Compassionate Action for Animals is approaching its twentieth anniversary, and with that we’ve got exciting plans for a redesign of our brand identity, which includes logo, typography, color palette, and more. And not only are we getting a redesign for CAA, but we’re also redesigning for two of our key programs, Twin Cities Veg Fest and Bridges of Respect.
The initial idea for this project came out of a desire for our logos to more accurately reflect our mission and to attract more of our target audiences.
As members of the board, we’ve witnessed CAA help thousands of people act on their compassion, change the way they eat, and speak up for farmed animals in 2017.
Did you know that 2018 will be our 20th anniversary? To fund an expansion of programs, we’ve launched an ambitious campaign: $24,000 by December 31. And we’re all chipping in to match your donation dollar for dollar!
Yep, the holidays revolve around food. And if you don’t eat animals or their secretions, that’s gonna set you apart from most everyone else. And sometimes that sucks.
I mean, just when you want to connect with loved ones, you’ve got this thing that’s keeping you apart, and it’s sitting right there in the center of the table. On a platter.
And “it” is actually not an “it.” You know, “it” is actually a “she” or a “he.” (Or maybe a “they” if you want to be all gender neutral about it.)
And so do you talk about her? Or do you ignore her body there and try to have a nice time?
Or somewhere in between?
A little of both?
Even those of us “level-seven” vegans who are immersed in a metropolitan veg paradise, flitting from The Herbivorous Butcher to J. Selby’s on the daily, even we occasionally have to go home for the holidays.
Granted, I’ve been vegan fifteen years, so at this point, my family gets it. They know this isn’t a phase. And they know what I can eat and are willing to accommodate. (Mom’s last text message to me was asking about my favorite brand of nondairy ice cream.)
Still, it wasn’t always like that. Even now, I know there will be a turkey on the table. Not one of them has gone veg. And so, even though there’s this general comfort-level with my veganism, there’s also the possibility that icky questions might come up.
Will my brother-in-law ask me why I don’t eat the turkey? Or where I get my protein? Or what I would eat if I were stranded on a desert island and my only choice would be to kill an animal or die?
Though maybe I’ve heard it all before, I know some of you haven’t. (Just wait till you hear about the circle of life. Oh, goody!)
These questions can make us feel anxious, throwing a wrench into an otherwise pleasant family affair. (Wait—is there is such a thing as a pleasant family affair?)
And memorizing the answers to those FAQs may or may not be what’s gonna actually get you through the holidays. I actually think not.
I’m thinking about what’s gonna get me through, and I’ve come up with a little list of very general approaches that have me feeling empowered. Here they are.
1. Choose your own adventure.
You could use this schmoozefest as an opportunity to speak out for animals, or you could put that intention aside, especially if you think it could keep you from connecting with your loved ones and nurturing your relationships.
And if you are making those personal connections and the subject of what you eat (or don’t eat) comes up, then you’re arriving at the conversation from a more openhearted place. And that’s going to improve the chances for mutual understanding.
But even if the subject of your veganism doesn’t come up in conversation, rest assured that just by being you, eating your vegan food, you are going to have an impact. They are going to notice. You are making them think about their food choices.
Ultimately, you don’t have to feel compelled by anything but your own intention. How do you want to spend your time?
2. Engage in openhearted conversation.
If something on the subject of farmed animals or veganism does come up, practice effective communication. Let go of any agenda and think of it as an openhearted conversation. Here are a few ways to do that:
Listen at least as much as you are speaking.
Ask questions. Be genuinely curious about who they are and what they think.
Respect the person in front of you, even if you don’t agree with them. You have some core values in common. Bring the conversation back to that common ground to keep the connection.
Let go of expectations. Rather than having an agenda for the conversation, just think of it as an opportunity for sharing and learning about one another.
And remember that you don’t have to know it all. (And by the way, you don’t know it all. None of us do.) But you also don’t have to know it all. It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” Just say what’s true for you.
Also, you can always choose to bow out of the conversation or to postpone it for a later date. And remember that the dinner table is not always the best place to talk about what’s happening on factory farms, as people will likely be more defensive when they are eating animals. Suggest that you talk about it more later.
And if they show genuine interest in why you’re vegan, that’s surely a conversation worth having. But if they show no interest or worse yet just want to push your buttons, then you’re probably better off saving your activist energy for someone else, which brings me to the last point.
3. Use your energy strategically.
There’s probably a reason that I’ve been vegan fifteen years and none my family has yet gone vegan. And it’s not that I’m a bad animal advocate. I certainly have influenced at least a few friends and some strangers, but not family. (And it’s not that I didn’t try.)
