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Last week, The Washington Post shared the story of Esther the Wonder Pig. She’s the Internet sensation who was adopted as a mini pig but grew into a giant pig the size of three linebackers. She’s the kind of pig that you would find on a typical factory farm—bred to be enormous.
But Esther is not a factory cog in the wheel. Anyone who follows her on social media knows her as a living, breathing individual. She’s sometimes hysterically funny, often snoozing and nibbling, and altogether adorable.
But Esther is really not so different from the thousands—no, millions of pigs that you’d find on a factory farm today. Of course, they’re each distinct in their own ways, yet what they have in common is what we all have in common: the capacity for pleasure and the capacity for suffering.
At Compassionate Action for Animals, it’s our mission to reduce the suffering of farmed animals. We want to help the greatest number of animals and have the biggest impact possible. We acknowledge that the vast number of pigs alive today aren’t nearly as fortunate as Esther. Just last week, we shared this video of a shivering, scared pig on her way to a slaughterhouse. It was heartbreaking and for many of us a wake-up call.
Her name could be Esther, and she needs your help today. Please make a gift to Compassionate Action for Animals and support our work speaking out for farmed animals.
At CAA, we’re always asking ourselves how can we create a world where there’s less demand for animal products. How can we create a world where more people choose vegan and fewer animals are used as food?
It’s a long road perhaps, but as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
We have to believe that’s true, and certainly there is evidence to show the arc is beginning to bend our direction. There have been undeniable strides in our movement to help animals: plant-based foods are increasingly in demand, the word “vegan” is one that virtually everybody knows, many celebrities are going vegan and talking about it with their millions of followers, and vegan food options are available at supermarkets and chain restaurants with increasing variety.
None of this was true twenty years ago. What could the next twenty years bring?
Animal agriculture is rightfully quaking in their boots. They consider the growing sophistication of animal activism and the rise in popularity of plant-based food to be two of the biggest threats to their business. And we are a threat because we are making a difference. We are creating change.
But how has that change happened? And how will the momentum continue?
Over the past year, CAA has reached thousands of people through outreach initiatives. Check out these numbers:
Vegan food samples given away: 6,058
Pay-per-view outreach participants: 1,580
Virtual reality outreach participants: 439
Leaflets given away: 19,741
Attendees at Twin Cities Veg Fest: 7,000+
Students reached through Bridges of Respect: 1,200+
And these people reached through our direct outreach programs are in addition to the hundreds who attend our community-building events, including potlucks, dine outs, camping trips, and the annual vegan chili cook-off.
All of these programs help raise awareness about why farmed animals need our help and how people can make more compassionate choices in their everyday lives.
We’ve seen amazing response:
- “It was fun giving out the quesadillas—lots of people had never tried vegan food before.” –Vegan food giveaway volunteer
- “Someone came up and told me she’d seen the video at last year’s festival and had gone vegetarian.” –Pay-per-view volunteer
- “It was great to get to connect with folks from my community at Cinco de Mayo. People’s eyes were opened and some cried as they watched the videos. I had lots of great conversations with people interested in making changes.” –Virtual reality volunteer
- “It’s so rewarding to see people reading the leaflets and starting to think. I know we helped people make the connection between what’s on their plates and what happens to animals.” –Leafleting volunteer
Thanks to these volunteers and to the more than 200 other individuals who have helped with our programs throughout the year.
In many ways, it’s our local community of animal advocates that makes CAA unique and effective. As part of the global movement, we’re building vital momentum on a grassroots level.
We look forward to the tipping point, to that moment when the global community that takes action for animals becomes so large that we cannot be denied. Until then, we move forward guided by our new strategic plan, which includes branching into institutional outreach as well as expanding on our current programs.
We are very grateful for the support of our community through volunteerism and also through monetary gifts. Your donations do have an impact. They help to maintain the vital infrastructure and programs required to run an organization that reaches thousands of people every year. With those dollars, we help people get on the road to compassionate living, and we teach the next generation of advocates how to be most effective.
