One of my favorite organizations, Vegan Outreach, focuses efforts on college students and other young people—those who are most apt to listen to a vegan message. Given the huge task of moving society toward a more vegan ethic, it makes sense to start wherever success is most likely.

That’s why it’s disappointing to me when activists disparage those who truly have vegan potential—vegetarians (of the lacto-ovo variety) and people who are moved by animal welfare issues, but not animal rights.

I volunteer at my local animal shelter where the other volunteers obviously love animals and are committed to their welfare and happiness. And most of them eat meat. I know—it could drive you crazy. It does drive me—and the other vegan volunteers—crazy. But there is no way I’m willing to write these people off. Their awareness about animals and animal use may be limited, but their hearts are primed for veganism.

Some of these are older people for whom the idea of veganism is foreign and even a little shocking. So I talk to them about my work and share food ideas with them. Some are interested and are exploring more plant-based options. They are dabbling, and that’s a good start.

The same is true of ethical lacto-ovo vegetarians. No, that’s not an oxymoron. I was an ethical vegetarian before I became a vegan. I thought I had it covered by not eating animals who were killed for their meat, and was stunned to discover that I wasn’t already doing enough.

Many vegetarians simply do not know what happens on dairy and egg farms. To the best of their understanding, they are eating ethically. They need to be educated, and need to hear the right message presented in the right way. A good first step is to offer some respect for what they have done so far. It’s a whole lot more than what most other people are doing.

So many people are resistant to our message. But everyone is a potential vegan. Let’s encourage—not berate—those whose potential is the most promising.