OHH readers last met our Publications Coordinator, Liz Dee, when she told us all about Vaute Couture’s vegan fashion show at the New York Fashion Week. She also recently joined us on our podcast — Episode 164 — where she shared her unusual and fabulous tale of how her candy company inspired her to go vegan. We’re excited to once again welcome back Liz Dee, this time to share her thoughts about a perfect activity for late winter/early spring — leafleting!
The timing for this couldn’t be better. Farm Sanctuary’s “Compassionate Communities” campaign recently teamed up with The Humane League in order to conduct a study measuring the true impact of leafleting on college campuses. What they found was astounding:
About 1 out of every 50 students who received a leaflet indicated they became vegetarian or pescatarian as a result. Just as importantly, 7% of students (1 in 14) said they now eat “a lot less” chicken, a lot fewer eggs, and a lot less dairy as a result of getting the leaflet. 6% eat a lot less fish, and 12% eat a lot less red meat. Furthermore, about 1 in 5 students said they shared the leaflet with someone else who then began to eat less meat. What does all this mean for animals? After accounting for social desirability bias (people over reporting changes in their diet), the results suggest that for every 100 leaflets you distribute on a college campus, you’ll spare, by a conservative calculation, a minimum of 50 animals a year a lifetime of misery. That’s one animal spared for every two leaflets you distribute!
Bearing that in mind, but factoring in normal human tendencies to feel self-conscious, shy, or hesitant when putting oneself out there and handing out leaflets to strangers, Liz decided that in order to hold herself accountable and finally become what she’s always dreamed of — a leafleting machine — she’d document her journey from slacktivist to activist. In this article, she explains how she got over her fear of flyering.
From Panicked to Empowered: Adventures in Leafleting
By Elizabeth Laurel Dee
I knew my fears were irrational, but that didn’t make them go away. I ordered leaflets entitled “Compassionate Choices,” “Even If You Like Meat,” and “Something Better” from Vegan Outreach and Farm Sanctuary. I did so in an inspired moment — while envisioning myself handing them out with glee, barely able to keep up with the crowds of people reaching for this life-changing information. That fantasy quickly dissolved into a puddle of anxieties. When the pamphlets arrived at my doorstep, I ignored them for months. Just thinking about leafleting spurred me to get that gasping-for-air panicky feeling. Until I got this writing assignment, I had not handed out a single one.
As a passionate believer in Gandhi’s idea of “being the change I wish to see in the world,” I knew that wimping out of leafleting simply wouldn’t do. The same inspiration that got me to order the pamphlets was going to get me out the door – the possibility of alleviating animal suffering. So, I read and reread the Tips for Leafleting by Vegan Outreach, A Practical Guide for Effective Leafleting by Mercy For Animals, and Leaflet by Farm Sanctuary, where there is a step-by-step video that I may have watched more than once. I soon realized that I didn’t need more information. Leafleting is, after all, pretty simple. What I needed was chutzpah.
My heart was pounding as I brought my stack of leaflets to the local train station one morning during rush hour and set my timer for an hour. I’d give it an hour. For strength (and cute doggy points), I took along my secret weapon and super-friendly canine companion, Sandy. “Would you like information about making healthy and compassionate food choices?” I delivered my line of choice, leaflet in outstretched hand. It’s a mouthful, but it was effective in this low-traffic area. Don’t most people want to make healthy and compassionate food choices? Or at least pet Sandy?
Yes, yes, they do on both accounts. Most people took a pamphlet with a smile, and I made a point to mention that Sandy was adopted from the local no-kill animal shelter to those who took a shining to her (an advocacy twofer!). I met many interesting individuals who told me about their adopted animals, their weight-loss journeys, and their vegetarian friends and family members. Sure, there were a few people who were too busy or not interested. And there was one not-hilarious meatball joke, but I let it slide. I’m used to that kind of response to my being vegan, and it was a good opportunity for me to offer the “Even If You Like Meat” pamphlet.
At one point, a woman looked Sandy and me up and down critically and (somewhat rudely) waved us away without a word. A few moments later, though, she made a beeline to us. While I prepared for the worst, she announced, “I changed my mind!” and grabbed a leaflet. It was heartening to see how quickly she moved from antagonism to openness. Needless to say, I was kept on my toes, but there were more happy surprises than not. I was delighted to meet three fellow vegans who were psyched to see me leafleting. It was a nice reminder that even though veganism isn’t mainstream (yet), we vegans aren’t alone.
When the hour timer went off, I wasn’t ready to leave. I didn’t feel like a loser or a nuisance. I felt like a rock star to be able to speak on behalf of animals on my day off from work. In that first hour, I gave out nearly 100 leaflets. Not at a student-filled university, not at an event with hundreds of people, but at my local suburban train station during a relatively slow commuter hour on the Friday before a holiday weekend. The idea that even a few people might take the time to read the leaflet I gave them made me feel pretty darn good!
If you are afraid of leafleting, it is time to move through that fear. Leafleting is quick and easy activism. It is simple and inexpensive, and you can do it from just about anywhere, for as short or as long as you want. With a few leaflets tucked in your bag, you will always be equipped to share life-saving information. Keep these wise words from Ralph Waldo Emerson in mind: “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”
Here are a few pointers I found useful:
- Choose a phrase or question to open with. Decide on a line that works for you and that you’ll feel good about delivering. Experiment. If one of them is not resonating with people, try another one. If you are in a high-traffic area, it’s best to keep the phrase short.
- Lean and extend. I found when people see you making an effort by leaning toward them and extending your arm, they will be more likely to take a leaflet.
- Smile and be friendly! Aim to be the friendliest person those folks see all day. Make them want what you have by being a joyful vegan. Being delightful may attract some attention, which brings me to …
- Don’t stop leafleting! If someone starts speaking with you, converse with them while continuing to offer pamphlets to others. Those passing by may be more likely to take a leaflet when the material seems interesting to others.
Our actions have impacts far beyond what may be perceptible in the moment. We may never know the direct results of our leafleting, but does that matter? If we keep generously planting seeds of compassion, some cannot help but grow.
Good luck to you!
Note: Please consider legality, safety, and the happiness of your companion animal before bringing her or him along with you.
Elizabeth Laurel Dee, the Publications Coordinator for Our Hen House, is a fifth-generation candy maker with a vegan sweet tooth and co-owner of Smarties Candy Company. She practices and advocates for compassion and freedom for all beings. A firm believer in Gandhi’s idea of being the change you wish to see in the world, Elizabeth is always looking for new ways to put her master’s degree in media, culture, and communication to good use through effective animal advocacy. In addition to leafleting, she is fond of getting lost in a book, practicing yoga, and writing. Elizabeth celebrates life with a brave cat, a cuddly dog, and a kind man she bumped into one day on West 4th Street and Mercer.