|Type||501(c)(3) non-profit organization|
|Founder(s)||Matt Ball and Jack Norris|
|Focus(es)||Veganism and animal advocacy|
|Motto||"Working to end cruelty to animals"|
Vegan Outreach is an American grassroots animal advocacy group working to promote veganism through the widespread distribution of printed informational booklets. As of March 2010, over 11 million hard copies of the group's brochures have been handed out by members of Vegan Outreach around the world. Originally known as Animal Liberation Action (ALA), the group was founded by Matt Ball and Jack Norris in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1993.
As members of the Animal Rights Community of Cincinnati, Ball and Norris (along with Phil Murray, now co-owner of Pangea Vegan Products) spent the winter of 1990–1991 holding fur protests outside cultural events. Their focus turned to vegetarianism in 1992, and the Animal Rights Community of Cincinnati funded the printing and distribution of 10,000 pro-vegetarian flyers entitled Vegetarianism. In June 1993, twelve activists—including Ball and Norris—held a three-day "Fast for Farm Animals" in front of a Cincinnati slaughterhouse (most animals typically go three days without food before slaughter). On the last day of the fast, some of the protestors took a large banner reading "Stop Eating Animals" to the University of Cincinnati campus. Though the fast itself generated some media coverage, many of the people involved felt that holding the banner in the university district was the most effective part of the fast.
Following this event, Ball and Norris formed Animal Liberation Action (ALA) and started a campaign of holding "Stop Eating Animals" banners on street corners. This would become the foundation of Vegan Outreach's current tactic of disseminating information on college campuses and in other high-traffic areas. In 1994, ALA developed a booklet called And Justice For All. It focused on the reasons to adopt a vegan diet, focusing on the abuse of the animals involved. The following year, ALA's name was officially changed to Vegan Outreach, and the campaign to hold banners—generally poorly received by the public, who did not understand the reasons behind the request—was set aside in favor of the distribution of printed booklets.
Another revision of the booklet, now called Vegan Outreach, was printed in 1995. To save money, the initial 10,000 copy run was stapled, folded, and collated by Ball, Norris, and Anne Green. That autumn, Norris embarked on a tour of the Midwestern United States, distributing the Vegan Outreach brochure at nineteen universities. The first Why Vegan was printed in 1996 and distributed at 171 colleges during that year. Norris continued his traveling until funds ran out in 1997. He decided to become a Registered Dietitian, which entailed three years of school and an internship. He did this to become educated on the science of nutrition and to figure out what could be done to minimize the number of failed vegetarians in the future.
"Activism and Veganism Reconsidered"
In their June 1998 newsletter, Vegan Outreach published an essay by Ball called "Veganism as the Path to Animal Liberation" (now called "Activism and Veganism Reconsidered". This article questioned the priorities of the animal rights movement, in part by pointing out that ~99 percent of all animals killed in the U.S. died to be eaten, while only a small minority of the movement's attention went to exposing factory farms and promoting vegetarianism. The essay also argued against the movement's focus on trying to get media attention through protests. It also questioned the effectiveness of civil disobedience and direct action, and a perceived tendency towards self-delusion and dogmatism in vegetarian and animal rights promotion. Until veganism was more widespread, Ball argued, animal liberation could not succeed on any major front. The essay made a wide impact on activists and shaped Vegan Outreach's guiding principals of advocacy.
New booklets were developed in 1999 and 2000, including a Vegetarian Starter Guide (now the Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating) for people who were interested in following a vegetarian diet, and Vegetarian Living (later Try Vegetarian) which fewer graphic photos contained in the Why Vegan brochure. In 2001, over 330,000 copies of Why Vegan and Vegetarian Living were distributed. In the fall of 2003, Vegan Outreach launched its Adopt-A-College (AAC) program, the animal advocacy movement's first systematic attempt to reach large numbers of students in the U.S. and Canada in an organized way. The program's first year saw 22,000 brochures distributed at 63 schools; most recently, 486,219 brochures were distributed at 692 schools during the fall 2009 semester. As AAC started to grow, Vegan Outreach was able to hire a new employee, Jon Camp, to focus on leafleting at colleges. In his first two years of employment with the group, he handed out over 145,000 brochures. As of March 2010, Camp is Vegan Outreach's all-time leading leafleter, having reached over 570,000 individuals with VO literature.
