Ten Questions: Vegan Rockstar Edition with Eriyah Flynn
One of the things that is most exciting to me about the animal advocacy movement has always been how individuals can create so much good in the world with just an attitude of motivation. Eriyah Flynn of Columbus, OH and her organization, Vegan Shift, is one such example. As a longtime vegan with many years of trying different things to get the message out, Eriyah has gotten clarity on strategic savvy and effectiveness. I think she has a lot of wisdom to share and offers a lot of pointers on not only how to become more effective conveyers of our message but also ideas on how to become more active on behalf of animals. I am grateful for Eriyah and her work with Vegan Shift. I hope you’ll consider supporting her organization and getting involved, whether that’s through Vegan Shift or your favorite advocacy group.
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?
It was a series of events and influences. I have always loved animals, thankfully I was raised by a family of animal lovers who taught me to treat individuals the way I would like to be treated; unfortunately, like most people in the US, I had no idea how disconnected I was from reality. Today, I can honestly say I suffered from an arbitrary, nonsensical perspective regarding fully conscious animals/individuals and had placed them into two categories: the animals I loved and protected as pets and wildlife, and the animals I consumed as commodities to eat, wear, use in entertainment, supported experimentation on, etc. While I technically understood I was consuming animals and their products, my actual contemplation on the details of what that really meant up until 1995, was non-existent. I can remember thoughtlessly stating the weak, cultural programming mantra of “That is their purpose” which is what makes me so hopeful for empowering a rapid world vegan shift. Informed people who have the same values can adapt their behaviors based on critically important and compelling information, now faster and easier than ever (especially compared to nearly 20 years ago when I first began to be exposed to these issues). As I became more informed of the facts surrounding the present cultural foundations, the path and behaviors to live consistently in alignment with my values for peace, liberty, justice, love, dignity, respect, empathy and compassion, and my claims to love animals, people and the planet became self-evident: I must live vegan.
My mom was probably my most dominant influence by providing in the foundations of love and respect towards other earthlings. Walt Disney, Dr. Seuss and superhero stories and films were probably subconsciously others, as all of those stories and films portrayed heroes and heroines as those whose ethics and actions represented love, respect, kindness and the rescue of animals in need of help, whereas the “evil villains” were those who were uncaring, abused and/or threatening to kill/or killed innocent animals.
[Here is more on Eriyah’s evolution if you’re interested. Fascinating story!]
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?
For me, I would hope that conversation would have happened very early in life. I wish that Ruby Roth books such as “That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals”, “Vegan is Love” and “V is for Vegan” would have existed when I was a child. If I would have been told the truth then, and had been given a choice to live in alignment with my ethics, instead of being sheltered from the reality of what I was participating in, and denied even the decision (through absent vegan options on menus in school or restaurants, and cultural events anywhere), I know I would have been open to and especially if empowered, to living vegan as a toddler, since loving and connecting with other animals were my natural instincts, tendencies and behaviors. The fact that these options are not given and that the violence and reality associated with our consumption of animals is largely hidden through misinformation by official sounding organizations, euphemisms and outright lies that make the intolerable tolerable have enabled and glorified violence in a culture that claims to be an ethical, modern, civilized, and humane society. This is an epic perversion and violation of collective social values and norms that are now rapidly shifting vegan with the committed and organized vegan movement circumventing conventional programming through the use of social media and in conjunction with the cumulative, scientific proof that a whole-food, plant-based diet is the optimal diet for humans to thrive, especially considering our imbalance with nature given our unprecedented human and livestock population levels destroying and displacing critical biomes such as the Amazon.
Are most Americans aware that 90% of the Amazon rainforest is now gone, primarily for unnecessary livestock production, thus creating an extinction rate 1000 times the natural rate and contributing to 20,000 to 30,000 species extinctions annually? This figure has been quoted at roughly equaling 200 species extinctions per day by some scientists. Any intelligent and rational individual should resonate with self-preservation connected with their reliance on ecology, if nothing else. A large part of the problem is that people are ignorant to the facts, literally addicted to animal products, or have a financially vested interest, so all too often, rational and intelligent decision making can be met with the significant and catastrophic resistance as time is not on our side at the rate our population continues to grow, resources are consumed and thus causing ecocide.
