A History of Vegan Outreach and Our Influences
“And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, we're gonna vent our frustration
If we don't we're gonna blow a 50-amp fuse”
The Rolling Stones
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
It would be easy to think that Vegan Outreach’s approach to achieving animal liberation – leafleting college students about vegetarianism – has been going on for a long time. The truth is that only recently have there been effective brochures for spreading vegetarianism, and even more recently that college students were targeted for leafleting on a large scale.
This article details the history of Vegan Outreach and the events that have most affected us.
Jay Dinshah founded the American Vegan Society, which promoted veganism based on the principle of Ahimsa (doing no harm) via lectures, books, a newsletter, and at festivals. To my knowledge, they have never used graphic pictures of animals in factory farms or slaughterhouses in their publications.
Vegetarianism was promoted mainly for health and environmental reasons by vegetarian groups with text-only flyers; mostly at festivals and focusing on the adult, non-student population.
Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation was published in the United States. The book gave animal advocates a concise case for going beyond animal welfare by opposing and abolishing modern animal industries.
The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) carried out many actions, and there was also civil disobedience against vivisection and fur throughout this decade.
Animal advocates convinced a number of companies to end their product testing on animals.
Jim Mason and Peter Singer published Animal Factories. This book detailed factory farming practices in the United States.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was founded. PETA eventually developed a brown and white three-panel factory farming brochure. Then, sometime during the 90s they produced a Compassionate Living brochure that touched on many aspects of the vegan lifestyle. It was a decent flyer, but did not contain a comprehensive description of or pictures from factory farms and slaughterhouses.
Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM) formed to focus on the suffering of farmed animals. FARM’s pamphlets contained drawings of the worst factory farm abuses.
Student Action Corps for Animals (SACA) produced a jacket cover for a 45 rpm benefit record called Their Eyes Don’t Lie (at right). The jacket cover unfolded into a multiple page, comprehensive brochure promoting a vegan lifestyle. It was the only brochure of its type that I had ever seen with graphic photos.
|Above: Jack in December 1986, blissfully unaware of animal suffering.|
While in a record store with a friend of mine, I came across the PETA benefit record album, Animal Liberation (at right). I had never heard of PETA, but thought it looked interesting. My friend remarked, “What a waste of money.” I bought it and sent away for more information about animal rights. The jacket sleeve showed an artist wearing a shirt saying, “Animals are not ours, to eat, wear or experiment on.” I was shocked by the statement. A year or so later, I came to find it obviously true.
Diet for a New America, by John Robbins was published and became popular. Robbins argued that animal products harm the animals, human health, and the environment. It gave the “three-pronged approach” to spreading veganism a burst of popularity and became the standard approach for at least the next ten years.
At the 1989 National Alliance for Animals conference in D.C., I met Rosa Feldman of SACA and got a copy of Their Eyes Don’t Lie album jacket. SACA gave me their final few hundred to give out to students in Cincinnati where I was living. I found them effective and was disappointed when I ran out.
The animal rights movement gained much attention during this period. A number of things combined to make it seem like things were really taking off in the right direction:
- Protests such as Fur Free Friday were growing in number and fur sales plummeted, due either to warm winters, protests, or both.
- Product testing victories were won by PETA against Avon, Estee Lauder, and Dial.
- Earth Day celebrations were resurrected in April of 1990.
- The first March for Animals in Washington, DC in 1990 was attended by about 17,000 people.
- National magazines did exposés on the animal rights movement.
While Special Events Coordinator for the Animal Rights Community (ARC) of Greater Cincinnati, I met Matt Ball and Phil Murray (now co-owner of Pangea Vegan Products), who were working with the University of Cincinnati environmental group. During the winter of 90-91, Matt, Phil, and I held dozens of fur protests outside of cultural events.
Right: Jack (leafleting) and Phil (holding banner) outside of Taft Theater in Cincinnati. Banner says, “Please make this year fur-free.”
The Gulf War began in January and animal activism dwindled. Protests that seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds turned out to be merely a one or two-time venting of frustration for most who attended. The media lost interest.
