I engaged in C.N.O.V.A. (Creative Non-Oppressive Vegan Advocacy) a few times in the past few days, and when someone on Facebook asked me to tell them in detail how I feel that I most effectively get random pre-Vegans to consider the validity of Veganism as a moral stance, it got me thinking about the best way to post my thoughts. I’m going to write up the actual individual instances where I did the C.N.O.V.A. as soon as I find the time, but first I figured I’d bang this out while my thoughts were still fresh.
This type of Vegan education is based on the work of Professor Gary L. Francione:
The way it works is pretty simple. First, these things are all a given:
1. Not every person we educate will go Vegan in the end – This is completely irrelevant to our educational approach however. Not everyone cares about animals enough to go Vegan. Also irrelevant. Another reality is that not everyone isn’t a psychopath. A few people are. But a rational person accepts the idea that enough people have moral concern for animals that the number who don’t, don’t matter. In order to accept this idea we must think that more than 50% of all humans on the planet are not completely morally void. I think that is a pretty safe assumption.
2. Not everyone who goes Vegan will go Vegan immediately – also an irrelevant fact. How quickly someone goes Vegan is not something we can control, as that is up to them and them alone. What we can control is whether we are being absolutely clear about 3 main things when we educate pre-Vegans about Veganism:
a) Veganism is the non-negotiable “moral baseline.”: living Vegan is the absolute minimum action we must take if we care morally about nonhuman animals at all. Otherwise we don’t really have courage in our own conviction.
b) Veganism is not difficult – Whether someone transitioning to Veganism finds it difficult at all is not relevant to how we advocate for the moral baseline of Veganism. That they may find it difficult may or may not be so, but it’s our moral responsibility to never intentionally make them think it’s difficult. That would be intentionally doing something counter-productive to our goal, which is to get people to align their actions with their already extant moral code, that nonhumans have the right to not be made to suffer unless it’s absolutely necessary. So making people think Veganism is hard to adopt equates to intentionally causing more suffering for more animals.
If someone finds it difficult to curb cravings or find the right foods for their budget, we can help them to do so. The first step is getting them to acknowledge that there even is a reason for them to stop using animals, however. Everything else is secondary to that one task.
c) You can go Vegan immediately – How long it takes each person is irrelevant. A Vegan educator’s moral responsibility is to tell pre-Vegans the truth, that they can go Vegan immediately. Then, whatever the pre-Vegan does is up to them. We can’t force them to go Vegan or to go Vegan at the speed which we want them to, but it would be immoral (not to mention irrational) to represent to them that the way to go Vegan would be to take longer, such as talking about vegetarianism first, or “baby steps,” etc.
3. Not everyone will take well to the arguments presented – in fact, some people will be defensive, some will use irrational arguments to attempt to refute ours, some may even become angry, or even violent. All irrelevant. You gauge how receptive someone is by their first reaction, and if they seem non-receptive, you move on to someone else who seems more receptive. We don’t want to be wasting precious time, energy and other resources that we could be using to educate someone who is receptive to the idea that they should be living Vegan on someone who is not interested at all. It’s that simple.
4. The one thing we don’t use or promote when doing CNOVA: Welfarism – We don’t need S.I.C.s (single issue campaigns in regards to nonhuman animals), the related use of graphic imagery or any of that; we can just do C.N.O.V.A. anywhere, at any time. Since the “C” stands for “Creative”: we can talk to friends or family; we can hand out literature (Abolitionist only) to random people (on the streets, in businesses, wherever); we can do Vegan bake sales (“free cupcake with conversation about Veganism,” etc.); we can do public speaking in front of audiences; we can make a Youtube video; we can simply post links and text online where pre-Vegans will likely come across them; or whatever non-speciesist way we can dream up using our imaginations; and we can do many of these things at any time of day, on any day of the year:
“Vegan Education: A Background”:
“Ten Crucial Tips for Public Outreach Work”:
Anything but welfarism and S.I.C.s. They are immoral and counter-productive and so, make no sense. We shouldn’t even favor doing C.N.O.V.A. at the site of an S.I.C. because it encourages us to just go for “the low-hanging fruit” of people who already have a heightened “concern for animals” but have already heard many arguments for not exploiting them and are still not Vegan, for instance. It can also imply to observers that we favor the S.I.C. as well. It’s much more productive and less discriminatory to just go for random pre-Vegans who really never even thought about the subject, and get them thinking. I’ve even made a post about how to best educate over the phone:
So, after we decide to keep those things in mind, then we need to be sure we are, ourselves, educated about Veganism. For me, that’s easy, because I love knowledge and I love learning. I absorb knowledge like a sponge. But for some, it may be a little bit of a challenge. That is one reason I compiled my “Master List Of Vegan Info”:
so people could both educate themselves in preparation for educating others, and so they could share it online with a short note and educate just by helping others educate themselves, etc.
