18 Stories of Successful Vegan Activism to Inspire You
Creative advocacy that works!
Posted on March 26, 2020 by Estella Ramirez
Who better than our fellow activists to show us what’s possible and encourage us to take action? In this blog post, we share 18 snapshots of vegan activism by our own VegFund grantees.
We collected these stories before the onset of our tragic global health crisis and the halt to public gatherings. So, we present this compilation of past events to inspire you and look forward to a time when we can come together in person once again.
As you read these stories, which range from small events on college campuses to city-wide campaigns and international tours, remember that anyone who has ever made an impact started wherever they were, with one step in the right direction.
Vegan activists on campus
These activities are simple to organize. Try them at your own university, a nearby campus, or a local community center.
1. “Cocoa and Leaflets” at Copenhagen University. Mia Sommer of Dyrenes Alliance (The Animals’ Alliance) and two other volunteers handed out free vegan hot chocolate with plant-based milk to university students. In just under two hours, they served 60 people and handed them a leaflet encouraging them to sign up for a vegan challenge. A Food Sampling grant from VegFund covered the cost of the ingredients and the leaflets.
What you can try: The cocoa-and-leaflets model works because free hot cocoa is a pleasant surprise to most people, and it doesn’t disrupt their day. You can adapt this idea to any location by choosing the treat that would be the most appealing and convenient to your audience, such as vegan cupcakes or chocolate chip cookies. Think big picture: the easier you make it for people to consider veganism, the more successful you’ll be.
2. Paid-per-view (PPV) at Minnesota Universities. PPV is a form of outreach that offers people an incentive (such as a dollar or vegan cupcake) to view a 4-minute video. Ashley Riddle, program director at the Animal Rights Coalition (ARC), organizes a series of PPV events at colleges and universities in Minneapolis. She offers a one-dollar incentive to watch a video from iAnimal. The videos give an immersive, virtual-reality experience into the lives of animals used for food. For many viewers, this is a life-changing experience that sparks meaningful conversations. Ashley has found an outreach activity that works for her: it’s low-cost, manageable with a few volunteers, easy to replicate on other campuses, and it reaches people likely to be open to new ideas.
What you can try: Take your activism to high-traffic areas on college campuses. Many students will be rushing to make their next class, but the curiosity factor will catch some people’s attention. If someone is interested enough to stop, be friendly and engage them in the PPV experience. Once you’ve found something that works for you, look for other locations in your area to reproduce the event.
3. “CineDebates” in Brazil. Louise Tezza from Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira (Brazilian Vegetarian Society) organizes a series of “CineDebates” at UNIPAMPA, Brazil’s federal university. She screens a documentary, such as Vegucated or The Ghosts in Our Machine, and follows it with a Q&A session. The hosts discuss the issues raised in the film with the audience. The food sampling — always a crowd pleaser — includes vegan burgers, cake, and pastéis (traditional Brazilian baked good).
What you can try: Customize film screenings to your unique audience. The approach (creating an opportunity for university students to speak their minds), the food offerings (vegan pastéis), and even the film choice itself can all be adapted to appeal to your community. To host your own “CineDebate,” spend time thinking of conversation starters and creative ways to spark post-film discussions.
Here are some ways to introduce culturally relevant vegan foods within your community.
4. The Invisible Vegan film screening in Columbus. Community activists Tony Malloy-McCoy, Ivory Levert (founder of Plant the Power) and Chef Clayton Freeman recently organized a screening of The Invisible Vegan at a Columbus movie theatre. This 90-minute documentary explores the health and wellness benefits of plant-based vegan diets for African–American communities. The event included free vegan food and a Q&A session.
What you can try: Representation matters. If you want people to consider a vegan life seriously, it’s important that they be able to see themselves reflected in films and other media about the subject. The vegan movement can and should be intersectional. So, choose your films accordingly.
5. Green’r Pastures in Latinx community. La Raza for Liberation organized a free vegan education event called Green’r Pastures. The event featured live cooking demos and vegan vendors. Organizers chose to reach out to non-vegans and vegans of color in Houston with the core message that vegan food can be culturally relevant and taste good, all while being good for us, the animals, and the planet. Presenters shared recipes, personal experiences, and literature from the Food Empowerment Project with attendees.
