Frequently Asked Questions
If you have a question that hasn’t been answered below, or if you have a good answer to a common question, please send it our way. For answers to questions specifically about Vegan Outreach, click here.
- Why should we care about animals?
- Why should people sacrifice convenience, cravings, and cost for the sake of an animal?
- Won’t the animals just die anyway? And if we don’t eat the animals, won’t they overrun the world?
- Why should I concern myself with nonhuman animal suffering when there are so many people suffering in the world?
- What do you think about eating fish?
- What about insects killed by pesticides or during harvest?
- Do you think it is wrong to keep an animal for a pet?
- What about animal experimentation?
- How does consuming milk and other dairy products hurt cows?
- How can farmers profit if the animals are sick or dying?
- What about free-range farms?
- What about kosher? (external link)
- Health and Nutrition
- Ethics and Religion
- Going Vegan
- Isn’t it hard to go vegan?
- Isn’t being vegan expensive?
- Do my choices really make a difference?
- I want to be vegan, but how can I give up the taste of milk, cheese, and ice cream?
- What about “99% Vegan”?
- What are some hidden animal ingredients?
- Is refined sugar vegan?
- What about “organic” label?
- What about honey and silk?
- What about products that have been tested on animals?
- What about leather?
- How can I find veg-friendly restaurants in my area?
- Vegan Advocacy and Activism
Most people believe that unnecessary suffering is bad. Other animals – particularly vertebrates – suffer physical pain and even emotional stress in much the same way humans do. Because of this, we should take animals’ suffering seriously. Because animal products are not a necessary part of our diet, becoming vegan is one of the most effective ways to reduce animals’ suffering.
We claim to be moral beings who do not act merely to satisfy hedonistic impulses. We would not want to live in a society where people were free to satisfy all their cravings freely, where the strongest could cause suffering for the weaker if they wanted to do so. Likewise, how can we justify satisfying all our cravings for animal products, when animals must suffer in order to provide them?
Happily, there is nothing inherently less satisfying or more expensive in a vegan diet. Beans and rice are less expensive than beef or pork; heating up a Boca Burger is less expensive than buying a Big Mac; and most people find vegan food to be as tasty as nonvegan food. Even if this were not the case, most vegans don’t consume animals or animal products because they do not want to be the cause of needless suffering, regardless of the convenience, taste, or cost. Living an ethically consistent life is more important.
We don’t just happen to kill and eat animals to save them from dying a natural death. We breed more than 10 billion farm animals in the United States each year because of the consumer demand for animal products. If we stop buying animal products, animal industries will have no incentive to keep breeding these animals.
We each have limited time, energy, and money to offer. The causes and cures of human suffering are complex, often distant, and difficult to address, especially by an individual. The causes and cures of animal suffering are often simpler and all around us. Making the choice to adopt a vegan diet can have a far-reaching effect on reducing suffering in the world.
Peter Singer writes in Animal Liberation:
Among the factors that make it difficult to arouse public concern about animals, perhaps the hardest to overcome is the assumption that “human beings come first” and that any problem about animals cannot be comparable, as a serious moral or political issue, to the problems about humans. A number of things can be said about this assumption. First, it is in itself an indication of speciesism. How can anyone who has not made a thorough study of the topic possibly know that the problem is less serious than problems of human suffering? One can claim to know this only if one assumes that animals really do not matter, and that however much they suffer, their suffering is less important than the suffering of humans. But pain is pain, and the importance of preventing unnecessary pain and suffering does not diminish because the being that suffers is not a member of our species. What would we think of someone who said that “whites come first” and that therefore poverty in Africa does not pose as serious a problem as poverty in Europe?
It is true that many problems in the world deserve our time and energy. Famine and poverty…all are major issues, and who can say which is the most important? yet once we put aside speciesist biases, we can see that the oppression of nonhumans by humans ranks somewhere along with these issues. The suffering that we inflict on nonhuman beings can be extreme, and the numbers involved are gigantic… [and] should cause at least as much concern, especially since this suffering is so unnecessary and could easily be stopped if we wanted to stop it. Most reasonable people want to prevent war, racial inequality, poverty, and unemployment; the problem is that we have been trying to prevent these things for years, and now we have to admit that, for the most part, we don't really know how to do it. By comparison, the reduction of the suffering of nonhuman animals at the hands of humans will be relatively easy, once human beings set themselves to do it.
