Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Work dialogues and microactivism

I’ve recently changed how I “am” in public with my veganism. But by “in public” I mean “at work”, because (I think I’ve mentioned) I’m not really a social person. That is, I enjoy talking to people, and even need it on some level for emotional/mental stimulation, but I almost never make the effort to actually go and seek out people. So work and the sanctuary are the bulk of my in-person social interaction.

And no matter how much I made an effort to socialize outside of work, it would never match the sheer number of hours I spend at work. Unfortunately, that’s life for most of us.

The change is subtle. Mostly I’m more open about being vegan. I don’t avoid conversations about veganism, even though sometimes I get so freaking tired of “representing” that I fantasize about becoming a hermit. (And if anyone knows of a tropical island for sale on the cheap, let me know…) Lately I seek these conversations out, to a degree. Specifically, to the degree that the other person is open to them, and even more specifically to the degree that this can fly under the radar in my ultra-controlled ultra-conservative work place.

The change came about in part because of AR2009, though I can’t point you to any one thing that nudged me in this direction. It also came about through my conversations with my 9 year old neighbor, who would ask questions, and who I would answer with simple and direct truth. Around the time I was realizing that this was a good strategy to consciously choose, I read a post by Adam Kochanowicz called “Be a vegan activist: Microactivism“; I think it was mary_martin‘s tweet that brought it to my attention. Adam started his post by saying:

While the decision to respond to animal exploitation by objecting to any and all products requiring the use of animals is a personal one, no significant change for the status of animals will ever occur if nurturing vegans are not there to help their peers to make this choice.


One of the most important means of vegan education is dialogue. Without dialogue, questions are left unanswered, pictures lack explanation, and the experience of thinking differently lacks emotional and social engagement.

This article tied in strongly with my recent changes, and put into words the things swirling in my head, as well as giving me some additional ideas.

In the past month or so I’ve had a series of conversations with a coworker. A very good-hearted sweet woman, who was interested to know why I’m vegan. We’ve had many bits of conversations. The part about the dairy seems to have so far had the biggest impact, but she’s not yet even thinking of giving up dairy. I think she wants to, but she doesn’t understand how to. She mentioned calcium, I mentioned the data showing that milk is the worst way to get calcium, and has often been shown to be counter productive in terms of bone health. I mentioned leafy greens and almonds. Almond milk, specifically. “Does it taste the same,” she asked. And I haven’t a clue. I would assume not, but I can’t remember. I only remember milk tasting bad, with a nasty aftertaste. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to reproduce that. I like almond milk, but not everyone does. There’s no one answer when it comes to non-dairy milks, but I think I’ll find some of those 6 packs of serving sized almond milks so she can test them out.

What I found interesting about today’s conversation was that she seemed to be telling me that she could never give up chicken, because she just couldn’t imagine ever caring about the chickens. She can’t eat lamb, and she’s now feeling bad about dairy. She teasingly invited me to the place she and another coworker were going to lunch where chicken was pretty much the only thing on the menu, saying “maybe we can corrupt you.” This was bizarre to me. Corrupt me? I didn’t know how to respond to that other than to point to my calendar, which happens to feature two gorgeous roosters, Leopold and Cornelius, and the little Rhode Island Red hen they’re watching out for. “I like my animals alive,” I said with a smile.

She was a bit startled. That’s when she tried to explain why she couldn’t care for chickens, but could care for lambs. I mentioned that chickens are killed when they are babies. Just 6 weeks old, I told her.

She’s got 3 little kids, I figure the baby and the milk connection is worth pursuing, as that seems to be what she’s sensitive to.

The coworker she was going to lunch with, who was once a vegetarian, but (and I still don’t understand the connection) gave that up after 9/11, because “9/11 affected her a lot,” seemed startled that I was having these conversations with our coworker.

“She’s not giving up meat,” she told me kindly, as if to prevent me from wasting time.

“No,” said the coworker who seems a little open to the idea, “but I want to give up other things.”

Personally, I feel like I’m engaging in a social experiment of sorts. We’ll see how it goes. I’m going to take Adam’s advice (and to be fair, it is far from the first time I’ve heard it, he’s just the most recent) and start having some literature on hand. Just in case.

