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Restaurant Outreach & Vegan Cooking Classes (Q&A Part 2 of 2 With Compassionate Action for Animals)

By Jasmin Singer — December 13, 2011

Yesterday, Compassionate Action for Animals co-founder and Executive Director, Unny Nambudiripad, joined us in discussing The Skinny on Feed-Ins. We were thrilled to highlight this form of activism, particularly since it’s such a perfect time of year to provide free vegan food samples along with literature on living compassionately and cruelty-free.

Since we are now enmeshed in the holidaze — and so much of the holiday season is centered around food — it’s important to use any opportunity to turn this “giving season” into one that is truly compassionate. We can do this by educating the masses about delicious vegan food! Two more ways we like to spread the vegan message is through restaurant outreach and vegan cooking classes.

As for restaurant outreach, this is something Mariann and I discussed on episode 100 of our podcast (which you can also hear on iTunes), and I hope you listen to that, because let’s just say I was able to put my BFA in Acting to the test (think: skits!). But, lucky for us, Unny is joining us again to tell us about the successful campaigns of Compassionate Action for Animals, today focusing on restaurant outreach as well as organizing cooking classes.


OHH: Thanks for joining us for a second day in a row, Unny! Today, I’m dying to know: You’ve worked with community restaurants and university cafeterias to make vegan dining more available. What kinds of successes have you had in that area?

UN: We’ve worked with dozens of restaurants that serve excellent vegan food. We created VegGuide.Org, a worldwide guide to veg-friendly restaurants and shopping, and our volunteers have written many reviews to highlight the excellent veg choices in Minnesota and beyond. We’ve received donations and gotten discounts at restaurants, and we’ve done dine-outs, fundraising events, and a chili cook-off at restaurants as well. All of this, and more, has led to a vegan-friendly Twin Cities. I hope that we’ll have more successes to report about in the future with regard to restaurants carrying new vegan foods because of our efforts!

OHH: Regarding approaching restaurants or cafeterias, do you have any tips for an activist who might want to get more vegan options introduced?

UN: The most important thing is to show that there is a market for the products. This can be done by getting people out to a restaurant by publicizing its offerings, and also by showing the restaurants statistics and anecdotes that demonstrate the popularity of veg eating. Secondly, providing ideas and resources — such as mock meats and dairy alternatives — as well as ideas on labeling and marketing, can help restaurants take steps in the right direction. Remember that the operators of restaurants and cafeterias are busy people, but want the business, so be prepared to be persistent.

[For more on restaurant outreach, including how to approach a restaurant where you’ll be dining for the holidays to make sure they will offer vegan fare, check out episode 100 of the Our Hen House podcast.]

OHH: Compassionate Action for Animals has also organized cooking classes in the community. I love this idea as a form of activism. Who has led these classes, and what sort of dishes did you prepare?

UN: We’ve had great successes with cooking classes. Our classes have been taught by volunteer chefs, most of whom are people who are part of our group, or somebody we know. We find people who have made great foods for a potluck or other event, and ask them to teach classes. The classes have been interactive, and our chefs are knowledgeable and have a lot to share. We’ve had an incredibly diverse set of classes we’ve taught: Thanksgiving foods, cooking on a budget, soy foods, vegan baking, beginning vegan cooking, and more.

OHH: For someone who is interested in organizing a vegan cooking class, what sort of logistics should she/he consider?

UN: You’ll need to work with your chef to figure out what kind of equipment they have and what kind of equipment is provided at the venue. You’ll also want to consider what works best for a demonstration, and how audience participation in cooking is going to work. Cooking classes usually do not provide enough time to make everything from scratch and serve it, so we’ve had instructors do some prep work in advance. Give the instructor a clear time-frame and have them practice beforehand.

Besides that, advertising and running a smooth event includes welcoming people, giving them literature, having them sign up on your list, filling out evaluation forms, and thanking the instructor afterwards. This will all ensure a successful event.

OHH: What are your favorite kinds of food activism? Do you find that one is more effective than another, or is it a case of different strokes for different folks?

UN: My favorite kind of food activism is the kind that blends together great vegan food with lots of fun, and engages people about the ethics of the way we eat. When we can find the kind of activism that is participatory, and engages people where they’re at, we gain momentum for animals. Weaving together our different activities – food giveaways and potlucks, leafleting and camping trips – gives people lots of opportunities to find the resources, the human connections, and the worldview that helps them move towards a plant-based diet.

OHH: What kinds of projects does Compassionate Action for Animals have up its sleeve for the coming months, and how can people learn more?

UN: This is the hardest question! We’re hoping to do a veg festival in the summer of 2012, and we hope to decide soon. We’ll continue to do many of the same events and projects I described above, but I’m quite uncertain as to what’s next. It would be so much easier to plan if we knew what we’re doing next, but we try to make plans based on what our volunteers are interested in within the framework of our values and strategy. We’re committed to being a volunteer-led organization, and we’ve found that we’ve evolved in ways that weren’t predictable. The best way to find out what we’ll be doing next is by volunteering with us and making it happen! Or, if you don’t live in Minnesota, please do something that inspires us and we’ll copy you! You’re welcome to contact me, Unny at 612-276-2242 or via email at unny[at]


Special thanks to Unny Nambudiripad and to Compassionate Action for Animals, for changing the world for animals in Twin Cities, Minnesota!

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