I’m no psychologist, but I’m guessing this has something to do with the complicated relationships within families. At this point, I’m aware of this dynamic, and so I put my energy where I think it will most likely yield results.
If you find yourself upset by the turkey on the table, consider logging onto exploreveg.org and signing up for a volunteer shift at an upcoming outreach event. Channel the energy there and just use your time with your family to talk about fun stuff, like politics.
CAA and many organizations like it offer numerous opportunities to take action for animals. What’s more, the audiences they reach tend to be genuinely interested, and they’re not your family. To them, you’re just a friendly and passionate advocate for the animals. And they get to leave the conversation feeling informed, inspired, and empowered.
If it feels helpful to you to memorize some responses to the frequently asked questions, then go for it. Ultimately however, effective communication requires more nuance than that. It means being present, listening, being unconditionally compassionate. There’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all response for every situation.
In my experience, I find a slightly laid-back attitude with loved ones to be most effective. It’s the lead-by-example approach. (I also call it the sneaky vegan approach.)
Activism is work, and sometimes we do need to refresh ourselves so that we can return to that work with renewed energy. You get to put your passion for helping animals to use in whatever way you think will be most effective, and you can even choose to take a break from speaking out if you feel like you need one.
I look for ways that my activism can be sustainable and effective, and for me these approaches help me to feel that’s possible. I hope they feel helpful to you too.
Thanks to all who joined us for our 15th Annual Vegan Thanksgiving Potluck on Saturday, November 11 at Matthews Park. More than 150 people came out to enjoy vegan food with the compassionate community.
Everyone had the opportunity to explore plant-based alternatives to the foods traditionally enjoyed on the Thanksgiving holiday. Huge thanks to Tofurky for generously donating a number of their delicious meat-free Tofurky roasts. Thanks also to Tiny Footprint Coffee for providing coffee for the event.
We’re also grateful to all of the volunteers who helped to make this event such a success. Special thanks to volunteer Julie Knopp, who took the lead on much of the planning.
We invite all our attendees to take this short survey to let us know about your experience. We’ll use your feedback to help improve our events.
Enjoy this slideshow of photos, featuring a glimpse of the food and the fun.
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Many of these photos were taken by Brooke Reynolds of Captured by Brooke. (Thank you, Brooke!)
Matt Mackall and Dave Rolsky, two of CAA’s co-founders, are retiring from their board positions. Matt’s last meeting was in September and Dave will officially resign on November 13.
Worried you’ll miss them? Have you always wanted to meet them? Don’t worry. You’ll still see them at events (check the snack table)! And we’ll be honoring them with a special presentation at our December Potluck & Holiday Party.
Nearing the 20th anniversary of CAA, we caught up with Matt and Dave to ask about how CAA was born, their hopes for its future, and where they see the movement headed.
When and how did you start eating a plant-based diet?
Dave: I first went vegetarian my senior year of college in 1994. I took a philosophy course on informal logic. We read about various positions on different topics and analyzed the arguments made for logical fallacies. One of the topics covered was animal rights. We read two arguments: One from Peter Singer (solid) and another “for” the use of animals (which was filled with flaws). I’d always enjoyed spending time with animals (growing up with three cats) and known for a long time that eating them wasn’t right. But reading and analyzing Peter Singer’s writing is what pushed me over the edge.
After moving to Minneapolis for graduate school, I met other vegetarians and vegans through an email list called “Veg-MN” (which Matt hosted on his server). Through our discussions and organized dine outs and potlucks, I ended up hanging out with lots of vegans. Being with them helped me go vegan myself.
Matt: I became vegetarian in my first year of college around 1992 and vegan a couple years later after reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. Having vegan friends and community was key to making it a lifelong habit.
Tell us the backstory about how you both co-founded CAA?
Dave and Matt: Before founding CAA we, including Unny Nambudiripad, were involved with a University of Minnesota group called Student Organization for Animal Rights (SOAR). SOAR was much more radical than CAA, with lots of protests and civil disobedience. While they had a large impact, it wasn’t clear there was a net positive.
After being involved with SOAR for about a year we were feeling tired and frustrated. Right around that time, SOAR’s founder, Freeman Wicklund, published a paper titled “Strategic Nonviolence for Animal Liberation.” This drew on work by Gene Sharp, a political science professor. Sharp’s work analyzes many of the most successful political movements of the 20th century. His analysis aimed to understand how these movements became powerful and enabled the achievement of goals. Freeman’s paper talked about how we could apply that same strategic thinking to the animal liberation movement. Strategic nonviolence was hugely appealing to us because it has a strong theory of how social movements can acquire and use power. It was exactly this theory and strategy that we’d been missing with SOAR. Other people involved with SOAR felt the same.
