A few months ago, I began an outreach hobby of sorts. I began offering care packages to friends who are willing to give veganism a try for one month. I do this not because I think it is the most effective use of time out of all the available forms of activism, but because I enjoy doing it. I enjoy making care packages and gift baskets and all that nonsense. I enjoy giving to my friends. I enjoy being a resource to them when needed. A few fellow vegans have inquired about what exactly goes into these packages. Although my endeavor is still a work-in-progress, I have decided to provide as much guidance as I am currently able to vegans who might be inspired to make a similar offer to their friends. If you’d like to cop my style, I’m here to tell you how.
Step 1: The Pitch.
I know you want to skip to the goodies, but don’t underestimate the importance of how you make your offer. I prefer to make my offer as laid back and low-commitment as I possibly can. This means stifling my raging vegan hard-on… I mean, enthusiasm. Sometimes I have even had to try my best to tone down the enthusiasm of well-meaning, intervening friends who make grand promises about how going vegan will DO THIS, THIS, AND THIS, and YOU WILL NEVER MISS MEAT AGAIN, etc. (Basically, shit I can’t promise because everyone’s experience will differ.) Low-key is key. If your transition to veganism was anything like mine, then you didn’t go vegan because a friend was yelling awesome promises at you, but because you read or watched something that allowed you to make that decision for yourself. Your goal is to get compelling information into the hands of your friends. Don’t scare them the fuck away before you get to that step.
Consider where you want to make your offer. Facebook works for me because I can make the post friends-only. If you have 4,000 Facebook friends you’ve never met in person, maybe reevaluate your life. I mean… err, um… okay, reevaluate your life is exactly what I mean. I can’t edit out my personal judgement here, folks! Well, I could, but sometimes you have to make a stand.
Let’s try again: Consider where you want to make your offer. An environment where you can have people come to you is ideal. Don’t push the offer on people who are kicking and screaming “I NEED MY MEAT, BECAUSE PROTEIN!” when your efforts are better spent on people who are receptive.
I specify that friends can message me privately if they are interested. This not only helps lure in more timid friends (MUAHAHA), but it protects your privacy as well. There will be months when few people are interested in a care package. Why advertise this? Friends may be less inclined to accept an offer if they’re worried they’ll be the only ones. We are social creatures, after all. Initially, people may be reluctant to accept your offer. Maybe they don’t want to be the first because they fear you’ll misplace all your hopes and dreams on their fragile vegan-hopeful shoulders. Maybe they’ve got other shit going on this month. There are so many factors–unless you’re a real ass-hat, it’s probably not you. It’s just timing. Try again next month.
You know your friends better than I do so your pitch might not look like mine. It is important to know your friends. You could make this offer to anyone, but you’re making them to friends, damn it! Acknowledge that they’re individuals and tailor your approach to that fact. I think starting with your friends is the best method for this particular brand of activism. Why? Anyone can order a Veg Starter Kit from the myriad of organizations that offer them, but people who choose to commit to a month of veganism because a friend offers to help usually want more than an impersonal guide. They’ve chosen to connect WITH YOU, because something about your approach appeals to them; something about you as a representative of veganism makes them think “maybe this is for me.”
Step 2: Put Shit in a Folder.
Seriously: Folders make everything look official. Here are some things I place in folders:
1. Coupons. Write to your favorite vegan food companies. They will provide. You will want to do this step in advance. Be cognizant of what food options your friends have. Try to send coupons for brands that are actually available in the area where they live. Even if you make all of your noms from scratch because you fancy as fuck, it is your moral obligation to keep up-to-date on current vegan brands so that you aren’t recommending some outdated cardboard-tasting shit.
2. Stickers, temporary tattoos, and buttons. If you’ve been vegan for awhile, you tend to accumulate some cute odds and ends such as these. (A lot of companies will send you some freebies along with your orders.) My favorite thing to include is a sheet of stickers from Action For Animals, but it appears they no longer sell them in bulk. I has a sad. As with all of the things, keep your friend’s personality in mind. Try to exclude merchandise from organizations that might be alienating. (I’m looking at you, PETA.) Check out sweet designs from Herbivore Clothing and Compassion Co.
