Dr. Melanie Joy, author of “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows,” visited Atlanta recently and spoke at the Georgia Animal Rights and Protection (GARP) meeting. To say she was incredibly inspiring and empowering is totally an understatement. Her usual talks are about carnism, which is the illogical ideology to eat animals; however, since we were all vegans, she provided a workshop on animal rights activism. She said her vegan battery gets recharged when she talks to groups like GARP, and I felt like the whole room of 50 people reciprocated those exact sentiments.
Dr. Joy started the conversation by describing the three key obstacles that prevent us (vegans) from advocating effectively: the omnivore’s “mentality of meat” is structured to block or defend against our message; we lack formal training in animal rights activism; and our own psychological state can buildup emotions that make it hard to voice our concerns for the animals. Her presentation centered around how to help non-vegans bear witness to the truth with their eyes, minds and hearts.
I love how Dr. Joy intertwines veganism with psychology, such as using the terminology ‘cognitive dissonance’ to explain why non-vegans may get defensive around vegans because their own values don’t match their practices. Dr. Joy told us that instead of making people feel guilty and shameful of their actions, we should connect people with their natural empathy. She explained that until people make a connection in their heart, they won’t change. Dr. Joy said that we should appreciate that change is scary and that it takes a lot of self esteem to become vegan. She reminded us that vegans are asking omnivores to shift their consciousness; undo a lifetime of programming; go against authority; risk relationships; and be a part of a minority, subculture group. We’re asking others to walk around with their blinders off and to “witness the insanity.” Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we were once in that position of the unknowing, which is why I liked how she said to view carnists as the victims, not the enemy.
Dr. Joy gave us advocacy skills to take home and practice:
- Share the truth of your experience because no one can disagree with your story.
- Find common ground with others and remember your own carnism (when people ask her if she’s vegan, she says that she is today).
- Separate someone’s character from their behavior and avoid reductive thinking (reducing someone to their behavior).
- Don’t overwhelm the listener with the truth and plant seeds of knowledge in individuals.
- Answer the questions vegans get constantly (i.e. “Where do you get your protein?” and “Don’t plants have feelings too?”) as if it is the first time you’re hearing the question because sometimes it’s someone asking who is genuinely interested and doesn’t understand veganism.
- Give yourself permission to love non-vegans even if you don’t love what they do.
- And, one of my favorite points of her talk: when talking to ex-vegans, don’t ask them why they stopped; instead, ask them why they became vegan in the first place.
That last point is just one example of how her presentation showed me how to shift my perception in a positive manner. I am grateful that I got to see her talk about these topics (and what I wrote in this post just barely grazes the surface of her speech). My husband actually won her book from a raffle that day, so I’m excited to read it and learn more about her philosophies on carnism.
Her speech was very timely for me: I had been struggling with my inner demons who were telling me that my activism wasn’t enough and that I needed to do more for the animals. The main takeaway for me was her message to practice compassion toward ourselves. She explained that we can slip into the mentality of it’s never enough, which is exactly how I’d been feeling lately. But Dr. Joy emphasized that it needs to be enough for today and we must build a sustainable life for ourselves.
“We do our best to live in the messy world we’ve inherited.” – Dr. Melanie Joy
She left us with this uplifting advice: never underestimate our impact, don’t be too hard on ourselves and stay inspired.