Some advice – like “live without regret” and “don’t eat yellow snow” – never wanes in its wisdom. Indeed, even two years later, all of the gems of advice from over 30 long-time animal rights activists ring very loudly true. Curated by none other than Farm Sanctuary superhero Bruce Friedrich, this collection of advice is a perfect contribution to our growing trove of #ThrowbackThursday pieces.
This article originally appeared on Our Hen House on December 7, 2012. If you’d like to see a certain OHH article resurrected, email us at info [at] ourhenhouse [dot] org.
Today’s visiting animal is longtime activist Bruce Friedrich, who is — among other things — the senior director for strategic initiatives at Farm Sanctuary, truly has his finger on the pulse of all things animal rights, and has for a long, long time. In this special OHH feature, Bruce asked over 30 long-time vegans to weigh in on how to change the world for animals. This is advice we can each take to heart.
New to Veganism? Read This!
by Bruce Friedrich (and more than 30 other long-time vegans)
Some months ago [EDITOR’S NOTE: and now two years ago…], I received an email from new vegan, asking a very important question: “What is one piece of advice you give to new vegans who want to help make a difference?” I was struck by the question and ruminated on it for a while. Finally, I decided that the question is beyond me – I can’t possibly pick just one thing, and who’s to say that I’d come up with the right thing?
So, I sent an email to a bunch of my friends and heroes in the vegan community, asking them the question. I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the responses I received, and decided that they should be shared with the Our Hen House audience.
Spoiler alert: There are some key themes that come up again and again:
- Be patient with yourself.
- In addition to being vegan, advocate for veganism.
- Be a positive example as a joyful, healthful, and nonjudgmental vegan.
Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section.
And, without further ado:
“Being vegan isn’t about personal purity, knowing every little ingredient, or being ‘perfect.’ If you eat something that has some animal products in it or even fall off the wagon some meals, remember that the animals need us for the long term, so don’t get down or give up. What helped me a lot, especially in the beginning, was searching out easy vegan recipes online, making vegan meals with friends and family, and going to ethnic restaurants, since they often are loaded with delicious vegan options (like Chinese, Thai, Ethiopian, etc.). After a few weeks of doing this, you’ll see being vegan is quite easy!”
– Josh Balk, HSUS
“Always view your advocacy from the perspective of a meat eater. Don’t think about where you want people to be, but rather, where they are and where they can easily go next. Focus on the first step, not the last. Most important: Always realize when you choose to do one thing, you are choosing not to do others. Don’t ‘do something, do anything’ – do what will have the greatest impact. ”
– Matt Ball, Vegan Outreach
“Be a good example and a positive ambassador for vegan living, and be patient and understanding with people who aren’t vegan. Support any move non-vegans make away from animal consumption toward plant-based eating. Nurture even small positive steps, as these tend to empower people and build momentum toward bigger steps.”
– Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary
“Know your responses and use kind, informed answers – and don’t be shy. We have to learn to be effective voices for farmed animals if we are to create change.”
– Jenny Brown, Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary
“While our decision to go vegan impacts hundreds of animals, we can exponentially increase the good we do for animals by getting involved in advocacy. So I’d recommend finding a style of advocacy that is effective, easy to do, and to then do it regularly, at a sustainable pace.”
– Jon Camp, Vegan Outreach
“Be a positive example as a joyful vegan and refrain from judging others, while never missing an opportunity to compellingly let people know why you’ve decided to leave animals off your plate. Believe that others want to change as well and work from the position that others will be grateful to know what’s happening with animals, their health, and the environment and will see becoming vegan as the best thing they can do for all of these areas.”