What you can try: Cooking demos attract an audience, and they empower people to create and customize their own vegan meals. Try one at your event and choose recipes that are culturally relevant to your audience.
6. Dairy alternatives at Martha’s Table Free Market. Martha’s Table is an organization that provides food aid and other services to low-income individuals in Washington, DC. Each month, 700 people come to their headquarters to access their free food market. Robin Walker, former special projects manager of Compassion Over Killing (now Animal Outlook), noticed that the market was lacking dairy alternatives. Noting that 70 percent of African Americans (the majority demographic in this particular neighborhood) are lactose intolerant, she felt that they should have access to non-dairy alternatives, regardless of budget. A VegFund grant covered several cases of almond, rice, and coconut milk for the Martha’s Table Free Market, and within 24 hours, the plant-based milk was gone! Robin plans to continue providing plant-based milks at this free market.
What you can try: Be observant like Robin. You might just find that you can serve a community lacking accessibility to vegan options. Innovation doesn’t need to be complicated to improve somebody’s life.
Vegan activists using the local library system in unique ways
Public libraries are incredibly helpful resources in our communities that can facilitate your vegan outreach, too.
What you can try: Small events can have a big impact. If your budget is limited, you can do what Linda did and schedule a room in the library for your film screening. Library spaces are typically free, but the rooms can fill up fast, so be sure to schedule several months in advance.
8. Plant-Based 101 presentations and library displays in Michigan. Noelle Grain is the program and operations manager with VegMichigan. This organization has reached hundreds of people through a series of Plant-Based 101 presentations and vegan food tastings at local libraries. Guest speakers include well-known cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn and University of Michigan Family Medicine physician Dr. Robert Breakey. Attendees take home resources such as recipes and a list of vegan-friendly restaurants and grocery stores. In 2020, they’ve partnered with the library to introduce a rotating display of vegan books and media.
Join us for Plant-Based 101 presented by @veganwithnour and a FREE plant-based food tasting at the William P. Faust…
What you can try: Be creative with your educational programs. A library display is a unique way to provide a resource to the community that doesn’t require face-to-face interactions. The Public Library of Brookline has an article explaining how library displays happen. If your local library is not open to having a vegan display, there are other ways to be a resource in your neighborhood. For example, you can add vegan books and materials in the Little Free Library on your block. If there isn’t one on your block, create one!
Vegan activists influencing community menus
These activities show how you can collaborate with your local institutions to include more vegan menus in your community.
9. Greening School Food: Healthy, Climate-Friendly Food Service in New York. Amie Hamlin, with Coalition for Healthy School Food (CHSF) in New York, gets vegan food into schools along with vegan nutrition education and resources. In 2019, CHSF cosponsored Northeast Greening School Forum. Friends of the Earth organized the conference with Tisch Food Center at Teachers College Columbia University, inviting area school food-service directors to share successful strategies for making shifts toward plant-based menus and waste reduction in their cafeterias. National and regional nonprofits mapped out resources, strategies, and policy reforms for scaling up climate-friendly school food while offering continuing education credits to school nutrition staff.
What you can try: Identify organizations and community leaders that are aligned with your goals and join forces. In this case, plant-based advocates were aligned with food-service directors on multiple levels (health, the climate, and budget). If you would like to work with your local schools to get vegan food on the menu or to provide nutrition education, reach out to Coalition for Healthy School Food.
10. Your Powerful Plate. Suzy Sorensen is a registered dietitian in St. Paul, Minnesota, who speaks at professional nutrition conferences as well as area events such as the Twin Cities Veg Fest. When health insurance provider Blue Cross Blue Shield of MN decided to move toward more vegan options in their cafeteria, they invited Suzy to provide a lunch-and-learn session called “Your Powerful Plate” as part of their Veganuary events. Because Blue Cross Blue Shield is a large health insurance provider in Minnesota, the organization’s efforts to encourage vegan lifestyles may generate a ripple effect in local and state-wide interest in veganism and its benefits.