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 actually believe that using ALL of the tools listed above can be the most effective in a given circumstance. People are so different: one method will not fit for all applications. It is crucial to know your audience. Going to the fairgrounds in protest with angry chants paired with slaughter images condemning 4-H clubs/livestock producers is not likely to yield as much support or consideration as going to the fairgrounds providing a delicious vegan junk food booth, vegan health food options, and some veganic agriculture demos and information. (People who are concerned with their health/or have health conditions still like to take their children/grandchildren- who may also have health conditions they must be mindful of- to the fair). Humor is one of the best ways to reach people on the planet, especially when telling provocative truth. Bizarro comics are brilliant. Patience, understanding, compassion, love, with passionate, straight-forward, consistently firm, empowering messaging, are critical pieces of overcoming a lifetime of deceptive programming. The choice of language one uses is SO important in these interactions. Avoid making “you” statements: instead say “our, we, us” as in, the collective society. Telling your personal story, how you arrived at the decision to be vegan, can often be so powerful to compelling others. Never tell someone they are “wrong”. Speak in terms of consistency of behaviors of ethics and characteristics we value. Use questions to help draw out their barriers. “What is stopping you from being vegan?” Frame your discussions of living vegan as one of a consistent, compassionate, peace movement with abundant, delicious, nutritious, healthy, sustainable, love inspired options, and avoid anything that says we are the culture of “No, this, no that, restrict this, restrict, that, limited this etc. “You don’t have to give up meat, dairy and eggs!- you can have them all, only they are made from plants!” “Yes! We can have cheesecake and ice cream, made from delicious creamy plants like cashews, almonds, coconut, etc.!” Empowering the transition peacefully is our best chance for rapid world vegan shift.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
It’s ever increasing diversity of demographics, and the adoption of direct, honest, unequivocal, ethically delivered vegan messaging. Here is one of the best memes I’ve seen for really helping people build the bridges to vegan shift empowerment:
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder induced Angry Misanthropic Vegan Activism. Raging vegans that scream at others and post a never-ending stream of graphic violence only find themselves preaching to the choir that can stand them. Those who are doing that need to be taken in and loved, and mentored into channeling that completely justifiable rage and anger into something that can build bridges to society connecting others in empowerment for a rapid vegan shift. Lessons in inspiration of galvanizing and organizing people in social justice movements can be modeled after the Quakers, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
I say it with a shirt – affectionately referred to as “The VEGAN BEACON”: I wear the Nonviolence United VEGAN shirt like a uniform almost everywhere I go (especially if I know there is going to be a crowd, the grocery store, a concert, a festival, a movie theater) because it is black with white lettering, people with normal vision can see its fantastic message from up to a city block away: Compassion, Nonviolence: For the People. For the Planet. For the Animals. Who doesn’t resonate with that? I have yet to meet anyone who said anything negative about the shirt’s message.
That shirt has a number of responses from people: the vegans automatically connect (often with hugs and elation or simple commiseration); the pre-vegans begin to ask questions; the potential re-vegans make confessions for their departure which are often really a subconscious invitation to encourage and empower them to try again. (Seasoned experience has taught me that the worst response to someone who makes such a confession is to assault them with vitriolic contempt and judgment for the betrayal of the innocent, as instinctive as it is to rage against them, trust me on this: Offering an empowering hand takes genuine patience, wisdom and maturity. Vegans are teachers, and as such, we must provide an ethos that promotes the sense of safety and mindset required for learning: treat others with respect, even though we know that they are not respecting those who are literally dying as a result of their decisions.) So instead of castigating the fallen, make a friendly offer to help them to try again. I carry copies of Vegan Shift’s 300 Vegans Vegan Resources Guides and A Life Connected brochures. Only people who are really adversarial (vested financial interest, strong addiction or a burning case of cognitive dissonance) ever respond negatively to the NU VEGAN shirt, a warm and friendly smile, congenial or compelling, passionately delivered responses and empowering resources. Even the most negative people can be turned around with the right approach. People love and are inspired by passion, conviction and consistency with one’s ethics, not by preaching and condemnation.
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?
Specifically, the vegan path began with Moby, The Animal’s Agenda, books like“Mad Cowboy” and “Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating”, “The Food Revolution”and the groups like PETA which showed me the graphics of “Meat Your Meat” and volunteering locally for Mercy For Animals which connected me to an actual vegan support community. Later, I resonated with Harold Brown, Gary Francione’s abolitionist approach, and others like Tom Regan, Gary Yourofsky,Steve Best and began studying social justice movement strategies recommended by Harold Brown with books such as Bill Moyer’s “Doing Democracy”.
