Etiquette is one of the most important factors in making a good impression on potential buyers of one’s product or ideas. Animal advocacy, however, requires a few additional steps to reach that goal.
We are working against widely held traditions and beliefs, and industries that thrive on animal exploitation, so it is not surprising when people ask questions and make statements ask “what can vegans possibly eat?” or say that farmed animals don’t feel pain. In order to counter and respond to misunderstandings and false claims we must familiarize ourselves with good answers.
- Always maintain a sense of humor when discussing an issue. The public sometimes sees us as “bearers of bad news.” Try presenting the problem and offering a solution in an upbeat manner.
- Don’t point fingers and say “you” or “they.” Most of us were not always aware of animal rights, and to avoid being exclusive we must be inclusive to the average person. A good example is saying, “Most people are against cruelty…” or “We are trying to eliminate the most egregious abuses [like conditions of factory farms]” because people can identify with this.
- It can be helpful to talk about your own path to becoming aware to animal cruelty. Maybe you used to eat a lot of meat, or had similar beliefs to people you’re talking to now. Talking about this can be a good way to show people that we’re not so different from them.
- When talking to someone about our message, try not to complicate the message with theory on animal rights or philosophy. Rather, stay focused and try to emphasize animal suffering as the primary cause for our advocacy of veg lifestyles. Most people are against animal cruelty already, but are simply not aware of its scope. It may be enough to just enlighten them to the immense suffering endured on factory farms.
- Avoid focusing on human health. When it comes to human health, the key message for us to express is that vegan diets can be healthy. We are not trying to convince people that vegan diets are healthier (even if they are). When it comes to environmental arguments, these can be useful, but keep in mind that CAA is an animal advocacy organization, and our focus should always be on how animals are treated.
- While engaged in a conversation with someone, try asking questions instead of doing all the talking. For example, ask why they eat meat and sincerely listen to them.
- People are generally friendly and interested in learning about animal issues, but occasionally conversations can become hostile. Do not engage yourself with people that are not interested in listening to what you have to say. It is better to simply ignore those that want to pick a fight and rile you up.
- Always try to give people a piece of literature such as a “Why Vegan?” or an “Even If You Like Meat…” pamphlet after talking with them. This literature has solid information and is worded persuasively. It may be helpful to advise the given person to look up information on her/his own and come up with her/his own opinion. This may be useful in avoiding a situation where the person becomes defensive. Also, when people do their own research, it may help encourage longer lasting change on their part.
- It is important to never lie to someone about statistics or facts to prove a point. If you are uncertain about exact figures, use quantifiers like “approximately” or “often.” Be honest and tell people that when you don’t know the exact answer to their question, but refer them to another for more information. You can have them email firstname.lastname@example.org with further questions as well.
- Do not misrepresent CAA to others. If you have personal feelings or opinions that diverge from CAA’s mission statement, tell the given person that they’re your own and do not necessarily represent the position of the organization.
Frequently Asked Questions on Vegetarianism, Veganism, and Animal Rights
Below are frequently asked questions, along with comprehensive and concise answers. The answers given should serve as a general outline for your actual response.
What does it mean to support animal rights?
Obviously, granting animals rights doesn’t mean we’ll see cats in the voting booths on Election Day or chickens behind the wheel of a car. What it does mean is that we ought to consider the interests of humans and other animals equally. That is, we should not grant less weight to an individual’s desire to avoid pain simply because she or he isn’t human. All animals bred for food, fur, animal research, and entertainment are capable of experiencing pain (and pleasure). They seek to live free of suffering. They care about their lives and those of their loved ones. As such, nonhuman animals, like humans, should be treated compassionately and live without fear of torture or death.
Obviously humans should have rights, but aren’t animals inferior to us and therefore not deserving of rights?
Throughout history, people have tried to withhold rights from one group or another on the basis of race, gender, class, religion, or sexual orientation. Discrimination based on species (speciesism) is no more justifiable than these other forms of discrimination. Many arguments are used to justify speciesism, often based on the fact that humans are more intelligent than nonhuman animals. This fact may be useful in determining someone’s right to read Thoreau or Shakespeare, but it is irrelevant if we’re discussing someone’s right not to be treated like a commodity. However, many nonhuman animals are more intelligent than human infants and even some human adults who suffer from severe mental retardation. If someone can feel pain, does it matter how smart she or he is? We would never claim that infants or severely mentally retarded adults should be used in painful experiments, have their skin worn as clothing, hunted for sport, used for our entertainment, or eaten merely because they are less rational than we are. When it comes to experiencing pain, other animals are our equals.
Other animals eat each other. Why can’t we eat them?
Predators in the wild kill other animals out of necessity. Without doing so, they would not survive. Humans, on the other hand, kill other animals by choice. Our bodies have no need whatsoever for animal flesh, milk, or eggs. In fact, medical research has consistently shown that a vegan diet is healthier than a diet heavy in animal products. Eating animals is not necessary for human survival. Rather, it is a choice we make. Is it right for us to choose to cause animals unnecessary suffering?
Why do they have to do it like that? It doesn’t have to be done like that! (after watching a video of animals cruelty)
Unfortunately, video clips such as these are continually being taken. Even in the best factory farms, due to consumer demand for inexpensive meat, eggs, and dairy, suppliers are in constant competition to market their products at the lowest prices possible, no matter how the animals are treated. The solution is to not provide a demand for the product. It’s a matter of supply and demand: don’t purchase the product, and they’ll stop producing it. Whenever we choose not to buy meat, eggs, and dairy products, we help shift demand from the cruelty of factory farms to the production of vegetarian foods. As more individuals choose vegetarian fare, fewer animals will be raised and killed.
