Monday, August 3, 2015

Kenny Torrella on Messaging for Maximum Change

Update: Please see this. Thanks!

Animal advocate extraordinaire, Kenny Torrella, read a commentary about the importance of using the word "vegetarian" instead of "vegan." On another blog, he quoted it and added this comment:
I read [Bruce's quote] a few weeks ago and have been experimenting with it lately, and I think it's a small tip for activists that goes a long way. For 2.5 years I had been telling people I was vegan if the subject came up. Now if people ask I say I'm vegetarian, and it makes a world of a difference. When I used to say I was vegan, people would immediately say some kind of variation of, "That's awesome, but I could never do that myself."  
Now when I say I'm vegetarian, people become more open and tell me about other vegetarians they know, vegetarian foods they've tried, how they've considered going vegetarian, or they had been vegetarian in the past and want to get back into it. Whenever I met a vegetarian while leafleting, I used to say, "Have you considered veganism?" The situation would immediately turn a bit sour. For a split second they saw me as someone they had much in common with, and after asking if they've considered veganism, they see me as someone telling them to do more -- that their vegetarianism is not enough. Out of the number of vegetarians I had met and responded to like this, not a single one responded positively -- none said, "Why yes, I have been considering veganism lately!" All of them said a variation of, "Well, veganism seems like a good thing, but it's just too much for me." No matter how much cajoling, they wouldn't budge.  
The funny thing about this is that when I was a vegetarian I was the same way toward vegans. This is something important to remember. I didn't go vegan because another vegan was telling me to, or even telling me about it... I did it on my own after thinking about it and researching it for several months. Now while leafleting, I give words of encouragement to vegetarians I meet. I tell them how awesome it is that they're vegetarian, to keep it up, I say "Aw, you're the best," I give them literature that has recipes and nutritional information. This makes a huge difference! They feel encouraged to do more, rather than being told to.
They may not feel as alone in their choice if they meet another "vegetarian" that is also an activist and is thanking them. 
Although our initial reaction is to identify as a vegan or to convince vegetarians to go vegan, 9 times out of 10 it doesn't turn anyone on to veganism -- it only makes them feel like they're being judged, as if their lifestyle choice to eschew all meat products was worth nothing. I'm not saying this is a fool-proof guide to live by and of course there are instances where it's important to say you're vegan, or if a vegetarian wants more information about going vegan, then by all means, hand out vegan literature and share your experiences as a vegan. Although I was first skeptical of Friedrich's tip, I experimented with it and found it to be a much better approach toward turning more people on to a vegetarian lifestyle. 

 As always, kudos to Kenny for being concerned less with justifying his own choices and more with opening as many new hearts and minds as possible!


Mikael said...

I have shared this post so many times. Really hits the nail on the head!

Unknown said...

Hey Kenny, I think you are "spot-on" with your advise. I will start using this tactic from now on!

Unknown said...

To be honest, I disagree. I think the reason they were turned of is your approach. Just as it doesn't make sense to approach an omni with have you considered vegetarianism, it doesn't make sense to approach a vegetarian with have you considered veganism.

When I speak to vegetarians, I already start off positive, complementing them for what they are already doing. Then I ask them about why they are vegetarian and tell them that veganism helps those reasons even more. Then I talk about small change- would you consider going vegan one day a week? And give them a leaflet on a vegan diet. This seems to go well as long as they are not vegetarian for religion. If it is for religious purposes, than it's a toss-up.

Statistically, vegetarians are much more likely to go vegan, than an omni to go vegetarian. By passing up the opportunity to talk to a vegetarian about veganism, you miss planting an important seed.

Matt Ball said...

Kyjana, thanks so much for writing. I think you are misreading Kenny. He's talking about the general message he presents to the public: "Ask me why I'm vegan" vs "Ask me why I'm vegetarian."
Also worth noting: of the ~25 factory-farmed land animals killed for the average meat eater, getting someone to go from vegetarian to vegan spares about 1. Getting someone to give up eating birds spares about 24. It is amazing!
Take care!

Unknown said...

Thank you for your response. Although I don't think this is necessary to really talk about, in terms of suffering (not just lives), there is probably a bigger gap between a vegetarian and a vegan. This is because both egg layers and dairy cows are forced to live for years in some often very bad conditions before being slaughtered. Furthermore, for every dairy/egg producing female animal, there is likely a dead brother who could not produce eggs or milk.

But I think that is irrelevant to my point. My point was that the approach Kenny uses can be slightly changed and still promote veganism to vegetarians without scaring them off. My point was specifically in response to his comment about leafleting when he asks vegetarians if they've considered veganism. That is the wrong approach and will get a negative response often.

Matt Ball said...

In terms of suffering, there is no question in my mind that not eating birds is by far the biggest step we can take to reduce suffering. Chickens raised for meat are in chronic pain and suffer horribly from ammonia burning, and there are dozens of them we eat every year. See the first graph here: