Going vegan is a whole lot more than learning to make chili without meat. Most Americans eat and wear animal products, rely on a multitude of products that are tested on animals, and depend on animals for entertainment (whether it’s playing soccer with a leather ball or spending the afternoon at the zoo). There has been no other social justice movement that has asked all people to change their lives so extensively and fundamentally. Comparisons to other movements and societal changes are pretty limited. We are truly in uncharted territory.

With no one to really show us the way, we definitely need to explore diverse approaches to making people think differently about animals. That means being open-minded about language and tactics. It means embracing different approaches to getting the word out to the public about the horrors of factory farming. We need grassroots activism and we need well-funded splashy stuff from national organizations. We need people talking about the philosophy of animal rights and also those who talk about the reality of animal suffering. We need it all, because different messages reach different ears.

I’ve been talking to an acquaintance—someone I don’t know very well—about going vegan. It all started when she mentioned that she had seen Food, Inc—a movie that didn’t even talk about veganism at all from what I understand. (I haven’t seen it). I told her that the things she found so disturbing in that movie—which involved animal slaughter—were part of the reason I was vegan. I asked if I could share some materials on factory farming and she said yes.

So I sent her all of the leaflets published by Vegan Outreach. She read them and so did everyone else in her family. The next time I saw her, she told me she had been deeply affected by what she learned and was working on making choices that didn’t involve animal products.

I ran into her again today, and she told me that she had seen the Mercy For Animals video of the Hy-Line Egg Hatchery, because I had posted it on facebook. Coincidently, she had also seen a segment on the morning news about the popularity of keeping backyard chickens for eggs. She thought that these backyard chickens come from places that have similar practices to the Hy-Line Hatchery, and I agreed.

Veganism is a new idea to her and I know that she and I are going to be talking about it a lot more over the next several months. But she is moving quickly in the direction of ethical eating and ethical lifestyle.

She is headed in that direction because of the combined influences of a movie (that had nothing specifically to do with veganism); materials from a group that promotes grassroots activism; a high-profile, well-publicized investigation by another animal rights group; and a little social networking on my part—both in person and on the internet. While I felt happy about my own efforts and outreach, I doubt that I would have been quite as persuasive and successful without all of that help.