If you want to help animals, please make a gift today and support CAA’s effective advocacy. Your donation will be matched and you can help us reach our year-end goal of $24,000 by December 31.
We are very grateful for your support for CAA and your dedication to ending needless suffering and death.
We hope that whenever you see Esther the Wonder Pig, or even the other Esther on her way to the slaughterhouse, you will feel your compassion burning bright, whether it manifests as a feeling of joy or sorrow. But take heart knowing that you are doing your part to make the world a safer, kinder place.
Thank you for all you do for the animals.
Do you know about our humane education program?
Founded in 1999, Bridges of Respect has reached tens of thousands of students in the Twin Cities metro area with free presentations that inspire compassion, teach critical thinking, and raise awareness about important animal protection issues.
In the past year, Bridges gave forty-one presentations at seven schools, ranging from middle school through college. With a team of fourteen volunteers including program coordinator Shannon Kimball, we reached more than 1,200 students with a message of compassion for animals.
Presentations offered a variety of engaging, interactive experiences for students. In three of this year’s presentations, a professional vegan chef prepared vegan pancakes for more than a hundred students. In other presentations, we had a “Battle of the Plant-Based Milks,” a fun contest that gave students an opportunity to try soy, almond, and cashew milks and then vote for the one they thought was best.
Through these kinds of presentations, we can show students 1) how to make vegan food; 2) how delicious vegan food can be; and 3) why it’s important to move toward a vegan diet.
One student said, “The presentation at my school was very great and kinda hit me. I want to try baby steps to start a plant-based diet type of lifestyle.”
Also this year, CAA made a video to inspire teachers to request a free Bridges presentation for their classes. (Check out the video below.) We hope it inspires you too.
Bridges welcomes new volunteers to help out. You could either be trained to lead presentations, distribute food samples, or take photos. Contact Shannon if you’d like to learn more.
Also, we welcome your help in reaching our year-end goal. These funds are vital to the continued growth of Bridges of Respect and other CAA programs.
The cooking demos at Twin Cities Veg Fest 2017 offered free samples for all attendees. Were you there?
Did you get to try Mistress Ginger’s Barbarian Torte? How about one of Steve Leinen’s vegan cheeses? And then there was that peanut curry made so easy by Chelsea and Norine of Feed Me Vegan. Yummy!
In case you missed it (or want to relive the nom nom), here are the recipes—all vegan!
Using only plant-based ingredients, you can satisfy all your comfort-food cravings for luscious cake, creamy cheese, and savory curry. Delicious and compassionate? Sign us up!
We hope these recipes take you back in your memory to the beautiful day that was Twin Cities Veg Fest 2017. And we hope they have you looking forward to next year’s festival, already scheduled for Sunday, September 16 at Harriet Island Regional Park.
If you’d like to support the expansion of Twin Cities Veg Fest as it moves to Harriet Island, please make a gift to CAA today. We are the organization that annually produces the festival, and with the support of generous individuals like you we’re able to keep admission free. That means we can reach even more people with a message of compassion for farmed animals.
Our year-end campaign is well underway, and we are nearly halfway to reaching our goal. Your donations will be matched!
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.
We know that you care about farmed animals as much as we do. And like us, you want to help end their suffering. Please join us in taking action for these animals.
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?)
I could share a list of savvy responses to those annoying questions, but other people have done that and probably better than I could.
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.
Have a happy Thanksgiving!
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.
Many of these photos were taken by Brooke Reynolds of Captured by Brooke. (Thank you, Brooke!)
What’s this we hear about vegan crepes coming to the Twin Cities? And more nondairy ice cream options too? And all in one spot? Tell us more!
Rachel Booth and Michael Beachy, the masterminds behind Crepe & Spoon, recently gave us the scoop on their new vegan-friendly ice cream and crepe shop, slated to open on November 20.
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.
At the same time that Matt and Dave depart, we welcome new board members Theresa Zingery and Nathan Gaut. Learn more about them here.
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!