So, a group of us met regularly for a few months to discuss strategic nonviolence and how to structure activities around its principles. We proposed that SOAR adopt these principles, but many existing SOAR activists did not like this new approach. We quickly realized a need to form our own organization, and CAA was born.
Are there any accomplishments you’re particularly proud of?
Dave: I’m most proud of what CAA is today after a very humble beginning. When we started, our budget was whatever folks at a meeting had in their wallets and could spare. We had very few volunteers, no donors, and no programs. Now we are an organization with hundreds of volunteers, a budget of over $150,000 per year, and we can organize a Twin Cities Veg Fest that brings in 7,000 people! That’s amazing to me.
Matt: I’m pleased that the principles we originally organized CAA around have inspired new generations of activists to continue moving our mission forward. And it’s very satisfying to go to an event like Veg Fest and see thousands of people positively interacting with our message.
Recount a memorable moment for us, will you?
Dave: I think for me one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever experienced was our first Twin Cities Veg Fest. I was extremely nervous before we opened! We’d been working on it for many months, but we really had no idea whether it would be worth it. A line of people waiting to get in started building up about a half hour before we opened. And by the time we did, the line was a few hundred-people long. And people kept coming and coming! I was so happy and relieved that all the hard work had paid off. Looking back, it’s amusing to think how that first festival only attracted 1,200 people or so. Nowadays we’d consider that turnout a disaster, which just speaks to our continued success at expanding our work.
Matt: Perhaps the most dramatic thing we’ve done (back in 2001) was to rescue a dozen chickens and hold a press conference as part of a battery cage investigation. While we were the first group in the US to do this sort of investigation, we now rely on other organizations like Mercy for Animals to do this work while we focus more heavily on outreach and grassroots community building.
Name some the key changes at CAA through the years.
Dave: Hiring our first part-time staff person, Gil Schwartz, was a really big deal. We paid him very little, well under $15,000 per year, but it felt like a lot back then in 2005.
Moving into our current office was a big milestone, since it meant we were finally financially stable enough to pay for a non-trivial monthly expense.
Another big milestone was hiring Unny as our Executive Director in 2011. He was the first ED in our modern history and the first staff person to receive what I would consider a living wage.
And we’re having another big milestone right now. With Matt and I leaving the board, and Unny having left his position last year, all the original founders who were still heavily involved in the organization will be gone. It’s fantastic that CAA is in a such a thriving and successful state that we can do this without any fears.
Matt: One of the hardest changes for the organization was growing past the point where everyone involved knew each other. This more-or-less required someone take on a full-time role just to coordinate the many activities CAA was organizing.
Why did you decide to retire from the board?
Dave: There are two reasons. First, I’ve been very heavily involved in CAA for many years, and I need a break. In addition to my board responsibilities, I’ve helped plan all the Twin Cities Veg Fest events, every fundraising banquet except two, and done a lot of other things in between. It’s time for me to take a vacation from being in charge of things.
Second, I think it’s good for founders to give new volunteers and staff space to shape the organization. I never want CAA to suffer from “founder’s syndrome.” That hasn’t been an issue so far, but it’s best to make sure it never becomes one.
Matt: We’ve long been aware that having a few people hold too much of the organizational knowledge and history makes it challenging for even our most enthusiastic contributors to step into real leadership roles (“founder syndrome”). But I’ve mostly been waiting for our board to grow large enough to not miss me too much!
What are your future hopes for CAA?
Dave: I hope we can keep growing and advocating for animals in the Twin Cities and maybe beyond. I think we’ve done a lot to help build a thriving animal-friendly community in the region and CAA should keep on doing that. I also hope to see CAA continue to find ways to be effective, whether through better technology, new programs such as institutional campaigns, or some new things that no one has thought of yet.
Matt: I’d like to see CAA continue a path of sustainable growth and become a major force in worldwide animal advocacy.
And where do you see the movement headed?
Dave: The animal rights movement has grown tremendously in the time I’ve been involved. The public awareness of animal abuse has skyrocketed, and we’ve taken some baby steps toward real change in the form of Meatless Mondays, bans on particular farming practices, and the increasing availability of vegan food.
However, we still have a huge amount of work to do. The number of animals being killed is still increasing (partly because people are switching from “red meat” to chickens). We’ll know we’re really winning when that trend finally subsides and we see a long-term decline in the number of animals killed for food.
Matt: I think awareness and accessibility of plant-based eating is ever-growing and my outlook for the next twenty years is very positive.