Next, we go out and we find people to educate. This is most easily accomplished by finding the type of people in your day-to-day life that you already interact with, for instance, when you are at a store and some stranger strikes up a conversation (or you have the chance to do so), or even when you are on the street. Anything that gets you to talking with someone works. There is even a really cool Abolitionist Vegan educator named Chris Petty who came up with a questionnaire about Veganism to start conversations with people. He basically just came up with a set of “survey” questions that get the ball rolling. You can see a .jpeg of the survey questions at the top of this page. I’ve also explained in depth some great ways to use this survey.
I usually just walk up to someone and ask them if I can ask a question, but sometimes I wait ’til someone is already talking about a subject that can be related to Veganism by me, and then make that connection for them. It all depends on the circumstances, such as timing (sometimes we don’t have a lot of time to talk), my confidence in their apparent receptiveness or my confidence in my own skills at that day or time, etc.
Once I’m talking to them, I’ll at some point say something like “Can I ask you something?” and then “Do you think it’s wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering and death on animals?” or “Should animals suffer and die unnecessarily?”
Most people will say yes, it’s wrong (and no, they shouldn’t). So, after that, you say something along the lines of:
“The thing is, 100% of the intentional suffering and death that humans inflict on nonhuman animals is completely unnecessary. We have no real need to eat their flesh or secretions, wear them, use them for medical research, or for entertainment. The top 18 health organizations on the planet have made statements that we have no dietary need for animal substances. In addition, not only is it not morally justifiable to use them in biomedical research, but the more nonhuman animals we use for that purpose, the more humans suffer as a result. And lastly, we have no real need to use the animals you see in zoos, circuses, marine parks, TV shows and movies. All these animals are treated badly and ‘trained’ in horrible ways, and they all have the right to not be exploited for any reason in the first place.”
“Each individual nonhuman animal feels sensations such as pain, pleasure or fear, which humans also feel. This means that they each have an interest in their own continued survival and freedoms, just like we do. If they have the same interests in their lives that we do, then that means they have the same right to not be unnecessarily harmed or by us that we do. To harm them unnecessarily is immoral, in the same way that humans harming humans for no good reason is immoral.”
“Moreover, the reason we believe it’s ok to exploit them is due to something called ‘speciesism’, which is the irrational belief by humans that individuals have a higher or lower moral value based on the arbitrary, morally irrelevant criteria of species membership. This is similar to the discrimination that we engage in when we believe that we should exploit, harm, or otherwise exclude another human from our moral sphere based solely on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, or any other morally irrelevant characteristic.”
“We have no real need to exploit nonhuman animals for any reason. Since doing so harms them, just like it would harm us, and we have no real need for it, then why do we do it? Merely because we enjoy the taste of their flesh or secretions, or the convenience of wearing their skin or other body parts; or we enjoy watching them perform; or we irrationally believe we have the right to kill millions of them simply because we MIGHT find a “cure” for some disease that we most likely wouldn’t have gotten if we weren’t eating their flesh or secretions in the first place.”
“The great part about all this is, we can easily stop doing all of that horrible exploitation of animals, and it actually makes our own lives better as well as those of all the other living beings on the planet! We can actually thrive, be much healthier, and much happier by not exploiting them. It’s not difficult either. The thing I hear the most from the pre-Vegans I talk to is ‘I don’t think I could ever go completely Vegan’ and the thing I hear the most from the Vegans I talk to (and I feel this way too) is ‘Veganism is the greatest thing I ever did. I wish I’d gone Vegan sooner’!”
Now, we don’t need to go through this word for word, these are just examples of the way I’ve explained these issues in the past. However, the person I’m talking to will most likely have long since interrupted with a million questions. And that’s the key right there. You don’t have to finish the whole presentation in the order in which you conceived of it, because the most powerful part of the prepared speech is the part between the beginning and the part that makes them start asking the questions; those questions are where you really hook them.
As long as you can answer each question with peaceful honesty and at least a minimum of knowledge on the subject, and if you need to, refer them to more info (AbVegan flyers and my own Master List are good for that) then you have a much better shot of convincing them that what you’re saying is the only valid way to follow their own existing moral convictions.
