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Pay it Forward, Vegan Style By Michael Sesser
I read Animal Liberation for an ethics course in college
and I immediately realized that the only morally appropriate action I could
take would be
to become vegan as soon as possible. That was six years ago, and while
I still hold the same belief, I am still not vegan.
Why not? Well, for one, I am lazier, weaker-willed, and less passionate than
most people I have met in the animal rights movement. On the other hand, so is
most of America. If vegan outreach is targeting the general population, my problem
could be representative of a larger obstacle. Second, I constantly felt like
I was fighting the world by myself. Once I decided to move toward a vegan diet,
I bought some books and joined a couple of animal rights organizations. I soon
had lots of recipes, vegetarian starter kits and lists of vegan-friendly restaurants.
But most problematic, was that I now had lots to do on my own, and I don’t
like doing things on my own.
Don’t get me wrong, I did try. I stocked my kitchen with vegan foods and
stuck to the diet for a period of time. But as I’m sure was the case for
many former omnivores, changing my diet was difficult. I often found myself in
cranky moods. I have no family or friends who are vegan (or even vegetarian),
so I had no one to lean on and help me through the initial rough period. Eventually
I hit a stressful point, and one night when my co-workers were ordering a pizza
I caved. Re-read this paragraph several more times if you want the story of my
many attempts to go vegan during the next six years.
I remember a lecture I heard in which a business author claimed two of the most
successful organizations in America were Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous
and both for the same reason—they recognized that two people can do together
what neither one can do on their own. People gain strength from social support.
I have no experience with Weight Watchers, but I do know a little bit about how
12-step recovery programs work and quickly saw the speaker’s point.
When an alcoholic walks into his first A.A. meeting, he is told that as a newcomer
he is the most important person in the room. He is introduced to a number of
other members who immediately hand over their phone numbers while saying something
like, “Call me for anything day or night, especially if you start thinking
about picking up a drink.” Shortly afterwards the new member gets a sponsor
who essentially mentors them through recovery and a home group—a group
of people the newcomer commits to meet with on a regular basis—who become
not only friends but a social support in the alcoholic’s recovery.
Now, clearly there are major differences between an alcoholic quitting drinking
and an animal rights supporter going vegan. But, I do believe the animal rights
movement can learn lessons from A.A., Weight Watchers, and other organizations
that utilize the power of people working together.
What if, instead of sending potential vegans a vegetarian starter kit and saying, “Go
do it alone,” we refer them to a myspace page where they could join an
animal rights network in their geographic area? Eventually, we would suggest
they select a vegan mentor. The mentor would have specific responsibilities:
taking the newbie grocery shopping and to vegan-friendly restaurants, giving
tips on how to get through sticky travel/dining situations, and most importantly
introducing them to other vegans. Perhaps in a parallel to A.A. and Weight Watchers
meetings, there could be regular vegan dinner meetings. The whole program would
be volunteer-based. The only price to pay would be that the newcomer would mentor
at least one other person in return—paying it forward vegan style.
Michael Sesser lives in Washington, DC where he works for the Corporate Executive
Board, a “best practices” business research and executive education
organization. He became interested in animal rights after taking a course called “Applied
Utilitarianism” in college.