Phil, Matt, and I were arrested with five others at Procter & Gamble’s annual shareholders’ meeting, in an attempt to get media coverage for the campaign against P&G’s animal testing.
For a number of years, it had appeared that the animal rights movement was gaining momentum. There was victory after victory. When the Gulf War put a big lull in the parade of victories, it forced Matt and me to reconsider the paradigm that lasting change can be accomplished through large media events.
Matt and I turned our focus to spreading vegetarianism.
The Animal Rights Community of Cincinnati (ARC) funded a four-color, three-panel flyer entitled Vegetarianism (at right), developed by Matt, Phil, and I with the help of others. We printed 10,000 copies and distributed them in a variety of ways, but never leafleted with them on a college campus (which had not yet occurred to us).
Matt moved to the University of Illinois to do graduate work under a Department of Energy Global Change Fellowship. There, as head of Students for Animal Rights (SAR), he met and married Anne Green (above, with Matt), who was outreach coordinator for SAR. Anne would soon get a full-time job as a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, become a board member of Vegan Outreach, and supply us with a roof and electricity in order to get off the ground.
My brother Eric and I opened a store called Everything Vegan (at right) in Cincinnati. It only stayed open for a few months.
While driving on a trip out West, I passed a huge feedlot which disgusted me. I sent Matt a postcard with the Margaret Mead quote: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I told him we had to do something to express our outrage, and bring more attention to farmed animals. With ten other activists that June, Matt and I held a three-day Fast for Farm Animals in front of a Cincinnati slaughterhouse (our logic at the time was that three days being the amount of time farmed animals often go without food before slaughter). We held a large banner saying Stop Eating Animals. On the last day of the fast, some of us left the slaughterhouse to hold the banner near the University of Cincinnati. Although the fast attracted some media attention, some of us felt that holding the banner in the university district was the most effective part of the entire fast.
After the fast, Matt and Anne moved to Pittsburgh and I moved to Tucson. We formed Animal Liberation Action (ALA) as a formal way of working together.
Fasting for Farm Animals: Matt has his arms around Jack and Mark McEahern. The three formed ALA’s first Board of Directors.
ALA started a campaign of holding Stop Eating Animals banners on street corners. Holding the banners didn’t catch on past Matt, me, and a few of our friends.
Bonnie Kottiel and Jack hold the banner in Bethesda, MD, where he spent time working for Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM).
The direct action magazine No Compromise was founded. It created a renewal of interest in civil disobedience and direct action, especially by younger activists, many of whom were also into hardcore music and the straight edge scene. This movement expanded considerably by 1996, but then began to wane later in the decade as courts became less tolerant of civil disobedience and some felt the activism wasn't as effective as originally hoped. Many of the strong proponents went on to work in areas such as legislation or humane education. Some were instrumental in the first U.S. open rescues (more on open rescues later). Others stuck with direct action and became involved in the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign.
Believing that the arguments to go vegan and embrace animal rights were powerful, but still not questioning the three-pronged approach, ALA developed a booklet. We called it And Justice For All (at right). We used a 3-color process on yellow paper in order to give the appearance of full color while saving money.
ALA changed our name to Vegan Outreach. We decided not to continue holding our Stop Eating Animals banners because, while being seen by large numbers of people, many responded abusively or didn’t understand what we meant. We found that handing out booklets was a much more productive use of time.
I moved from Tucson to Pittsburgh (below) to live with Matt, Anne, and their daughter Ellen (who was born in 1994) to develop Vegan Outreach.
Vegan Outreach produced our second booklet, entitled Vegan Outreach. We printed 10,000 black and white copies, collating, stapling, and folding them all by hand to save money.
In the autumn, I started traveling, handing out the Vegan Outreach booklet at 19 colleges in the eastern U.S. and Midwest.
|1996 March For Animals: Matt, Lynn Gluckman, Jack.|
A second March for Animals on Washington, DC was attempted in the summer. Only 5,000 people attended. People seemed to feel that the trip to DC wasn’t the best use of funds when so much had to be accomplished in their local area.
Our first booklet titled Why Vegan was produced. The cover was black and red, but the inside was black and white. We started printing in batches of up to 30K, depending on the money on hand.
