I have an admission to make......I was a terrible animal activist.
Mid January 1995, Coventry Live Export demo
I was taken to the protest by my college friend, Ki-Li. She was vegan. The first I had ever met. I was vegetarian, but just for six months. She asked me to go with her and some friends one weekday afternoon when we didn't have any classes. I looked up to her, she was intelligent, confident and honest. All of the attributes I wanted to have. So sure, I'd go.
We walked on the grass verge of a wide road on the approach to the airport. A gathering of protesters could be seen ahead. Walking past three elderly ladies coming from the protest a pale pink flyer was pressed into my hand. As I walked on slowly my eyes met the image of a dairy cow on the flyer. Her udder grossly engorged and hanging so low it touched the ground. The text described her tortured life and the equally tortured lives of her offspring. I had recently promised myself that my actions should align with my morals. As an idealist 17 year old I was frustrated with the lack of alignment in the adults around me. These two elements reacted with one another, like a chemical reaction sparking in my mind. By the time we reached the main group of protesters I was vegan.
At the demonstration I was petrified. I was a shy and awkward 17 year old. Bullied throughout my teenage years to the point that I rarely looked anyone in the eye. I would always look down towards the ground, well, as much as possible. At the protest everyone seemed confident, even slightly exuberant. Small talk, banter and humour were the main forms of communication. These were all skills I was yet to learn. So I did what I usually did...I was silent. And anxious. We waited. I knew we were waiting for a truck. But I didn't know what would happen when said truck arrived. What should I do? What will the police do? Would our shouting further distress the calves? Would I get arrested? (My mum would kill me!) Anxiety and worry rose within me. Because of the possible violence and aggression. Because I could not talk to anyone. Because I was putting my own feelings before that of helpless creatures that quite frankly needed me to ‘woman up’.
To my relief the truck never did appear during my time there.
Over the next few years I joined animal rights and animal welfare groups, giving money but never my support as a protester. I could not reign in my social anxiety and fear of violence and aggression enough to take part in protests. So I did what little I could.
October 2015, Olympia Exhibition Centre
Walking into the vast centre I stop in my tracks. Vegfest is rammed! Hordes of people shuffle around. So many of them, ambling from stall to stall, sampling vegan goodies, meant the pace was slow. Taking part in the shuffle around the festival I was overjoyed at this visual representation of the huge explosion of veganism yet I also felt slightly sick and nervous. This was my first cooking demonstration. My first. And it's in front of a full house. Of my peers.
My adrenaline was through the roof, the introvert I naturally am wanted to run and hide. But she wasn't allowed to. Not this time.
Despite not being able to eat all day due to nerves the demo was a great success. And by that I mean the audience smiled and laughed and I didn't fall off stage! I can't remember that much of it to be honest. But I did know that really enjoyed it.
Since that day I have come to see how my cooking can be of service to animals. I teach cooking classes, both in groups and one-to-one. I film my recipes for my YouTube channel. I obsessively take photos of produce and dishes for Instagram. Demonstrating the abundance, beauty and accessibility of vegan food has become my animal activism.
Although I am presenting to people and the shy girl is still in there, cooking gives me something to hide behind. It is a skill that I have that makes me feel entirely calm and in control. When I am creating food I can babble about it for hours. It is only by using these skills that I am able to help veganism. A born creative I would often think long and hard on how I could use that for the greater good, but particularly for animals.
There are many aspects to the vegan movement, it is so incredibly diverse and expansive now. Whatever your skills, no matter what social anxieties you have, you can still serve. You just need to figure out how. But there will be a way. The Internet has given a great opportunity and a voice to my fellow introverts. We can now unite in activism, we can be a power, we can be a force.
And the beautiful irony of this is that by helping the vegan movement you will gain more confidence and belief in yourself and in your abilities to have a positive effect on this beautiful planet.
To find out more about the subject, come to my workshop at VegfestUK Bristol, on Saturday May 21st between 2:00 – 2:25pm in the Activists Workshops tent.
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from Vegfest UK