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Though Brita Bengtson just started a new part-time staff position as Bookkeeper with Compassionate Action for Animals, she’s been volunteering with the group since 2011 and a making a difference for animals long before that.
Brita went vegan in the 90s when she was about 15 years old. Looking back, she laughingly calls it “The Dark Ages of Veganism” and can relate to a buzzfeed-type list on the VegNews website called “You Know You Were Vegan in the 90s If…”.
Long story short, there weren’t nearly so many vegan specialty foods available back then. According to Brita, the only vegan cheese available was called “Vegan Rella” and was made out of Irish moss. (What?!)
When asked what made her go vegan, Brita says, “That’s a hard question for me because I don’t remember — and that’s not because of the B12 deficiency.” LOL! Did we mention Brita has a hilariously dry sense of humor?
No, she doesn’t have a B12 deficiency, but she does have a lot of compassion for animals. She’d always felt a sort of moral conflict about eating animals and naturally moved away from eating meat by the time she was 12 years old. Then at an Earth Day festival, she found a little booklet called What’s Wrong with Eating Animals, which also revealed the problems with the egg and dairy industries. That’s when she went vegan.
Fast forward about 15 years to 2011. Plant-based food options were on the rise, and veg fests were popping up everywhere, including right here in Twin Cities. Brita was inspired by the idea of the veg fests, as they reach thousands of people in one day and make compassionate living out to be what it really can be: fun and delicious. It was then that she jumped into volunteering for CAA, taking on the role of Advertising and Media Outreach Coordinator for our first annual Twin Cities Veg Fest.
Since then, Brita has been a vital organizer for the festival. She moved on to be the Social Media Coordinator a couple years later and has done a phenomenal job with the festival’s Facebook and Instagram pages. She sees social media as a good opportunity for free advertising, and, with her savvy approach to online communications, she has brought lots of positive exposure to Twin Cities Veg Fest and ultimately to our mission to help the animals.
When she’s not helping out with CAA, Brita has a job helping people with disabilities with their daily activities. She also enjoys finding creative ways to make vegan food and has three cats: Precious, Chibi-san, and Mr. Biscuit.
As an animal advocate, Brita is always contemplating how she can be more effective. That’s one reason she appreciates working with CAA; as an organization, we’re always thinking about how we can do better for the animals.
Her commitment to the cause has her always learning new things. It’s this passion that led her to apply for the part-time position as Bookkeeper for CAA. We’re grateful that she is taking on this new behind-the-scenes role; these kinds of administrative tasks are really instrumental to the stability and longevity of the group. It’s also wonderful when we can hire someone whose heart is so much in the work.
Meet CAA’s new intern Sydney Terwey. Sydney majors in Media Arts and Animation at The Art Institutes International of Minnesota and will be helping develop a variety of our design materials for the next three months.
Sydney hails from Long Prairie, a small town in rural Minnesota. Growing up around farms, she had a behind-the-scenes perspective on animal agriculture. Even on small farms, she witnessed the inevitable suffering and slaughter that are part and parcel when animals are used for food. She formed friendships with pigs much like people do with their dogs and cats, but then one day, the animals she had grown to love just weren’t there. Such intense experiences led her to stop eating meat.
Now vegetarian for the past 8 years, Sydney was drawn to working with CAA for her internship. She appreciates that CAA is passionate about the issues but not pushy. She tries to bring this tactic into her design work and creates images that are warm and inviting, rather than gory or shaming. In this way, she hopes to make a difference for animals, grabbing attention and then getting people to think about their food choices.
Sydney’s association with CAA began before her internship. For one of her design classes, she created an informational 2D and 3D animated advertisement for Twin Cities Veg Fest. (We’ll be sharing the video in the next couple months to coincide with the announcement for this year’s festival date and location.) The video was so impressive that we welcomed Sydney as an intern and very much look forward to all that she will contribute to the group and for the animals.
As advocates for animals, we want to reach people with our message of compassion for animals and help others make compassionate choices. We have many opportunities to engage in online discussion, but the conversations can be fraught with conflict, misunderstanding, and pain. However, we can do things differently.
The first thing to remember is that online discussions are not the best way to communicate. If you can talk about animals with other people face-to-face, then do so. Be proactive in starting those conversations, whether at an outreach table or by sharing vegan food with friends. When online discussions start and you find that people are interested in discussing the topic further, invite them to have a face-to-face discussion. In-person discussion allows for nonverbal communication, including gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice, all of which can increase empathy and understanding.
