April Lang is a psychotherapist, Certified Humane Education Specialist, and longtime vegan based out of NYC. She has always been deeply connected to other animals and this informs her work with clients. As she writes on her website, “This connection has expanded my awareness, leading me to respect and embrace differences, to want to help empower the marginalized, to find ways to alleviate suffering, and to promote equality.” In her new book, Animal Persuasion: A Guide for Ethical Vegans and Animal Advocates in Managing Life’s Emotional Challenges, April combines her understanding of vegan activism with her professional guidance skills, helping advocates develop effective strategies for protecting our psyches in this world that is often very uncaring about animals. From navigating relationships to managing your emotions when you see someone in fur to keeping it together when the people around you are eating flesh, April offers advice for co-existing while not suppressing your voice. I have not read the book yet but it sounds wonderful! I am happy to feature April Lang 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?
When I went off to college, I decided I would no longer eat animals. I transitioned to vegetarianism slowly, giving up eating a different animal every few months. Looking back, I can’t remember why I chose that approach; I can only assume it seemed “reasonable” at the time. Now when I think about it, I realize that’s the way many people decide to give up eating animals, and it’s important to support each person’s particular journey. I must admit that at that time, I knew practically nothing about animal agriculture; I just knew it felt wrong to eat animals.
One day, many years after I had given up eating meat, I stumbled upon a copy of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation lying on the street next to a garbage bin at my local grocery store. I had heard of Singer’s book, but had never read it. This was like the universe saying, “come on, it’s time to get an education!” And Singer’s book was certainly educational, with its heartbreaking descriptions of the lives and deaths of factory farmed animals. While the book was incredibly powerful and eye opening, I remained a vegetarian. Apparently something else had to happen for me to make the transition to veganism, and it did.
About fifteen years ago, I took a trip to Farm Sanctuary (the one in Watkins Glen, NY) with some friends and their dog. Before the end of the tour, I knew I was going to take that final step towards veganism. Amidst the beautiful mountains and greenery, were a group of cows suffering with mastitis. I had never heard of mastitis, let alone witnessed it up close. I was shocked to see the condition they were in, a result of being constantly inseminated to keep producing milk for humans. If this was the cost of eating my beloved ice cream and cheese, they would never again touch my lips. Many years after this trip, I am still enjoying my “ice cream” and “cheese” – all deliciously vegan!
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 towards veganism?
Two things come immediately to mind. First, if someone had said to me, “you say you love animals, so why do you eat them?” I actually said that to a friend of mine who spent years doing great work as an animal rescuer. She paused, looked at me incredulously, and said, “I never thought about that.” She became a vegetarian that day and more recently, a vegan. If only all transitions to veganism played out so quickly and easily!
Equally effective would have been someone showing me an undercover video taken at a slaughterhouse, such as the one put out by Mercy for Animals', From Farm to Fridge. All I would have needed was the image and sounds of one animal being tortured and killed to have turned 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.
I have found that to be effective in communicating my message, I must always take into consideration the person/people I’m speaking with. I try to get a sense of what they know about the issue and how interested they are in learning about it. And I do monitor the conversation very closely, always watching for signs I’m losing them, either to boredom or overwhelm. I also try to be mindful of other people’s energy, and will adjust my approach accordingly. At times, I have been quite forceful and passionate and that resonates with some. With others, I can tell pretty quickly after opening my mouth that a softer approach is warranted.
Images, whether photographs or videos, are super powerful. The expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is definitely true. However, it’s important to keep an eye out for shutdown, as each person has a different tolerance level for disturbing images. I see that in action whenever I go into schools as a humane educator. Some of the students are riveted to the screen when I show an undercover video while others put their heads down as soon as the first disturbing image appears. So just being mindful of where people are is really important if you want them to be responsive to what you’re saying.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
One of the biggest strengths of the movement is the increasing amount of young people being drawn into it. Vegan and animal rights clubs are turning up in middle schools and high schools, and students handing out vegan literature, is now a common sight on many college campuses. When I was in school, there were no animal rights clubs and nobody was handing out pro-vegan literature. In fact, I had never even heard the term vegan while growing up. It’s going to be this new generation that will move veganism to the next frontier.