3. Veg Starter Guide. You can get these from almost any major vegan organization (Mercy For Animals, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Vegan Outreach, Farm Sanctuary, Friends of Animals, etc.). You can typically buy them in bulk or receive your first copy free. Organizations, especially those with less funding, often allow you to print .pdfs of their literature free.
My current go-to starter guide is from Mercy For Animals. Their most recent edition has the most mainstream appeal I’ve seen thus far. It’s filled with celebrity faces, recipes that don’t look like they’re from the 80’s, and recommendations for the best of the current vegan food brands. There is absolutely NO factory farm or otherwise graphic imagery, which is a different approach for Mercy For Animals. It’s easy enough to add an additional brochure for friends whom you think could benefit from a visual reality check. I personally don’t like for violent imagery to dominate my care package.
4. Recipes. Besides those included in whatever literature you provide, you may want to include some of your personal favorites. I don’t print recipes that I haven’t tried. That’s just a waste of everyone’s time. It also ensures that I’m not sending anything too complicated or expensive, because I don’t mess with those recipes myself. If you’re just getting into the whole cooking thing yourself, The Post Punk Kitchen is a great starting place.
5. Articles. I dedicate an entire SIDE of my folder to articles that are near and dear to my heart. You should choose ones that are near and dear to yours. Your activism and my activism will have variations, and perhaps even disagreements. “You mean you include an article written by Jonathan Safran Foer? But he doesn’t advocate for veganism, you fucker!” (Ahem, that article is Against Meat, and it was the beginning of my own veganism.) Try to show variety in style and length when choosing articles. Don’t limit yourself to non-fiction, either, as long as it’s clear to the reader which is which. Poetry can provide a welcome break from the information overload of essay after essay. I recently started including “Pigeon Manifesto” by Michelle Tea. Yes, you want to include fact-packed essays, but don’t veer away from an emotional appeal as well. Alice Walker’s “Am I Blue?” is another favorite of mine.
Choose writing that focuses on both the why and how of veganism. I like to include Chapters 8 and 25 of Erik Marcus’s The Ultimate Vegan Guide, which is conveniently free online, as a beginner “how.” I typically defer to Melanie Joy’s writing to add a little psychology to the mix.
The really awesome thing about your personal search for the most awesome essays and literature you can possibly include is that it provides an opportunity for you to continue your own education as well. Never stop reading! Seek out essays that provide different perspectives, such as the thought-provoking essays in the feminist collection Sister Species. Knowing your audience will guide your choices. For instance, I send far more nerdy articles to my fellow Sociology-majors than what is typically socially acceptable. However, don’t feel that you have to compromise your ideals to appeal to your friends. While I have no problem referring my religious and/or Republican friends to Matthew Scully’s well-written Dominion, I would never send ANYONE a copy of his pro-animal, anti-choice rant (unless that someone was a masochist in need of toilet paper).
6. A Personalized Resource Guide. This doesn’t sound that exciting, but it is! It’s where you get to type out all of the awesome things you recommend–movies, books, cookbooks, YouTube videos, websites, online shopping, restaurants to try, and ways to connect to local vegans. When I said exciting, I meant exhausting. This is the most extensive work you will do for this care package. NO PRESSURE, but: do this right. Don’t half-ass it. Your list should include not only titles, but descriptions and why you recommend these resources.
Not every description has to be a novel. Maybe you’re more concise than I am. (Congratufuckinglations!) Each description should be an honest effort to reach out to your friend and show that you care enough not to copy and paste from IMDB. How many resources you want to provide is your decision. My guide is several pages long and now ends with a local dining and Meetup guide. Previously, I added a plug for Happy Cow in my recommendations. Lately, I’ve upped my game by visiting the site myself, researching my friend’s city, and writing out a short restaurant/shopping guide for my friend. I follow this with information about any local vegan listings on Meetup.com, because social support just makes life easier. Take some of the legwork out of it for your friend. Yes, it can be a pain-in-the-ass for you, but it isn’t unfamiliar territory. You’re already good at sifting through this information if you’ve made it so far in your vegan journey that you’re care packaging it up. Printing up a local guide can take some of the guesswork out for your friend, who will already be overwhelmed by the art of reading food labels.
