Vegan Outreach Interview

Written by Jerry
On a Sunday afternoon, my bandmate Anthony got me to run down to Edge of the Woods, a small vegan/veggie friendly store in New Haven on Whalley Avenue, for a vegetarian meeting. There was something special about this meeting though. Jenna, an activist working with Vegan Outreach was coming to speak on behalf of the group. After listening to hear speak and eating some fine vegan food, I made arrangements to send a few questions her way. The following is how she answered them.

How long have you been a vegetarian/vegan and what made you start?
I went vegetarian when I was nine years old, and to this day I’m not sure what prompted that change. My family always had pets and was very compassionate toward animals (though not vegetarian), and I’m sure something just felt uncomfortable about loving one animal while consuming another. In high school, I read Animal Liberation by Peter Singer and that was what prompted the change to veganism. At that point, I really became interested in activism and speaking on behalf of the billions of animals exploited in the United States.

When did you begin your work with Vegan Outreach?
When I went away to school in fall 2003, I became a volunteer for Vegan Outreach’s Adopt-A-College program (www.veganhealth.org/adoptacollege). About once a week, I would set up a table in our campus center and distribute pro-vegetarian literature to my fellow students. It felt like the most effective form of activism I had ever done – I was able to have person-to-person to contact with dozens of people, and the information that I was distributing was comprehensive enough to answer most of the recipients’ questions. It was something they could take with them and consider on their own time. I was hooked.

I continued my volunteer leafleting throughout my college career, first as an individual and then as a part of Compassionate Consumers, an animal protection and consumer advocacy group in western NY. In the spring of 2006, Vegan Outreach announced its intention to hire a full-time leafleter, and having just graduated from college, this was the perfect opportunity for me. I’ve been the Northeast Outreach Coordinator for VO since September of 2006.Tell me some of your tactics when approaching people face to face about the lifestyle. It’s always been really important to me to keep the animals’ suffering as the first and foremost reason for my activism: I’m not out to make anyone feel guilty, I’m not out to win an argument, and I’m certainly not out to insult anyone. Unfortunately, the realities of factory farming are often hidden from the eyes of the public, and what I strive to do, everyday is lift the veil of secrecy and encourage people to widen their circle of compassion. I try to remain upbeat, happy, and friendly, and I’ve found that this not only makes people more comfortable when I approach them, but it also leaves them with an impression of an activist that actively dispels the “angry, deprived vegan” stereotype.

What are some of your most memorable moments while pamphleteering?
I have had so many great experiences during my past year of leafleting! Probably the best moments are when individuals tell me that they received a Vegan Outreach brochure in a previous semester and it prompted them to go vegetarian or vegan. Those are the times when I really feel like I’m making change happen. There are also times when I’m leafleting around lunchtime, and students who receive a brochure tell me that they had a vegetarian lunch that day. Those are tangible results for all of the efforts that the Adopt-A-College team put in each semester.

Has there been a musical connection to your change? (I began my change by listening to the band Propagandhi. Totally inspired me.)
I think there has been a huge upswing lately in the number of musical groups who are promoting a cruelty-free lifestyle, and that is really inspiring. I recently went to a show featuring Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie), and he told the audience that later he was going to a local pizza place to get some vegan pizza and explained the reasons for avoiding dairy! I also started to learn about the straightedge scene when I was a teenager, so groups like Earth Crisis, Good Clean Fun, and Youth of Today were definitely in my musical vernacular. And of course, I have to give a shout-out to Beloved Binge, who not only sing about veganism but who actually get out there and leaflet while they’re on tour.

Have you ever questioned the methods of either your group or another animal rights group? If so why?
I think the modern animal activism movement needs a general refocusing of its efforts, because it would seem that a lot of time and money have been contributed since its rebirth in the 1970s and yet the number of animals killed per year have the biggest impact, we should go after those enterprises in which the biggest atrocities are being committed; 99 out of every 100 animals killed in this country are killed for food. And the suffering of farmed animals is systematic, widespread, and generally accepted by people. Right now, there is an endemic of “do something, do anything” activism, and to me, that feels like a waste of our limited resources as animal advocates. I believe very strongly in what Vegan Outreach does because it is cost-effective, is efficient, and targets an appropriate animal enterprise.

What are some new ways Vegan Outreach is trying to get the word out?
Vegan Outreach’s primary form of animal advocacy is in the printing and distribution of our comprehensive materials about factory farming and cruelty-free living. Our primary program is Adopt-A-College, in which students and volunteers disseminate our literature on college campuses across the U.S. and Canada. We think that approaching college students with this information has the greatest potential for change, because not only are these people at a time in their lives when they are being exposed to new ideas and in a position to make changes with minimal influence of habit and other constraints, but they also have long lives ahead of them as vegetarians and activists. As of today, Vegan Outreach has distributed over 700,000 brochures in the Fall 06/Spring 07 school year.

You mentioned that although obesity is at an all-time high, diabetes etc…and that the Earth suffers greatly due to the consumption of animals…meat eating is at an all-time high. What would you attribute this to and how does Vegan Outreach go about combating it?
I think there is a lot of misinformation and ignorance about the horrific abuses involved in food production, and as long as industry and government continue to mislead people about the negative impacts that meat and dairy consumption can have, the average person is not going to feel compelled to change anything about their diet or lifestyle. People don’t want to support animal cruelty, and there is a total disconnect between the cow on the factory farm and the steak or the milk we’re having for dinner. Vegan Outreach simply tries to disseminate factual, non-biased information to the general public in hopes that it will open their hearts and minds to change.

Does your group or do you personally combine efforts with groups that aren’t of the Vegan/Veg kind, for the greater good? Like, say, though most don’t eat meat, combining efforts with an environmental advocacy group because your causes are similar since they both positively affect the planet?
We’re definitely seeing “greenness” become more popular and accepted in the public forum now, and I know many vegetarians – myself included – have been excited to see the negative aspects of meat consumption making headlines. At this time, Vegan Outreach doesn’t really have the resources to combine with other groups or take on campaigns other than those which we’re already spearheading, but we’re supportive of efforts to get people to reduce or eliminate their meat consumption.

To varying degrees, no matter which scene I am dip in at any given time, leftist politicking, the underground music scene, volunteer work of any kind, sexism seems to rear its ugly head from time to time. Have you had to deal with it in your work and if so, how did you? Again if so, were you surprised by it more than say another situation because of the work you do?
Thankfully, the work we do with Vegan Outreach is very low-key and non-controversial – there are no loud demonstrations, no flashy media campaigns, no celebrity endorsements. There’s not much chance of anyone crying sexism on fully-clothed volunteers distributing pamphlets on busy street corners. Personally, I feel like the grassroots tactics we employ at Vegan Outreach are extremely effective – and they do not require the oppression of one to promote the liberation of another.

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Written by kellysisterhood
Mother, wife, small business owner. www.justbuttons.org
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