How do you plan to remain involved with the organization?
Dave: I’ll show up at events to do day-of volunteering as long as I don’t have to organize anything. I’ll also be coming to social events like potlucks and dine outs. I’m all about eating!
Matt: Primarily as a donor, event attendee, and snack consumer!
We are hugely grateful to Matt and Dave for their tremendous service to CAA over the past twenty years. We could not have grown as we have without their dedicated support and unwavering passion for helping animals.
Please join us as we honor Dave and Matt as part of our December Potluck & Holiday Party on Monday, December 18 at the Powderhorn Park Recreation Center. We’ll be celebrating CAA’s legacy and all the wonderful things to come.
Our annual Thanksgiving potluck is an opportunity to come together with other people who have an interest in helping farmed animals and enjoying vegan food.
Bring your friends and family! Whether omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan, all are welcome. Everyone is invited to bring a vegan dish to share and join in the fun.
For those of us who are vegan or moving in that direction, we can really benefit from the sense of community that this, our biggest potluck of the year, provides.
Studies have shown that recidivism (going back to eating animal products) is a real issue for our movement. Former vegetarians often comment that they were feeling isolated and missing community. That’s where CAA comes in!
We support people’s continued progress toward plant-based eating through a variety of programs centered around experiencing community. Our Thanksgiving potluck is a perfect example.
We hope you’ll join us and embrace the opportunity to make new friends in the compassionate community.
Also, if you feel inspired by this work, please consider making a contribution to our GiveMN campaign. Give today! Your gift will be doubled thanks to the generousity of an anonymous donor. We appreciate your support!
So maybe you’ve heard. Laverne Cox, star of the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, announced last week that she went vegan a few months ago.
This exciting news followed soon after other celebrities announced that they had joined the plant-based brigade: Ruby Rose, Danielle Brooks, Craig Robinson, Edie Falco, Jason Derulo, and the list goes on.
Why do we get so excited when our favorite actors, singers, and other stars go vegan?
It’s promising. We see someone with a huge platform advocating for a vegan diet, and we know how many people will be influenced to consider going vegan as a result. (And we want more people to go vegan!)
It’s normalizing. When famous folks start posting about their favorite vegan recipes on social media, the idea of being vegan becomes that much more the norm. (And people generally like to feel normal!)
It’s validating. When someone who has a huge following chooses a vegan diet, it can help us feel even better about the fact that we went vegan. (And people like to feel good!)
Of course, there’s a flip-side to celebrities going vegan.
They are human beings, just as complicated as anyone else. Who knows exactly why they went vegan or how long they’ll stick with it. And if they don’t stick with it, how will they then talk about that experience with their fans? And in that case, how could what they say affect the image of veganism?
Also, depending on why they went vegan and how they talk being vegan, they could potentially lead people to think being vegan is about being trendy or about losing weight, when it in fact is a social justice movement.
Again, we don’t always know why these celebrities have gone vegan or if they’ll be influential representatives for the animal protection movement, but these are good things to keep in mind in the midst of our excitement. This awareness can inform how we use these celebrity stories to advocate for animals.
In any case, we as animal advocates can take heart and enjoy the thrill that comes with seeing our favorite celebs go vegan. It can give us a boost of confidence and motivate us to get out and speak up for the animals. (And that’s everything!)
Often in the animal protection movement, we’re encouraged to be the voice for the animals, speaking up for them. And the animals are sometimes referred to as “voiceless.”
But animals call out for their freedom in a variety of ways. Maybe it’s with their actual voices, such as a mother cow calling for her baby once he’s been taken away. Or maybe it’s through their physical actions, with their obvious struggle to get free from what ties them down or keeps them caged.
Every now and then, one of them is able to free themselves, and the world takes notice.
This happened last week in Brooklyn. A calf managed to escape from a slaughterhouse and ran through the streets of New York. The media grabbed onto the story, and people of all stripes, vegan or not, were rooting for the baby bull, hoping he wouldn’t have to go back to the slaughterhouse.
And good news, there’s a happy ending for Shakar, the baby bull. He now lives at Skylands Animal Sanctuary and Rescue, where he is gradually adapting to his new surroundings.
Those of us in Midwest aren’t unfamiliar with these types of stories.
Last April, Wally the pig made big news when he jumped from a moving truck on his way to a slaughterhouse. And the truck was going 70 mph! Now, what does that say for Wally’s desire to be free?
Fortunately, Wally survived his tumble and now lives at SoulSpace Farm Sanctuary in Wisconsin, where he’s free to enjoy his life. (And we can visit him!)
