It's tempting to think that there is some silver bullet for animal advocacy. With enough research, we'll find that there's just one particular form of outreach that outdoes all others. Then we'll just go ahead and do that until everyone is vegan and no more animals are tortured in factory farms.
Maybe leafleting or online video are the silver bullets for animal advocacy. These are great forms of outreach. Leafleting is low-cost, easy to do, and you can do it at so many places, from concerts to colleges. Online video is powerful, inexpensive to provide, and can even spread virally through social media. What's not to love?
If these things are so great, why does Compassionate Action for Animals do all this other stuff? Why bother with our dineouts and potlucks, with the Twin Cities Veg Fest and VegGuide? Isn't it enough to tell people about the horrors of factory farming? Once they know about this, surely they'll be inspired to change their lives!
While it's true that leafleting and videos can inspire quick and powerful change, there's more to being effective advocates than just giving people that initial push. We live in a society where the vast majority of people eat animals every day. The pressure to conform may be blunt or subtle, but it's always powerful.
Once a person is inspired to move towards plant-based eating they will quickly encounter challenges. Many of these challenges are close to home. Friends and family may be less than accepting. Some will argue that it's not healthy to be vegan. Others may feel disappointed at a perceived rejection of existing traditions. Friends may feel implicitly judged by a change in lifestyle.
It's easy for long-time animal advocates to dismiss this pressure. "Why can't you just do what you know is right? You can take comfort in the knowledge that you're doing the right thing." Can't you?
Of course, this isn't reality. People care what their friends and family think of them. We all want to be accepted. We all want to have good relationships with friends and family. We want our values to be understood and respected. Of course, over time, family and friends will accept a change in values. Many may come to embrace it, but that probably won't happen immediately.
Besides the social issues, there are also real practical problems to overcome. How does someone new to veganism learn what restaurants are vegan-friendly, how to cook tasty vegan food, or what to shop for at the grocery store?
Building a strong and vibrant animal-friendly community helps people who want to help animals. How many people abandon their new diet after just a few weeks or months because of social pressure? How many people go back to eating meat because they don't know where to eat out or how to cook good vegan food?
This is why the community-building efforts we engage in at Compassionate Action for Animals are so important. We provide social events and community for people who care about animals. We provide support for people who are struggling with changes to their values. Our social events at Thanksgiving and other holidays provide a sense of camaraderie and ritual that doesn't involve eating animals.
These social events show attendees that they are not alone in caring about animals. There are other people who share their compassion and are living out their values in the same way. These events are also fun. As an activist organization, when we do outreach, we want to be able to offer more than just a message. When we hand someone a leaflet, we can also have a conversation about all the great activities we offer. And having fun is a great way to energize pepole for future outreach. Outreach can be draining, and social events rejuvenate us, helping prevent burnout.
We also address the practical issues. Our cooking classes teach people how to make delicious vegan foods. The VegGuide site provides world-wide listings of veg-friendly restaurants and grocers. When we have dineouts we can point attendees at the tastiest vegan dishes on the menu.
Ultimately, our community-build efforts go hand in hand with our outreach work in helping people make the lifestyle changes that directly reduce the number of animals suffering on factory farms.