Essays and Musings on Animals and Society

Monday, May 18, 2009

Still Blogging... 

Sorry, I'm currently swamped, from the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale (WVBS), work, and life in general. Once the WVBS is in the "off season," I'll have more frequent blog posts.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale (Continued) 

The first place with a worldwide audience in which I announced the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale (WVBS) was the The Post Punk Kitchen Forum. The folks there have been amazing. Something like six bake sales have formed just from discussions on the PPK forum. In addition, some posters there have also talked about the WVBS on their blogs and in other venues, which in turn may have inspired other bake sales... It would not be much of a stretch to say that the PPK has been crucial in the success of the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale.

I'll have a bunch more shut-outs both here on the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale web site

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale (Continued) 

A good friend at Cats Rule! Feline Rescue gave me some tips on how to get rid of the "sprinkles" on the logo. So I did that, which improved the look substantially. I also added the date to the logo, so the date of the event would be on every page. I wrote a quick signup form and put some links to recipes and bake sale "how-to" pages on the site. Now the site was at least looking halfway real.

I contacted my friend, radio host, fellow vegan, and fellow rabbit adopter Louie Free and told him about the project. Louie has been fantastic. He generously scheduled a show in which he would interview both me and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, founder of Compassionate Cooks, author of The Joy of Vegan Baking (and more recently The Vegan Table), teacher of vegan cooking classes, and creator of some truly eloquent and educational podcasts.

Can I give a huge shout-out to both these people? Louie hosts his "Brain Food from the Heartland" radio show every weekday out of Youngstown, Ohio to a general audience. He has an extensive variety of guests. He promotes vegan products and local vegan businesses. He has gone to great lengths to help rabbits in dire straits.

Colleen is an amazing voice for animals and compassion to "all who live." Her podcasts are riveting. Not to mention thoroughly researched. Her recipes are scrumptious. Her writings and public speaking appearances are filled with passion, inspiration, and joy.

As I was to find out—and am still finding out—support from fellow animal advocates is amazing and uplifting. I am deeply and forever appreciative.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale (Continued) 

For the web site, I had this idea of a home page with a world map and all sorts of fun icons dotting the page to represent different parts of the world. That proved to be a) too much trouble and b) too crowded. So I just put up a simple map of the world.

We needed a logo. A chocolate chip cookie is the same shape as the world (on a two-dimensional surface), so it practically designed itself. With my almost total lack of knowledge of Photoshop, I created a simple header with the logo, a title, and some green and blue (earthy!) background. It looked el cheapo and garagey; the edges of the letters looked like they were covered in sprinkles.

I made a main menu—none of the menu picks linked to anything. I threw up the first words that came to mind on the home page. I didn't even have the dates of the event at first. Oops.

With this bare bones web site I started sending out emails. Of course my plan was to improve the site as we went along, but for the moment I just wanted to send out a few emails and see what kind of feedback we got.

Our intention was (and still is) to contact all kinds of organizations, but we figured the "core" group would be grassroots animal protection and vegan advocacy groups. Since there's no handy site that lists all of these groups, with links to main email contacts—and is current—I just started using GoodSearch and links to see where I ended up. I started drifting across the net, finding groups and either sending them emails or filling out the contact page.

One of the first groups I contacted was the Toronto Vegetarian Society. Shortly thereafter I got a reply from them: They mentioned the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale on their podcast. Yay! We were on our way! And also, I now present the Toronto Vegetarian Society with a Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale Official Certificate of Appreciation and Awesomeness.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale (Continued) 

We (Compassion for Animals) decided that "The Great American Vegan Bake Sale" or "The Great North American Vegan Bake Sale" sounded too much like "The Great American Bake Sale," which already existed, and besides, we didn't want to risk getting in trouble for imitating a trademarked name. Someone suggested renaming the event to "The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale." We liked it. Not only was that name more expansive and more inclusive, but it was a more accurate description of what we were trying to do: The more we had talked about this project, the more we decided that we didn't want to leave anyone out.