In any case, the idea that “humans come first” is more often used as an excuse for not doing anything about either human or nonhuman animals than as a genuine choice between incompatible alternatives. For the truth is that there is no incompatibility here…there is nothing to stop those who devote their time an energy to human problems from joining the boycott of the products of agribusiness cruelty. It takes no more time to be a vegetarian than to eat animal flesh. In fact…those who claim to care about the well-being of human beings and the preservation of our environment should become vegetarians for that reason alone. They would thereby increase the amount of grain available to feed people everywhere, reduce pollution, save water and energy, and cease contributing to the clearing of forests; moreover, since a vegetarian diet is cheaper than one based on meat dishes, they would have more money available to devote to famine relief, population control, or whatever social or political cause they thought most urgent.… [W]hen nonvegetarians say that “human problems come first,” I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for human beings that compels them to continue to support the wasteful, ruthless exploitation of farm animals.
Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland wrote in Jean Christophe:
To one whose mind is free, there is something even more intolerable in the suffering of animals than in the sufferings of humans. For with the latter, it is at least admitted that suffering is evil and that the person who causes it is a criminal. But thousands of animals are uselessly butchered every day without a shadow of remorse. If any person were to refer to it, they would be thought ridiculous. And that is the unpardonable crime. That alone is the justification of all that humans may suffer. It cries vengeance upon all the human race. If God exists and tolerates it, it cries vengeance upon God.
What do you think about eating fish?
What is a vegan? The general definition of a vegan is “someone who does not use animal products.” And one reason to avoid these products is to prevent pain and suffering. But it is not clear which organisms are considered animals, nor which organisms can experience pain and suffering.
The behavior of animals is probably the criterion most people use to base their opinions on whether animals feel pain. Most people agree that cats, dogs, and other mammals feel pain. In fact, when some people say “animal,” they mean “mammal.” Even the Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists “mammal” as a synonym for “animal.”
It is not as easy for everyone to agree if birds, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates feel pain. On the other hand, many people seriously claim that plants feel pain. Therefore, defining “animal” by what people generally believe is not going to be productive.
An alternative way to define 'animal' is to use a scientific definition. But even a scientific definition of “animal” has problems:
Constructing a good definition of animals is not as easy as it might first appear. There are exceptions to nearly every criterion for distinguishing an animal from other life forms. (Biology, 3rd ed., Campbell, 1993)
If vegans are going to follow a technical or scientific definition of the word “animal,” then sponges (Porifera) are included. Though considered animals, sponges lack true tissues and have no nervous system. They cannot feel pain or suffer any more than plants. So what would be the point of including sponges in a vegan definition of “animal”?
Instead of trying to define “animal,” we should simply try to avoid products that cause suffering and harm to nonhuman organisms by figuring out as best we can which feel pain.
It is possible to understand what goes on in certain portions of the human brain, and then compare the human brain to the brains of animals that are closely related to the animals from which humans have evolved. In so doing, all vertebrates (i.e., fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds) appear to have what is necessary to feel certain types of pain. Vertebrates are also the animals involved in most of the practices to which vegans object.
Invertebrates (such as insects, mollusks, crustaceans, and silkworms) are different because their evolutionary history diverged from ours long before the evolution of fish, the oldest vertebrates. In fact, we are more closely related to starfish (invertebrates with no brain) than to cephalopods (squid and octopi), who have the largest brains of all the invertebrates. Since their nervous systems developed along a different path, it is very hard to know what they do and do not feel.
Bivalves (a class of mollusk; including oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops) are much more complex than sponges. They don't have a brain, but rather very basic nerve ganglia (bunches of nerves). It is doubtful that their nervous systems are developed enough to be conscious of pain. Because they have nervous tissue, there is an argument to be made for avoiding products that may have harmed bivalves.
Insects (including bees) do have brains. But their brains are not highly developed, and they are likely not large enough to facilitate the consciousness of pain.
So is honey vegan? Our best answer is “We don’t know.” If one is concerned about doing harm to insects, it’s not clear that the production of honey involves any more pain for insects than the production of most vegetables or alternative sweeteners, since the harvesting and transportation of all crops involves some insect deaths.
How should vegans treat this issue publicly? We tend to think that making an issue about honey allows people to marginalize vegans as being in favor of “insect rights.” Most people won’t yet face the pain and suffering involved in meat. Equating meat with honey probably makes the vegan case nonsensical to the average person.
