Well, that's the million-dollar question isn't it? And if the answer was an easy one, an awful lot more people would have gone vegan by now.
We also would have avoided the bickering between camps advocating different approaches. Abolitionists, incrementalists, welfarists/new welfarists, reductionists and utilitarians, whatever term you want to use; you can find a group that most closely matches your own philosophy or perspective. Mine, by the way, is one I termed pragmatic abolitionist about five years ago.
One of the many frustrating things for long-term vegans is the amount of time we've spent trying to achieve our goal, but with seemingly little to show for it. As one reader shared when I first starting writing again this year, I am bone-weary of trying to find new ways to say the same thing. It is frankly exhausting. Yes, yes it is.
Vegans and animal rights activists have been saying the same things over and over and working for a long time in trying to bring about change. Here are a few of the tactics we've tried:
- protests and demonstrations
- undercover investigations
- direct action
- leading by example
- changing laws and legislation
- animal sanctuaries
- introducing new vegan products
- incremental steps like Meatless Mondays
- appeal to logic and rationality
- appeal to emotion
- media (books, blogs, documentaries, vegan characters in movies and TV, etc.)
Which ones have worked better than others? Hard to say.
I view education as a cornerstone and vital part of reaching people, but remember reading that Vegan Outreach had distributed something like over a million pamphlets (don't remember the exact number) one year and thinking, but if you multiply that by the number of years you've been doing exactly that, shouldn't there be more vegans by now? How much more information do people need? Apparently, lots. So I don't want to denigrate that particular organization (indeed, I was a financial supporter for a long time) or any other as I realize that educational materials still have their place, but it's only one avenue of outreach.
Leading by example is crucial, I think, as the ripple effect of that can't be underestimated. Set a good example, and that may influence more people than any loud in-your-face exhortations to go vegan.
Two people, who I believe have probably contributed to more people changing their dietary habits than they may ever know, are Steve and Derek of HEEFS. They exemplify kindness in a way I never could, and if ever a couple found their right mission in life it would be them. Opening an animal sanctuary is a purpose they probably couldn't even have dreamt of in their prior lives, but seems like the magical fit that has changed multiple lives for the better.
And animal sanctuaries are a great way for people's minds and hearts to open unreservedly. Because if folk only think in terms of products on their plates without even connecting them to the animals they're derived from, than sanctuaries place those animals directly where they belong: in the center. In the center as individuals with personalities, a desire to live, and a wish to form bonds with others. I would think it'd be very difficult to interact with a cow or a pig or a chicken and then have their cousins for dinner a few hours later. At least, one would hope.
Vegan products? If I think of the range and accessibility in just the past 12 years, well, to say it's exploded is not much of an exaggeration. There was a time when your options for anything vegan was limited to either specialized health stores or huge grocery chains. Now even the most generic stores like Food Basics and No Frills carry a lot of plant-based items as well. That would have been unthinkable 12 years ago.
But what I love about the ubiquitousness of vegan products is that it normalizes veganism. People may still not always react kindly to the word or idea, but they sure know what it means now. And while it's thought that some of the sales can be attributed to meat-eaters instead of vegans, so what? Isn't that what we actually want? Vegans are already part of the choir so to speak, and in my opinion, who eats vegan items is less important than that fewer animals are consumed.
I'm not going to go through every item on the list as I'm sure it's evident that each approach has its potential merits and downfalls. And because we don't know what will eventually turn a person vegan, having a multitude of ways, entry points, and even reasons will likely help turn more people vegan than just one approach.
Because the one answer that we do know for sure about what'll take for people to go vegan is that we just don't know.
We don't know what will be the societal tipping point. What environmental, economic, or health factor (or something that we haven't even thought of) will be the one thing that changes everything. Possibly in the future we'll be able to look back and say, there, that day, or that event, or that incident is what really got the ball rolling. In the meantime though, I think we just have to go with the approach that makes the most sense to us personally, and that gets us to stick with the mission. I'm also all for groups (like Faunalytics, for example) that can quantify for us what approaches do seem to bring about the best results.
In short, be wary of anyone who feels they have the answers, or worse, THE answer, when it comes to ending animal exploitation.
Note: still haven't read How To Create A Vegan World: A Pragmatic Approach by Tobias Leenaert. Wouldn't be surprised though if our perspectives greatly align, but will post before dipping into his book and come back to expand (if need be) after reading.