All the folks who are creating amazing products, which don’t use animals and animal by-products, are a driving force in helping veganism become more “user-friendly.” In fashion, companies like Vaute Couture, Brave Gentlemen, and Olsenhaus, offer consumers stylish clothing and shoes, while vegan cheeses from companies like Miyoko’s Kitchen or Treeline, have given people (like me) a scrumptious alternative to the dry and tasteless soy cheeses of yesteryear. And let’s not forget those brilliant innovators from Memphis Meats, who are working on creating “meat” derived from the stem cells of animals (no animals harmed in the process). Not everyone is motivated by ethics to become vegan. So if we want these people to jump on the proverbial vegan bandwagon, it’s important to give them options that taste good and look good. A big reason I hear for people not going vegan is that they think they’ll feel deprived. The current vegan movement is making sure that never happens.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
I do believe that when we attack people, shame them, and treat them with contempt, we’ve lost the opportunity for constructive dialogue. I don’t mean to imply that our messages should never be conveyed forcibly, because there are times when that’s the only way to make a point. But just ask yourself, if someone came up to you and started screaming, calling you names, and putting you down, would you really stay around long enough to hear what they had to say? Most people wouldn’t. Once defenses are up, the mind closes down. The cold hard truth must be communicated; just be mindful of how you’re communicating it.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
My “pitch”, if you want to call it that, is changeable. For example, there were times when I was at my local gym when someone would ask me how I stay fit. Here was the perfect opportunity to say, “it’s my vegan diet”, and then go on to explain what that is. Then there were times when I went out to eat with people at a non-vegan restaurant and they saw I chose vegan options. That would sometimes prompt one of my fellow diners to ask me why I was vegan and/or to tell me what they thought they knew about veganism. Here was an opportunity to do a bit of educating about factory farming. Of course these situations don’t always present themselves but when they do, I jump on them. I also look for opportunities to mention I’m a vegan, such as when someone tells me about the “great” steak restaurant he went to the night before. I might say, “Oh, I’ve never gone there because I’m vegan.” Sometimes the other person wants to engage and a good conversation ensues. Other times, the person drops the ball and I let it go too. If I get even a little inkling that someone might be interested in hearing what I have to say, I’m ready to engage, but I’m not going to push the issue if their spoken or unspoken message to me is, “enough already.”
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?
I learned so much from the book The Sustainability Secret, by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, which I just finished reading.
I had thought fossil fuels were the main culprit in global warming. No, it’s methane, mostly from animal waste, which is the biggest problem. It’s 86 times more destructive than carbon dioxide. And methane leaves the atmosphere much more quickly than carbon dioxide – another good reason to end animal agriculture.
Some of the biggest environmental organizations are downplaying or outright ignoring the connection between animal agriculture and global warming. Why? Got to keep the funds coming in from their supporters, a good many of them being animal-eaters who won’t want to change their ways. It’s certainly problematic if the big environmental organizations are more beholden to their donors than to the planet,
A massive eye-opener and a very disturbing one at that – most organic farms use the by-products of slaughterhouses to grow their crops. What?!!!!!! I eat all organic and thought all those farms were producing clean products. Think again. Veganic farming, which I had never heard of, is the alternative. But those kinds of farms are still few and far between.
My evolution and education continues…
8. Burn-out is common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
For me, there’s nothing better than swing dancing to put a big smile on my face. I’ve always loved the music of the 1930’s – 1950’s, so being able to dance to those tunes is a magical experience. I haven’t a care in the world when I’m on the dance floor.
I just published a book, which is available on Amazon called, AnimalPersuasion: a guide for ethical vegans and animal advocates in managing life’s emotional challenges. One of the topics I discuss are the psychological effects of constantly coming face to face with institutionalized animal abuse, whether as a vegan or animal advocate, and I offer some tips on how to deal with the resultant burnout and/or trauma.
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
I can’t really pick just one issue – every form of animal abuse is what I want others to know about. I suppose if I really had to narrow it down, I’d focus on factory farming and bear bile farming. I’d choose the former because of both the horrific and daily torture of the animals, as well as the sheer numbers affected. And I’d pick the latter because too few people know about this despicable industry. Most people aren’t aware that the bears are kept locked in filthy, tiny cages, often with catheters permanently embedded in their gallbladders so that the bile can be extracted. If they don’t first succumb to disease, these bears may live in these cages for thirty years –never being let out. Animals Asia is doing great work to help these bears.
10. Please finish this sentence: To me, being vegan is:
Non-negotiable and forever!