Saying that honey is a significant ethical issue brings in a range of other issues that people can easily dismiss veganism, reducto ad absurdum. Can't eat honey? Can't kill cockroaches? Can't swat mosquitoes? Squashing flies with your car is the same as eating veal?
At this point in history, the obvious and undeniable issues should receive our focus. We should probably cut people some slack when it comes to insects, even if we ourselves see value in the avoidance of harming them.
And this brings us back to the original question of what is a “vegan”? Perhaps instead of defining a vegan as “someone who does not use animal products,” we should define a vegan as “someone who reasonably avoids products that cause suffering to nonhumans.”
This might upset some people who feel that without a dogmatic approach (i.e., a governing body making rules for everyone else), veganism will become meaningless as people will be rationalizing all sorts of behavior. But as the situation stands now, veganism’s dogmatic overtones not only drive people away, but make them not even consider giving up many animal products. If we allowed people to call themselves 'vegan' and let them decide what is reasonable, we could then try to convince them using reason, rather than dogma. How can we scare people away by telling them to do what they think is most reasonable? We think the animals would be much better off with this approach both in the short and long run.
In terms of reducing suffering, there is nothing inherently wrong in living with another animal. In terms of the specifics, it depends. If you were to take an animal from a shelter, you would be giving that individual a happy home and a good life (assuming you would be good to them). If you were to get an animal from a pet store, you would be supporting and expanding the breeding of animals for pets – which would, most likely, increase the overall suffering in the world.
Vegan Outreach does not take a position on whether dogs and, especially, cats should be vegan. People who have tried vegan diets with their pets have provided us with information indicating that, if appropriately planned, many (and possibly most) dogs and cats may do well on a vegan diet – but some cats do not. See also this book review.
Two Vegan Outreach philosophy pieces touch on this: Beyond and Theory. You are not required to be anti-vivsection to stop eating meat. Regardless of one’s views on this or any other issue, you can reduce the amount of suffering in the world by ceasing to eat meat.
How does consuming milk and other dairy products hurt cows?
Profits are based on overall productivity, not the well-being of the individuals. Peter Singer and Jim Mason explore this topic as it relates to broilers (chickens raised for meat) in their book The Ethics of What We Eat:*
Criticize industrial farming, and industry spokespeople are sure to respond that it is in the interests of those who raise animals to keep them healthy and happy so that they will grow well. Commercial chicken-rearing conclusively refutes this claim. Birds who die prematurely may cost the grower money, but it is the total productivity of the shed that matters. G. Tom Tabler, who manages the Applied Broiler Research Unit at the University of Arkansas, and A. M. Mendenhall, of the Department of Poultry Science at the same university, have posed the question: “Is it more profitable to grow the biggest bird and have increased mortality due to heart attacks, ascites (another illness caused by fast growth), and leg problems, or should birds be grown slower so that birds are smaller, but have fewer heart, lung and skeletal problems?” Once such a question is asked, as the researchers themselves point out, it takes only “simple calculations” to draw the conclusion that, depending on the various costs, often “it is better to get the weight and ignore the mortality.”
*The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (Rodale Books, 2006). Quoting “Broiler Nutrition, Feed Intake and Grower Economics,” Avian Advice, 2003; 5(4): 9.
See this page. (external link)
The American Dietetic Association’s 2009 position paper on vegetarian diets states:
It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that 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. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.… An evidence-based review showed that vegetarian diets can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes. The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates.
Cows’ milk contains ideal amounts of fat and protein for young calves, but far too much for humans. And eggs are higher in cholesterol than any other food, making them a leading contributor to cardiovascular disease.
Vegan foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans, are low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are rich in fiber and nutrients. Vegans can get all the protein they need from legumes (e.g., beans, tofu, peanuts) and grains (e.g., rice, corn, whole wheat breads and pastas); calcium from broccoli, kale, collard greens, tofu, fortified juices and soymilks; iron from chickpeas, spinach, pinto beans, and soy products; and B12 from fortified foods or supplements. With planning, a vegan diet can provide all the nutrients we were taught as schoolchildren came only from animal products.
Please see VeganHealth.org for more information.