– Alka Chandna, PETA
– Nick Cooney, Farm Sanctuary
“I would advise the person to get involved with one or more animal rights organizations and start acting. I would encourage the person to eat wholesome vegan food and not gorge on potato chips and vegan junk food. I would encourage a person still living at home with parents who may not (yet) be vegan, to be firm in their commitment and to educate themselves about vegan nutrition, and share the good news with their parents (family, friends, colleagues). I would encourage the person to offer to cook the family (or their friends’) dinner once a week and to do everything possible to make being vegan an affirmative, pleasurable, and fulfilling experience. I would encourage the person to be friendly but firm about their decision to be vegan, and never forget what animals go through in order to become ‘food’ that nobody needs.”
– Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns
“Remember that veganism is a compassionate lifestyle not a punitive religion. Enjoy it! And if the going gets rough, it’s better to relax the rules occasionally than to give up the game entirely.”
– Karen Dawn, Dawnwatch
“Be patient and gentle with yourself as you continue to learn new ways of eating and living. There is no need for hard-and-fast rules or white-knuckle determination. Keep leaning forward into the positive changes you are making, and then apply that same gentleness to your family and community. There is no need to promote your ideals, but rather attract interest by being informed and interesting, healthy and robust-looking, and most of all, kind. After all, if we want to create change in the world, we have to embody the quality and character we’d like to see more of!”
– Kathy Freston, author
“In the words of Joseph Campbell, ‘Follow your bliss.’ Whatever you were put on this earth to do, do it. Just do it vegan! If you’re a doctor, educate your patients about the benefits of a plant-based diet. If you’re a fashion designer, make beautiful cruelty-free clothes and let your customers in on why. If you’re a businessperson and you can’t work veganism into your job but you make lots of money, then just donate to your favorite nonprofits. Whatever your passion is, you can make it work for the animals.”
– Rory Freedman, author
“Remember that as a vegan, you save dozens of animals every year from the horrors of factory farms, which is great. And when you convince one person to also become vegan, in that moment you double your lifetime impact as a vegan! That’s power – and we should use it as effectively as possible. Check out the ‘Be a better advocate’ videos and essays at www.FarmSanctuary.org.”
– Bruce Friedrich, Farm Sanctuary
“Be a shining role model of the best qualities humane eating embodies: caring, compassion, and empathy.”
– Michael Greger, M.D., HSUS
“Lean into it or leap into it depending on your style. Watch it become second nature. Speak to others who eat vegan. Be stricter where you live and more lenient when you travel. Discover the joys of better-than-your-average-supermarket veggies. Learn to make a mean tofu or seitan stir-fry. Remember that selective omnivores and ranchers can be political allies. Continue to care about how animals are raised for food. Enjoy looking yourself in the mirror. Pass it on.”
– Aaron Gross, Ph.D., Farm Forward
“Leverage your impact by getting more people involved in doing the kind of outreach you consider most effective. I suggest getting involved in FARM’s 10 Billion Lives program and the follow-up protocol.”
– Alex Hershaft, FARM
“I would say to create a sustainable life: to become as healthy (psychologically and emotionally) as possible. To be committed to being your best self. The healthier and more grounded we are, the more effective we are in all aspects of our lives, and we also teach by example. Furthermore, it’s very challenging living in a dominant culture that offends our deepest sensibilities; we need to build up our psychological and emotional resiliency to be able to maintain our sanity living in this system.”
– Melanie Joy, Ph.D., author
“My piece of advice to give to new vegans would be to urge them to replace the term ‘owner’ with the term ‘guardian’ when referring to their relationship with their animal companions and other kindred beings. So they may not only not eat them, but that they take a proactive role in changing the existing paradigm that sees and treats other species as no more than mere property, objects, resources, commodities, and things.”
– Elliot M. Katz, D.V.M., In Defense of Animals
“Eat not just a vegan diet, but also a whole-foods diet (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds) so that you can be as healthy as possible. Junk food vegans who eat a lot of refined carbohydrates and highly processed meat substitutes tend to not be very healthy. Healthy vegans promote the cause of animal welfare and environmental sustainability, and unhealthy vegans harm it.”