Sometimes it’s impractical to speak in person, and online discussions are the only opportunity to discuss issues. For those circumstances, here are 10 tips:
- There’s generally no need to respond right away. Give yourself time.
- Stop and breathe. Find peace in yourself before responding.
- Treat each person as an individual with their own needs, desires, and autonomy. You are much more likely to understand their perspective and also have them understand you.
- Listen to the other person. Start your comment or message by paraphrasing to show that you understand. Ask sincere questions to understand their perspective better.
- Show respect. Avoid sarcasm and condescension.
- Model open-mindedness. When people see that you’re listening and trying to understand, they are more likely to do the same.
- Since empathy works best in person, accommodate for the medium. When you communicate, imagine your words being interpreted in the worst light and then edit your comment to help the other person understand your perspective. And on the flip side, interpret their words in the best possible light.
- Speak from your own perspective. Don’t claim that your views are universal. And…
- When providing factual claims, cite sources that most people are likely to agree are reliable (e.g. industry or academic sources).
- Build bridges. Use the debates as an opportunity to find shared values and common interest that will keep the discussion going.
In public or group discussions, most readers (especially those who are undecided) never comment at all. This means that the people you’re most likely to influence are not the people who are commenting, and those people are more likely to listen to you and agree with you if you are respectful and seek to learn the truth.
None of this is to downplay the real anger we may feel about animal cruelty or the frustration we may feel when those we care about are engaging in animal abuse. Those feelings are real, yet acting them out is not helpful. Cool down and respond with compassion and goodwill for both the animals and your audience.
Twin Cities Veg Fest: Past, Present, and Future
Compassionate Action for Animals recently hosted the fourth annual Twin Cities Veg Fest, and we’ve already begun planning for the next one. The festival continues to grow from year to year, and the momentum just keeps building.
Twin Cities Veg Fest is by far the biggest event that we produce, not only in terms of the thousands who attend, but also in terms of how much of our resources are devoted to making it a success. Here’s why we think it deserves all of that and more: In one day, Twin Cities Veg Fest reaches thousands of people with a message of compassion for farmed animals. Those who attend get to enjoy lots of eye-opening activities, including delicious vegan food, inspiring speaker presentations, and informative cooking demos.
Our mission at Compassionate Action for Animals is to encourage people to embrace their empathy for farmed animals and to move toward a plant-based diet. All of our activities are designed with that goal in mind, and, as we grow as an organization, we look for new ways to assess how our outreach methods are having an effect. Are we actually fulfilling our mission and moving toward our goal of a cultivating a more compassionate community?
In 2014, we undertook our biggest initiative for evaluating our methods, and we used our largest annual event, Twin Cities Veg Fest, as a platform to do that. In creating a plan for the research, we consulted with a variety of experts, including Kathryn Asher and Che Green of Faunalytics (formerly Humane Research Council), food scientist Chris Homsey, psychology student Sonal Markanda, and Brandon Whited of Statistics in the Community. We incorporated their ideas into designing a research plan that would help us assess whether the 2014 Twin Cities Veg Fest had an effect on the behavior of attendees. Did the festival inspire them to take action for animals, either by moving further toward a plant-based diet, volunteering, donating, or sharing information about farmed animals? Continue reading
“…I want to become vegan.”
“It was a great presentation and very inspiring.”
“It was an eye opener.”
These quotes are from students at Blaine High School in response to a Bridges of Respect presentation on factory farming and veganism that was given on November 6. Shannon Kimball, who coordinates CAA’s humane education program, Bridges of Respect, had scheduled me to speak to two agriculture classes that had a total of 60 students.
During the presentations, I shared my story of what caused me to change from an avid meat eater to a vegan animal advocate; talked about the emotional lives and intelligence of pigs, cows, chickens, and fish; and exposed the link between animal agriculture and environmental destruction, including climate change.
Students were also invited to watch Mercy For Animal’s documentary Farm to Fridge. This 12-minute video shows the sad reality that animals face in factory farms and slaughterhouses. Because of the video’s graphic nature, students were empowered to take care of themselves and given the option to not watch. Most of them did watch it, and, because of their compassion, many of them were deeply moved and lots of tears were shed. Continue reading
This has been a landmark year for our CAA community and for our global movement. We hope you’ve been able to attend a few of our events over the past year, from the dine outs and potlucks to the Vegan Chili Cook-Off and Twin Cities Veg Fest. As you may have noticed, our community of animal advocates is growing.
