Wednesday, August 24, 2016

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Dr. Casey Taft...


Co-founder of Vegan Publishers
and professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, Dr. Casey Taft is an internationally recognized expert in the area of violence and trauma, particularly in the areas of domestic violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among military populations. With his academic and professional background, Dr. Taft is uniquely suited to help society at large connect the dots between eating animals and continuing cycles of violence as well as helping the vegan community develop more effective approaches for our outreach. As such, Casey is also the author of Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy: A Clinical Psychology Perspective, an acclaimed book I have seen so many people singing the praises of but I have not had a chance to read yet. (A review will be forthcoming once I do, though!) We are always looking for the most effective advocacy approaches  and Motivational Methods explores this not from opinion or dogma but from results-driven strategies Casey has drawn from clinical psychology models to encourage lasting behavior change. For all he is doing to create a more compassionate world, I am honored to feature Casey Taft as this week's Vegan Rock Star!

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

I believe that I was always a vegan at heart but I was conditioned out of it as a young person. I often felt I had to force myself to eat animal flesh, and I couldn’t eat seafood or anything where it was obvious I was eating an animal. But sadly, it wasn’t until my immune system was totally destroyed during grad school that I experimented with a plant-based diet. I was plant-based (and gluten free) for about 8 years or so and my health problems resolved. I finally made the decision to truly go vegan when a vegan friend called me out on it while at a trauma conference. I’m really lucky that my wife agreed to go vegan with me.

2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?

Throughout the entire time that I was “plant-based” I thought I was actually vegan and didn’t realize until later that veganism isn’t a diet. Like any other diet, I sometimes cheated a little and had dairy. If anyone had talked to me about what veganism really was during that time, or talked to me about ethics and what we do to non-human animals, that very well may have helped tip the scale for me much earlier. This is why I constantly urge other animal advocates to be assertive in their advocacy and to not be afraid of asking others if they’re interested in going vegan.

3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?

With clarity and honesty. Others know when we’re bullshitting them, and others can handle the truth so long that we’re presenting it in a way that is not overly confrontational. I am matter of fact about the harm we do to non-human animals and this sometimes hits home with others if they’re ready to hear the message. I always try to deliver the message in a way that will maximize the likelihood the other person will respond. Part of the art of animal advocacy is assessing the situation and determining the best message and best approach for any given person at their particular level of readiness for change at that moment in time.

4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?

The biggest strength is the diversity of the movement. There is not one singular message that will reach everyone. It will take many messages put out there by those from all walks of life who operate within various social and political contexts. If we’re going to have a vegan world, it will happen because of those on the ground who are effectively communicating the vegan message and changing hearts and minds, and a pro-intersectional movement that brings in others who are fighting various forms of injustice gives us our best chance at having the kind of impact that we need to have.

5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?

What immediately comes to mind is passivity and fear. Too many animal advocates are so fearful of being viewed as the “angry vegan” that they silence themselves. It’s okay if not all advocates are going out and directly confronting people about their animal use, but the more that we can be proud to be vegan, and unapologetic in our advocacy, the more people will hear our message and the greater change we will see.

This fearful advocacy is also promoted by mainstream animal groups who often fail to promote our animal use as an issue of justice, and instead opt for asking others to simply reduce the harm they do to animals, which does nothing to challenge the speciesism that’s at the very heart of the problem.

6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.

“I’m vegan because we have no need to be eating or using animals. The great harm we do to animals is all completely unnecessary.” There is no valid argument against this.

7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?

As a vegan book publisher, I’ve learned a ton from our own books, since I read all of them. Circlesof Compassion: Connecting Issues of Justice (with Vegan Street’s Marla Rose as a contributor!) [Ed. note: Woot!] stands out to me as particularly influential because I learned about so many different dimensions of veganism.

When I first went vegan, I just tried to learn the basics and how to counter the common justifications people use to continue to consume non-human animals. I then gravitated more towards animal rights books to figure out my own “theoretical model” of advocacy. More recently, I feel that I’ve learned the most from pro-intersectional animal advocates and I hope that I will keep on learning about how to better understand others and their experiences until the day that I die.

I’ve also been heavily influenced by folks on social media pages such as our own Vegan Publishers’ Facebook page. I interact with vegans and non-vegans every day and regularly field inquiries and challenges related to veganism. So I’ve learned a ton simply by navigating within this community trying to effect positive change. More than anywhere else, here is where I have been able to put my psychology skills into practice by helping others go vegan.

8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?

I’m lucky that I have my amazing 3-year-old daughter to hang out with. She makes it hard to get too stressed out. When I do need a break or to unwind, we will have a lovely picnic together under a tree at our favorite nearby back yard park that nobody seems to know exists except for us, or we will take a long walk to the beach. She always cracks me up and makes it very hard for me to stay stressed out for very long. She inspires me to keep fighting for a vegan world.

9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?

Prevention of violence is the issue that I’ve focused on the most in my life. In my day job, I work in the area of domestic violence prevention, and I am the lead developer of the only program shown to be effective for this problem. What I would really love is for others to have a more expansive view of violence prevention to include not only survivors of domestic violence, but other forms of interpersonal violence, as well as violence towards non-human animals, racism and other forms of oppression, the violence we inflict upon the planet, and so on. When I go to anti-violence conferences, most are only focusing on one small part of the problem without recognition that various forms of needless violence are all inter-connected with similar root causes.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”

… the least we can do and a good starting point for fighting all forms of injustice.

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