I have long admired Bruce Friedrich, founder of The Good Food Institute, for his ability to have impactful conversations that so many of us vegans long for. It can be difficult to express in the 40-second elevator ride why you’re vegan—but Bruce has this seemingly magical ability to do just that. Luckily, unlike a magician, Bruce is willing (and eager) to share his secrets with us. So without further ado, here is a piece from Bruce about how to handle tough vegan questions and have impactful conversations.
What Not to Do
So I’ve been a vegan for 28 years. For probably the first 20 years, if somebody said to me, “Why are you a vegan?” I would be so excited that they had asked the question that I would launch into a diatribe about factory farming and brain dump everything I could think of in the shortest time possible.
I would say:
“Oh, thank you so much for asking! Animals on factory farms are treated abysmally, chickens as one example they grow nine times as quickly as they would naturally, they’re crammed in their own faeces for their entire lives. They cram 50,000 of them into a shed. They’re grown so quickly they’re crippled they crumble under their own weight. And workers come in and slam them into these crates and they truck tens of thousands of them to slaughterhouses and they snap them in these metal sheds and…”
The moment I would take a breath the other person would run screaming. Right?
The thing that really transformed my advocacy, and what I would recommend to fellow advocates, is to have actual conversations with people.
How to Have Impactful Vegan Conversations
I travel a lot and I have a shirt that says “Ask me why I’m a vegetarian”—and people do ask!
Now, I thank them for asking and I ask if they’re vegetarian. Which is a really useful place to start.
Are we swapping stories here? Or is this a really important question and conversation? From there you find out that most of them aren’t (oddly enough). And then I say, “Why aren’t you a vegetarian?” Which is oftentimes a fairly amusing moment because you can sort of see the confusion in their eyes as you turned the question back around on them. But it’s it’s useful for me to understand their response to that question. And most people have never been asked. Why aren’t you a vegetarian?
Getting people thinking about that question generates a conversation, that’s a lot more useful.
It used to be that I would just give people my reasons and watch as their eyes glazed over. They stopped listening to me because it wasn’t a conversation.
Now I start off by asking, “Are you a vegetarian?” Generally, they say “No.”
“Why aren’t you a vegetarian?”
“Have you thought about what happens on factory farms?”
“Would you personally want to engage in this stuff?”
“How do you feel paying other people to do something that you find morally problematic?”
The conversations are exponentially better, and I know for a fact that people leave the conversations actually thinking about farm animals. I suspect that for a lot of those earlier years, people left the conversation thinking that veganism was a cult or something.
So there you have it. Ask questions. Engage the individual you’re talking with. Get to know them, really listen, and encourage them to ponder their own choices rather than just sharing yours. I hope you found this advice from Bruce Friedrich as helpful as I did!