And maybe I can get her to bring her kids to Poplar Spring. I think I actually underestimate how powerful the sanctuary is for other people. I know only the power it has for me. But nothoney commented on my post about the Farm Tour, referring to a young friend she brought with her to the sanctuary for the event, saying:

Erin and I went back to the pig barn after eating our veggie dogs and saw Wilbur moving around. He was looking at us so intently, and Erin was so impressed by his expressive eyes, and she called his name and I swear he tried to move toward her but sort of scooted and collapsed into a nap.

As we left, Erin told me that meeting all the animals had given her a lot to think about. She really enjoyed holding Harrison – thanks for picking him up for her. She has a tough situation at home so I can’t push, but I can gently guide. She wants to come back in October to volunteer for the Open House and we’re walking together in Baltimore’s Farm Sanctuary walk.




10 responses to “Work dialogues and microactivism

  1. Nancy July 30, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Over the years that I have been vegan, I have had conversations such as these with any and everyone I know. I have given out information on the suffering of animals, tabled, and protested. Although people seem alarmed at times, none of these people have ever become vegan. I don’t include “not even vegetarian,” because vegetarianism is just as cruel and carnist as eating someones flesh.

    I think the “they just need to be educated” myth is just that. Certainly the people who comprise my family know what is happening, to no avail.I think the more sanctuaries there are, and the more non vegans see non humans as individuals who suffer, feel love and pain the more of a connection there will be.

  2. Kristen July 30, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Deb I applaud you for talking to your co-workers. I am a serious introvert as well and not very confrontational with people I know or have to see on a daily basis. I have a blog, but I don’t think the people who need to read it really do. I have tried to get my Mom and brother to come out to the sancutary to see the animals but I think she is purposefully refusing because if she sees the animals that she eats that will make her feel more guilty, or the realization of the fact that she is actually eating animals will set in. I read a lot of blogs and books but when it comes to verbally regurgitating the information I tend to fall short, especially when someone starts getting seriously deffensive.

    I think the next step is posting pictures of the animals at the sanctuary on my cubicle and in my house. Any other ideas would be helpful. Good luck with the Dairy lady – I like Almond milk but Hemp milk is more nutrient dense with omegas so I’ve switched to that…I suggest getting the vanilla flavored ones for her, they taste pretty good. And you are right, now that I can sort of remember, regular milk does have a really bad aftertaste.

  3. nothoney July 30, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Cow’s milk is so gross that I stopped drinking it long before I was a teenager. The aftertaste is just nasty!

    I’ve had a few conversations with my colleagues, most of whom know I’m vegan (you should see my office door “decorations”) and some are rude about it and some are polite. Mostly, I get left out of any staff celebrations and I’ve stopped going to the annual holiday lunch because it’s just not fun to hear the same comments over and over.

    The most encouraging conversation I’ve had lately was with a greeter at Home Depot a couple of weeks ago. She commented on my Farm Sanctuary T-shirt and we had a pleasant few minutes of me answering her questions about veganism.

    And you are so right about the power of the Sanctuary, Deb. I think it gives people a lot to think about, whether or not they want to think about it. It’s inspiring even to us because I truly miss being there every weekend.

  4. Marina July 30, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    I think sanctuaries are an excellent place to help people come face to face with those they insist on serving on a plate. I remember having a hard time letting go of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, that is, until my husband and I attended the “feed the turkeys Thanksgiving dinner” at the Watkins Glen sanctuary. Just before dinner, as we all sat at the tables, a preview of a documentary was shown (I don’t remember the name). At first, it dealt with the way animals are raised before they become food.

    I averted my eyes throughout most of it because I already knew the horrid details and it was too painful to watch. Then, the film moved on to the dairy industry and the treatment of baby cows as a by-product. I continued keeping my already teary eyes to the floor. For just a moment, I looked up and caught a glimpse of an auction floor where two day old calves were being dragged, literally, by a hind foot and tossed into the ring for bidding, bewildered, scared, and helpless.

