing and supporting others along the "journey to Veganville" as Tobias calls it.
We need to be realistic with our message and honest about the lifestyle. To be vegan is NOT a religion, a cure-all, or an exclusive lifestyle for only a few, but a lot of the messages out there (especially on Social Media) give this impression. We need to look outside the (FaceBook) echo chamber and have honest conversations with people - not just arguing our points and trying to “win” by yelling, fighting and telling others what to do. LISTEN to how other people feel about certain issues they're having with the vegan lifestyle e.g. challenges with eating out, family and friends, health concerns, support structures etc. Give information as best you can, from your experience, and from the heart, plus of course only share fact-based health information.
In Tobias’ book he also talks about Animal Rights and Vegan Organisations and how they are successful - or not - in their approaches, outreach etc. I read this book when I was in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia and coming to terms with some massive changes in my life, including resigning from being the VVSQ President. I got a lot out of this chapter in particular. There’s a great table (on page 109 - see below) comparing the two different organisations, and showing their motivations, arguments used, welfare reforms, if they focus on non-farmed animals, examples of these organisations (Animals Australia is an example of an Animal Rights organisation in Australia), along with their advantages and disadvantages. Tobias says, “the animal argument is the only one to reduce consumption to zero. But it’s at present less credible and less relevant socially and politically.” (his emphasis)
Animal rights organisations that focus primarily on animals and animal rights/welfare issues are able to emotionally appeal to others. This helps these groups with funding, donors, growing their memberships, and recruiting committed volunteers much easier than veg groups. A challenge that VVSQ surely has. Though most veg organisations are started for animal/vegan issues as well, they’re able to emphasise other benefits and aspects than just animal-related issues e.g. health, fitness and environment. Animal groups are however much more appealing to the younger demographic where these people can be involved in protests, direct action - and even post their involvement online! Helping out at one of the VVSQ info stalls doesn’t have the same draw...
I strongly recommend all vegans and activists read this book. Whether or not you agree with Tobias' reductionist message (which he encourages IN CONJUNCTION with promoting veganism), he has done a great deal of research which reads really well in this his first book release. Tobias blogs at The Vegan Stategist, speaks worldwide with Melanie Joy for the Centre for Effective Vegan Advocacy, is co-founder of ProVeg International, and former director of the Belgium organisation, Ethical Vegetarian Alternative. He's had a couple of decades of experience with many well-know vegan organisations, and I hope you can learn something from what he has written, I surely did. Peter Singer writes the foreword.
BUY here and online
NOTE: this was written as a book review for the December 2017 edition of the VVSQ members' magazine, Vital
- Published: 30 November 2017
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