Another big change for Vegan Outreach occurred in 2005, when the first copy of their new brochure, Even If You Like Meat (EIYLM) was printed. VO explained the new booklet in this way:
After many years of leafleting, we realized that students had started to erect a number of mental barriers to prevent them from seriously considering their part in supporting factory farming and slaughterhouses.... One major barrier is that people have convinced themselves that boycotting animal cruelty has to be an all or nothing proposition, and, since they cannot go all the way, they will do nothing. Thus, a big emphasis of EIYLM is to let people know that not supporting cruelty does not have to be an “all or nothing” proposition. Any amount of animal food reduction helps prevent suffering.
Another problem we encountered was that people would see the word “vegan” or “vegetarian” on our flyers and assume we were just do-gooder busybodies trying to get them to improve their health, so they would not take a flyer. With EIYLM, we put pictures of factory farms on the front of the brochure so people would immediately see we were talking about a serious social issue in which animals were being treated cruelly.
Vegan Outreach continues to evolve and grow. Anne Green was hired full-time as Vegan Outreach's Director of Programs and Development in 2007, after many years of unofficially contributing to the planning and management of the organization. In 2009, Matt, along with Bruce Friedrich, published The Animal Activist's Handbook, about which Peter Singer has written: “The Animal Activist’s Handbook punches way above its weight. Rarely have so few pages contained so much intelligence and good advice. Get it, read it, and act on it. Now.”
VO has also hired other leafleters; currently, in addition to Jon, Brian Grupe, Nikki Benoit, Fred Tyler, Vic Sjodin, and Eileen Botti are all associated with VO in some way in early 2010. Hundreds and hundreds of others also leaflet for the animals. AAC activists have reached over four million students across the country; including other venues like concerts, the total is more than six million. Since its founding, Vegan Outreach has distributed over 11,000,000 booklets.
Today, Vegan Outreach continues its mission of disseminating this information on college campuses and at other busy venues across the globe. Their brochures have been distributed in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, ten Canadian territories and provinces, Mexico, and numerous other countries (including Australia, Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Egypt, England, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Taiwan). Many of Vegan Outreach's pamphlets and articles are available in multiple languages, thanks to the translation efforts of volunteers and supporters. The rate of distribution is increasing every year, limited not by demand—there are many individuals, student groups, and organizations who would like to distribute as many as possible—but by availability (i.e., resources for printing and distribution).
Vegan Outreach's mission is the reduction of the amount of suffering in the world. They focus on people's food choices for three reasons:
The number of animals raised and killed for food each year in the United States exceeds any other form of exploitation, involving numbers far greater than the total human population of the earth. Ninety-nine out of every 100 animals killed in the United States each year are slaughtered for human consumption.
- The intensity of farmed animal suffering: the overcrowding and confinement, the stench, the racket, the extremes of heat and cold, the attacks and cannibalism, the hunger and starvation, the illness.
- Exposing factory farms and advocating ethical eating is perhaps the most readily accessible option for reducing suffering in the world. Every day, every single person makes decisions that affect the lives of farmed animals. Inspiring someone to change leads to fewer animals suffering on factory farms.
Vegan Outreach's printed materials advocate for informed, ethical eating. Furthermore, suggestions for alternative foods, information on staying healthy on a plant-based diet, and tips for advocacy are included in brochures. Vegan Outreach suggests that one's guide shouldn't be an endless list of vegan ingredients but rather doing one's best to stop cruelty to animals.
|“||Veganism is important, not as an end in itself, but as a powerful tool for opposing the horrors of factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses.. — Matt Ball, "How Vegan"||”|
In other words, the focus isn't so much personal beliefs or specific choices, but rather the animals and their suffering. Vegan Outreach encourages people to become advocates because if someone believes that being vegan is important, being the most effective advocate for the animals must be seen as even more important. The impact of one's individual veganism—several hundred animals over the course of a lifetime—pales in comparison to what he or she can accomplish by being an example to others. For every person inspired to change his or her habits, a vegan's impact on the world multiplies.