    I sobbed uncontrollably after that, to the surprise of most people at our table. My husband was also profoundly affected. I don’t know how he sat there and watched the whole thing from beginning to end. I think it was his way of solidifying his views on animal farming in general. He was clearly disturbed, but I was a blubbering, snotty, and wet mess.

    While there were other moistened eyes in the audience, I was the only one of over 200 people that I could see, that looked as disheveled as a widow at her husband’s funeral. It was embarrassing. To this day I don’t understand how I could have been the only one to literally burst into tears. Loudly. I made quite a spectacle of myself, particularly when the film showed a former cattle farmer tell his story with tears in his eyes (apparently he befriended a cow that was destined to become hamburger and he couldn’t bring himself to send her to her death once he began to see her as a being, rather than a thing). Grown men crying over cows will have that effect on me.

    Long story short, the sight of the calves at auction cured me of my cheese addiction.

  5. mburgan July 31, 2009 at 7:46 am

    I have always wavered about my duties to educate/”proselytize,” especially since I am not always pure with my veganism (OK, I’m at a wedding, I’ll have a piece of the cake…). I figure I can explain why I eat the way I do, and the cruelties of factory farming, but I never know how far to go. I guess part of the key is, know your audience. We just moved from Chicago to a very blue-collar Connecticut town. I’ve met people here who think eating seafood is kinda weird, rather than good old meat. In Chicago, I would never hesitate to talk about veganism with just about anyone. Here–well… But I’m glad there are folks out there who are activist on this, and maybe I should rethink my hesitance about doing my part. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Deb July 31, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    @Nancy – I agree, as important as education is, it rarely seems to be all that is needed. If there was a guaranteed method, we’d all be doing it, and there would be a hell of a lot more than 1% vegans! There are other theories, like a message has to be heard 7x before we absorb it, etc. I don’t know, I don’t have any answers, but if nothing else, Adam had a good point about being there to help our peers if/when they make the choice. And to educate those around us. Even if education isn’t all it takes, it is one necessary part. Wish I had more answers, that’s for sure!

    @Kristen – I hear you on wanting to avoid confrontation! This is part of what held me back for a long time, but I think that our thinking in that respect is flawed, because we’re assuming that just being vegan and being willing to talk about the issues is confrontational! One of Adam’s recommendations (or maybe more like what he tries to do) is to mention that he’s vegan when it fits in conversation. Like if you’re at a food place “do you have soy milk? i’m vegan.” T-shirts also work well. I wore an herbivore t-shirt today (the one with the red cross on the front, with herbivore written in the cross) and someone started up a conversation because of that. There are ways we can work it into our own lives in ways that fit us, and our personalities. The trick is to find those ways, and get good at them. ๐Ÿ™‚

    @nothoney – my experience with work food functions is very mixed. I’d given up on them too, but now the person who organizes them sits next to me and refused to allow me to not join in this time. so i was put in charge of the vegetarian (i.e., vegan) options, and it turns out there will be 5 or 6 of us eating the vegan stuff. They even mentioned it on the sign up sheet, which really ends up being good outreach-lite. But usually I don’t feel like bothering, even though I know it would be helpful to make it work…

    @marina – I’d have been devastated to see that footage also. I have watched only a very very little footage (earthlings, basically, but nothing else) because it is so traumatic. Good to see once, to understand, but I hope I don’t have to watch that kind of thing again. I’ve always wondered how good that footage is at outreach. I hear mixed reviews, though obviously it can work, as it did with you. Good to hear that Farm Sanctuary had a big impact on you. Sounds like I need to get serious about bringing people out to Poplar Spring for that reason! Though I guess I bring it to people, in a way, via my blog. (Not quite the same, though!)

    @mburgan – I don’t know if you read mary martin’s “animal person” blog, but she had a post recently ( in which she said:

    Moving people along is more art than science, and for some people it’s far more emotion-based than logic-based.

    In my experience, knowing your audience and tailoring your approach (but not the substance of your message), is what converts people to veganism . . . when they’re ready.

    The “more art than science” is very true, I think. This is why there can never be a formula for outreach that is guaranteed to work. People can share what worked for them that one time with that one person, and it is helpful to a degree, but it isn’t guaranteed to work on someone else!

