Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be involved with the Ontario Plant Based Student Association (OPBSA) Winter Workshop. This day was meant to connect plant-based and animal rights clubs from different universities and colleges across Ontario. We typically have some community building activities, idea sharing and reflections to continue to improve our student clubs.
A reoccurring theme that I noticed when we would have discussions, is the idea that our clubs face a sort of backlash when we focus too much on veganism. We want to have welcoming environments that allow for all types of students to join along. We got to the root of the issue - there are many people who have had bad encounters with veganism that leads a bad taste in their mouth, this is why being a judgemental vegan does more harm for the cause.
You were there once
Think back to your pre-vegan days. All you thought vegans ate were bananas and grass. Now it’s your turn to educate your pals. Instead of telling them what to do, be sure to lead by example. Education is an important aspect in veganism. People think that it is solely a preachy lifestyle where others want to make people feel bad for the choices they make. Let’s change that! As the next generation of plant-based eaters, we need to take back the term veganism and turn it into something positive. We all have had a brush with a rude vegan. That doesn’t mean they all are, but it means we need to build up the reputation by being kind in our actions, especially when educating our pals.
Be welcoming and approachable
When you first go vegan, you know how frustrating all the questions can be - where do you get your protein? What do you even eat? Why would you do that? I know that it is less than ideal to be constantly questioned, but take this as an opportunity to show the greatness of veganism! For instance, you can share your awesome food creations like my favourite vegan buffalo cauliflower wings by hot for food, or simply talk about how easy it has been for you. Instead of having to learn how to cook whatever that piece of meat is, you were able to make a quick and easy pasta dish!
Being welcoming and approachable is an area where you can help people explore and understand their choices. Since eating animals is so engrained in our society, some people don’t even stop to think about the potential harm they are causing. Take this as an opportunity to help them think more about why they believe what they do. Why are dogs and cats more important than a pig or cow? They may have never questioned this before. I caution: please don’t force going vegan on people. Of course we need to make drastic changes for our environment and the animals, but I believe not everyone can and will go vegan. If everyone reduces their consumption even by 20%, it would be more effective than just 5% of the population being 100% vegan. Always encourage people to do their best. I have found that my non-vegan pals are more open to vegan dishes and reduce their own meat consumption just from this method. It’s not about “converting” someone. It’s about showing them that they can make a difference for the planet, the animals and their own health.
Lead by example
This has been an overall theme throughout exploring this topic further. It truly makes much more of a difference if you show your friends and family what it’s like to be vegan. It’s not this huge and scary thing. I went vegan practically over night (which I know isn’t always possible for people) but everyone I knew at the time thought I was crazy. Going vegan can be something super daunting for people - so showing them that a regular person like you do it can be encouraging. Keep up the mentality that we all can do the best within our means and sometimes we’ll make mistakes. That’s okay. Being a judgemental vegan will be more harmful, let’s just be positive and encourage our pals to do the best they can do.