What you can try: Encourage anyone who is taking steps toward a plant-based diet. Supporting a large institution that influences many people with a challenge such as Veganuary or Meatless Mondays can especially have wide-reaching effects in the greater community.
11. Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week. The Black Vegetarian Society of Maryland (BVSM) challenges participating restaurants to add a new vegan item to their menus during Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week. Everyone wins: participating restaurants experience an increase in customers, vegan customers enjoy more vegan options, and non-vegan foodies taste innovative dishes. Customers hop from restaurant to restaurant and vote for their favorite dishes. This campaign has been successful in signing up dozens of restaurant participants throughout Maryland. It has also generated media attention across social, television, radio, and print media.
The BVSM organizes this biannual challenge with the belief that “nothing brings people together quite like good food.” They’ve recently organized the first Maryland Vegan Eats (MDVE) Restaurant Expo to deliver enlightening research and analysis of the vegan industry to restaurants. The BVSM also organizes Vegan SoulFest, Baltimore’s premier celebration of veganism and culture.
What you can try: If you would like to organize a vegan restaurant challenge in your area, remember that getting media attention will be essential to your attendance levels. The BVSM was not shy about reaching out to various channels for ads, including radio. If you don’t want to organize something at this scale, you might consider asking a local restaurant to add at least one new vegan item to their menu. In addition to benefiting animals, the environment, and human health, adding vegan menu options helps their bottom line by attracting vegans and flexitarians to their business. If they take up your suggestion, you can further support them by trying the dish and reviewing it on social media and other platforms.
12. New York Climate Week restaurant outreach. Climate Week NYC (CWNYC) is a major annual collaboration of businesses, governments, and civil society working on climate action to hold various events throughout the city. This event takes place every year to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. In 2018, environmental think tank Brighter Green organized the Eat for Climate Week campaign, encouraging NYC restaurants to create new or promote existing plant-based menu items during CWNYC. The campaign drew 23 participating restaurants and garnered good press coverage.
#EatforClimateWeek 2019 has begun! Start your #MeatlessMonday off with a bang and grab a *free* sandwich at @…
What you can try: Find opportunities to bring a vegan message to conversations around climate action. The two causes are aligned, and many people are willing to try a vegan challenge given recent high-profile reports calling for a change away from industrialized animal agriculture and toward plant-based food systems to combat the climate crisis.
Vegan activists using social media marketing for large-scale impact
Social media tools can help you reach more people, including more non-vegans.
13. Vegan festivals in the United Kingdom (UK) and France. Gareth Edwards has been fundraising in the UK for more than 30 years. He organizes regular vegan festivals in the UK and France. Proceeds from the festivals benefit the Farplace Animal Rescue. Their vision is a network of no-kill rescue centers in the UK and beyond, specializing in difficult cases, such as FIV-positive cats. A Festivals & Fairs grant from VegFund made a Facebook advertising campaign possible that boosted attendance of non-vegans at the vegan festivals.
What you can try: Gareth credits Facebook advertising for reaching non-vegans, building momentum, and increasing turnout at his events. Try new promotional techniques to help you reach non-vegan audiences.
14. Jane Unchained. Jane Unchained News Network is on a mission to normalize veganism and animal rights. This digital and social media network is a resource for non-vegans to learn about veganism, for vegans to stay informed and learn about different types of activism, and for corporations and society as a whole to see that veganism is growing in numbers. The nonprofit has 70 volunteer contributors around the world. The verified Facebook page, Jane Unchained News, boasts more than 900,000 likes and features videos with tens of millions of views. Jane Unchained News reports live at vegfests, Save Movement vigils, vegan restaurants, Cubes of Truth, animal rights/vegan conferences, meetups, meetings, protests, marches, galas, convergences, speak-outs, and any event where animal rights/veganism is the focus.