We considered the possibility of a participating group using the proceeds of its bake sale for something that involved animal cruelty or that was otherwise at cross-purposes with veganism. We decided we would take that risk for now. On the off chance that a group participated in the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale and used the proceeds from their bake sale for say, canned hunting, we figured a) the group would probably have raised that money some other way anyway, b) exposure to—not to mention promotion of—vegan baking and maybe veganism in general is a positive thing, c) the chances of this scenario were small but if it arose we could consider a change in policy.

When to hold the event? We figured we needed a few months to get ready and to give ample notice to prospective participants. It was late November...sometime in the summer sounded about right. We did a quick online check of animal rights and animal protection conferences to make sure there was no clash; our presumption was that groups attending these conferences were also likely participants in the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale. Someone mentioned that in the U.S., around the Fourth of July people start thinking about pies. That holiday was going to be on a weekend in 2009, so we decided on the weekend before: June 27th and 28th.

We would discover about three months later that we made a couple of major blunders when coming up with that date. But for the moment, we had a name, a date, and general policies. Now we had to actually implement the project. We had our work cut out for us. We had to find possible participants and notify them. We had to build a web site. We had to promote the concept. Each of these activities partly depended on the other—so we sort of had to start on them all at once.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale 

As I was perusing the Net for bake sale tips for our bake sale last November, I came across The Great American Bake Sale, which raises funds for Share Our Strength, a program that feeds underprivileged children. This was not an "aha" moment or anything. But I liked the idea of bake sales across the country, and the cause seemed good (granted, it's not vegan, and the main sponsor seems to be sugar companies, which raises some red flags, but still it seems like a worthy cause).

Our bake sale worked out great, even though we realized several areas in which we could improve. We were pleased enough to want to do more of them. It was gratifying to see one person after another—almost all non-vegans—buy vegan chocolate cheesecake (from The Joy of Vegan Baking), cookies, pumpkin bread, cake slices, and other vegan delectables, and go "Yum, this is delicious!"

It was also a fun event to prepare for and hold, compared to protests, lobbying, and other "standard" advocacy activities.

I guess a few days after the bake sale I was thinking, "What about the Great American Vegan Bake Sale? Vegan bake sales all across the U.S. and Canada, to promote veganism in a fun, approachable way!" I thought, "What if they were all on the same weekend? We might be able to get some mainstream media to cover the event, and I bet the press would be positive, plus all participants would feel some connection with their fellow vegan bake salers who were holding bake sales the same weekend."

Where would the proceeds for this event go? I wasn't sure. Then I figured, "Why not let participants do whatever they want with the proceeds? That way, there's no central payment or collection infrastructure that has to be set up, and we may increase the pool of possible participants, since there are bound to be would-be participants that wouldn't like whatever charities we would pick. In fact, by letting participants choose their own destination for the proceeds, we may attract groups that have nothing to do with veganism, such as church groups and scout troops."

One possible downside of letting a group do whatever it wants with the money from its vegan bake sale is that the money may go to something with which I don't agree. (More on that later.)

Was this a project we could pull off? We'd have to notify people well in advance to get them thinking about it. We'd need a web site that listed all the bake sale locations, had a signup form, had tips, news, generated some hoopla, the whole nine yards. Still, it seemed doable, and you know the Margaret Mead quote about how a small group of people can change the world. I figured, if that's possible, then surely we should be able to implement a network of bake sales.

I ran the idea by my distinguished Compassion for Animals cohorts. They enthusiastically liked it, and made some major improvements to the concept. (We also discussed the risk of a participant using the bake sale proceeds for something to which we were opposed, and came to an agreement about that...)

More to follow...

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Starting a New Group: Compassion for Animals, Continued 

At first we thought we'd just continue the activities we'd always done as independents: tabling, leafleting, attending and/or organizing anti-fur and anti-circus demos, and so forth. And that's still the bulk of what we're doing. But we found that having this new group (with a logo and everything!) invigorated our thinking a bit. We've come up with some out-of-the-ordinary spins on animal advocacy events, though most of them are still in our heads, or maybe jotted down on a list.

