Vegan communication: thinking outside the box

It seems that sometimes what we communicate about veganism and how we communicate it, has exactly the opposite effect of what we intend.

We think we need to win arguments, but winning arguments may alienate people from us and our case as they lose face and feel defeated.

We think we need to be very clear and unequivocal about animal suffering and killing, but black and white is often not convincing to people.

We think we need to be able to answer every question, but saying I don’t know  once in a while inspires a lot more trust.

We think we need to give people as much information as possible, while asking them questions and listening probably often works better.

We think we need to take our cause dead serious all the time, while humor may be one of the best ways to get people on board.

We think we need to bombard people with as many facts as possible, while hearing about that may leave them powerless and deflated.

We think we need to be 100% consistent in our food habbits, but being  100% consistent may paint a very inaccessible picture of veganism

We think we think. But we need to think harder and deeper about what we are doing. Because the only way to assess the value and impact of our communication, is to look at the way it is received.

PS: I was inspired to write this piece after reading this post by Matt Ball. Read it.

What vegan can learn from glutenfree

The vegan movement can learn something from the glutenfree “movement” (obviously it’s not a movement, but for lack of a better word). It hit me when I saw a woman posting something on Facebook. She wrote that for her, being glutenfree is a matter of life and death (she suffers from celiac disease and even a gram of gluten can have serious consequences), while there’s all these people who kind of “pretend” they need to be glutenfree. This makes it difficult for her to make e.g. waiters in restaurants understand that they have to take her special diet request very seriously (because, you know, that last gluten free person didn’t mind a little bit of this or that in their dish – sounds familiar?). However, she said, it is thanks to all these would-be glutenfree intolerants that she now can choose among a wealth of food products, in both stores and restaurants – products which a couple of years ago were simply not available.


Maybe you can see the parallel (probably not 100% correct, as parallels usually aren’t) with our vegan movement: here too, we have a small group of genuine vegans on the one hand, for whom eating vegan is extremely important, and on the other hand, a much bigger group of people who like to eat vegetarian/vegan now and then (to different degrees). Lots of the “genuine” ones will complain about the “loose” types and call them hypocrites or fakers, but we have to face it: they are a larger group than the one (or two) percent vegans, and it is they who create demand.

Let me say this again, because it is important: it is the big group of meat reducers that is creating the demand for vegetarian products. Food producers mainly cater to this group when creating vegetarian products. The increased choice of products, however, makes it easier to become stricter and stricter, more and more vegan.

So instead of calling the meat reducers names, let’s keep in mind that is because of them that being vegan is now so much easier than it used to be.

I leave it to you to think about the strategy take aways 🙂

Telling the truth about dairy on “World Milk Day”

June 1 is World Milk Day (a FAO initiative). In my country (Belgium) the dairy industry is handing out milk cockails at a number of train stations to make milk more hip. Still, milk is under pressure.

I know some vegans like to say that milk is actually detrimental for calcium and strong bones, but that seems to be putting it too strong. I think it is safer to say that the benefits of dairy consumption for strong bones are still not clear at all, and there might be an increased risk of e.g. prostate cancer. In any case, we do know that 1) there’s good plant based sources of calcium and 2) other things besides calcium are important or strong bones (like exercise).

Calcium (and other nutrients in milk like B vitamins) are important. But it’s very important to note that the advice to consume lots of dairy every day for strong bones, is not just a health inspired advice but also – and in the first place – a commercially inspired advice. Diary is used as synonymous with calcium, which is of course misleading.

In the US, plant based milk alternatives take in about eight percent of the dairy market by now, in spite of agressive milk advertising. There’s soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, oat milk etc. Maybe even more significantly, just like artificial (lab) meat is approaching, artificial milk might hit the shelves a lot sooner. Muufri (pronounced moo-free), a start-up in Silicon Valley, is developping a biotech product that should be an exact replica of milk, both in terms of nutritional quality as well as taste. The proteins that you find in milk will be obtained on the basis of yeast injected with cow DNA. Products like these don’t have the aura of “natural” speaking in their favor, but of course milk has lost its naturalness a long time ago. By the way, this is a good example why vegans might think twice about being anti biotech engineering of food.

These milk alternatives may offer solutions for the problems associated with dairy. We all know how cows emit methane. And of course milk production requires that cows give birth yearly. The calves are separated from their mother on day one or very soon, as the milk is of course… for us. Some people might call this sentimental, but they haven’t heard a mother cow scream for days after her baby has been taken away.

There is the question of what to think about small scale farmers in developing countries who are directly dependent on their cows for their livelihood. I think our priority is in the first place with what happens in the first world and what consumers can do there, but we should already be open for other solutions in the third world too. It has to be noted that the majority of cow-related greenhouse gasses is actually from developing countries. Conversion from feed to food (milk or meat) is much less efficient there, which in the long run will undoubtedly change, and become detrimental for animal welfare (while better for the environment).

Dairy may be the easiest source of calcium, but it is not the healthiest, most sustainable or most animal friendly one. While the dairy industry wants to keep us to cling to the cow’s udder, it’s smarter to be open for alternatives and to remove the cow from the food chain, slowely but surely.