Matt Bear’s Nonviolence United materials have been so effective they are what I have predominantly chosen for the 300 Vegans campaign/project as standard messaging (Vegan Shift is a hub organization for promoting the excellent, consistent vegan messaging resources already available across the movement, not reinventing the wheel).
Ultimately, over the now 20+ years of development through military service (Decorated, Honorably Discharged USAF Desert Storm Era Veteran) and a leadership career in both public and private sectors, extensive reading, formal education, volunteering with different organizations (including and beyond the animal rights movement) and rigorous debate in life experience, I’ve taken the best of both what I resonate with and have learned from all of these exposures to develop what has become Vegan Shift.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
Recognizing that is where one is “in a state of burn-out” is really important. Being part of this movement can be so gratifying and yet so challenging on so many levels. Sometimes you need to check out and take a break from activism to be most effective at it. Take a break from Facebook, take a weekend to go connect with nature and breath in the fresh air and peace away from the sensory overload that is modern society today. Try kayaking, swimming, yoga or meditation. Connecting with other vegans in safe havens, where you can go to blow your gasket of disillusioned pain and frustration of being vegan in a pre-vegan world is so important. I can’t stress enough that you refrain from showing your darkest side to your general network, there is a difference between sharing the occasional glimpse and perpetual rage. That is a state that WILL make you sick, so allow yourself to feel it, but do not dwell there long. There are secret groups for raging which is a good place to blow that steam off, just remember, nothing is truly secret on the internet. Having a strong network of vegan support is necessary for one’s mental health. There is always professional counsel, a mentor or family member you trust. I would seek out vegans who understand what you are experiencing. Seek out mentorship from those you see achieving or have attained the level of health and state management you respect and desire. (I’ve written a note on this and within this note’s comments Matt Bear added a note, that has some really great specific coping mechanisms.)
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
The NASA Million Dollar Family Challenge. We want a better world: we start by walking the walk, then talking the talk, and finally empowering others to do what they can to create that peaceful world we wish to see. It starts by stimulating the mind to think, to imagine the possibilities, to see the invisible, feel the intangible and to move in the direction of our shared values to achieve the impossible. The NASA Million Dollar Family Challenge project was created to do just that. It engages people to participate in the process of peaceful innovations instead of clinging to comfortable, common rhetoric that has not yielded the actions, behaviors or policies consistent with the values we claim to stand for in society. It is here that we begin to build the world we would really see. It takes effort and someone has got to do it.
We can build bridges to our community by inviting people or policy makers to take the NASA Million Dollar Family Challenge when they ask thoughtful, genuine questions, or especially, when they make thoughtless, arcane, barbaric, or otherwise oppressive automated responses, or have been making violently, insane policy decisions (usually some sort of call for “population control”, to common culture behaviors/challenges). The objective of this challenge is ideally to cause people to shift from automated, cultural programming, to actually using some innovative thinking strategies, to connect with those who are motivated by self-interest for the best nonviolent solutions, and for those who actually care about the oppressed and often violated earthlings of the world we share. (Marketing survey statistics have shown that only 20% of people are idealists who are inclined towards altruism, the other 80% are gradually less motivated across the spectrum by ethics and more motivated by WIFM- what’s in it for me? Five percent of the population are sociopathic and will never care about anyone human or nonhuman- their opinion will not matter.)
What does this mean? Simply ask people to imagine 3 things:
1) They work for NASA (Houston-we have a problem that our most brilliant minds must urgently solve)
2) There is a million dollar pay off for the best vegan idea (nonviolent, socially just that is symbiotic to all earthlings)
3) The animals and nature are their human family members (that they actually care about, not entitled to oppress, dominate and destroy)
It is this collaboration of solutions that will be the foundation of Vegan Shift’sPhase 2 plan for shifting every aspect of violence out of our federal, state and local policies: The National Vegan Policy Implementation Act. “If not you, who? If not now, when?” Hillel
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is…”
The single most important and far- reaching action I can take to live consistently in alignment with the values, ethics, feelings and characteristics that all conscious earthlings crave: peace, liberty, justice, nonviolence, dignity, respect, love, empathy and compassion.
Thank you, Eriyah!