Jean is the Coordinator of Vegan Outreach’s Mentoring program, which connects vegan-curious people with longtime vegans to support and encourage them throughout the beginnings of their vegan journey*. I was interested to learn more about the program and get her perspective on the issues that face those of us involved in vegan advocacy.
Hi Jean, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us. So, what inspired you to get involved with vegan advocacy?
After reading John Robbins’ book Diet For A New America in 1994, I went vegan overnight and could not help but become an activist for animals.
There are many different vegan charities and organisations that you could devote your time to, why did you choose the Vegan Outreach Mentoring program?
I discovered Vegan Outreach in 2000 and noticed how different their philosophy is from the other animal rights groups I had supported for years. Rather than chase every form of animal abuse, they focus on the issue involving the most animals exploited by humans (99.7%) and for which every single person could make a difference–animals used for food. By addressing the dissonance of how our society loves some animals and eats others, they address the root problem that leads to so many other rationalizations for animal abuse. In other words, as long as our society reinforces, with every meal, the idea that it’s okay to kill animals, it will be hard to make headway in other areas of animal exploitation.
Vegan Outreach addresses this problem with the Adopt-A-College Program in which millions of educational leaflets are handed out to young people on college and high schools campuses as well as entertainment venues. This is the demographic most receptive to social justice change.
What does a vegan mentor do and why do you think that mentoring is important?
A vegan mentor is a volunteer from anywhere in the world (currently 28 countries and every U.S. state except two), usually a long time vegan, who would like to help others one-on-one with adopting and maintaining a cruelty-free lifestyle.
The mentor may help the mentee with things like meal ideas, nutritional information, tips on shopping for food, dealing with uncomfortable social situations, feelings of isolation, and having little or no support from friends and family.
This program is just as important for mentors as for mentees. I hear from so many people who want to help animals by spreading this non-violent philosophy, but have no real outlet for doing so. This huge amount of untapped passion is a valuable resource that needs to be harnessed for the benefit of this movement and to address recidivism among vegans.
The ultimate winners in the program are the animals, of course. Connecting like-minded people strengthens the animal rights movement.
Recently there has been more and more research into effective activism and although this research is in it’s infancy some outreach techniques and approaches seem to have more evidence supporting their efficacy than others. At this stage how useful do you think this research is for vegan advocacy ?
I do not believe there is sufficient data for meaningful results at present, but as more people adopt this lifestyle, studies will improve. Vegan Outreach is currently conducting research about leafleting and Pay Per View and we hope to have solid results within a few years.
You must have spoken to hundreds of new vegans while working for Vegan Outreach. What in your experience are the main motivations for their initial interest in veganism?
According to the Mentor Program statistics - health, animals and environment seem to be equally motivating factors.
Have you noticed any demographic trends in these new vegans?
Our mentors and mentees are mostly young people; 43% are age 13-24, 25% are age 25-34, 6% are age 55 and older. They are 85% female and mostly concentrated near large metropolitan areas.
Obviously your work is focused on helping people become vegan but how do you feel about campaigns that encourage meat reduction or vegetarianism either as baby steps towards veganism or ends-in themselves?
Elimination of unnecessary animal suffering is the goal, but not doable overnight in the real world, so we will have to settle for gradual change. Therefore, ANY reduction in suffering is an improvement over none. If everyone in the U.S. cut their meat, dairy, and egg intake by 50%, 5 billion out of 10 billion land animals slaughtered per year in the U.S. would be spared. If one out of 7 meat eaters observed “Meatless Mondays,” 1.5 billion land animals would be spared.
A couple of years ago the Humane Research Council released a report about vegetarian recidivism* which caused much concern and discussion. Do you see recidivism as a big problem for veganism? And if so, how do you think we should address it?
Yes, recidivism is a major issue. Twenty eight per cent of the mentees who sign up for our program are already vegan but would like support from another vegan. Lack of convenience is a major hurdle for maintaining a vegan diet over the long term, but this is improving as more and more people demand vegan options in grocery stores and restaurants.
Researchers like Nick Cooney stress the importance of building vegan community as a way to encourage new vegans to stay vegan by supporting them practically and embracing veganism as part of their personal identity. Other animal advocates argue that by calling ourselves vegan we create barriers between ourselves and non-vegans that can hinder dialogue and potentially make advocacy harder. How useful do you think that the vegan label is? and how does it affect your interactions with new vegans or the vegan-curious?
In my opinion, the word “vegan” is a useful, shorthand way of identifying one’s philosophy and I think we should own it, making it clear that it is synonymous with a compassionate lifestyle, not just a diet. On occasion, I might use other language, such as “cruelty-free,” or “plant-based” when talking with people who might not be familiar with the word “vegan.”
If any of our readers would like to help mentor new vegans through Vegan Outreach’s program how can they get involved?
Sign up here. New mentors and mentees are always welcome!
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