Making a Difference: Starting the Conversation

So I plan on doing a series on how to get more active within the movement and I feel it’s best to begin at the beginning: how to get a conversation started that might produce real change. Because although there is some amazing information out there available as to why veganism is one of the best/most environmentally friendly/healthiest/most important dietary choices one can make for themselves, it’s often presented in such away that it ultimately turns the receiver away with little to no change. So, how do we avoid this?

Step One: Approach with patience and purpose. If the subject of the conversation is aware that you are vegan and suspects that you will pressure them to convert, they may become sensitive or hostile from the get-go. Our movement has a pretentious image that each individual vegan needs to work hard to break, and that starts with compassion. When you breach the topic, if the person is close to you, it’s often helpful to do so over vegan food at a good restaurant or at your home.

Step Two: Identify their primary concerns and motivations and address them. This is one thing that ethical vegans often struggle with. Not everyone has the sense of compassion and kindness for their fellow creatures that we do, and it’s important to gauge through the conversation and careful, gentle questions whether or not addressing cruelty is the best approach. I have a dear friend that doesn’t give a whit about animal abuse, but started investigating veg/veganism because he has diabetes and I brought up some research showing that veg’ns have better blood sugar control than their omnivorous counterparts.

Other major motivations can include saving money (because being thrifty is easier as a vegan than one would think), saving the environment, reversal/management of disease, improvement of health metrics that aren’t weight such as cholesterol, more exposure to cancer-fighting compounds, better tasting food, and allergen/intolerance friendly food choices. If you listen closely enough and respond to concerns and motivations thoughtfully, you can convince an omnivore to try vegan versions of things slowly on their own time and sow seeds of change.

Step Three: Get personal. It’s often important to discuss how your lifestyle has benefited you, while framing these benefits around Step 2. Make sure to keep it personal. If you frame a discussion around judgmental words/phrases like “you should” rather than “I did so x happened,” you can shut down someone’s mind and raise their defenses almost immediately. It is far less threatening to discuss the “I did x, so this great benefit happened to me!” to pique their interest.

Step Four: Direct them to resources based on steps 2 and 3. Someone interested in the ethical side of veganism might want to watch Meet Your Meat or Earthlings, where someone interested in combating heart disease may be more interested in Dean Ornish’s work. My aforementioned friend really made moves toward change in his life when I purchased him a copy of How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. Although it’s a vegetarian book and not a vegan one, many recipes contain notes for veganizing and most of them are vegan to begin with, and it gave him a solid foundation to start his journey from.

Putting it all together: For example, recently I happened upon a new ramen/izakaya shop in Federal Way. Little did I know that it was their opening week! When the waitress came over and asked us how our meal was, I replied that it was excellent, but that I was saddened by the lack of diversity on the menu. She asked what I meant by this, opening up the opportunity for me to discuss my veganism and the thriving vegetarian community that we have here in the Seattle area. I made a few suggestions on a feedback form while listening to their concerns (profitability, struggles with making a rich vegetable stock, lack of familiarity with veg/vegan cuisine), and the result was the birth of a vegetarian menu including several new items and labels for what was and was not vegan! I talked about my personal experiences solving some of their problems and concerns (browning the vegetables longer to extract their flavor, resources for promoting the fact that they had vegetarian options to increase the profits off said items, etc) and was rewarded with genuine change.

We can do it, all of us. It often takes more effort than we initially think and the most we can do is build a framework of incentives to plant the seeds for those around us and hope that they grow and flourish. I hope these techniques help you in your quest to do just that.

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