What you can try: Think big and take strategic actions like Jane Velez-Mitchell. In addition to sharing intrepid live reports and highlighting the efforts of vegan activists around the world, Jane Unchained News uses an Online Campaign grant from VegFund to boost their best videos on Facebook and reach non-vegans who need to see them.
Vegan activists willing to travel
Here are several ideas for replicating an effective outreach model in multiple cities.
15. Palestine vegan booth. On September 15, 2018, Haithem El Zabri traveled to San Francisco to run a vegan booth at Palestine Cultural Day. About 5,000 activists for human rights attended, and Haithem was there to draw the connection between human and animal rights. Visitors approached with a friendly refrain: “Palestinian and vegan… how can that be?” About 300 people tasted samples of Beyond Burger, and everyone had positive reactions.
What you can try: If you identify with a particular cultural or interest group, consider sharing vegan food with them even if — and especially if — this group is not traditionally vegan. If you encounter a bit of skepticism, as Haithem did, then good food is the best way to win people over. Make a list of events where your group gathers. It’s OK to start with one small event and work your way up to the biggest ones.
16. Traveling Dominion Legal Deconstruction series. Adam Karp is a long-time vegan who has practiced animal law for more than 20 years. He is involved in animal law development at the state level in Washington and at the federal level. The Bar Association approved his presentation on the legal applications of the documentaryDominion. He now uses a Learning Events grant from VegFund to give this presentation to Law School classrooms across the Northwest, including Portland, Seattle, Boise, Eugene, and Salem. Students receive credit for attending, and the events include a screening of the film, his presentation on the legal applications, and free food samples.
What you can try: Adam uses his expertise as a law professor to offer a presentation that serves law students’ academic goals and furthers the vegan cause. Plant-based health experts do similar work at medical schools. Consider how your knowledge or a guest speaker’s expertise can inform your community while opening hearts and minds to veganism.
17. Compassion Tour. Author Dr. Sailesh Rao and award-winning director Thomas Wade Jackson toured 14 cities in India to speak at film screenings of A Prayer for Compassion. This feature-length documentary inspires people on all kinds of spiritual paths to bring everyone into their circle of compassion, regardless of species, and to make choices that align with this value. The Compassion Tour made stops in universities and community centers, sparking conversations and strong emotional responses from pain and anger to curiosity and hope.
What you can try: Partnerships are win–win–win. Filmmakers increase awareness for their projects by touring different cities, and local activists can bring additional attention to their film screenings by hosting guest speakers. Most important, by pooling resources to increase compassion in the world, partnerships create a win for non-human animals. Who can you partner with to increase your impact? Be bold and reach out to someone you’d like to have speak at your event. They might just say “yes”!
18. Influencer Seb Alex speaks to students about vegan advocacy at schools and universities. Seb Alex is a speaker and social media influencer born and raised in Lebanon. After pursuing a career in sustainable architecture in Europe, Seb left his corporate job behind to dedicate his time to what really speaks to his heart: animal rights advocacy. He now gives talks on animal agriculture and sustainability in European educational institutions to raise awareness about animal exploitation and its connection to our environmental crisis. Seb Alex encourages students to adopt a vegan life, and he monitors his effectiveness through attendee surveys.
What you can try: Have a reliable system for documenting results. Seb Alex uses surveys to track the percentage of audience members who were non-vegan and those who are considering a vegan lifestyle or activism following his presentations. Data helps you evaluate your efforts and identify the areas that need improvement. You may even receive validating feedback, such as:
“I was already a vegetarian, but the presentation gave me the push I needed to go vegan.”
“I’m definitely going vegan … Thank you for changing my life, Seb!”
“I promise that now that I know, I won’t close my eyes ever again, and I’ll help others to see what you showed me.”
Every one of these stories, from the smallest food sampling to the largest online campaign, began when one person with an idea took one small step toward their vision. What step will you take next?
We continue to support your efforts as a vegan advocate in these unprecedented times of global uncertainty. In addition to Food Sampling, Paid-Per-View, Film Screening, Festivals & Fairs, and Learning Events grants, VegFund offers grants for Online Campaigns. We can make a positive impact even as we maintain social distancing for the good of public health.