I’m very proud to announce that Jon and I are featured in this month’s Grand Rapids Magazine article Vegan-Friendly and Getting Friendlier. The piece is a great look at the overall vegan movement in Grand Rapids, and touches on many of the people working hard to make our city the best it can be. The thing I love the most about the article may be the title itself – it really embodies a belief on which my vegan activism is based; friendliness.
I believe that by being open, understanding, and inviting, I can have the most effective and open conversations with people who don’t see things exactly as I do. I’ve never found vilification to be an effective method of activism. In fact, it stops dialogue dead in its tracks. Much of the success we’ve had with Vegan Grand Rapids is proof that being open and friendly works.
The only way we are ever going to reduce meat and dairy consumption is through steady, incremental change. Some of those changes may be bigger leaps forward, but most unfold slowly. The truth is, progress in any movement always takes time. It may feel frustrating to inch our way forward, but progress is progress.
Once you move to a vegan lifestyle, you pretty quickly realize that it’s not a big sacrifice at all. In fact, it can be hard to understand as a new vegan why more people don’t connect the dots as you just have yourself – if you can choose a diet that doesn’t hurt the planet, your body, or an animal, why wouldn’t you make that choice every time you sit down to eat or purchase a pair of shoes?
I’m passionate about helping the planet and I recognize that meat and dairy farming is a major contributor to climate change and pollution. I understand that a meat-free diet is healthier for our bodies and could help people live longer and help us save billions of dollars on health care costs. Vegans, by definition, are also passionate about ending the suffering of the billions of chickens, cows, and pigs tortured every year in this country to become food. It’s easy to become angry over this inescapable fact when you know how easy it is to live a vegan lifestyle. We can choose to eat with regard to the health of the planet, our bodies, and the animals, or we can choose to disregard all of that. Sadly, only a small percentage of Americans consistently choose the path that offers the least amount of suffering. It is downright maddening to see people (even people in our lives, including loved ones) blatantly disregard the truth about what’s on their plate. I am just as angry and saddened as anyone to be a vegan in this omnivore world when the choice seems so easy to me.
Jon and I started Vegan Grand Rapids a little over five years ago solely as a restaurant guide. It very naturally and quickly grew in to so much more than that and before we knew it we were hosting events all over Grand Rapids. To our surprise, most of our event attendees weren’t vegan at all. A small percentage were, some were vegetarian, and some didn’t know what they were – they just wanted to hang out, have a good time, gain exposure to new culinary experiences, and make friends. Most probably didn’t know it but they were what the world was coming to know as flexitarians – omnivores who were cutting back on meat and dairy consumption bit by bit – favoring a plant-based diet one or more meals a week.
We couldn’t believe it. Why would these people come to our “very vegan” events as non-vegans? They told us how much they loved our events and the food recommendations we made. They found our efforts to be non-judgmental and educational. They were thankful for the welcoming attitude amongst the Vegan Grand Rapids community and said the encouragement we offered was responsible for them cutting back on animal products. We’ve never turned anyone away from our events – regardless of what they eat. We learned that the flexitarians who came to our events were going home, following our recipes, choosing restaurants on our guide, and over time further decreasing the amount of animal products they were eating. What a great success, right? It’s the best feeling in the world to see a lifelong “meat & potatoes guy” sit down at a table full of delicious plant-based meals and leave completely satisfied, satiated, and grateful to us for opening up his world, inspired to go home and eat more plants.
I’d love to see meat and dairy disappear from every plate overnight, but I’m also pragmatic enough to know that that’s not going to happen. So I ask myself, how can I help? What can I do to try to save our planet from climate change, improve our health, and help animals beyond setting an example in my own life. These are big questions and I don’t know all of the answers to them, but I do know what doesn’t work.
There’s an “abolitionist” movement across the country including right here in Grand Rapids, that is loud, aggressive, and offensive. They seem to believe that shame and guilt are motivators for change. They target businesses in the community that are already vegan-friendly (but not 100% vegan) and I truly cannot understand the method behind the madness. The big buzz word they toss around is “disruption.”
Imagine sitting in a Starbucks drinking your coconut milk caffè latte and a swarm of people descend – they’re holding signs calling people “cow murderers.” They’re decrying the fact that Starbucks sells breakfast sandwiches with meat and eggs. They perform a sit-in, blocking the line to order, and the leader of the group yells at a barista who is trying to help pay for college with her $8.50/hr job. How does creating a sign, storming into a chain restaurant, and harassing customers and lowly paid employees help any living being? Congratulations on fitting the crazy vegan stereotype! I’ve watched several of these videos and, quite honestly, they’re painful to watch. I’m embarrassed as a vegan, and it makes me cringe because I know it does more harm than good to our movement. The only positive result that activity seems to have, is to make the activists themselves feel good. These types of activists shouldn’t be called vegans, in my opinion. Instead we should call them “MEgans.” The activists leave Starbucks high-fiving, believing they made a difference, but how many of the patrons that witnessed that charade would want to join that movement?
It’s frustrating and hard to be patient knowing the stakes. But it’s only through friendliness, compassion, and kindness that we will keep the lines of communication open and keep moving forward. I not only believe it in my heart, but I have seen it in action through our efforts at Vegan Grand Rapids. Kindness really is the only way we’ll help the health crisis, end factory farming, and save the planet (and ultimately save each other).
As the Grand Rapids Magazine article states, Grand Rapids is a vegan-friendly city, and it is getting friendlier. I beg all of you to be friendly. Be kind. Be gentle. Be encouraging. Be loving.
The animals need us, the earth needs us, and we need each other.