See, when we do C.N.O.V.A. properly, we’re not really trying to get people to see our moral stance at all; we’re really just trying to educate them about the issues surrounding Veganism and forge the connection for them about how they can simply live up to their own already existing moral stance on unnecessary suffering and death.
Some people believe what they say, and do think it’s wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering. Some will just have said that to placate you, will later on admit that they really don’t care. There are some that really don’t care, or use irrational arguments (like the ones that really just boil down to “we should exploit nonhumans because they’re not human”) but if you’re dead set on arguing it out (as I sometimes do online, not even necessarily for the sake of the person I’m debating, but sometimes more for the observers) there is another theory you can use:
I rarely have to resort to the Anti-Human-Supremacy arguments anywhere but online anyway. Most people offline get the point just on the “sentience/speciesism” argument alone. If I was going to use the full Superiority Myth argument offline it would usually only have to be against an institutional exploiter; for example, an executive of a meat company or a vivisectionist (although a simplified version is great to answer more irrational random non-Vegans); and those are not the people who we should be concentrating on anyway; They are not the people who drive the demand for animal products. The mass pre-Vegan public does that, and so they are the ones we most need to be educating about Veganism.
If I have enough time when educating offline, I usually ask them at or near the end of the conversation whether they would now consider changing to a Vegan way of life. As I said before, the reactions are pretty well mixed, but most people at least admit that they are now considering the argument for it quite well.
These things really do work. I don’t even go in the streets and educate that often, and I’ve had great success with them. One thing is, you don’t really even have to focus on how many people you know for a fact that you made go Vegan. You could keep track if you wanted to (you should also follow up with some people and see if they need help or encouragement if you know they might and it’s possible for you to do so), but I don’t really bother “keeping score.” I only know I’ve made a few people already go Vegan for a fact (they told me) and suspect a few more did, or are going to soon. I know I’ve made a ton of people think about the issue and consider Veganism though, and whether I ever find out they went Vegan or not, the most I can hope for is to get them thinking about it. AbVegans call it “planting seeds of Veganism.” The pre-Vegans do what they will do when and if they do it. It’s up to us to plant the seed, but only the aspiring Vegan can give it what it needs to blossom.
Plant the seeds of Veganism. It’s the only morally justifiable way of educating that has a great chance of making new Vegans. And that is what we all desperately need.
Here are some links that should help people transition. If you need any other help or have any questions, please ask me:
“How To Go Vegan”:
Vegan Starter Kit:
“On Becoming Vegan”:
“What Will I Eat As A Vegan?”:
Here are some inspirational anecdotes to show how I’ve planted Vegan seeds in the past:
My Weekend Challenge Archives:
May 6th, 2014:
Friday, May 30th, 2014:
Saturday, May 31st, 2014:
Sunday, June 1st, 2014:
Tuesday, June 16th 2014:
Vegan education by others:
Here are some pamphlets and flyers you can print out:
Flyers by me (click thumbnails and then choose “full-sized versions” at the bottom):
Tearoffs with various animals:
Or right click on the links below and choose “save link as”:
Various wonderful pamphlets by others:
“Embracing Veganism” by South Florida Vegan Education Group:
Wonderful pamphlets by Vegan Musings:
If you’re not already Vegan, and you think animals matter morally, then please go Vegan. It’s easy and great for you, incredible for the animals, and wonderful for the planet. If you’re already Vegan, please educate non-Vegans about why they should go Vegan. Please rescue, volunteer, adopt, foster, spay, and neuter the nonhuman refugees of domestication whenever you can. Please feed your nonhuman family Vegan where you can. These things are the most important, morally responsible things to do and are desperately needed by everyone.
To learn more about Abolitionist Veganism and the issues I’ve outlined in this post, check out The Master List Of Vegan Info:
Disclaimer: My only goal with this list is to produce as comprehensive a resource for Vegan information as possible. I am 100% Abolitionist Vegan and 100% against exploitation of nonhuman or human animals, any type of violence against human or nonhuman persons or property, welfare regulation, any form of speciesism, ethnic bigotry, genderism, ableism, heterosexism, etc., any of the large governmental or non-governmental nonhuman animal organizations, “happy meat,” vegetarianism, veg*nism, Meat-Free Mondays, or other forms of reductionism and anything else that makes it seem like any form of violence or exploitation of animals is ok. If any of those positions are endorsed on any site in this list, or any language is used to imply that, it’s not that I included that link because I agree, but simply because I don’t control every bit of information on all of these sites.