Yes, animals have voices. And they take action however they can. We can take our cue from them when we listen and when we watch. They’ll tell us and show us what they want.
We want to let you know about Coco and Lala, two Minnesota residents who are making plant-based eating fun and accessible through their Facebook page, Keeping up with Coco & Lala.
Coco and Lala’s live Facebook videos showcase recipes, taste-test products, and explore the questions that often come for people going vegan. With humor and honesty, they give an entertaining look at plant-based cuisine that’s sure to inspire people on their journey to a more compassionate lifestyle.
Tell us about yourselves. How long have you lived in the Twin Cities area? What brought you here?
Coco: I was born in California, lived in South Dakota for a while and then moved to Minnesota in 1998 for a change of pace. Now, I’ve been here long enough to know how cold, cold really is!
Lala: I am proud to be a Minnesota native, grew up in the Crocus Hill area of St. Paul, and graduated from Central High School. I don’t care for the winters but love being a Minnesota native!
What turned you onto plant-based eating?
Lala: I grew up around a lot of vegetarians so I was very familiar with the vegetarian lifestyle. After watching the documentary What the Health, I decided to try going vegan. I’m still on my journey, but I incorporate a lot of vegan foods into my daily lifestyle. The media makes it seem like it’s so easy to go vegan or transition, but not all communities have the access to vegan and vegetarian alternatives.
Coco: My transition to eating vegan is still ongoing. I grew up eating meat and never really thought about going vegan until I watched What the Health. It was then that I decided to cut out meat. Two and a half months later, I still did not miss meat and looked for ways to become vegan. I was not only looking for meat substitutes but also dairy substitutes. Going out to eat with family and friends who are not aware of my lifestyle change can be challenging. What I find surprising is how many of my favorite foods I can still enjoy while being vegan. I love sharing about that on our show. And getting together weekly with Lala to cook recipes for the first time ever on live video definitely makes for some good comedy!
Speaking of your Facebook show, how did that get started?
Coco & Lala: We found the transition to being vegan somewhat daunting and not so easy as it’s portrayed in our society. We wanted to educate our community on healthy and fun vegan options–with a little spice from us! We enjoy sharing our recipes and giving unfiltered reviews of our food experiences.
I love the candor in your videos. Very refreshing! How has the response been?
Coco & Lala: Great! We get viewers from all over the country, and when out and about we’ll have people we never knew were watching tell us how much they enjoy it. We hope to continue educating others on the healthy vegan lifestyle. We want people to know that it’s okay if you come across a recipe that doesn’t suite your taste buds. Don’t give up! There’s going to be recipes that could use some improvements, and when we’re cooking on the live videos we’ll make those improvements on the spot. Essentially, we want people to be more healthy. We really enjoy what we do so we would love to write a cookbook with some of our favorite recipes.
That would be awesome! And tell us about some of the food you’ve made so far on the video.
Coco: I like the chocolate pudding made primarily with avocados. My kids have been eating this for years without knowing that they are eating avocados (LOL!).
Lala: My favorite would be the General Tso’s cauliflower chicken, strawberry banana ice cream/swirl and the Beyond burger. Since we are newbies to vegan foods, we still have so many more recipes and foods to try!
Coco & Lala: The Jackfruit Challenge is about getting people to try something different as a meat replacement (and jackfruit is also a fruit!). We would like people who eat meat to do a blind taste test, trying BBQ pulled chicken or pork alongside BBQ pulled jackfruit. We tried this on our families and friends, and the jackfruit won every time! No one can believe that a fruit can taste just like meat.
We invite everyone to join us in the Jackfruit Challenge! You can find the recipe and more detailed directions on our Facebook page. And you can help us spread the word and get people to eat more fruit by getting your family and friends involved. Those with the best videos will receive a special prize!
Sounds fun and fantastic! Tell us what you’re doing when your not sharing about the wonders of vegan food.
Coco: I enjoy making YouTube videos with my family. We have a family YouTube channel called Laud Family Vlogs, where we do fun food challenges. It’s great family time for us. I also enjoy baking and mentoring our youth.
Lala: I enjoy singing, genealogy, and spending time with family and friends. I’m a gospel singer and have an album that was just released in July. You can check out my new music at thysongbird.com.
Thanks to Coco and Lala for sharing their story with us. We’re really excited about how they are sharing their transition to plant-based eating and at the same time educating their community, family, and friends. They’re also talking about very critical issues of affordability and accessibility for plant-based food. So inspiring!
We encourage you to “like” their Facebook page, share their videos, and take part in the Jackfruit Challenge!