One thing we did do that was new for us was hold a vegan bake sale. I forget who mentioned the idea, but I heartily seconded it. I liked the combination of vegan outreach and the all-American aspect of it. I did some online searching for tips on bake sales, such as how much to price items, what to offer, and so forth. And this led to something much bigger...

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Starting a New Group: Compassion for Animals, Continued 

Every group needs a logo, right? Deciding what it should look like was even tougher than coming up with a name. We agreed on some general principles. We wanted to convey human compassion, since our outreach was to humans. There are lots of logos out there already with pawprints, so we decided to have a representation of a whole animal. On the advisement of people who know a lot more about graphics than me, we knew that we had to keep the logo uncomplicated. We also realized that it was impossible to express everything we were about in one simple graphic.

A friend of mine who's an excellent professional graphics designer came up with some drafts, which helped us refine our ideas. We then turned to another friend and fellow animal rights advocate who also does professional graphics and who is a member of the Humane League of Baltimore (an exceptional grassroots animal advocacy group); she produced additional drafts, based on the first set and our comments (which I'm sure were annoyingly vague and probably filled with contradictions). We're converging on something like this:

The above rendition is based on a proof sheet, so it's a bit rough, and we're still playing with different color combinations, but this is likely very close to our final logo. We'll also have a version of the logo where the name of the group is on one line, which will fit better in short but wide spaces such as the top of our web site pages.

I like the use of a chick as the symbol for all animals. A baby chick is full of life and wonder, and nearly everyone who sees a chick feels some tenderness and empathy for this creature, yet chickens are the most abused animals on the planet. A single chick is so small, yet is a complete and complex individual who experiences the world, and who may thrive or suffer based on our actions. I'm reminded of the William Blake poem:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Starting a New Group: Compassion for Animals, Continued 

Every new group needs a web site. Somehow, even though our group is a few months old, our web site, is about 90 percent incomplete. ::embarrassment:: We'll get there. We have some great ideas...

We do have a nice feature on the home page: When you click on an image of an animal in the masthead, it blows up into two side-by-side photos. One photo shows the rich and meaningful life of the animal in the wild or in a loving sanctuary or home (if appropriate); the other photo shows the misery, deprivation, or violent death experienced by the animal when ruthlessly exploited. The photos represent the contrast between kindness and cruelty (on the part of humans); between the result of respect and empathy and the result of callous, selfish indifference.

We're indebted to some excellent photographers, including Deb Durant of Invisible Voices and Derek Goodwin, and to groups such as Farm Sanctuary, Save the Chimps, and Dogs Deserve Better. Looking for pictures gave me a chance to peruse the sites of so many caring, determined animal advocacy organizations. It is really heartening to know that there is such a profundity of groups working tirelessly to bring relief to animals from human-caused injustices, and to educate people on the profound suffering they cause animals every day and how they can quite easily stop that.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Starting a New Group: Compassion for Animals 

Recently a small cadre of independent DC-area animal activists, including me, decided to be a little less independent and form our own group. For the past few years (or more, depending on the individual), each of us has leafleted, tabled, protested, written letters, and done other types of advocacy on behalf of animals, who suffer severely at the hands of humans, who are mass-slaughtered in numbers almost too vast to comprehend, and who—unlike other victims of human exploitation—cannot organize marches or author letters to the editor on their own; we are their voices.

To be honest, our decision to band together was not based on an epiphany or a radical new idea in animal advocacy. We figured as long as we're purchasing leaflets, tables, tents, carrying cases, and other activism supplies, we may as well get a tax break and form an official tax-exempt, charitable organization.

What to call it? That was one of the first big challenges. Do we focus on rights? Cruelty? Suffering? Peace? Veganism? We cover all those issues in our outreach. Also—what names haven't been taken? There are only so many combinations of keywords.

After considering a couple hundred names, we decided on Compassion for Animals. Our general thinking was that we eventually want a world in which all sentient beings are treated with respect and kindness, and in which our actions and attitudes toward living beings regardless of species are guided by compassion. If that happens, I think we all will be in good shape.

More in the next post...

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