I only buy “free range.”
Unfortunately, “free range” does not mean free from suffering. Male chicks are of no value to the egg industry and are killed at birth. Female chicks are debeaked and toe-trimmed. “Free range” only means the birds had access to the outdoors. No other requirements are specified. As a result, free-range conditions may amount to 20,000 birds crowded inside a shed with a single exit leading to a muddy strip saturated with droppings. And, even if an animal lives a relatively pain-free life, they will ultimately face the slaughterhouse.
I lived on a farm, and they never did that.
Unfortunately, family farms are being replaced by CAFO’s (Confined Animal Feeding Operations). Ninety-five percent of eggs come from hens in battery cages. Some operations have up to 15,000 cows.
What about plants? Don’t plants feel pain?
There is currently no reason to believe that plants experience pain. Plants have no central nervous systems, nerve endings, or brains. The evolutionary explanation is that animals are able to feel pain so that they can use it for self-protection purposes. For example, if you touch something hot and feel pain, you will immediately move, and also learn that you should not touch that item in the future. Since plants cannot move and do not need to learn to avoid certain things, this sensation would be superfluous. From a physiological standpoint, plants are completely different from mammals. Unlike animals’ body parts, many perennial plants, fruits, and vegetables can be harvested over and over again without dying.
If you are concerned about the impact of vegetable agriculture on the environment, a vegetarian diet is better for the environment than a meat-based one, since the vast majority of grains and legumes raised today are used as feed for cattle. Rather than eating animals, such as cows, who must consume 16 pounds of vegetation in order to convert them into 1 pound of flesh, you can save many more plants’ lives (and destroy less land) by eating vegetables directly.
What will we do with all the chickens, cows, and pigs if everyone becomes a vegetarian?
It is unrealistic to expect that everyone will stop eating animals overnight. As the demand for meat decreases, fewer animals will be raised for food. Farmers will stop breeding so many animals and will turn to other types of agriculture. When there are fewer of these animals, they will be able to live more natural lives.
I’d like to be a vegetarian but it’s too hard. (or “I don’t think I can give up eating meat.”)
Being a vegetarian has never been easier. In fact a lot of the food you eat is probably already vegetarian or can easily be made vegetarian. There are delicious alternatives at most grocery stores and co-ops ranging from “Gardenburgers” to “Fakin’ Bacon” and many tasty varieties of soy ice cream and even cream cheese. There are many great recipes online that you can check out for good ideas for meals. More and more options are being made available at restaurants and even shopping for cruelty-free products is easy.
Eating compassionately is an ongoing progression. Some people choose to start off with a “Meatless Monday” or by simply incorporating a meal or two a week with a more compassionate, plant-based choice. If you still can’t go all the way you can start by incorporating more vegetarian items on your menu. Maybe you can try to eat a set number of vegetarian meals per week, or to eliminate certain animal products from your diet. All your efforts to reduce consumption of animal products has a very positive outcome both for your health and, most importantly, for the animals.
Where will I get my protein?
It’s easy to get enough protein on a plant-based diet. If you eat a variety of foods and adequate caloric intake for your energy needs, you can rest assured that you are getting enough protein. According to the USDA, vegetarians get 150% of their recommended daily protein (but without the saturated fat and dietary cholesterol that are the main culprits of heart disease). Beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and soy are high in protein. If you’re an athlete and have additional protein needs, vegan protein supplements are available.
Are your shoes (or jacket) made of leather?
There are two answers for this. If you do in fact have leather shoes you can say that you got them before going vegetarian or vegan, and that it would be wasteful to throw them out just to purchase new ones. You can also say that next time you go shopping you will be buying one of the many cruelty-free pairs of shoes that are on the market now a days. If your shoes are vegan, you may want to say, “They’re non-leather, but I appreciate your concern.”
I’d like to be vegetarian but it seems too expensive.
People often think that they have to eat store bought mock meat and soy cheese, which are indeed expensive. There are lots of great vegetarian recipes (including ones for mock meats and cheeses) that can be made for not too much. Obvious things include pasta dishes, burritos, tofu & veggie stir fries, chili, etc.
I live at home and my parents won’t help me with my new diet. What can I do?
You should offer to cook one meal a week as a start, and make that meal vegetarian. You can also offer to accompany your parents when shopping, or to do the shopping yourself sometimes.
Do you think you make a difference? OR If I don’t eat meat how is that going to change anything?
There are currently a lot more restaurants where people can eat vegetarian and vegan food than a few years ago. There are also a lot more stores where people can purchase vegetarian and vegan food. This has come about because the demand for these things has increased. By not buying animal products you can help to create a demand for alternatives to animal products and decrease the abuse done to animals.
But I am just one person. What difference can one person make?
If each person takes this attitude than nothing is ever accomplished. If each person commits to something then a large group of people can have a great influence. This works only if each individual chooses to support a cause; a person has to individually decide to be vegetarian. If no people decide to be vegetarian, there will be no influence.
I’d like to be vegan but I could never give up ice cream (or cheese, or something else).
Helping animals is not all or nothing. You can strive to move towards being vegan by cutting out whatever animal products you can. If giving up ice cream is too hard for you, you may want to cut down on everything else except ice cream. But also keep in mind that there are a great number of vegan ice creams and sorbets. We also found that our tastes changed after being vegan and we no longer crave some things we used to like a lot (a personal example may help make this point more convincing).
Vegans have no respect for humanity. Humans have a higher moral status than animals.
To not want animals to be abused does not mean you have no respect for humanity. The fact that people say that they do not want children abused does not mean that they want adults abused.
We also recommend checking out Vegan Outreach’s Questions and Answers.