Opponents of champion Ultimate Fighter Mac Danzig have had that question answered with a resounding “Yes!” Danzig says:
When I decided to go vegan, I was able to make the 155-pound weight class much easier, and I haven’t lost an ounce of muscle. I’m leaner than I used to be, and I have much more energy than I used to.
In the introduction to the book Very Vegetarian, nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis has similar praise for eating a vegan diet:
Can a world-class athlete get enough protein from a vegetarian diet to compete? I’ve found that a person does not need protein from meat to be a successful athlete. In fact, my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet. Moreover, by continuing to eat a vegan diet, my weight is under control, I like the way I look (I know that sounds vain, but all of us want to like the way we look), I enjoy eating more, and I feel great.
Please see Sports Nutrition at VeganHealth.org for more on vegetarian / vegan athletes.
(photo courtesy of Whitney Lauritsen).
It’s not a question of being “right” or “wrong.” If one wants fewer animals to suffer and die, then one can stop supporting such practices by not eating animal products.
Some vegans find that their religious views support their ethical commitment. For other vegans, religion has nothing to do with their commitment.
See also: Christian Vegetarian Association.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we are required to eat animals. Just because the Bible doesn't explicitly forbid something doesn't make it right. For example:
When your brother is reduced to poverty and sells himself to you, you shall not use him to work for you as a slave.… Such slaves as you have, male or female, shall come from the nations round about you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy the children of those who have settled and lodge with you and such of their family as are born in the land. These may become your property, and you may leave them to your sons after you; you may use them as slaves permanently.
Leviticus 25: 39–46
There are many different interpretations of the Bible. Among them is the view that Eden was the state-of-being that God desired for humanity, and in this state, Adam and Eve ate no animal products.
There are plenty of devout Christians and Jews who are vegetarian and vegan, and most theologians would agree that a benevolent God is not going to condemn someone for being compassionate to animals.
People who oppose cruelty to animals often disagree on the matter of abortion and other ethical issues. Whatever our opinion on abortion – or any other political or ethical issue – each one of us can reduce suffering by not buying meat, eggs, and dairy.
This statement is often made by people trying to rationalize that since plants feel pain, it must be okay to kill animals. They usually never make the similar leap of saying that since plants feel pain it must be okay to kill humans.
For plants to feel physical pain, they must have some sort of organized tissue which, upon stimulation, would activate a structure in the plant that is conscious and could perceive the stimulation as painful. There are no structures within plants that are analogs to the pain receptors, neurons, and pain-perceiving portions of the brains of vertebrate animals. Animals, being mobile, benefit from their ability to sense pain; but plants simply have no biological or evolutionary need for the experience of pain. Even if, contrary to all evidence, plants did feel pain, it would still be preferable to be vegan. More plants are killed in non-vegan diets, as more plants must be harvested to feed animals.
It can be, especially if you try to change too fast or hold yourself to too high a standard. But the important thing is to make changes you feel comfortable with, at your own pace. While reducing your consumption of animal products completely may be ideal, any reduction is a step in the right direction. The vegan lifestyle is an ongoing progression. Everyone should go at their own pace and remember that all steps towards veganism are positive. It is most important to focus on avoiding the products for which animals are bred and slaughtered. Animal by-products will exist as long as there is a demand for primary meat and dairy products. When it comes to avoiding items that contain small amounts of by-products, vegans must decide for themselves where to draw the line. Some vegans will adjust their level of abstinence according to the circumstances. For example, as a consumer, you might make sure the bread you buy is not made with whey; but as a dinner guest, you may accept bread without asking to see the ingredients. These types of compromises can actually hasten the spread of veganism, in that they help counter the attitude that it’s very hard to be vegan.
While some meat and dairy substitutes can be pricey, a vegan diet comprised of oatmeal, peanut butter, bagels, bread, pasta, tomato sauce, tortillas, rice, beans, potatoes, and common produce can be quite inexpensive. As the vegan market grows, innovation and competition are increasing availability and driving down costs!
Moreover, simply comparing supermarket prices doesn’t take into account the true costs of modern agribusiness, as described in the New York Times:
A sea change in the consumption of a resource that Americans take for granted may be in store – something cheap, plentiful, widely enjoyed and a part of daily life. And it isn’t oil.
Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years, encouraged by growing affluence and nourished by the proliferation of huge, confined animal feeding operations. These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests.…
Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases.…
Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption.