Just as funds for traveling were about to run out, Nalith awarded Vegan Outreach several grants to print more booklets and continue traveling to colleges. I leafleted at 171 colleges during the year.
Michael Tucker of Nalith and Jack leaflet Florida International University in February of 1996.
The first version of Matt’s essay On Being Vegan was printed, which attempted to move activists’ focus from ingredient lists to ending cruelty to animals. It can be summed up from these two excerpts:
[O]bvious animal products should be avoided, but a person’s energy and efforts may very well be better spent trying to get others to stop eating burgers than in trying to avoid sugar bleached with bone char or trying to figure out if the monoglycerides in the cafeteria’s bread comes from animals or plants….
Now that the general public is familiar with the idea of animal rights, our efforts for education, compassion, and justice have moved beyond the point where anger, slogans, and sound bites serve any further constructive purpose. It could be argued that the animals won’t be further helped by hatred and chanting.
I like to sum up this philosophy by pointing out that a half hour of leafleting will likely reduce more suffering than the effort it takes to go from 99 to 99.9% vegan for one’s entire lifetime.
While Matt wrote the above article, my thinking had also changed in that direction based on a number of things, including:
In the early 90s, I went into a restaurant and saw a fellow animal activist eating pasta with egg in it. I was certain that she knew it had egg in it and I felt betrayed – like someone had stabbed me in the gut.
At some point during the mid-90s, my mom made something for me to eat using some margarine that had whey in it. When I told her I couldn’t eat it, she said, “You don’t think you’re helping animals by not eating that do you?” At the time, I did think so.
In 1997, I was staying with a fellow vegan friend and saw that she was eating salad dressing with eggs in it. I told her that she really shouldn’t be calling herself vegan.
I realized the above attitudes weren’t doing much good. As time passed, I started to think it was good that people wanted to call themselves vegetarian and vegan and that this desire should be embraced even if people weren’t pure about it. I started to think that people who got angry when people who eat fish call themselves vegetarians were missing the boat – it was good that people want to be identified as vegetarians.
I frequently ran across people who, upon hearing that I’m vegan, would say, “Oh wow, you need to meet so and so – you’d really get along with him; he’s totally into that.” Yet I imagined that upon finding out someone is opposed to racism, few people would ever say, “Wow, you need to meet my friend, he’s like totally against racism!” I realize how much your average person saw veganism as not being about reducing real animal suffering, but rather being about our personal quirkiness.
I knew high school kids who spent a lot of time arguing about who in their social group was really vegan. Vegan gatherings often amounted to talking about which products were and were not vegan, and more bothersome, the pride many vegans took at announcing that they had discovered how yet another food or product is not vegan. It seemed like we were trying to marginalize ourselves.
I later summarized my thoughts on all the above things by writing, “We want a vegan world, not a vegan club.”
|Why Vegan (1997 version).|
I finished touring to colleges by going to 58 in the spring of 1997.
After all that traveling and meeting people, I was left with two major impressions. One – a lot of young people are interested in doing what they can to prevent animal suffering, and we were not reaching anywhere near as many as we could. Two – a lot of people have gone veg and gone back, often because they had felt unhealthy when not eating meat.
About this time, we were approached by some people in the academic community who were questioning some of the facts in our brochures, particularly the health and environmental facts. We started to look up the original sources of all these facts and to make sure that what we were saying was correct. This led to some surprises, and made us realize that we couldn’t trust claims from a book or article, even if cited. We revamped Why Vegan to make sure everything was correct. Many of the “facts” and even quotations of famous people such as Einstein, Da Vinci, Edison, and Lincoln had to be pitched.
After May of 1997, we didn’t have the funds for me to keep me traveling while also filling the demand for literature by local activists. We continued to promote leafleting at local colleges, and I tried to go to the ones near me once a semester.
|A four-year-old Ellen Green leaflets at Chatham College in Pittsburgh.|
I decided to become a registered dietitian, which entailed three years of school and an internship. Most fellow activists assumed I was doing this so I could have the credentials to tell people that a vegan diet is healthier than other diets. My actual motivation was to become educated on the science of nutrition to help those who had tried to be veg but for health reasons didn’t believe they could, and to figure out what we could do to avoid so many failed vegetarians in the future.
