First off, I’d like to start by saying that vegetarianism, veganism and the like are all great lifestyle choices which do a lot, for causes such as: animal welfare, environmental protection and human health.

Decreasing meat and animal-based products in our diet has the potential to resolve many of our greatest challenges such as: solving world hunger, reversing the effects of anthropogenic climate change and preventing the extinction of numerous animal and plant species.

So understandably, this has led to vegans & veggies taking it upon themselves to promote their lifestyle choice. As a righteous cause, this is totally acceptable, and often successful which is why we have seen a rise in veganism by 360% in the UK over the past decade.

However, to paraphrase Uncle Ben from Spiderman, with great communication comes great responsibility. If you want to change the behaviour of the people around you, you need to understand how to communicate effectively, or risk damaging your own cause. This is unfortunately where people are often going wrong, which is resulting in many being put off the vegan/veggie lifestyle or even disregarding it altogether as “hippy waffle”.

“If you decide to take it upon yourself to promote a good cause, then you have a responsibility to learn how to do it effectively”

When trying to convince someone of something, the last thing you want to do is insult or patronize them. Take Richard Dawkins for example; within the scientific community he is heralded as one of the few evolutionary biologists with the courage to speak out against the ‘naïve creationists’. But outside of this relatively small science group, he’s disliked and even loathed by many people, independent of their religious stance.

The reason for this? Well, if you insult someone’s core belief in hope they will change their views, you’re not going to be listened to.

Calling creationists, or even non-scientists, ‘naïve’ or religion “the great cop-out and the excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate the evidence” (a direct quote from Dawkins himself), it’s never going to end well.

The issue of communication is one that scientists have been struggling with for ages. In the 1980s, the government began a movement known as the “Public Understanding of Science”, with scientists such as Dawkins being the poster boys. It involved the assumption that the public feared science because knew nothing, and this led to a lot of one-sided communication, with scientists spewing facts at non-scientists to convince them of its importance. But people don’t like being talked down to; science is not always right, and separating ‘scientists’ from ‘everyone else’ only makes people more suspicious.

The same principle applies to communicating lifestyle choices and their benefits. For example, vegans need to avoid taking the ‘high and mighty’ standpoint and stop viewing everyone else as incorrect, because this only alienates people more.

Instead they need to focus on communicating the facts and let people decide for themselves, and not in a patronizing way that aims to make people hate themselves for eating meat. After all, meat is a natural and tasty part of the human diet.

Stop making people feel guilty by saying animals have thoughts and feelings like humans. Even if it is true, it rarely works as a tactic to make people stop eating meat, because people simply don’t relate.

“vegans need to avoid taking the ‘high and mighty’ standpoint and stop viewing everyone else as incorrect, because this only alienates people more”

A more effective way is to give people a reason to feel good about themselves. For example, the environmental benefits of not eating meat and animal products is an argument that people can associate with and can be contextualized into their lives, so is far more likely to make an impact on their dietary decisions. Whereas guilt-tripping them by creating stories about the personalities of animals only makes people disrespect veganism and vegetarianism, and therefore damages your own cause.

So, with this rise in the vegan and veggie movement comes a need to nip ‘bad communication’ tactics in the bud, because it would be a shame to see such a great cause ignored and dismissed as high-and-mighty rantings.

If you decide to take it upon yourself to promote a good cause, then you have a responsibility to learn how to do it effectively. Particularly with veganism, as it also impacts the success of other vitally important causes such as environmentalism and animal welfare. So if you hope to succeed then you need to learn from previous mistakes, such as that of the Public Understanding of Science movement, and understand how to communicate information in a way that will be positively received and will most effectively lead to constructive changes.

Megan Harvey

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