Activist Profile: Eleni Vlachos
February 9, 2011
Continuing our series of activist profiles, we turn today to Eleni Vlachos. Often leafleting with Rob, Eleni has handed VO booklets to well over 23,000 individuals. She has reached many, many more with 150 screenings of Seeing Through the Fence across the country!
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I was born and raised in Seattle, the home of many vegan restaurants. Rob and I moved to Durham, NC in 2005 and love it – but are still waiting for someone to open up a down-home cooking vegan establishment here. Someplace with valet parking for bicycles and skateboards.
What are your favorite things to do outside of leafleting?
I love hosting porch-potluck parties with veg & non-veg friends alike who kindly supply vegan dishes to supplement the foods I make. Every Thanksgiving, we host a “Vegan Thanksgiving Record Party” and people of all walks and diets come to spin their favorite records and eat a bunch of good vegan food such as pot roast (from Vegan Lunchbox) veggie pot pie, stuffing, homemade cashew cheeses, etc. People love the seitan so much that I made a how-to video with a few non-veg musician friends (available here).
I also enjoy having interests outside of activism such as being part of the music community here in the Triangle area. If you have interests in addition to activism, non-veg people seem to be more open to your activist messages AND you will have more fuel for sustaining activism. If people only hear one message from you continually, they start to tune out. Somehow, we’ve had quite a few friends who have gone vegan and cite us as influences due to cooking good food and not being too pushy. This doesn’t mean you do not speak up for animals: you just do so in the context of many other conversations.
Remember to have fun too – that’s a hard one, because I often feel guilty for not devoting every moment to activism. But this is where the beauty of leafleting comes in: you can reach so many people in a short amount of time that it’s OK to go out and have a soy White Russian with friends later! (Just don’t spill it on the leaflets.)
Who has been a major influence in your life and why?
As for activism, Jon Camp, hands down. I’ve been active since roughly ’02, but my activism did not get as focused until the time Jon toured through to leaflet our area in ’06. I remember mentioning that I’d written a song as part of activism to share the plight of animals, and I’d asked Jon if he uses his music skills this way. He kindly suggested that he chooses leafleting because he reaches way more people with a direct message, and this, in addition to the idea that you can make a difference in only an hour per week, made something click for me. I heard an actual click.
Post Campilian influence, I continue to read books that have nothing to do with veganism but everything to do with human nature & activism. I highly recommend Blink, Made to Stick, and Switch. I take notes on each and think about how each point applies to activism and helping animals. Mostly, these books help us understand how people change and how you can single-handedly help facilitate this change. I also watch free Psyche lectures available as part of Yale’s Open Courses series.
Cradling all the above is the VO philosophy that has helped shape my strategy to reduce suffering as much as possible, not create a vegan club, and be as effective as possible with my time.
How long have you been involved in animal rights and how did you get interested?
I became a non-active vegetarian at 18, so about 1990. Activism & veganism kicked in after driving by the Harris Ranch in 2002. Rob and I found NARN (Northwest Animal Rights Network) and realized that vegans were pretty awesome people on the whole and so was vegan food. We learned a lot more about the industry then, which broke our hearts…but instead of sitting there holding the pieces we decided to put our hearts to work and get active.
We did a lot of KFC protests and some leafleting at events, but never colleges. It was through this work, though, that I began forming the ideas for a documentary to start a conversation about why people eat animals. I realized that there were about 10 reasons that came up again and again – so I decided to go film the random public and see if these reasons came up in their own words. They did…and during this time of listening I saw that people were, on the whole, compassionate. This gave me hope and helped make me more effective in working with the public as an activist. After screening the film all over the country, I was further encouraged to see the number of people who care deeply about animals but who just have not taken their ethics into action (yet).
What made you decide to start leafleting?
Early leafleting was inspired by Rachel Bjork & NARN, then AAC leafleting by Jon Camp. Additionally, the AAC list has been vital to feeling part of a group working toward the same goal. Leafleters are a special species and I have learned a lot from reading about how others react and deal with the situations that inevitably arise. The fact that so many others are getting out there and creating change so humbly yet effectively is mind-blowing.
What was your most positive leafleting experience and why?
It seems like most every time we leaflet, someone inevitably approaches to say that they are going to either try veg again or go veg. Since many more people invariably decide this but do not report back, this is always a positive reminder to experience. One memorable occasion was with a student in Louisiana. She received a leaflet then subsequently went home and told her grandmother she couldn’t eat the pork. Her g-ma was worried she was joining a cult! Later that night she attended my screening and said the info in the brochure was “eye opening.” Evidently, this small act of passing along information had changed her life forever. I try to remember that each time I’m leafleting – this is powerful enough to change a person’s life.
It is also important to remember that for every positive vegan message there are about 100 non-vegan messages people receive. So the fact that people change at all is amazing. This is why the reminder – booklets – are so important.
What would you say to individuals hesitant about leafleting?
The most scary part of leafleting is right before the moment you hand out your first leaflet. Once you see how readily the leaflets are accepted, and how much positive influence you will invariably have, the rest is like vegan pie (with Soyatoo on top).
Many people worry about not having all of the statistics and up-to-date information. While it is important to know the basic facts about factory farming, and rehearse a couple of answers in advance to the most frequent types of remarks, most of the info needed is answered by the booklets: easy! And this is not a test. The only “failure” is the failure to get leaflets in the hands of young students.
Also try leafleting with someone who has leafleted before at first. You’ll feel great after getting out there and changing lives.