An Abolitionist Elevator Pitch
As you walk onto an elevator, someone already standing inside notices your “Vegan”-labeled shirt. She says: “Oh, you’re vegan, interesting! Why?” You notice that she’ll be getting off a few floors up, so you only have enough time for a few quick sentences. How can you make the most of your opportunity?
As we emphasized in another recent post, it’s important to think about what you can reasonably achieve in the situation you’re facing. It’s a good idea to set goals based on a variety of considerations: how much time you have, whether you expect to see the person again, how the conversation was initiated, the individual’s apparent mood and tone, and so on. Being prepared to engage people in different kinds of scenarios is key to being an effective interpersonal advocate.
In the case at hand, you won’t be able to turn the person into a full-blown abolitionist vegan between floors 1 and 9. It would be a mistake to start dropping names and citations or to use technical terms or jargon that are likely to confuse your questioner. You want to say something simple, clear, and enticing. At the same time, you want say something that stands out from the “animal loving,” “compassionate” welfarist rhetoric that dominates most conversations about animals and ethics. So what does an abolitionist elevator pitch look like?
There’s no single perfect strategy that works across all cases. Every person’s pitch will be unique, depending on her or his strengths and the circumstances. But here are just a few things you might keep in mind when you’re preparing for your next shot in the elevator (or laundromat, or check-out line…):
1) Explain what brought you to veganism. Most people weren’t raised vegan. Explaining what made you decide to become vegan may help the person make the connection. (Example: “I grew up loving cats. I always wanted to protect them and make sure they had good lives. Well, one day I realized there’s no real difference between cats and other animals, like birds and fish and pigs.”)
2) Emphasize that you are vegan for ethical reasons. While people may abstain from eating animal products for a variety of reasons, being an abolitionist vegan is about rejecting all forms of animal use on moral grounds. Don’t shy away from this fact. In simple language, you can quickly explain your conviction that it’s wrong to use animals as things. (Example: “Animals have their own lives and needs, and so I just know it would be wrong of me to hurt, or use, or kill them, especially when I really don’t need to. So I decided I had to stop using animals for things like food and clothing.”)
3) Highlight the positive role that veganism plays in your life. Many people are interested in becoming vegan, but worry that doing so will be costly, or stressful, or unhealthy, or will hurt their relationships with their friends and family. Some vegans feed into these concerns by spending a disproportionate amount of their time whining and complaining in public. Don’t be one of those vegans! Instead, highlight for your questioner the many ways in which becoming vegan has improved your life and well-being. (Example: “And it’s been absolutely wonderful for me. I feel so healthy, and I’ve learned so much about cooking, and I’ve met so many cool people.”)
4) Find the right tone. It is important to convey confidence in your decision to be vegan. Seeming as though your choice is a matter of mere personal preference would completely undermine your pitch. At the same time, it’s worth speaking in a way that is unlikely to be interpreted as hostile or aggressive. Your confidence should be accompanied by kindness and openness. Putting the focus on yourself, rather than on your questioner, can help. (Example: Instead of saying “You need to go vegan and stop…” you might say “I’m vegan because I know it would be would be wrong to…”)
5) Finish with a question and leave the door open for future contact. Finishing with a question is an excellent technique. Even if your questioner doesn’t have the time to answer, asking a question can frame how they will think about the issue in the coming minutes (and days). In addition, you can also point the person you’re speaking with to www.abolitionistapproach.com or www.internationalvegan.org. When appropriate, you may also offer to continue speaking in the future.
Because there’s no single cookie-cutter situation, there’s no single cookie-cutter pitch. But whether you’ve got 15 seconds or 15 minutes, there’s always a way to provide an abolitionist answer to the “Why are you vegan?” question.