2 November 2012

Vegan Outreach - Small and Simple

Small and Simple - Grass Roots Activism

You don't need a big organisation, professionally printed signs, and loads of advertising to get out and start promoting veganism.  All you need is a couple of friends, some yummy free food, vegan information, and a smile.

Yelling out 'free cupcakes' also helps.

This year for World Vegan Day we got together with like-minded people in our area and set up a small table outside the library of the local university.

Vegans who helped with the stall brought along non-vegan friends.  Their non-vegan friends had the opportunity to sample some free vegan food, have a chat and take away some vegan information.

We used a table that already existed, a very basic sign, literature begged from various vegan organisations, and our own fabulous cooking skills. 

As vegans are wont to do, the event was pretty much over-catered, and it ended up being part-afternoon tea with non-vegans joining in.

Free Food Gets People's Attention

The sign almost finished

In Nick Cooney's Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change, he mentions the importance of breaking people's patterns: 
People are usually operating on autopilot, and if we can grab their full attention before making our pitch, we're more likely to get compliance. One research team has called this technique disrupt and reframe.
Advertising 'Free Food' breaks the pattern of passers-by, and if you're on a university campus, you have the double whammy of students being drawn to anything free.

Could the event have gotten as many people over to chat, hang around, and take away some vegan information without food?  For starters, who the hell turns down a free cupcake?  Even if some didn't stop for a chat, they were happy to take away a piece of information.  So the stall overall achieves two things: 1) establishing that vegan food isn't all lettuce and 2) exposes non-vegans to some information that they may not have encountered otherwise.

Challenging People's Preconceptions About Vegan Food

One of the biggest barriers to veganism that many face is food.  Free vegan food, particularly familiar things that non-vegans don't associate with vegan food are great places to start.

We had recipe sheets along with recipes in the literature that we were giving out.  Rather than just telling people that it could be done we were showing them how it could be done.

Setting up around a picnic table had the added bonus of having an informal party-like vibe.  People hung around, ate cookies and cake, grabbed fist-fulls of literature, and raised a billion and one hypotheticals (well, some of them).

Grass Roots, Amateur

Depending on your market, an amateur stall might do just as well as a professional stall.

To some extent, the amateur set up worked in our favour, mostly because we were not in any competition with other stalls, and we were providing a welcome relief from study with free food.  It was also clear that we weren't trying to sell anything. 

However, context and timing most certainly played a part in securing a small, but interested influx of people.

Room for Improvement

Most events have room for improvement, and being able to reflect and ask what could we do differently or what would have made it even better is important.

There were two important things that we learned: 1) there was a peak time to be at our location (we only caught the tail-end of that time) and 2) we could have used some follow up information about our group and how to find us.

Start Today!

Imagine what would happen if small groups of vegans everywhere did something like this just a few times a year...

We would like to personally thank everyone who helped make the table possible: Azrae, Belinda, Matt, Theresa, and Toniey.  Also, thanks to the organisations who happily sent us literature with which to stock our table: Animal Liberation Victoria, Vegetarian Victoria, the Cruelty Free Shop, Choose Cruelty Free.


  1. I love this post! In my class about social movements this semester we talked about how important food is to so many different kinds of activism, and especially to animal rights/vegan activism (and my students were rewarded with vegan cookies in the last lecture).

    I agree, too, that we should get some little cards with our facebook page address on it, and maybe our next event can be timed to happen just before a vegan picnic or meet-up of some kind, so we can direct people to come along...

  2. Great post Stevie, and great comment Theresa. I say we have another get together soon, and discuss the above points in more detail.