Sunday, May 13, 2018

Vegan Outreach Comes to Ramapo

By James O’Neill

I saw a link from Vegan Outreach this past winter and they wanted to get into contact with college students to allow them to come table at a college. I really wanted them to come to Ramapo so I reached out to them. I heard back from them in March and they asked me to reserve a table, which I was able to do in the Fishbowl at the Student Center through the Garden Club.

The people had VR headsets that someone could put on and it gives them the appearance of seeing the view of an animal in a slaughterhouse. It is a very intense issue and very emotional. Before putting the headset on, they asked me “chicken, pig or cow?”--which was interesting because I felt almost like it made them sound as if they were a McDonald’s employee trying to take my order, asking me which one I wanted to eat. I chose to watch the pig, but as I left the headset on it just progressively played all of them so I watched all of them.

I was standing in the Fishbowl for about 30 minutes. Every once in a while I needed to remind myself that if I tried to walk around, I would likely trip or bump into someone. It really wasn’t difficult to stay still though, because I felt so trapped seeing things from the perspective of a farm animal.

Caring about animals

The three videos were all extremely unpleasant to watch, but I felt like it was very important for me to watch. I have been an animal lover ever since I was a child and when I was a teenager I realized that caring about animals is not something that is always easy to do. I have been seeing disturbing images and videos of animals in farms since I was young, so maybe I have been somewhat desensitized to it.

I enjoyed meeting the workers and volunteers who set up the table. There was a couple of younger volunteers who were running a Youtube channel about veganism. One of the volunteers had a microphone in his shirt and the other volunteer would occasionally record him with her phone as he engaged people who had worn the headset.

The man who worked for Vegan Outreach was named Yuri. I talked for a long time with him about how I decided to become vegan and what else that decision made for me in terms of my values. One place where Yuri had worked before doing Vegan Outreach was a sanctuary for great apes that had been raised in captivity. Many chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans in this country are left without homes after they have been used for entertainment or for testing, although there are now much greater protections against experimentation on chimpanzees than there used to be. I really thought Yuri was cool and it made me happy to know that there are so many ways that we can help animals, even beyond going vegan.

Many people moved by the experience

I thought it was very interesting also to see how many people were moved by the experience and what their reactions were. When people were finished watching it, they would have a discussion with one of the volunteers. The methods that I noticed the volunteers using to engage people was that they would maintain eye contact with the person they were talking to and they would almost exclusively ask questions. It is really important that they ask questions, because their goal is not to force people to change their mind. The goal of these people is to educate by providing the information and imagery about what goes on and to challenge people to answer difficult questions for themselves and come to their own conclusions.

Often the first question I heard volunteers asking was “How did you feel about what you saw?” and after that they might say “How would you feel if I told you that what you just saw was considered to be standard practice by ninety percent of the industry in this country?” I really think that was important to get across. What is established immediately with the person is that even though that random person probably supports cruelty by eating meat, they still believe that animal cruelty is wrong, especially when they see it for themself, and they know that what is happening to animals is wrong. It is a good place to start with people because this topic is so touchy and difficult to discuss. Arguments happen very often at many a dinner table over this topic. Starting out with a common ground allows people to make progress in the conversation.

I was very happy to bring this event to Ramapo College. I have done a lot of things to promote environmentalism on campus through Garden Club and 1Step, but this was my first event on veganism. Veganism is a very important environmental issue. Not only is going vegan the most significant thing that anyone can do to reduce their carbon and ecological footprints, next to ditching gasoline powered cars, but veganism as an ideology is important to environmentalism.

I felt great that I was promoting compassion for the less privileged life on this planet, and I think that is really the core of environmentalism as well as veganism. I think the event had an amazingly positive impact. I don’t think that anybody became vegan just from this event, but it is very rare for people to change their diet overnight. What we did do was give people the right ideas and I think we set a lot of our friends in the right direction.

James O’Neill is a senior at Ramapo College of New Jersey majoring in environmental studies.

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