In our June 1998 newsletter, we published a very long article called Veganism as the Path to Animal Liberation.
This article questioned our movement’s priorities (in part by pointing out that ~99% of all animals killed in the United States died to be eaten, while only a minority of our attention went to exposing factory farms and promoting vegetarianism), and also argued against the movement’s focus on trying to get media attention through protests. We also questioned the effectiveness of civil disobedience and direct action. We argued that until veganism was more widespread, animal liberation could not succeed on any major front. The essay hit a chord with many activists.
Lauren Panos joined Vegan Outreach as our designer and researcher, and there was a marked improvement in our literature.
Above: Lauren Panos. To this day, no one in Vegan Outreach has met or seen Lauren. We have talked to her on the phone but have otherwise not been able to discern, with certainty, that she is a physical entity.
Why Vegan? took a turn for the purple in January (below, left). In August, we did our first printing of 100,000 brochures and in full color (right).
In February, Vegan Outreach introduced our first Vegan Starter Pack with a version of On Being Vegan, recipes, nutrition advice, and information on issues like free range, wool, etc. We then put out a 2-color version in December (below, left).
Compassionate Action for Animals and Compassion Over Killing performed the first U.S. open rescues, where activists went into factory farms and rescued animals in need of veterinary care. While being illegal, these rescues were “open” because the activists informed the local media, and the authorities knew who they were. Open rescues became a popular tactic for a number of years.
In August of 2000, PETA convinced McDonalds to order their egg suppliers to provide 50% more space to the hens in their battery cages. Since then, similar concessions followed by Burger King and Wendy’s. This led to a great deal of interest in getting companies to force producers to improve conditions on factory farms. It also re-ignited an old debate on whether animal advocates should spend our time pushing reforms or stick only to abolitionist tactics, such as spreading a vegan diet. The majority of advocates seem to agree that we should pursue both avenues.
Vegan Outreach published a condensed version of my article Vitamin B12: Are You Getting It? In it, I argued that vitamin B12 is not the insignificant health concern that most vegans once thought (and many still do, unfortunately). And while it took me some time to publicly disclose this idea fully, I believe that the B12 issue indicates that humans are not natural herbivores. To most people, this is obvious; to many in the vegan movement, it is heresy. It is simply an unfortunate fact, but something with which we must deal in order to succeed. Tom Billings of BeyondVeg.com commented on humans not being natural herbivores:
You really don’t need the naturalness claim to be a veg*n! That is, moral/spiritual reasons alone are adequate to justify following a veg*n diet (assuming the diet works for you, of course). Further, if the motivation for your diet is moral and/or spiritual, then you will want the basis of your diet to be honest as well as compassionate. In that case, ditching the false myths of naturalness presents no problems; indeed, ditching false myths means that you are ditching a burden.
In March, we produced our first version of Vegetarian Living (at right), which had less graphic photos than Why Vegan? and included more on health and the environment.
We updated Why Vegan? in May (below, left) and the Vegan Advocacy booklet in November (right).
We updated Why Vegan? once again, and distributed over 330,000 copies of Why Vegan? and Vegetarian Living. We launched the Vegan Outreach Enewsletter, initially called Vegan Spam.
A ballot initiative was passed in Florida banning gestation crates for mother pigs. In the subsequent years, many ballot initiatives were passed, including Proposition 2 in California in 2008, which bans gestation and veal crates, and battery cages for hens by 2015.
Vegan Outreach distributed over half a million booklets in one year for the first time.
We updated the Vegan Starter Pack in August (below, left) and Why Vegan? in November (right).
|Above: Nine-year-old Ellen Green leaflets at Carnegie Mellon in the Pittsburgh snow.|
In August, Matt gave a talk in Portland, OR, outlining Vegan Outreach’s philosophy and approach to activism. This speech became the essay and pamphlet A Meaningful Life.
Also in August, Vegan Outreach turned Vegetarian Living into Try Vegetarian! (at right).
