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Presenting Veganism
by Robert Cheeke, Vegan Bodybuilder, April 11th, 2005

This is an article that I specificially wrote for www.organicathlete.org to be included in their monthly newsletter, but I wanted to include it here too.

I hope that you will find it very helpful and it will enhance your ability to speak to others about your vegan lifestyle. -Robert Cheeke

Presenting Veganism by Robert Cheeke April 5, 2005

How many times have you been asked, “Where do you get your protein?” Or what about, “Well, then what Do you eat?” These are common questions that non-vegans have for us on a daily basis. They are fairly easy to answer because anyone who knows anything about
nutrition knows that protein is one of the easiest nutrients to find in human nutrition; and to answer the latter question, all you have to do is tell them what you eat or more simply, tell them the foods you avoid and that you eat everything else.

But what if you are preparing to give a presentation to a group of people; do you know what kind of approach you would take and how you would answer questions?

In my experience, the best way to approach any animal rights or veganism presentation to non-vegans is to be prepared for the questions you know will be asked and come across as a nice person just sharing your lifestyle with them.

Nobody wants to hear that they are doing something wrong, so keep everything positive. Rather than giving statistics about how meat- eaters will die sooner than vegans, say that vegans live long healthy lives, taking in all required nutrients to stay active and maintain great health. Rather than talk about factory farming conditions, give examples of animals that are treated well and that more should be treated that way.

When you present yourself be sure to smile, laugh, be enthusiastic, make great eye contact, thank people for their questions, and offer to help them find an answer if you don’t have the answer they are looking for. Make the group laugh, that will help them relate to you as a human, and as a nice person, rather than the guest speaker who is there to discount their lifestyle and condemn their eating habits.

When possible, avoid any kind of direct argument. Debating can be ok depending on the setting but I wouldn’t recommend it. Give your presentation and allow time for questions rather than a debate.

To help create a clear picture of who vegans are and what they do, eat, and stand for, share part of your life with them. Talk them through a typical day explaining what you eat. Start from morning describing your meals up until you go to sleep that night. Bring in examples of vegan alternatives to common foods like yogurt, milk, meat, energy bars, cheese, treats, etc. Pass the foods around so they can read the labels and get familiar with what is inside and so they can see some healthy alternative foods they could be eating. Be sure to read some highlights from the label of an example food. Such as, “high in protein, no trans fat, no cholesterol, may reduce risk of heart disease, etc.”

Come to the presentation prepared with some literature, such as Why Vegan pamphlets or Vegan Starter Packs from Vegan Outreach. This will give the group of people something to read while you field questions and it could possibly create more questions based on the information they read from the brochures or books.

The best thing that you can do is surprise the group you are speaking to by not being what they expect. Most non-vegans will hear of a vegan coming to speak at their class, group, school, function or whatever the event may be, and immediately imagine a radical environmentalist, angry at the government and meat and dairy industries who will be preaching their ethical and moral values to anyone who is not like them. This is what they expect in most cases, so it is up to you to surprise them.

Come across as being just like them. Find some common ground and perhaps even make it clear at the beginning that you are not there to preach at them or that you are not trying to change their eating and lifestyle habits. After hearing that, they will take a sigh of relief and listen to what you have to say. If you open up with telling people that eating meat is wrong, you might as well turn around and walk out the door because you will no longer be heard by anyone in the room and you will probably do more harm than good for the vegan movement. Be their friend, relate to them, understand that yes, animal products probably do taste pretty good, but explain why we may want to consider other nice tasting foods that could be a bit healthier and cause less environmental destruction.

If you come into contact with someone in the group who is aggressive and tries to argue with you, quickly diffuse the situation by thanking them and move on to the next question. You will be admired for your control and the aggressive questioner, rather than you, will become the “bad guy” in the eyes of the crowd. The group will probably have more respect for you and they’ll be able to empathize with you since you are the minority but handling yourself well through tough situations.

My experience tells me that a non-aggressive, non-threatening, friendly, enthusiastic approach works wonders when it comes totalking with people on the other end of the environmental spectrum.

When you finish your presentation, realize that there are plenty of other questions that the group probably has but didn’t have time or the confidence to ask, so always leave them with some contact information such as an e-mail address where they can contact you to learn more about veganism.

Upon conclusion of your visit, always thank the group for inviting you to share your lifestyle with them and stay around afterwards to address individual questions that someone may not have wanted to ask in front of a group.

If you take this enthusiastic, friendly, fun, gracious, non-threatening approach you will be making the most of your potential impact on the non-vegan community. You’ll be surprised how many people may think really hard the next time they visit a fast food restaurant.