1. What inspired you to go vegan and how long have you been vegan for?
I was inspired to go vegan after being vegetarian for about six months and realizing that any of the reasons I might be vegetarian implied a vegan diet. I was prompted by health, at first – cutting back on red meat and then going totally vegetarian – but the switch to veganism came pretty quick. Once I got the hang of buying the rights foods and cooking my own meals, it was a breeze. As of July 2012 I’ve been vegan almost seven years.
2. I am very inspired by your passion for animal activism. Please share with us some of the work you have done over the years.
A year or two after I went vegan I realized that the dietary changes had become second nature: I knew what to buy, what ingredients to watch out for, where to eat, and my friends and family were generally supportive. At that point I had transitioned away from any leather and animal by-products, as well as products tested on animals. I began to feel passionate about animal activism, because I felt that if it was this easy to be vegan, what justification can there be to exploit animals – for any reason?
I started pretty simple, by just telling friends and posting things online, and I started to make some contacts in Louisville with PETA who would do monthly KFC-protests. These were pretty good ways to get into activism because it was low-pressure, and really all PETA was asking was for people to boycott KFC due to their resistance to adopt humane slaughter methods (whether or not “humane slaughter” really exists). So it was easy to care about that, and talk to people about it.
From there I did more work with PETA, including a couple of “nearly naked” protests: one being the “I’d rather be dead than wear fur” campaign, and another as the bloody “meat tray” demo where we laid in plastic containers with plastic wrap as “meat” with fake blood all over us. It was a striking visual and got some good media attention. But besides a lot of my work with PETA as a volunteer, I run a blog called The Nail That Sticks Up where I try to engage readers in animal rights issues of all kinds, from breeding, to dietary science, to slaughter issues. The scope of animal exploitation is vast, and there’s a lot of ground to cover. We have to work hard to fight animal cruelty!
In 2010 I joined a newly-formed group called the Louisville Vegetarian Club that has since blossomed into a great resource in the city for vegan eating. We host monthly pot-lucks and get-togethers to support each other and new vegans and vegetarians. The group is transitioning into a 501(3)(c) soon and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
Lastly, I try to be an advocate for animals in my daily life. Just being vegan will solicit questions from strangers, friends, and people you run into. “Oh, you don’t eat meat?” or the classic “where do you get your protein?” If you can field these questions the right way, they can turn into wonderful educational opportunities to help advance the cause of veganism. I try to do this at every chance I get without being too militant, which is a fine line that I think a lot of vegans struggle with. Louisville is super vegan-friendly, so a lot of my “work” involves being an ambassador for all the great vegan-friendly restaurants and bakeries we have here. Come check us out!
3. What is the most effective way to reach people’s hearts and help them to see the suffering of animals? ie. Do you think online campaigns such as petitions are effective or are protests and demonstrations better?
I think everything is effective in its own way. Online petitions are great when they work and go viral, and thousands of people sign them, because others see that as validation that the cause is important. It’s unfortunate that that’s what it takes, but the masses follow the masses, you know? There have been a bunch of great animal rights petitions on change.org as well as the ones on PETA’s site and the Humane Society’s site.
Protests and demonstrations are powerful, and I support those too, from small to large, peaceful to civil disobedience. I draw the line at violence, of course – you can’t advocate for veganism and compassion while being violent towards others, but there are many, many ways to get the message out there. Some people respond to flyers, others to signs, and some to shocking imagery. To those who think it’s offensive, they either don’t want to spend the time to consider the issue, or are simply living in the past where graphic imagery is still taboo.
4. Have you noticed any increased interest in the vegan lifestyle in recent years or do we still have a way to go?
Veganism is growing by leaps and bounds. According to a Harris study, the number of vegans in the United States doubled since 2009 – over 7 million vegans in the US! And by some estimates there are hundreds of millions of vegetarians throughout the world, largely due to cultural or religious reasons. Only here in the US and other first-world countries are we brought up with the idea that eating copious amounts of meat and dairy is “normal.”
Veganism is not going away, and will only continue to grow as time goes on. I see this in my friends, my neighborhood, and online, as more and more people switch to a plant-based diet for health, ethical, and environmental reasons.
5. How do you inspire others to follow your lead?
When I went vegan I was inspired by several of my friends who never pushed it on me: they seemed happy, healthy, and to really enjoy eating a vegetarian or vegan diet. I try to do the same thing: show that veganism is an awesome way to live, and that I’m passionate about it.
A great example of this is a cycling trip I took with a group of about 10 guys one year: we went to Florida and biked close to 100 miles a day for five days straight. It was awesome, and over the course of the week my veganism came up among other topics. We were also staying together in a big house, and went out to eat several times. I never once let on that it was difficult, or more work, to eat vegan. I made my own awesome food, I ordered vegetarian options at the restaurants, and I engaged people if they asked questions.
That’s the most powerful form of activism: allowing the observer to generate the interest themselves. To borrow a term from Sayoc, by simply doing what you do, by embodying veganism, we feed interest into the people around us. If you act powerful, if you act kind, if you act like what you’re doing is rad, people have no choice but to ask questions! That’s when the activism and influence starts, and it can be a wonderful thing.
6. What advice would you give an aspiring activist?
I’ve heard a lot of interesting takes on this question. One that’s making the rounds right now is “don’t be weird,” as in, don’t dress crazy or do some outlandish thing with your activism. In the end, it doesn’t really matter – people will be influenced by what moves them. As I said above, all forms of activism are effective to someone; you just have to match up the right kind with the right group. If you’re very social, then take that route. If you have a ton of tattoos and think people won’t take you seriously, then ask yourself, do you take yourself seriously?
It’s very difficult to ask people to change, even if you give them a million good reasons why they should. The best way to influence change is to be that change, and act in accordance with how you want the world to be. If you do that, then you are being an activist every second of every day. You’re influencing people even when you don’t realize it. If they don’t change, so be it; their world has a myriad of influences that are probably at odds with what you espouse. But if we act compassionately, spread information, and expose cruelty, things will change. I’m confident of that.
7. Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about my veganism and activism. I truly agree with the title of the site: vegans are cool! I love to find out that someone is vegan; that they take the time and energy to put thought into how their action affect animals throughout the world. If you’d like to see more of my writings, check out my blog: thenailthatsticksup.com, or follow me on twitter: @sam_metal.