Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Vegan Advocacy: The 10 Billion Lives Tour

When I lived in Pittsburgh, my friend Kate told me once about how she'd heard that there was a truck fitted with TVs that travels around, paying people a dollar to watch a short video about standard practices on factory farms.  She told me that she'd heard it was incredibly effective, both in getting people to pledge to reduce their animal consumption, and in getting people to convert to fully vegan eventually.

I remember how this idea absolutely blew my mind.  It was just the most brilliant thing I'd ever heard!  It is so incredibly difficult to get people to engage with this topic at all.  People's hands are planted firmly over their eyes when it comes to thinking about how their food choices affect animals and the planet.  People will not watch a video, at all.  But trick them a bit, offer them a buck, and suddenly they're forced to take their blinders off for a moment.  What a difference this could make, I thought.

Recently, I was incredibly lucky to be able to offer three days of my time volunteering with Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM)'s 10 Billion Lives Tour.  This may sound extreme, but I do believe it is one of the best things with which I've ever been involved.  If you're ever looking to donate money to something that is really effective in making vegans, you should donate to FARM.  Failing that, if they're in your area doing their thing and you're a passionate vegan who is skilled at communicating about it and who has a response to every objection, and can respond with consistent kindness, definitely volunteer to help!

Here's how it works.  We don't indicate in any way what the video is about.  We wear ordinary clothes that do not give away that we're vegans.  As people walk by, we call out things like, "Can we pay you a dollar to watch a 4-minute video?"  Many people stop to watch.

Next is the hardest part.  There can be 4 people to a screen, and we have to get them to enter their first name and an email address.  I had a little speech I gave here: "We're going to ask you for your first name and email, and all we're going to do with the email is send you a survey in one month about the video.  We're not going to add you to any lists."  Then I'd add, "The screens are a little crazy sometimes, so make sure that when you press a letter that it actually appears on the screen."  It could take longer to get people to correctly enter their emails on the touch screen than it took to actually watch the video, unfortunately.

They each got a pair of headphones, and then this video would play.

Right after viewing it, the screen would ask each person how many days a week they would pledge to eat animal-free meals.  They could pick 0, 1 to 2, 3 to 4, 5 to 6, or 7.  Looking in on what people picked, I'd say the vast majority picked 1 to 2.  Many picked 3 to 4 or even 5 to 6.  Almost no one picked 7 unless they were already vegan.  Almost no one picked zero, but sometimes people did.

You'd think that the people who picked zero were hopeless, but that is not actually the case at all.  After people took the pledge, a volunteer would go up and ask the group what they thought of the video.  Most people expressed sadness.  The response was almost never hostile.  Some people said they'd had no idea about any of this, others said they knew but "What can you do?  We have to eat meat."  Occasionally, someone would be really angry.  Not at us, usually, but about the animals.  One man in Berkeley was fuming.  "Did you see them just throwing those baby chicks into a grinder?  Can you believe that bullsh*t!?  That is f*cked!"

No matter what their reaction was, I was ready with responses.  One of my favorite points that I would return to again and again was to remind people that when you witness injustice, you must do whatever you can to not participate in it.  If the video was disgusting and painful to them, there is a completely viable alternative: to become vegan.  I'd encourage them to take to the internet for recipes and support, or to get vegan cookbooks out of the library.  One of the instructions from FARM was to praise any positive steps people seemed willing to take, but to also treat it as only the beginning.  "Try eating vegan one or two days a week, and then when you get used to cooking or ordering food that way, it will become easier and easier to expand that to three or four days a week, and so on, until this is the only way you'd ever want to eat."

With many people, I discussed the idea that I think most people know in their hearts, that all injustice is linked.  That injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.  That the quality of our character is determined not by how we treat our peers, but how we treat those with the least ability to fight back.
Here I am laughing after this young woman asked me if I was a vegan and I said "Yes," and she said that I had "that vegan glow."  I think she's a vegan in the making, for sure!

I had so many amazing conversations with people over the three 8-hour days I did this, and it was exhilarating.  Often, those who pledge zero days were the people with whom it was most interesting to speak.  Those who picked zero were usually this certain type of young men who love to argue.  Those kind of guys love me.  First, because I'm adorable!  But also because I'm willing to really talk things through, and they love that.  I'm sure that I moved some of those in the "zero" camp to at least the "one to two days" camp.  Even if I did NOT do that, I'm positive -- absolutely positive! -- that each conversation I had with people hostile toward veganism caused them for the first time to actually understand where vegans are coming from, and to not have such a knee-jerk reaction against it.  We're not crazy, we don't hate people, we don't think cows should vote.  We're super-nice and we have a whole lot of information and a response to everything you can throw at us!  Every time I had a conversation with a zero-pledger, he or she would shake my hand at the end and tell me it was a real pleasure to meet me.

I know that doing this will not change the world to vegan overnight, but I feel that with every view and every conversation, we turned the attitude toward veganism from outright hostility to understanding.  As Colleen Patrick-Goudreau would say, we planted seeds of compassion and some of them will grow.  That is all that is in our power to do, really.

At the end of the conversations, we'd hand the viewers a pamphlet that had answers to some frequently asked questions, a $1 off Tofurkey coupon, and a nice crisp dollar bill placed inside.  Best dollar ever spent, in my opinion!

I have to give such high praise to the people who traveled with the truck.  On the first day in Berkeley, I worked with both Andy and Monica, who were both so skilled at communicating on this topic.  The next two days, at a community college in San Francisco, Monica was on vacation, but Andy was there with his constant patience for responding to every objection.  I realized that I was rusty on how to respond to religious arguments about God having given people animals to use.  I've read up on the Christian vegan movement, but I forgot a lot of it.  Andy's standard response, I think, is really perfect: "No religion requires you to eat animals, so if you see that there's something wrong with it, it is still consistent with your religion to stop."

Doing this, I also met some new friends!  I'm making friends with all the East Bay vegans!  Oh my gawd I love it here.  My new friends bring me to interesting places, like to the top of the hills of Berkeley.


  1. Whoooooah, it's so cool and crazy that such a thing exists! And so cool that you got to be a part of it! It's always nice to know there are non-pushy, reasonable people out there promoting veganism. :)

  2. Fantastic! Great job! I loved hearing about all of this, and I love the camaraderie you were able to develop with people who see things differently than you. I can tell you planted some seeds for sure. Wonderful.

  3. Thank you for the great write up about FARM's 10 Billion Lives Tour and for your kind words! So glad you could help us out. And you are exactly right, we aren't trying to create a vegan world overnight but to plant seeds of compassion that will hopefully grow into something beautiful.

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog! I'd volunteer with FARM anytime. I wish there could be, like, dozens of these pay-per-view trucks with passionate vegans out planting seeds.

  4. I love where your life is taking you right now and how happy and passionate you are. When you are on your right path, you can't help but influence people with positive vibrations. You are definitely planting seeds of compassion for the future.


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