What Kind of Activism Convinces People to Go Vegan?

Vegan activism is a divisive topic, and the jury’s still out on which tactics are most effective at convincing meat eaters to change their ways.

But I think you can go too far in the wrong direction, with an end result that’s not what you’re aiming for. Two incidents in the last week or so came to my attention, causing me to revisit this question.

Death threats to UK farmers

Farmers in the United Kingdom are complaining that “militant vegans” are sending them death threats and calling them “rapists” and “murderers.”

The BBC reports that farmer Alison Waugh of Northumberland, UK, said she’d gotten notes from protestors telling her and her family: “I hope you and your family go die in a hole for what you do.”

Are they making this up to gain sympathy in the face of a steady rise in plant-based eating around the world? Perhaps that’s the case in some situations, but I have no problem believing that animal farmers actually receive death threats from activists. Some people feel so strongly about the topic that they sail into the fight too enthusiastically.

This is a touchy issue, because while I agree that what animal agriculture does to cows, pigs, chickens and other animals is, in fact, rape and murder of those creatures, sending death threats crosses a line.

This strategy doesn’t change farmers’ minds about what they do, as it fails to make a logical appeal to their compassion and intelligence.

Protestors invade Aussie steakhouse

In Melbourne, Australia, 35 vegan activists from Melbourne Cow Save and Direct Action Everywhere stormed into a steakhouse  restaurant on January 27, 2018, shouting their position using megaphones. They called it a steakhouse “disruption.”

“In order to create change in our society, we must challenge current belief systems and force people to take a side; oppression or justice, cruelty or compassion,” Melbourne Cow Save announced on its Facebook page. “There is no humane way to kill someone who does not want to die. Always speak up loud and strong for those sentient beings who are oppressed. They need us to.”

I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. My quibble is with the manner in which the message was delivered. I just don’t see the likelihood that a lot of those diners put down their forks after being yelled at.

Now, to be fair, it appears that wasn’t the protestors’ intent:

This action wasn’t about educating people about veganism.

It was about taking nonviolent direct action to end the exploitation and killing of all animals. It was to force animal rights into the public consciousness through nonviolent direct action.

What Melbourne Cow Save and Direct Action Everywhere were after was a way to get the story into the media — to trigger the conversation. They did that — but was most of that conversation complimentary to their cause, or did it simply portray them as “vegan extremists” on an unreasonable rampage?

I worry that it was mostly the latter. I want these groups to succeed, but I find myself wondering if this is the best way to go about it.

It always bothers me to see vegan groups go “overboard” for the cause. I love how passionate they are, but I’m often perplexed by their methodology — especially when their tactics grab largely negative headlines. Often, the only publications that laud this kind of activism are the vegetarian and animal rights media. That, my friends, is preaching to the choir.

So how do we win hearts and minds?

I remember my pre-vegan days. They weren’t that long ago. I recall reading about the activists who threw paint on women wearing fur coats. I read the stories of animal liberationists who blew up buildings. I’ve heard about the activist who told a Senate committee that when all else fails, killing researchers and scientists who won’t stop harming animals is a “morally justifiable solution.”

Nope, nope, nope.

Being shouted at, assaulted, pressured and/or lectured never changes anyone’s mind. Your parents or your jerk ex-spouse probably did some of these things to you once upon a time. Did it make you rethink your position? No.

The in-your-face approach often makes vegans look like odd, fringe-living weirdos. And these tactics get us labeled as “terrorists.”  That’s not the way to make veganism attractive to the masses.

I’m a perfect case in point. I was pre-disposed to accept the vegan message. Even so, this kind of stuff did nothing to convince me I needed to stop eating animals. It just made me think most vegans must be a strange, off-kilter bunch.

Worse, it convinced me that it must be quite difficult to be a “true” vegan. In the initial transition days, it was hard enough to figure out how to be card-carrying vegan, without also trying to understand if I needed to do all this in-your-face stuff too. For a long time, it scared me away.

Folks, that’s not the result we want. It seems to me we need to actually convince people that eating plants instead of animals is logically, rationally the smartest and kindest choice everyone could make.

Warning: there’s funny but graphic language in this video:

The Vegan Bros offer the following advice on their Facebook page about convincing others to go vegan. And they say it better than I ever could:

1. Focus on progress not perfection. There is no way to be 100% vegan. A lot of people are afraid to go vegan, because they’re afraid of making a mistake. Let people feel that mistakes are a part of being vegan.

2. Keep in mind all the negative stereotypes people have had of vegans, i.e., negative, self-righteous, pushy, etc. Not falling into any of those categories as a vegan activist is some powerful sh**.

3. Let people address the info on their own terms. People appreciate it and are more likely to change.

4. Look professional or at least mainstream. Scientific research has shown that people take you more seriously. When people take you more seriously, animals don’t die.

5. Don’t argue or debate. If someone gets upset at you, listen to them. Then put out your hand, introduce yourself, and ask them questions about themselves and their life. Then try to find something to relate with them on. Only bring the conversation back to the animals if the conversation flows there. People are more persuaded by you when they like you and feel they can relate to you.

6. Don’t compare factory farming to slavery or the holocaust. It offends people. And then they leave and go eat meat.

7. Internalize that eating vegan is easy as f***. People like easy things.

8. Internalize that eating vegan is normal and mainstream. People are more inspired by what’s normal than by what’s ethical. People want to follow the crowd.

9. If non-vegans hate you, you’re doing it wrong. You will inspire people to change. And you will piss people off. Your goal is to minimize the number of people you piss off, and increase the number of people you inspire to change.

There it is. That advice is pure gold.

Lead by example. Know and be able to talk about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Be aware of the information you’ll need to have on hand about the effects of factory farming on animals, the environment and our health during a serious discussion on veganism. Be able to point to authoritative sources that support what you’re saying. Don’t be insufferable, be personable and relatable.

This is how I try to do it. Rationality and demonstrable facts convince people — and that’s the point, isn’t it?

Photo Credit: David Shankbone/Flickr


Marie W
Marie W7 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Marija K
Marija K11 months ago

Rapists and murderers is just what farmers are. I wouldn't send anyone death threats, but if there was any justice in this world, those people would suffer exact same things they impose upon animals.

Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago


Paulo R
Paulo Rabout a year ago


Avalon G
Avalon Gabout a year ago


Angel W
Past Member about a year ago

all kinds
only animal haters would be offended.

Mike R
Mike Rabout a year ago


DAVID fleming
Past Member about a year ago


John B
John Babout a year ago

Thanks Susan for sharing the interesting info and the videos.

John W
John Wabout a year ago