In the fall, Vegan Outreach launched our Adopt a College program. This was the movement’s first systematic attempt to reach large numbers of students throughout the United States and Canada in an organized way. By the end of the fall semester, Adopt a College leafleters had handed out 22,217 booklets at 63 schools.
Vegan Outreach hired Jon Camp to leaflet. He went berserk, handing brochures to over 145,000 students in his first 4 semesters of employment to bring him to a total of over 152,000 by June of 2006.
Right: Polite and courteous young man Jon Camp leaflets at Temple University in February 2005.
In April, Vegan Outreach published our Even If You Like Meat (EIYLM) brochure (below, left), designed for leafleting to non-vegetarians. After many years of leafleting, we realized that students had started to erect a number of mental barriers to prevent them from seriously considering their part in supporting factory farming and slaughterhouses. Here is an excerpt of how we explained the brochure:
One major barrier is that people have convinced themselves that boycotting animal cruelty has to be an all or nothing proposition, and, since they cannot go all the way, they will do nothing. Thus, a big emphasis of EIYLM is to let people know that not supporting cruelty does not have to be an “all or nothing” proposition. Any amount of animal food reduction helps prevent suffering.
Another problem we encountered was that people would see the word “vegan” or “vegetarian” on our flyers and assume we were just do-gooders trying to get them to improve their health, so they would not take a flyer. With EIYLM, we put pictures of factory farms on the front of the brochure so people would immediately see we were talking about a serious social issue in which animals were being treated cruelly. At first, we worried that this might decrease the acceptance rate. But we found that if anything, the reception rate actually increased. The cover pictures also prevent the previous, occasional problem of someone taking a happy looking flyer and then feeling duped when they open it to see graphic photos.
In September, we combined the Vegan Starter Pack with the Vegan Advocacy booklet into a full-color Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating (above, right).
Matt Ball and I were inducted into the Animal Rights Hall of Fame for our contribution to animal liberation and our collective lifetime batting average of .296.
|Howard Lyman, Matt, Jack, Alex Hershaft.|
What a long strange trip it’s been!
So what lessons have I learned? Here are a few:
- Spreading vegetarianism is a numbers game. You do not need to worry so much about your friends, family, and colleagues if you are willing to leaflet to a good crowd now and then. You will likely do much more good by leafleting at a college for one hour a semester than by working on the people you know for years.
- In a similar vein, people often say, “You’ll never get everyone to go vegetarian.” When people say this, they must be assuming that everyone is going to live forever. Of course, we’re not going to get everyone who is alive today to go vegetarian in the next few years. Just like if someone in the 1860s had said, “You’ll never get everyone to stop being racist,” they would have been right. Even today there are some remaining racists, but as each generation passes, fewer people carry on the racism of their ancestors. Similarly, each new generation is more open to the philosophy of animal liberation, and eventually it will be enough to see significant change. Every individual animal spared a life of suffering is worth the effort we put forth.
- Try to be an example of what you can reasonably expect from others. Included in this for me is eating apparently vegan foods when among non-vegans. If a food is 99% vegan, then it’s vegan enough for me. I want other people to think that they too can boycott animal cruelty and still eat in as many places / situations as possible, but I also feel okay about it knowing that the small amounts of animal products I might be eating are probably not causing any measurable harm, especially compared to alienating one person from trying vegetarianism for even a few meals.
- When trying to persuade other people to become vegetarian, be friendly. You don’t need to win an argument. Disarm angry people by affirming their experience. And give them your honest reasons for doing so. Don’t try to appeal to their self-interest through health reasons, unless you really are a vegetarian for health reasons. In particular, if you are a vegetarian or vegan to prevent animal suffering, tell people that. The more people hear it, the sooner they’ll accept it as legitimate.
“The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on”
Bob Dylan, Tangled Up in Blue
We are making progress – slowly but surely! There are more vegans, and more vegan products on the market, and awareness and understanding of this issue has increased dramatically.
You can check out the latest statistics for our booklet distribution at VO’s front page and the AAC statistics page. All the numbers mentioned above have been vastly exceeded. Please also consider signing up for VO’s Enewsletter.