– John Mackey, Whole Foods Market
“You don’t have to be a full-time advocate to make a huge difference for animals. Find something that pushes the peanut forward, and devote the first 15 to 60 minutes of your morning, every day, to working on it. Most towns have a real lack of vegetarian meet-ups. Visit meetup.com to start your own. Another great opportunity is doing food tours for aspiring vegans at Whole Foods Market and other natural food stores. These stores are generally thrilled to have advocates do these sorts of events, and will often be delighted to work with you to promote them to their customers. Being effective at advocacy requires learning how to be effective in the rest of your life. Exercise daily, keep your house super-clean, be relentlessly kind, and read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique.”
– Erik Marcus, Vegan.com
“Every time we choose a vegan meal, we’re making a difference for animals. Being vegan is not about being perfect. It’s about doing what we can to remove our support for animal cruelty and reduce the amount of suffering that we cause in our daily lives. If you feel alone at first, remember that billions of farmed animals are on your side – and vegans are everywhere! Find like-minded friends at a local meet-up or online through Facebook. And keep smiling, because your compassion will shine through, empowering others to make kinder choices as well.”
– Erica Meier, Compassion Over Killing
“Inform yourself about animal issues, and listen to different perspectives on how to help animals. Don’t latch onto the first opinion that you hear about what is the most urgent issue, or the best way to help animals. Read everything you can on the issues, and be critical when presented with facts. Take an honest look at what your talents, strengths, and passions are, and determine how they can be used to the greatest effect. Once you’ve informed yourself, do your own thinking. The best way for you to make a difference might not be obvious, and might be something that no one has thought of yet.”
– Mark Middleton, Animal Visuals
“The primal image of life is, all too often, this massive consuming monster, which would not even be here if it were not consuming life, or to put it another way, living by killing. But consider the horror of our own existence as it applies to other beings, or what for them are horrible experiences brought to end through unendurable pain. And so we must come to reconcile our consciousness to this rather monstrous, self-consuming thing, which only indicates our persistence in the primitiveness of self-interest. You might say, veganism is a higher level of awareness because one’s conscious level is now more harmonious with other expressions of life, other earthlings, other beings.This is how we evolve beyond the once primal image of life, wherein living by killing is transformed, finally, into living by loving.”
– Shaun Monson, filmmaker
“Teach by tasting: Give people food with a side of facts. Go to vegcooking.com, goveg.com, or just Google vegan versions of absolutely anything. And please give PETA’s free Paul McCartney-narrated DVD Glass Walls to anyone who is breathing, plus post a link to it (from peta.org) on your Facebook page!”
– Ingrid Newkirk, PETA
“It’s a long journey – the change can only be measured in increments of five years at a time. For every two steps forward, there is one step back. Don’t let that discourage you, because you can play a big part in ensuring that measurable change takes place in the coming decade.”
– Jack Norris, R.D., Vegan Outreach
“Be patient with yourself. Even though you might slip now and then, if you can maintain your veganism, you are making a difference by helping to eliminate some of the worst suffering in the world. Also, it is important for you to be patient with others, as your road to ending injustice may be different and longer, but planting seeds has a positive impact.”
– lauren Ornelas, The Food Empowerment Project
“Don’t worry if you mess up. I’ve been vegan for 15 years and still accidentally buy products that contain animal ingredients; just last week, I accidentally bought curry paste with shrimp in it. You’ll get a feel for what’s vegan and what isn’t, and it’ll all become second nature shortly. So don’t get discouraged if you buy the wrong thing every now and then.”
– Matt Prescott, HSUS
“I would encourage them never to forget that they were not always vegans. The self-righteousness of the recently converted hurts, it does not help, other animals.”