    Still, I do think that it is important to bring it up, even if in small doses. Sometimes it is as important to being open to having those conversations — body language can be powerful. And wearing a shirt that begs for questions is a great way to get a conversation started that is initiated by the other person. Adam mentioned a shirt he has “don’t buy the myth” or something like that. It’s got to be a great conversation starter.

    A local friend was telling me recently that he noticed one of the cashiers at his grocery store always started a conversation based on what was written on the t-shirts that the customers would wear. So my friend now always wears a t-shirt that will prompt a conversation about veganism (even if it is just a poplar spring animal sanctuary logo) and he makes sure to go to that specific cashier, even if the line is twice as long!

  7. johanna August 1, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Deb, thanks for this post. I am impressed w/your fortitude in the face of coworkers!

    I’ve been thinking about these things a lot lately & actually when I first saw your post, yesterday, I’d just come home from a day where my boss explained to me how she used to be a vegetarian until she discovered happy meat & realized she “didn’t have to be” anymore. AUGH. She used to work for a food-related organization over here that has a lot invested in supporting organic happy meat, so no surprise, but… it kind of made me even less excited about being openly vegan at work (some people know, because when we were going through the interview process I requested a vegan meal, but I don’t think she does & it doesn’t come up that much).

    At the same time I do think that conversations w/people you know about this stuff can be just the thing to get the wheels turning! It’s just… ugh. I’m relatively new at my job & already feel under siege relating to lots of other things (being exotified, people making snarky comments about political correctness, etc.). We’ll see what happens long-term though.

  8. Deb August 1, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    @johanna – it might be that right now isn’t the time for you to be The Vegan at work, openly. I’ve been at my work place for 3 years now, and it is only recently, like in the past 4 months, that I’ve felt comfortable with my coworkers. They’re just so different from me, from what I was used to in my last job. (They tend to be: older, mainframe programmers, extremely conservative.) I was also quite depressed when I first started, and was dealing with working through a lot of my issues.

    But give it time. When you’re more comfortable with them, they’ll likely have figured out that you’re The Vegan. Maybe they’ll assume that means you’re really into health (as my coworkers do) and start coming to you with questions (as my coworkers do). And as you develop relationships with them, you’ll likely figure out how you can work in the microactivism.

    I strongly believe that for it to be sincere, it has to mesh with how we are, our personalities, our strengths. It can be really frustrating, too, like with your happy meat boss, but now you know to stock up on the humane myth pamphlets! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Abram August 17, 2009 at 9:07 am

    I answer people quite directly when the topic of veg*nism comes up at work. Usually it is something like “I have no need to kill animals for my food,” or like you, “I prefer my animals alive.”

    Interestingly, the longer people at work know me, the less the topic comes up in a way that invites dialogue. Most of the time now, when someone passes cake, pie or chocolate bars around the office, most of them will simply bypass me, saying ‘he won’t eat these anyway.’ Most of them think chocolate necessarily contains dairy–despite all the times I’ve brought in dark, entirely vegan chocolate, they just can’t get dairy out of their heads as a necessary ingredient in chocolate.

    One co-worker has returned to vegetarianism (light vegetarianism, mind you, as he does eat eggs and cheese and, I think, the occasional fish). Despite the tough, meat-centric crowd we work with, especially our subordinates (we manage truck drivers), he quite confidently tells people now that he does not eat meat. I think his confidence arises to a certain extent out of our conversations as also the mere fact that my open veganism makes his choices appear mild in comparison.

    Anyway, keep up the good work, the dialogue and microactivism. I detest any kind of proselytism, any kind of preaching or attempts at converting others, but I have no issue with engaging in open dialogue when others have opened the door to it.

  10. Deb August 18, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Abram, I get that too, with the passing of food and the bypassing me with a “you don’t eat this” comment. They do seem to be trying to be inclusive lately, but I find that exhausting too!

    That’s great that you’ve had an impact on one co-worker, especially in an environment that doesn’t sound supportive (aside from you). That’s the kind of thing that makes it seem worth it to me, even when it seems a hassle. Sometimes we don’t know our impact ever, other times we might find out much later.

    Keep it up!

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