7. A note to my vegan-hopeful. Complete your folder with a note to your friend. Mine is hand-written, typically on the folder itself. Say “hi, and thank you, and I’m here for you” in whatever regard you find appropriate. It’s your friendship, not mine.
Step 3: Feed A Friend.
You will want to provide a treat or two for your friend, the scale of which will depend on the size of your budget, package, and affection for your friend.
Real-life examples of foods I have included in vegan care packages: Go Max Go bars (Jokerz is the best!), Primal Strips, Dr McDougall’s (Spicy Kung Pao Noodle is my fav), Clif Bars (try Pecan Pie flavor for the holidays), Luna bars (hello, S’mores), Larabars (sample size perfect for care packages: mini variety pack), Tasty Bite pouches (be careful, some contain dairy; Mushroom Masala is my fav), GoPicnic meals for your gluten-free friends (Sunbutter & crackers or hummus & crackers), Lucky’s cookies (also GF), seriously…
…I’ve gotten slightly carried away with the food-gifting in the past. (If you decide to order any of your noms via the links provided above, it’ll help offset some of my costs.) Knowing why your friend wants to give veganism a try is important here in that you don’t want to send a bunch of delicious, delicious, delicious junk food to someone who is trying to turn a healthy leaf. Be sure to ask if they have any food allergies as well.
In addition to store bought goods, I typically send a small sample of homemade cookies to my gift recipients. Often I will send these separately, a week or so into the month as a bonus incentive to continue being awesomely vegan. Be sure to send along the recipe as well. My favorite is “Banana Everything Cookies” from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.
Optional Step 4: Gift or Re-gift.
Steps 1-3 are adequate, but if you have the resources and feel that your gift recipient will utilize it: Add a final gift. This is typically a book or DVD, but it could also be a piece of art or some sweet-ass Lush soaps. People like to hold something concrete in their hands, and you will often have an intuitive feel for what your friends might appreciate. Chances are you have a few books and DVDs lying around that have already served their purpose. You could even reach out to your vegan friends to donate their used vegan literature. (Just make sure you stand behind what you send.) Sometimes this is worth it, sometimes not. It’s worth it if your vegan-hopeful will read or watch it, but there’s no use bombarding someone who doesn’t like to read with books. For your friends who don’t like to cook, printing a few recipes is a safer bet than sending a cookbook. For my friend who went to culinary school, a brand-spanking new copy of Isa Does It was a totally worthwhile expense for me; it isn’t one I can afford to make frequently though. Consider both what you might have found helpful as a new vegan and what your friend might appreciate. Sometimes friends will be specific in their requests, such as my friend who did not want any graphic content. (Lucky for him I had an extra copy of Forks Over Knives.)
In the event that you aren’t sure where to start in creating your own list of recommendations, here are the movies and books I currently include in mine. (Note: Not all of them are strictly animal rights/veganism.) I’m not including descriptions or why, because you should experience these for yourself before including them on your own list. Your friends don’t care what books random-blogger recommends; your friends care about you and your opinion.
– Eating Animals
– Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism
– Sister Species: Women, Animals and Social Justice
– Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
– Duncan the Wonder Dog
– The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter
– Sistah Vegan: Food, Identity, Health, and Society: Black Female Vegans Speak
– Defending Animal Rights
– Watership Down: A Novel
– MAD COWBOY: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat
– V Is for Vegan: The ABCs of Being Kind
– Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week
– The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter’s 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan
Feel free to add your favorite AR book/essay/film in the comments as I am always looking to expand my list of resources. One rule: you must explain why it speaks to you.