Matt Ball suggests that a focus on purity and minutae will hinder the animal advocacy movement:
Conversely, for every person convinced that veganism is overly-demanding by obsessing with an ever-increasing list of ingredients, we do worse than nothing: we turn someone away who could have made a real difference for animals if they hadn't met us. Currently the vast majority of people in our society have no problem eating the actual leg of a chicken. It is not surprising that many people dismiss vegans as unreasonable and irrational when our example includes interrogating waiters, not eating veggie burgers cooked on the same grill with meat, not taking photographs or using medicines, etc.
Instead of spending our limited time and resources worrying about the margins (cane sugar, film, medicine, etc.), our focus should be on increasing our impact every day. Helping just one person change leads to hundreds fewer animals suffering in factory farms. By choosing to promote compassionate eating, every person we meet is a potential major victory....
It is not enough to be a righteous vegan, or even a dedicated, knowledgeable vegan advocate. The animals don't need us to be right, they need us to be effective. In other words, we don’t want to just win an argument with a meat-eater, we want to open people's hearts and minds to a more compassionate lifestyle.
To do this, we have to be the opposite of the vegan stereotype. Regardless of the sorrow and outrage we rightly feel at the cruelties the animals suffer, we must strive to be what others want to be: joyful, respectful individuals, whose fulfilling lives inspire others. Only then can we do our best for the animals.
— Matt Ball "How Vegan?", veganoutreach.org.
The booklets that Vegan Outreach prints are primarily distributed by individuals and groups through leafleting. This person-to-person approach to activism is an attempt to ensure that each person who interacts with a Vegan Outreach leafleter is given comprehensive, complete information that they can consider on their own time. The group's major program is called "Adopt-A-College", in which volunteers disseminate the booklets on college campuses. Vegan Outreach has chosen to focus on students (especially college-age) for three main reasons:
- The Relative Willingness and Ability to Change: Relative to the population as a whole, college students tend to be more open-minded – even rebellious against the status quo – and in a position where they aren’t as restricted by parents, tradition, habits, etc.
- The Full Impact of Change: Even if students and senior citizens were generally equally open to change, over the course of their lives, students can save more animals. Young people not only have more meals ahead of them but also have more opportunities to influence others.
- The Ability to Reach Large Numbers: College students are typically easier to reach in large numbers. For a relatively small investment of time, an activist can hand a copy of "Even If You Like Meat" or "Why Vegan?" to hundreds of students who otherwise might never have viewed a full and compelling case for compassion.
(Taken from “A Meaningful Life” by Matt Ball, Executive Director, Vegan Outreach.)
- Vegan Outreach. "Advocacy resources". Veganoutreach.org. Retrieved 2012-06-07.
- For an article about Norris's wedding, see Strobel, Mike. "I think I smell a stunt", Toronto Sun, September 12, 2008.
- Also see Cooney, Scott. "Starting an environmental non-profit", Ecopreneurist, February 3, 2009.
- —Matt Ball. ""Activism and Veganism Reconsidered"". Veganoutreach.org. Retrieved 2012-06-07.
- "Guiding Principles of Advocacy" "Vegan Outreach"
- "Adopt-A-College semester totals". Adoptacollege.org. Retrieved 2012-06-07.
- "Jon Camp History". Adoptacollege.org. Retrieved 2012-06-07.
- "animaladvocacybook.com". animaladvocacybook.com. Retrieved 2012-06-07.
- "Lifetime Leafleting Totals". Adoptacollege.org. Retrieved 2012-06-07.
- Vegan Outreach (2011-11-28). "About Vegan Outreach". Veganoutreach.org. Retrieved 2012-06-07.
- "Staying Healthy on a Plant-Based Diet" Jack Norris, RD
- Matt Ball, "How Vegan".
- —Matt Ball. "A Meaningful Life". Vegan Outreach. Retrieved 2012-06-07.