How To Become A More Effective Vegan Advocate
At Faunalytics, we place a strong emphasis on helping animal advocates become more effective — in fact, it’s a key part of our mission! Creating more effective advocates often means finding messages that stick, or tactics that cut through the noise to reach as many people and help as many animals as possible.
However, how we communicate our advocacy is just as important as the content of the message. You may approach someone with a persuasive argument, but if you don’t pay attention to how you deliver it, you risk turning them away. Effective vegan advocacy means communicating in a way that opens people’s hearts and minds, rather than causing them to become defensive. Only then can you be confident that your audience will listen to your message the way you want it to be heard.
This may pose a challenge, especially for those who aren’t trained in persuasive communication. To help you, we’ve teamed up with our friends at the Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy to create a factsheet with five key strategies for becoming a more effective vegan advocate.
1. Know Your Audience
It’s important to remember that you’re not conducting vegan advocacy for yourself (or for other vegans). This means that the strategies and messages you find effective may not be the right ones for your audience.
When speaking to members of the public, you need to understand them and their needs. For example, are they more concerned about the environment or health than animal protection? Do they live in a place where accessing nutritious vegan food is difficult? Is food a core part of their cultural identity? Figuring out these details will help you tailor your message.
Knowing your audience also means understanding how you’re being perceived. Before speaking to nonvegans, you must have a strong grasp of carnism — the invisible belief system that conditions people in society to eat certain animals (like cows and pigs) over others (like hamsters and foxes). Because carnism is so ingrained in our society, nonvegans have internalized the idea that eating some species of animals is entirely normal and natural, while eating others is morally wrong and disgusting.
Carnism shapes people’s perceptions of reality, and many nonvegans will become defensive if you bring attention to their meat-eating behaviors. This is why it’s critical to be mindful of your advocacy, as you want to avoid this reaction.
2. Know When Not To Advocate
There’s a right and wrong time for everything, and that includes vegan advocacy. Understandably, many vegans want to maximize their time by advocating for animals at every opportunity. However, if you advocate at the wrong time, you risk creating a backfiring effect.
The trick is to choose your timing wisely. Although it may feel natural to bring attention to veganism while surrounded by people eating meat, this is also when nonvegans’ defenses are at their highest. Therefore, it’s best to avoid engaging in advocacy during mealtimes, or when someone tells you they’re not interested in veganism. After all, you don’t want to force your message on someone who’s not receptive.
But what if someone asks you about veganism over dinner? This happens to a lot of vegans, especially when they’re eating something different from everyone else. In this case, rather than jumping into a discussion of advocacy, you might try telling the person that you’d prefer to talk about it after dinner. You could say something like: “I find it easier to discuss this issue when people aren’t in the middle of eating…”
Showing that you’re being mindful to others around you will also create a connection with your audience.
3. Focus On Process Over Content
In other words, the “how” of advocacy (how you deliver your message) is more important than the “what” (the content of your message). When you’re too focused on your message, you risk getting into a debate or argument. However, the goal of effective vegan advocacy isn’t to be right, but rather to create a mutual connection with your audience.
Think about a memorable conversation you had in the past. It’s likely that you remember not just the content of the conversation, but how it made you feel. When you’re focused on the process of your advocacy, you’ll communicate in a way that encourages your audience to be open to your ideas.
How does process-focused communication work? Instead of sticking to your talking points, be willing to engage in a genuine conversation. Share the truth of your vegan experience, and encourage the person you’re speaking with to share their journey in return. Listen openly, and be empathetic to their point of view. For example, if someone tells you they could never give up cheese, you could respond with something like: “I used to feel exactly the same way. Macaroni and cheese was my favorite food! But I started by cutting out other things, and eventually I found a recipe for a vegan macaroni and cheese that I love just as much. I bet there are other steps you could take first, too.”
When you achieve mutual understanding, you’ll increase the likelihood that they’ll be receptive to your message.
4. Share Your Own Story
When a nonvegan asks you why you became a vegan, it’s easy to share a bunch of statistics about the harms of animal agriculture for animals, human health, and the environment. This tells the other person why they should be vegan, but it doesn’t answer the question: why did you, personally, become a vegan?
By sharing your own journey, you invite your audience to see the world through your eyes. You’re not telling them what to do; you’re simply sharing what you did, and why. It’s difficult to become defensive or argumentative about someone’s personal experience, and your experience can never be wrong.
When sharing your story, it may help to remember your own carnism. Many vegans forget what life was like before they stopped eating animals. However, sharing your beliefs and experiences before veganism shows you have something in common with your audience. It will strengthen your connection.
You might try saying something like: “I became vegan after a lifetime of eating meat…” or “I’m vegan today, but for most of my life I wasn’t…” Just remember to keep your story short, simple, and personal. People tend to tune out with long-winded messages!
5. View Nonvegans As Potential Allies
Don’t fall into the trap of adopting an “us vs. them” mentality when addressing nonvegans. Likewise, avoid the misconception that anyone who isn’t a vegan is part of the problem.
You may not be able to turn everyone vegan, but you can get people to support our movement. Many social movements succeed because they have enough allies from the general public to generate change. In other words, you can be just as impactful for animals by creating vegan allies in addition to new vegans.
What does a vegan ally look like? They might be someone who takes part in “Meatless Monday,” or a nonvegan who donates regularly to vegan charities. There are also restaurant owners who offer vegan options on nonvegan menus, and nonvegan journalists who bring widespread attention to the movement by writing about animal protection issues. In short, there are many different ways to support the vegan movement and create meaningful solutions for animals.
When encouraging people to become vegan allies, it helps to ask for something specific. You might ask for signatures for a petition, or request more vegan food options at an event. And don’t forget to thank vegan allies for their support!
An Easy-To-Share Factsheet
If these five steps are helpful for you, we’ve compiled a condensed version into an easy-to-share factsheet below. Spread the word on social media by clicking the share button at the bottom of the graphic. If you’d like to download it in image format, click here and save it to your mobile phone or desktop.
Special thanks to our friends at CEVA for helping us with the content!