Yesterday afternoon, the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) showered attendees of the annual Arlington Street Fair with educational leaflets and vegan-inspired smiles. The Fair, which always coincides with Vassar’s Freshman Families Weekend, provides an optimal outreach venue in that it attracts a youthful, familial, friendly, and curious crowd. Indeed, fair goers responded so positively to our leafleting ventures that our team of eight VARC members distributed 1,200 leaflets in just under two-and-a-half hours.
Not only does this astounding take-rate reflect the growing open-mindedness of Poughkeepsie’s general public (and hopefully of our greater society), it also serves as a testament to the passion and enthusiasm of VARC’s members. Not only did four long-time VARC-ers show off their leafleting skills, but four new members truly outperformed during their first ever leafleting opportunity.
For me, yesterday’s outreach activities provided a bit of nostalgia from the summer, during which I handed out approximately 6558 pieces of literature while interning with Compassion Over Killing. Leafleting never fails to remind me of the effective simplicity of interacting with and educating individuals on a more personal level. For example, studies show that by merely handing 60 people each a booklet regarding factory farming, a leafleter has inspired at least one of those people to adopt a veg*n lifestyle. From these statistics, at least 20 Arlington Street Fair attendees have become veg*n, and will collectively spare more than 600 land animals from a lifetime of torture each year.
While leafleting the Arlington Street Fair undoubtedly provoked tangible change in many lives (both human and non), it also rendered palpable a theoretical notion that I’ve long pondered, thanks to an encounter I had with a member of Vassar’s maintenance staff. After taking one of my leaflets, skimming through it, and doubling back to speak to me, this man divulged that he unfortunately could not become a vegetarian since his second job as a seller of the meat produced by a small family farm accounted for much of his income. However, he did attest to sharing my abhorrence toward factory farming, and told me to “keep fighting the good fight.” I bade him a lovely day, appreciated that we shared similar sentiments (in some respects), and continued leafleting. Later, the man passed me by again, gave me a thumbs up, and began to eat a hamburger. This act left me a bit perplexed. Considering that the man understood the detrimental implications of factory farming and regarded himself as actively combatting such facilities by virtue of his work, I wondered why he felt comfortable eating the meat of a factory-farmed animal (I can only make a rather confident assumption that the cow did indeed come from a factory farm, since the meat offered by most food trucks does not usually harbor the “humane” label).
I immediately connected this act with a concept articulated in an essay of mine that challenges Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma on the basis of his carnistic conditioning—that small-scale animal agriculture inadvertently supports factory farming. And I quote, “the small-scale agriculture which Pollan so ardently supports does not decrease consumer demand for meat—a necessary step in eliminating the egregious abuse inherent in industrial animal agriculture. Instead, the agriculture for which Pollan advocates perpetuates the notion of the acceptability of eating animals raised according to a rather arbitrary standard of “humaneness”—but what omnivore truly constrains his or her meat-eating to include only animals raised in such conditions? Invariably, “humane” farms contribute to the functioning of industrial farms by inspiring in consumers a sense of complacency toward eating animals—a fact that carnism obscures from the view of both Pollan and his readers.”
Clearly, yesterday’s outreach proved both effective and thought-provoking. I duly look forward to what the rest of the semester holds for VARC.
All the best, Ali.