In our capitalist economy, animals are bred and slaughtered to meet demand. Every day, more and more people are making thoughtful, compassionate choices – choosing cruelty-free items instead of products from factory farms. “Vegan,” “vegetarian,” and “meat free” are everywhere these days. As this trend continues to grow, fewer animals are being killed in the United States.
There are many incredible vegetarian options on the market – and more coming all the time – because of our choices in the grocery store, at restaurants, and in cafeterias. Supply and demand really does work!
Things actually are changing because of our choices – and far faster than anyone imagined even just 10 years ago. Just look at the news and the numbers and know we’re making a difference!
It’s important to remember that avoiding meat and eggs does much more good than scrapping the whole idea because you don’t think you can be entirely vegan. That said, there are a lot of tasty substitutes for cows’ milk and other dairy products; click here for a list of popular brands. You’ll also find many dairy substitutes listed among our members’ favorite products.
Sometimes a product will be labeled as vegan but also be labeled as “99% dairy free.” What is usually going on here is that this product is being made on machines that are also used to make products with dairy. Thus there might be residual dairy on the machinery. Because some people have severe allergies to milk, the company cannot claim that the product is dairy-free. The alternative is for them to steam-clean their machinery before running the carob chips. This would not do anything to advance the cause of veganism – no fewer animals would be exploited. To the contrary, it would increase the costs of the chips, making the vegan product appear less appealing to the general consumer.
What are some hidden animal ingredients?
In general, we recommend that vegans concentrate their attention on the most obvious animal ingredients, instead of getting bogged down by reading lists for every possible animal-derived ingredient. Our experience has been that many vegans burn out because they are worn down by the details, missing the true meaning of veganism.
See also: Activism and Veganism Reconsidered.
It depends on how you define “vegan.” Refined sugars do not contain any animal products, and so by an ingredients-based definition of vegan, refined sugar is vegan. However, some refined sugar is processed with animal bone char. The charcoal is used to remove color, impurities, and minerals from sugar. The charcoal is not 'in' the sugar, but is used in the process as as a filter. Thus by a process-based definition of vegan, refined sugar may not be considered vegan. For those who would prefer not to use refined sugar, there are several alternatives: raw, turbinado, beet sugar, succanat, date sugar, fructose, barley malt, rice syrup, corn syrup, molasses, and maple syrup.
However, if one accepts a process-based definition of vegan, then many other familiar products would also not be considered vegan. For instance, steel and vulcanized rubber are produced using animal fats and, in many areas, groundwater and surface water is filtered through bone charcoal filters. So, is a box of pasta that contains no animal products, but has transported to the store in a steel truck on rubber wheels and then cooked in boiling water at your home, vegan? Under a process-based definition, possibly not. But according to such a definition, it would be difficult to find any product in this country that is “vegan.”
There is another point about definitions that comes to mind. Perhaps, in the above example, the pasta maker also makes an egg pasta. The same machinery is used, and traces of egg are in the “vegan” pasta; would the pasta not be vegan?
Again, we recommend that vegans concentrate their attention on the most obvious animal ingredients and the true meaning of veganism. In our experience, concentrating on processing or on trace ingredients can make a vegan diet appear exceedingly difficult and dissuade people from adopting it.
Organic foods may be preferred for many of the same reasons that vegan foods are (animal welfare, environmental quality, and health); however, whether a product carries the organic label or not usually has no bearing on it being considered vegan.
For info on animal welfare and the USDA Organic label, see this page.
Again, it depends on one’s definition of “vegan.” Insects are animals, and so their products, such as honey and silk, are often not considered vegan. Many vegans, however, are not opposed to using insect products, because they do not believe insects are conscious of pain. Moreover, even if insects were conscious of pain, it’s not clear that the production of honey involves any more pain for insects than the production of most vegetables or other sweeteners, since the harvesting and transportation of all crops involve insect deaths. The question remains a matter of scientific debate and personal choice. When cooking or labeling food for vegans – particularly vegans you don't know – it’s best to be on the safe side and not include honey. As for vegan advocacy, we think it's best to avoid the issue as a defining one.
See also: What about insects?
Most household and personal care products sold in natural food stores are cruelty-free; check the labels. Major supermarket chains also carry products that haven’t been tested on animals (e.g., Safeway and Pathmark house brands, Tom’s of Maine).
