Activist Profile: Eugene Khutoryansky
July 6, 2005
As we continue to profile the top leafleters in our Adopt a College program, this week we turn to Houston-area activist Eugene Khutoryansky. A full-time electrical engineer, Eugene still finds time to hand out tens of thousands of booklets each year. One shining example of Eugene’s effectiveness took place late last month as the Vans Warped Tour stopped into Houston. In a single day, Eugene handed out approximately 10,000 Why Vegan? booklets to concert-going youth! Here is our interview with him:
What made you decide to start leafleting and if you were nervous the first time, how did you get over it?
I explained in one of my old posts why I first started leafleting:
When I received my very first copy of Why Vegan?, I showed it to my cousin, and she instantly became a vegetarian. I had discussed my vegetarian philosophy with her many times before this event, but to no effect. Why Vegan? managed to accomplish in a few seconds that which I previously thought was impossible. This event was a revelation to me – that there really was a way to get people to become ethical vegetarians, and that it was relatively easy.
Prior to this incident, I thought that if I worked really hard, then over the course of my entire life, I might be able to convert one or two people to vegetarianism. These statistics are hardly a reason to be motivated to do much of anything. However, thanks to Vegan Outreach, I probably created several new vegetarians just with my actions today alone. Also, one of the things which constantly keeps me going is all the people I run into who tell me that they became a vegetarian or a vegan because of a pamphlet they received from me.
The first time, I was very nervous that people would ask me detailed dietary questions to which I didn’t know the answers. I was also very nervous that everyone would reject my pamphlets. The nervousness went away as soon as I saw that many people were taking pamphlets from me, and that no one was asking any detailed questions. I now know that less than one in one thousand people will ask detailed dietary questions, and that there is no shame in telling them that I do not know the answers (thank goodness for the Vegan Starter Packs which I can hand to them).
What was your most positive college leafleting experience this year and why?
It was leafleting here in Houston for the first time. I had the rare opportunity to leaflet during the daytime during a weekday. Most other times I can only do it on evenings or weekends. Of course, there are lots of vegans who actually attend these schools and have the opportunity to reach far more students than I can, but they unfortunately do not avail themselves of this opportunity.
What would you say to individuals hesitant about leafleting?
If you don’t do it, no one else in your area will either. I used to be under the impression that vegetarian advocacy was being taken care of by others, and that I therefore didn’t have to worry about it. I was sadly mistaken. Very few people are actively involved in this, they are thinly spread out across the country, and they typically are each just able to reach the small geographic area around where they live. If you don’t give pamphlets to the people in your area, then they will most likely never hear about this information from any other sources.
How long have you been involved in animal rights and how did you get interested in this?
I got interested in animal rights slightly before I started first grade. The neighbor’s kid was the same age as me, and we were friends. However, his favorite hobby was to think of new and ingenious ways to torture insects. His hobby of tormenting insects caused me to spend a lot of time thinking about our ethical responsibilities to insects.
I wanted to start an organization which would end all the killing of insects. In the process of thinking about this, it seemed obvious to me that we would also need to stop the killing of animals for food. I came to this conclusion entirely on my own, as I was even unaware that there were actually other people on the planet who shared my view that it was wrong to kill animals for food (I was also unaware of the existence of factory farms).
My parents were unhappy about me wanting to become a vegetarian, and I therefore didn’t actually go vegetarian until much later, when I was strong enough to go vegetarian against their objections.
My parents sometimes asked “where they went wrong” and what it is that they did that caused me to turn out the way I did. I believe it is something they did when I was very young – even before I moved to the neighborhood where I met the kid who loved to torture insects. When I was very young, I myself had on some occasions stepped on insects for fun. When my parents saw this, they discouraged it, asking me how I would like it if a giant did that to me.
I think it is those very early comments from my parents which instilled my core values which last to this day. Thus, although my parents still eat meat, and even though they disagree with every aspect of my animal rights views, I think it is they who inadvertently instilled those values in me at a very early age.
What was the last good book you read?
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
This is probably the last type of book I would have ever read – as I am not interested in this genre of literature. However, after several people recommended it, I finally got around to reading it last year. I don’t like the sections of the book where the author disparages the mental abilities of animals, but that is unrelated to the points which he is making regarding interpersonal skills.
One of the things I really love about the book is the sections where he criticizes the recommendations given by Dale Carnegie. (I absolutely hated the advice in Carnegie’s book.)
Please name a major influence in your life and why he or she is such.
Peter Singer. I read his book Animal Liberation when I was in high school, and it was the first time I found out that there was at least one other person on the planet who shared my philosophy. I was also extremely impressed with the logical arguments which he presented, and I incorporated them into my own thinking on the topic, and in the way I presented this topic to others.
I first warmed up by giving Why Vegan?s to the people waiting in line. One girl said that we need meat to survive. I replied, “If we need meat to survive, then why am I still alive?” All her friends really liked that response. I didn’t expect many of the pamphlets from this initial “warm up” to be taken home, as people are unlikely to hang on to them all day long, but it gave people something to read while they were waiting. I knew that the main event was going to be in the evening when everyone was leaving.
To prepare, I had to move a mountain of Why Vegan? boxes from my car to outside the entrance. I did this by making several trips back and forth, using my cart to transport about 2,000 pamphlets per trip. I learned from my mistake at the Warped Tour in Jacksonville where I missed lots of people each time I had to go back to my car (and I didn’t have a cart back then). This time, my ammunition was in place ahead of time.
Though, here in Houston I didn’t know what the pedestrian traffic pattern was going to be like. Fortunately, a police officer told me that I was not setting up at the optimum spot, as no one was going to pass that area. He showed me where everyone exiting the concert was going to pass through, and I moved my mountain of boxes as he suggested. He turned out to be 100% right.
I think I gave out around 10,000 Why Vegan?s, though I don’t know the exact number. I received a lot of positive feedback (in addition to the usual non-supportive comments). A lot of people told me that they were very glad I was out there. Many other people were ecstatic to be getting a Why Vegan?
One person said that she had gotten a pamphlet in the morning, but wasn’t able to read it because someone had ripped it out of her hands, telling her that it was gross and that she shouldn’t read it – so she was happy to be getting it replaced.
When people wanted a lot of extra pamphlets to distribute, I could just point to my mountain of boxes, and tell them that they can take as many as they want. The “mountain” was slightly downstream of my leafleting spot, so many people discarded their unwanted pamphlets into the boxes, thereby reducing throw out (my recently discovered trick). Though, there still were a lot of pamphlets which were thrown on the ground, but this is what is to be expected from the Warped Tour – especially when giving out pamphlets in these quantities.