“Courage calls to courage everywhere” -Millicent Fawcett
“Courage calls to courage everywhere” -Millicent Fawcett
Illustration: Tenderly

How to Write Like a Vegan Activist

I’m ending my 5 excuses for being quiet about my vegan ethics

When I was seven, I wanted to be a writer. By 13, I aspired to become a vegan activist. At 27, I’m finally writing, but I’m still figuring out the helping animals part. If you are a fellow animal-lover finding your voice, I hope sharing my story — and how I’m overcoming excuses I made for not doing activism — will help.

Only a small amount of what I’ve written so far has been earnest advocacy for animal rights or welfare. I’ve danced cautiously around animal topics, but I know writing about them is important to me:

  • As my effective altruist friend would remind me, veganism has potential to reduce a very large amount of suffering. The farmed and wild animal populations impacted by our food system are vaster than I can comprehend.
  • I’ve wanted to help “broaden our circle of compassion.” I believe in human rights causes just as strongly, but animal issues uniquely beckon me. I’m called by the opportunity to overcome speciesism and other ideological limits that exclude billions of beings from our empathy. I want to see human hearts open to care deeply for all creatures’ wellbeing.
  • When I picture myself at the end of life and wonder if I’ll have regrets, I can see myself thinking “I wish I had done more to help animals. I took the easy route to fit in. I procrastinated the hard work of figuring out how to stand up for animals and make a bigger difference. I could have done so much more.”

We all have our rationalizations for why we don’t follow our passions and listen to our hearts. It’s time to turn my excuses for not writing about animal rights into ex-excuses. Inspired by an animal advocate I know who addressed common objections to veganism, I want to address the objections my own mind makes to sticking with my vegan activism.

Ex-Excuse #1: Not everyone can go vegan…

Lack of access to healthy, affordable food prevents many from transitioning to veganism, even if they desire to. I’d like to think if we could solve such barriers, everyone could thrive as a vegan — and lots of other folks would like to think the opposite. People’s experiences with transitioning to a plant-based diet vary, and some have even heard from doctors that they should include animal products in their diet. There’s so much bias in this discussion that it can be hard to sort out the truth. I don’t want to guilt-trip people who do not feel able to healthily transition.

…but going vegan is a shift that millions of people can and should try.

What I do know is that even mainstream nutritional authorities like the American Dietetic Association are now concluding, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

Options and resources for going plant-based have exploded. Modern tools like blood testing, supplements, and nutrition tracking apps make it easier to correct potential holes in one’s dietary health. Approaches like Veganuary and reducetarianism combat all-or-nothing thinking and inspire people in the vegan direction without expecting perfection of themselves.

Doctors like Michael Gregor of How Not to Die exhaustively review the available nutritional literature to give people science-backed guidance for plant-based health success.

Advocating veganism doesn’t have to mean invalidating those who struggled while vegan, or claiming that we are morally better or worse based on our diets. I firmly believe everyone is a great person who is doing their best. It isn’t a guilt trip to confidently say things like, “Doing a 30-day vegan trial is a fun opportunity to make a difference. Here’s my advice if you’re interested.”

Ex-Excuse #2: Research is a challenge…

Neither science nor debate have ever been my strong suits. Researching vegan topics easily overwhelms me for many reasons — the intellectual complexity, questioning my comfortable beliefs while fearing my conclusions could upset others… not to mention having to read about countless cruel experiments on rats and other beings.

…but with time I will fall in love with research.

Research will be an essential skill for my animal activism. The good news is that, like any skill, you start out feeling awkward but get to the halfway-decent stage before you know it. The more I read about hardship others go through, the luckier I remember I am to be living a new writer’s dream at my desk. I won’t let my learning difficulties stop me from succeeding as a novice researcher who is here for all animals.

Ex-Excuse #3: I can’t stop all suffering…

Beyond factory farming, when I think of all of the animals run over by automobiles, killed by pesticides, or hunted by wild predators, it’s enough to make me want to forget the world’s sorrow and revert to writing generic self-help like “how to stay positive while dating.”

In particular, objections to veganism such as “crops kill animals” annoy me in part because they’re true, and I feel sad or guilty about these realities every day. However, just as it would have been wrong for me to facetiously use these arguments as an excuse not try veganism in the first place, it is also irresponsible for me to avoid helping others go vegan just because I don’t want to have to think about life’s complex layers of cruelty.