Nonleather shoes, clothing, belts, bags, and other accessories can be found in many mainstream stores, and most athletic shoe companies offer leather-free options. Please see VRG’s Guide to Leather Alternatives for more information.
Check out VegGuide.org – a community-maintained, worldwide guide to vegetarian and vegan restaurants and shopping.
There’s lots you can do. See our Tips for Promoting Veganism for ideas.
Ninety-nine percent of the animals killed in the United States are farm animals. Each year more than 9 billion animals are raised in factory farms and killed for food in this country. While animal agriculture is certainly not the only form of animal abuse, it is by far the largest. If 5% of Americans were to stop eating animals, far more suffering would be prevented than if we completely abolished every other form of animal exploitation in the United States. As Gary Francione of the Rutgers Animal Law Clinic has said, “If you can help ten people to go vegetarian in a year, you have done more good than most animal rights organizations.” Moreover, promoting veganism has the potential additional benefits of reducing human disease and environmental problems.
For our perspective, see Activism and Veganism Reconsidered.
Before you decide to work with an animal rights group, you might want to ask yourself, “What would I do with my life if there were no animal suffering?” If you can answer with a career that holds your interest and that you would like to do, then I would follow whatever path is needed to pursue that career and do animal advocacy in your free time. If your gut feeling is that nothing holds your interest but working for animal rights full-time, then by all means pursue a job within the movement.
Many people contact us because they’ve had enough of the business world and want to be able to help the animals full time and make a difference in their career. The animals need people doing local public outreach in all areas of the country. This type of outreach is done in people’s spare time without pay. Even though you may not like your job, this type of a life can be more fulfilling than working for a national animal rights organization. You can do the type of activism you like with no one else telling you what to do and how to do it. You will also have some disposable income you can donate to animal groups.
Working for a national organization will often relegate you to menial or “go fer” tasks, and you will feel as frustrated as you do in your current job except that you will probably be making less. The exceptions to this rule are people who really click with the group they are working for and people who have special or long-developed talents that are highly valued and hard to come by. People usually develop these talents by doing activism in their spare time for many years. My suggestion is to try to discover on your own what type of activism you like to do and where your talents can help the animals most in the long run. Once you have discovered this, if you feel like a national group could help you in using your talents, then investigate working for them. Talk to current employees to get different opinions on how it is to work for a particular organization.
Another note – we receive many letters from vegans asking if they should quit a job that involves using animal products in some way. Although this is a complex question that depends on the particulars, it’s important to ask, “If I weren’t working here, would someone replace me? Would I be doing any more harm than that person?” Sometimes taking a job allows us to do more good than our potential replacement, by promoting animal issues to fellow workers, to corporate giving programs, or even in reforming the organization's policies in some positive way. Don’t automatically exclude a profession that is not “vegan” but, in the end, might let you help animals more.
Perhaps the best advice I can offer about starting a group is to give personal examples. When I took over Students for Animal Rights at the University of Illinois (an established group), I did the general advertising – posters around campus, having a table at the activities fair with a sign-up sheet, calling people who had left their names, etc. I prepared a speech for the first meeting, which was to a packed room. By the third meeting, none of the new people still attended.
Ultimately, how we built a group was through activities on campus. We met people while tabling, while leafleting, at protests, and at Ingrid Newkirk’s talks. What I draw from this is to not worry about organizational aspects, and rather do things – specifically, leaflet and table.
|AAC activist Leslie Patterson leaflets the U of Wisconsin.|
There are some advantages to being a recognized group. At the college level, you might be able to get funding (which can help bring in a speaker and print copies of Compassionate Choices, Even If You Like Meat, or Why Vegan?), and at a higher level, tax-exempt status can be useful after a certain point. But some groups spend an often inordinate amount of time on bureaucratic, fundraising, and membership-building activities.
To a large extent, this parallels our experience with Vegan Outreach. We spent our time scrounging for money to print copies of Why Vegan? (which, at the time, we collated, stapled, and folded ourselves), and Jack traveled around the country leafleting. In his travels, he met many interested people. From these meetings grew the network of activists and donors who now comprise Vegan Outreach and help to distribute hundreds of thousands of Compassionate Choices, Even If You Like Meat, and Why Vegan? booklets every year.
So the short answer is, in my opinion, the best way to start a group is to do things – leaflet (especially through Adopt a College), table, and display VO booklets at many places. The rest can follow from this.