A lot of my energy during the past six or seven years has gone into trying to create spaces for vegans to be vegan. The world isn’t always the most accepting place when it comes to individuals opting out of something as socialized and celebrated as eating, and wearing/using animals, and, as such, we often need some time away from the dominant culture to gather our thoughts. The seismic shift veganism creates in your world can leave you feeling isolated and without peers, especially when the people with whom you love and surround yourself are not on the same page. When we need time apart from non-like-minded people, we don’t always want that time to be spent alone.
The events are the first piece of the puzzle. They are safe opportunities and spaces in which people can interact, explore, and develop their kind approach to life, as well as start to collaborate on personal and community levels with others. Veganism might be the thing that brings a lot of people together, but so much more can spring forth from these social events. Because my vegan potluck and drinks events were built to consider differing realities and experiences, members of this community were happy to listen to and raise minority voices. This, in turn, encouraged members to take charge on future community events, which catered to various streams and niches within our vegan community.
Another important aspect of community-centric events is that they can act as effective vegan outreach. A fun event is a fun event, whether it is vegan or not. People who are curious about how they can help to improve outcomes for animals are able to explore the concepts around veganism in an informal and fun situation. When I run the huge London Vegan Beer Fest each year, I estimate how many non-vegans come to the event. To the best of my ability, I put the figure at approximately 40 percent of attendees. This is an incredible opportunity to spread the message of veganism in a fun, accessible, and non-threatening manner. We are not telling people they are wrong for not being vegan. Instead, we are simply showing them what a good time they can have if they make the change. A warm and protective community is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to helping people go (and stay) vegan.
As you start to find a vegan community in which to involve yourself, look for niche vegan groups if you feel you will benefit from them, share information about them with friends you believe would enjoy knowing about them, and get the facts straight on just why minority support groups within vegan circles are necessary. Use these facts to explain to other vegans who might think it is a form of preferential or discriminatory treatment. Let them know that oppressed people don’t stop being oppressed just because they are hanging out with other vegans. Safe spaces are needed to socialize, organize, and politicize. They are needed for people to take time out from the hugely daunting reality of living in an often-hostile world and to explore veganism on their own terms. Community is not all about vegan beer fests and eating as much as you can at a potluck. Vegans also need to take action for other members of our community in order to foster solidarity and resist oppression.
A vegan community shows its true power when it unites to do good outside of the narrow constraints of veganism, just as we’ve seen with other minority social justice groups raising their voices for causes outside of their own, such as Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners during the 1980s miners strike. By the time you read this book, I will have raised money via my vegan beer events around the United Kingdom to help support the work carried out by Mexico City-based Isla Urbana.
Vegans shouldn’t care only about not eating animals, and our compassion is more convincing and powerful when it is not limited. Community is less about achieving victories for the individual and more about everyone being in it together.
You have a responsibility to nurture and champion all communities of which you are a member, as well as other communities on the planet to which you do not belong. Improved outcomes for animals, humans, and the planet can be achieved only by dedicating yourself to building communities that support all human and non-human well-being.
Editor’s note: This piece was taken from an excerpt from Fat Gay Vegan: Eat, Drink and Live Like You Give a Sh*t, which will be released January 9.
Sean O’Callaghan is the award-winning blogger, vegan events organizer, and activist behind the Fat Gay Vegan platform.