…but there’s still so much we can do to make life kinder.

Here are five quick reasons our vegan choices make a difference for animals:

  1. Purchasing fewer animal products, we reduce the demand for factory farms and slaughterhouses. We are acting in solidarity with chickens, cows, pigs, turkeys, goats, and others.
  2. A vegan humanity would likely do less harm to wild land animals. We’d harvest fewer plants and cut less forest for cattle grazing. 36% of crops are to feed the farmed animals whom we breed. “It takes about 100 calories of grain to produce just 12 calories of chicken or 3 calories’ worth of beef,” writes Vox reporter Brad Plumer.
  3. Wild and farmed fishes, averaging smaller in size, are slain in unfathomable numbers. A Mood and Brooke analysis from 2010 estimated 0.97 to 2.7 trillion wild fishes are fished annually. That’s a lot of marine lives we could be leaving alone.
  4. Plant-based eating helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to protect our shared home.
  5. Plant-based eating may make it psychologically easier to empathize with animals and, therefore, be motivated to help them in other ways besides diet. Melanie Joy of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows got me thinking about this with her TedTalk.

Ex-Excuse #4: I want to get along with everyone…

I’ve thought a lot about the kind of person I would need to be to write challenging pieces about animal issues on a consistent basis. I originally feared I’d have to be chronically stressed or indignant, entangled in endless, energy-draining conflict.

…but I don’t have to sacrifice harmony to be a vegan activist.

As a long-time fan of the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, and a former participant in many positivity-filled campaigns, I know what a sweet experience vegan activism can be. The animal groups I was part of focused on finding collaboration, not fighting opposition.

Still, authoring your own ideas can be scarier than merely representing what Vegan Outreach or The Humane League says. I must increase my willingness to engage with hard information. I must be willing to receive a regular flow of disagreement and silent discomfort— as well as a heavier load of enthusiastic support and the great friendships that will blossom.

Veganism is a big topic that challenges norms, tugs heartstrings, and jabs emotional buttons. Maintaining happy vibes as an activist for this takes extra intentionality. We might have to think deep about what to write, exercise restraint at times to avoid quarrels, and monitor our self-care closely. Consider me up to the task!

Ex-Excuse #5: I wanted to remain half-awake…

Some years ago, I volunteered with a vegan activism bus on Warped Tour. We offered people a dollar to watch a four-minute video. All day we stayed in the summer heat, inviting people with our cardboard signs, setting them up at the video screens, and seeing what was on their minds after they’d watched.

I felt so… conscious. A blissful remix of nerves and nirvana stayed with me through every repetitive wave of my sign, and through every post-video conversation.

Never in my life had I felt so purposeful, so doing-what-I-am-meant-to-be-doing, so fulfilled.

Yes, vegan activism makes me very aware and alert. Often I am cozier feeling half-awake.

…but I am ready to stay ALIVE now.

When we give our all to what we care about most, the experience is truly incredible, miraculous, and transcendent. You feel so alive. This can be slightly terrifying at times too! That’s okay with me. I am ready to live at a higher level of consciousness.

Black-and-white photo of a young black alpaca in profile.
Black-and-white photo of a young black alpaca in profile.
Photo: Hayley Maxwell via Unsplash

How will we know when we’ve turned our excuses into ex-excuses?

I know I’m not the only one who sticks with what’s safe, comfortable, and familiar. Who procrastinates doing the challenging work they believe will most serve the world.

What is your vision? How do you wish to help your fellow earthlings? And how will you know when you’ve turned any excuses for not doing so into ex-excuses?

I’ll know I’ve ixnayed my excuses when:

  • Complex research into animal issues comprises much of my reading.
  • Around 50% of my writing is about effective animal altruism.
  • I engage with constructive feedback in ways that fuel me to keep writing. I easily let go of conflict and stay focused on collaboration.
  • I attract activist friends in my inner circle and talk with them on the phone, we exchange ideas, and we plot to meet up when that’s possible again.

If you’ve ignored your inner naggings to become more involved in activism, I invite you to join me. Question your excuses. Turn them into ex-excuses. It might be messy. We might be wrong a lot. We might get a few more negative comments. But by overcoming whatever has stopped us from sharing our most important messages, we will make a greater contribution to others.

Doing our best to make an impact makes for a tremendously rewarding life.

We’ve got this.

I am an effusive Pollyanna and vegan trans woman. My passion is to be kind to all kinds.

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