– Tom Regan, author/professor
“For those of us who have already made the transition to a vegan lifestyle, the underlying philosophy and reasons for veganism often seem self-evident. It can be difficult to understand why some people don’t understand what seems so obvious to us now. It is important to remember that for most people there appears to be a vast ideological chasm between ‘normal’ people like themselves and those ‘radical’ people who follow the vegan philosophy. Few people are daring enough to make a leap of faith across a vast chasm. But almost everyone is willing to cross a bridge. So, our goal as advocates for vegan lifestyles shouldn’t be to convince people to make the leap to veganism, but instead to build bridges that make it easier for people to take that first step toward a vegan lifestyle. After they take that first step, the remaining steps will be that much easier, and before they know it, they’ll have made it across the chasm and will look back and wonder why they thought the chasm seemed so vast before.”
– Matt Rice, Mercy for Animals
“It’s always better to feed your enemies than to fight with them.”
– John Robbins, author
“Stay positive, joyful, and optimistic in your activism, even in the face of adversity. Understand that most people continue to consume animal products because they are unaware of the hidden cost – animal cruelty – not because they are bad or apathetic. Offer information, support, and resources in a friendly and supportive manner, as few people have begun their journey toward a compassionate lifestyle by being shamed or ridiculed. Turn anger and frustration into motivation to be as effective as possible.”
– Nathan Runkle, Mercy for Animals
“If you’ve been eating animals your whole life and have decided you’d like to become vegan, it can be helpful to talk with other vegans about your experiences in the beginning so you have access to some knowledgeable like-minded folks who’ve already made the transition. For example, they’re likely to tell you that it’s generally best to lean into it and feel good about the progress you’re making. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not perfect – no one is. Just keep continually making progress, and you’ll be doing just fine.”
– Paul Shapiro, HSUS
“Going vegan is a moral imperative – so congrats on embracing what will become the best part of you! The next step is to use your voice to speak up for animals, and the fantastic thing is that there is no learning curve necessary. You can use the talents, skills, interests, and social circles you already have to create change in a variety of ways, from food activism, to the arts, to legal advocacy, to grassroots, to media, to direct action, to academia, and just about everything in between.” –
– Jasmin Singer, Our Hen House
“Remember that not everyone is as strong as you are. Be mindful of human weakness, and of the fact that it may be more important, in the long run, to get many people taking steps in the right direction than to have fewer achieving the ideal.”
– Peter Singer, author/professor
“Be proud of yourself. Enjoy the food. And never forget the big picture – the incredible synergy created by the fact that the best thing for the animals is also the best thing for you, for the planet, and for the people of the world. Understood like this, it’s clear that veganism is the future, and you are in the vanguard.”
– Mariann Sullivan, Our Hen House
“When you want to make a difference as a vegan, it’s easy to see the non-vegans who you’re close with and want to change them. I recommend avoiding those who immediately surround you, because failing to ‘convert’ them can lead to bitterness from both parties. Instead, find those who are already hungry for your message and encourage them to take the first step toward veganism. Getting someone to say ‘yes’ to even a small step will boost your confidence as an activist and help you realize what messages work best. Even better is to join a local group that is seeing success with this type of work – you can learn from their victories and failures so that you avoid common mistakes and know that you’re part of a winning team.”
– Michael Weber, FARM
“To remember that as uncomfortable as it may be at times to be the odd man out, to stay strong, knowing you’re a cultural pioneer, changing the dominant worldview one meal at a time. When we look back in history, whom do we admire? Those who followed the status quo or those who stood up for compassion and justice, even when it wasn’t popular? It may sound trite, but if everyone would ‘be the change they wished to see in the world,’ the world would change overnight.”
– Marisa Miller Wolfson, Vegucated
Featured image at top, and photo of duck, both courtesy Farm Sanctuary (photo of duck taken by Connie Pugh).
Bruce Friedrich is senior director for strategic initiatives at Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization. Bruce has previously worked as a public school teacher in inner city Baltimore, as vice president for policy at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and at a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in inner city Washington, D.C. He has been a progressive activist for over 30 years.