Following the recent article discussing the relationship between vegans and reductionists, I had the chance to catch up with Kristie Middleton, author of MeatLess: Transform the Way You Eat and Live One Meal at a Time.
She shared with me her approach to encouraging others towards a less meat oriented lifestyle and the issues people face when making the switch. Middleton’s positive spirit and her attitude towards the vegan movement, seeing it on a much larger scale than the food or products each individual is incorporating into their daily life, paints a solid picture of how reductionism does and could play a part in moving towards a cruelty free world.
Kristie describes veganism as “the means to the end of ending suffering” and not the goal in itself. Her approach focuses on working towards a world where the suffering of animals is reduced dramatically rather than berating individuals for not doing everything they can.
Middleton, who has been an ethical vegan for over 20 years, believes that encouraging and applauding people for making the first, small steps towards a vegan lifestyle is important. She recognises that “reducing the amount of meat that you’re eating can do a lot to improve your own health, your environmental sustainability and to reduce the suffering of animals on factory farms.” She believes that popular and approachable ideas such as Meatless Mondays can encourage people to stick with a change in behaviour.
Her work is the product of a passion for veganism and research into the psychology behind individuals changing their behaviours. She claims studies indicate that taking a pledge to commit to something like a Meatless Monday as opposed to taking the huge step to go vegan all at once usually ends in the behaviour change having much greater longevity. Middleton believes that for a lot of people the message to just ‘go vegan’ can be “a little overwhelming” and so the “foot in the door approach” her book offers is often received with gratitude.
“If we want a vegan friendly world, we need to be friendly vegans”
When asked if she was ever bothered or offended by comments left in reviews of her book congratulating her for not being a ‘preachy vegan’ she noted that “guilt and the induction of guilt does not help [behaviour change].” Although she accepts that there are a “variety of vehicles to advocacy” she believes that we need to make veganism fun, interesting and popular instead of chiding people for not instantly going 100% vegan. Middleton sympathises with vegans who “become vegan and…want everybody to make that switch immediately” but maintains that encouragement of small steps is the best approach.
During the interview, she paraphrased her friend and colleague Paul Shapiro who believes that “if we want a vegan friendly world, we need to be friendly vegans.”
This doesn’t mean, however, that Middleton wishes to shy away from the often upsetting facts surrounding animal agriculture. She believes that it’s important for everybody to know where their food comes from and she addresses this issue in her book with what she describes as a ‘light touch’. She herself is very educated on the ways in which, the US in particular, “institutionally abuses animals” and believes that knowledge about factory farming and educating people is very important on the journey to a more vegan friendly world.
When discussing the ways in which large companies are ‘catching on’ to veganism and offering vegan options, a contentious issue in the vegan community, Middleton sees all the positives. She points out that in advocating for a vegan lifestyle we are looking for “progress not perfection.”
When large companies buy out cruelty free brands, or start offering plant-based products, this allows for mass distribution of cruelty free options in places that some people might be limited only to shopping in large chains such as Walmart. She hopes some companies may even start to change their own behaviours as they acquire cruelty free brands and praises the accessibility moves like this offer people.
Moves from large companies such as this allow us to see the way in which the world is changing and, in our interview, Middleton used the example of Tyson Foods, a large meat production company, buying a stake in Beyond Meat noting that even a large meat company can see the merit in investing in plant-based alternatives.
Middleton was kind enough to offer some advice to anybody trying to encourage the people around them to take steps towards a more vegan way of life. She reiterated the importance of encouragement and highlighted the gradual process of making the switch and the ways in which small steps should be seen as positive. In addition to this she believes that the easiest way to allow people to see what it truly means to be eating vegan is “sharing delicious vegan food.”
She gives her example of her work at the Humane Society of the United States, working with institutions and offering them culinary instruction, teaching them to make great vegan food that “any of their guests will enjoy.”
Kristie’s promotion of reductionism and other such diets is really focussed on working towards a vegan world where the suffering of animals is reduced on a dramatic scale. Her message is simple and positive: encourage those around you when they make small steps, be friendly and be greeted with friendliness, and share as much of your delicious vegan creations as possible to show people that they don’t need to include animal products in their diet to enjoy delicious meals. All of this, she believes, will “bring us toward that humane future that all of us would love to see.”