This progress reflects a global shift toward a greater awareness of animal protection issues and an increase in plant-based food options; undercover investigations of animal agriculture are getting more exposure while restaurant chains and grocery stores are introducing more vegan food. Hooray!
Because of your generosity, the movement is thriving. We thank you for your past support and now look toward the future for animals. At CAA, we know that there is much more to be done to see that all animals get the justice they deserve. We are committed to this cause, but we cannot do our work without your continued financial support.
For CAA’s November Board Meeting, we decided to gather remotely. Our hope was to explore this as an option so that we can recruit board members who may not be able to make it to the CAA community space.
We began with a discussion of the incredible success of our fourth annual Twin Cities Veg Fest. The event attracted about 2,500 people and more food vendors than ever before. We’re looking forward to moving the event to a new venue next year as a way to make room for the festival to grow.
We really like the idea of offering an event like the Twin Cities Veg Fest on the U of M campus, though, so we discussed the possibility of holding a small scale version of the festival at the U of M campus during spring semesters. We thought we could encourage U of M students to plan the event during the school year and the event itself could be held outside of Coffman Union, for example, where food trucks could park. Holding the event outside could attract lots of passersby as well.
CAA is working with a new bookkeeper who has transitioned us to new web-based bookkeeping software. This will make the business of keeping up with the finances much easier, since those who need access will be able to log in to the online site rather than make their way into the office.
We ended the meeting by discussing how it went to meet remotely. In the beginning, it was difficult to iron out some minor technological difficulties, but in the end things seemed to go pretty smoothly. We tried using video chat for the first part of the meeting and then we transitioned to a conference call for the second part of the meeting. We found video chat was best.
We’ve decided that we’ll continue with remote board meetings. Our next meeting will take place on Google Hangouts on Monday, January 21 at 6:00pm. Be sure to let us know if you’d like to join in. If interested, email Unny Nambudiripad at email@example.com.
Our fourth annual Twin Cities Veg Fest happened just a couple days ago, and we’re still feeling the excitement. We hope you were able to join us for this event, which was our biggest one yet with an estimate of more than 2,500 attendees.
Check out the slideshow below to get an idea of what the festival included. It’s just a glimpse of the many exhibitors, vendors, sponsors, speakers, chefs, volunteers, and attendees who made this year’s Twin Cities Veg Fest truly amazing. All of us at Compassionate Action for Animals are grateful to everyone involved. Thank you!
It’s no secret: The team behind Twin Cities Veg Fest is a kooky bunch. I mean, they have to be kooky to take on the challenge of putting together a mammoth festival that draws thousands and shows them how freaking awesome vegan food can be. But they do it because they love it. And they do it for the animals. So maybe they’re not so kooky as they are extraordinarily compassionate. Here’s a bit more about them and why they love Twin Cities Veg Fest so freaking much:
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Twin Cities Veg Fest?
- More space! We can accommodate more people in the exhibitor halls (now we’ll have two!) and we have a ton of room for people to come to our cooking demonstrations!
- Working with the exhibitors
- Food, food, and more food. And maybe some food to go with the food. Also, I’m looking forward to seeing people show up and enjoy themselves. And food.
- Every year I look forward to new and interesting food vendors. Word is getting out that Twin Cities Veg Fest is a great place to showcase delicious vegan food (and sell out!) so I hope our food court grows even more.
- Introducing very skeptical omnivores to the wonderfulness that is vegan food. Hearing “Hey, this is good!” is music to my ears.
Can you tell us a little-known fact about another committee member?
- I think Sal looks like the pop star Robyn.
- Unny used to have incredibly long hair, super hippie-style.
- Unny pledged to not read any Harry Potter for ten years, and that kind of makes me want to start reading Harry Potter.
- Dave loves vegan food but not fruit. Weird.
If you could help rescue any animal, who would it be and why?
- I’d like a nonhuman animal to rescue humans from ourselves! I think I’ll have a Kneazle rescue us; my friends would appreciate that.
- Any animal is worth rescuing.
- Definitely a pig. Pigs are just too darn cute. On the other hand, I like pretty much all animals, so I’m not picky.
- A chicken! Because I think I could probably care for her or him at home.
- A horse! Or a cow. Or a lamb. Or a goat. Okay, I want to rescue them all.
Who is on the Twin Cities Veg Fest Planning Committee?
Not pictured: Annette Gaudreau – Speaks to Speakers (Speaker Coordinator)