“Ummm, yeah, I think it is…”
“I’m not sure…let me ask my manager…”
“It’s definitely vegetarian….”
If you’re based in NY, Chicago, or LA, you don’t know what I’m talking about, but the rest of us have heard all these non-answers to the inquiry, “Is this vegan?” at least a thousand times. It’s easy to feel weary from having to ask so many questions every time you sit down to grab a bite to eat—especially when with non-vegan friends. But I’m here to tell you to not only continue to ask your usual questions, but to ask more, more, MORE. Asktivism is a movement based on the concept of repeatedly putting in requests for vegan options at grocery stores, restaurants, and shops until vegan world domination happens. It was started in Indiana by a brilliant, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who—ok, fine, it was me. I haven’t won the Pulitzer (yet). And my brilliance can legitimately be brought into question every time I turn around in circles three times looking for my glasses before realizing they’re on my face. But still, you have to admit: ‘asktivism’ is pretty catchy—plus, you’re about to see just how revolutionary asktivism can be. (High-fiving myself; envisioning #asktivism getting over a million posts…)
FROM LEGALESE TO VEGANESE
My dad, the lawyer, always taught me to never ask a question I didn’t already know the answer to. As you can imagine, this strategy worked well in a courtroom—but was quite limiting in real life. My personal twist on this directive is: ask questions even if you already know the answer. For example, if you know for certain that the green beans at Buffet MacMurder are prepared with bacon or ham—and you know this because you have lunch there with your grandma every Sunday after enduring church—I want you to ask your server, every time: “Are these green beans vegan? Can you please check to see if they’re made with any animal products?” Let everyone at the table roll their eyes! Let them be embarrassed if that’s what they choose to be. And then, just when they look like they’ll melt from shame, ask your server to please bring over the manager so you can convey to them that you, the customer, the person giving them your hard-earned money, would really appreciate it if the green beans and other would-be vegan items could be prepared without animal products moving forward. This, my friends, is asktivism. And asktivism works. Asktivism can change the world.
Even if you truly believe your asking for compassionate options will do no good in a particular setting (say, at a rural café while on a road trip), and even if 99% of the time the response is, “No one’s ever asked that before,” remember that the establishment’s awareness is raised every time a question is asked. If zero people ask about vegan options one week, then 1 person asks the next, then 3..10..13 people a week, the servers will notice. Management will notice. Change will happen. And if you just can’t bring yourself to ask all these questions at the table or in front of others, that’s cool. Just pull the manager aside when you get up to stretch your legs or make a call or rescue a groundhog, whatever, and ask in semi-private. Asktivism can even happen on the back of a napkin; just scribble: Are there any animal products, dairy, or eggs in ____[this]___? and for the love of God, ask it, write it, put it out there with a smile. It’s not the server’s fault the green beans are made with bacon, you know? They'd probably rather stab a sharp stick in their eye than deal with ONE. MORE. RUDE. CUSTOMER. So go easy on the messenger. Of course, it's extremely important to engage in asktivism online–Tweet, Insta, FB, Snap, and all the social media!-–your questions…but still. Ask with kindness whenever possible.
DON’T JUST ASK: TELL
On the other side of the asktivism coin is making sure establishments know you are there specifically because they offer vegan options—be they handbags or sandwiches or mascara. Say Thank you for having vegan options!—or write it on the receipt. Tip generously if your server did their best to answer your questions thoroughly. Be noticeably appreciative of people who are making efforts to provide you with what you want—because what you want is a more compassionate world, right? Now would be a good time to shout, “Yay, vegan!” if you’re feelin’ it. OK, so I get a little geeked out with asktivism and I might be accused of sounding like a 1950’s Ms. Manner’s guide to polite asktivism, but I don’t care. Good old-fashioned manners go a long way in everyday life, perhaps now more than ever because they’re in such short supply. So be nice, jerk face! Just kidding.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
Asktivism can do more than get your favorite cruelty-free products on the shelves. It can curtail bullying, it can prevent abuse, and it can give a secretly desperate person hope. The wonderful Buddhist scholar, Sylvia Boorstein, offers an example of positive interference in her book: It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way To Happiness in the chapter Airplane First Aid 1: The Mistake. An unhappy woman is flying with her young son. She’s being short and curt with him; her tone and comments are making the other travelers feel stressed out. But no one says anything. In fact, they avert their eyes, pop in earbuds, or otherwise pretend not to notice the unpleasant situation nearby. Ms. Boorstein appears to not notice, too, but inside, she’s scrambling to figure out exactly what she should do or say to diffuse the distressed mother. After the plane lands and the woman and her son evaporate into the crowd, Boorstein’s judgment fades, and she realizes what she could have said: literally anything. “It’s very hard traveling alone with a child, isn’t it? Where are you going?” Some sort of neutral interaction would have done a number of things. It would have reminded the woman that others were paying attention, for one thing, and that perhaps she should be gentler with her child. It would have let her know that she could ask for support from strangers when she needed it. It would have let the child know he had a kind defender nearby. Just think of how different that mojo would have been from the usual ‘drowning in loneliness in a sea of people’ mojo we find commonplace nowadays. And all it would have taken was kindly asking a question or two.
Look. I’m an agoraphobic introvert with sensory-processing issues. I totally understand earbuds and averting gazes and simply not having the energy to take on someone else’s circus at any given time. Fortunately, when it comes to asktivism, we don’t have to choose between always or never. We’re free to select the sometimes option and still go on to live perfectly respectable lives. Try calibrating your asktivism settings to full-blast about 85% of the time, and watch yourself make the world a better place for animals, humans, and our beautiful earth.
Is there a time to shake your fists and carry signs and demand justice? Hell yeah! Civil disobedience will always be a juggernaut in the justice system, and I’m passionately in favor of loud rebellion. Yet most people don’t live their lives on Washington’s steps, and a lot of people fantasize about going all Joe Pesci or Bruce Banner on someone’s ass but end up doing nothing, then taking the frustration from their non-action out on loved ones who don’t deserve it. Am I right? It’s probably fair to say most people miss countless opportunities to cultivate change on a day-to-day basis because most people don’t realize just how powerful polite asktivism is.
TRY IT RIGHT NOW FOR FREE
Here are a few random asktivism questions you can ask yourself amid diurnal minutiae:
- What would be a wise thing for me to do now?
- How can I let [this company/restaurant/etc] know I want to see more vegan options?
- Are humans and animals being treated fairly and compassionately here?
- Which would serve my current situation better: humor or intense seriousness?
- If I don’t read Yuval Noah Harari, am I automatically disqualified as a smart person?
- What choice should I make here to ensure my actions align with my values?
- Am I actually allergic to gluten?
- I don’t want to jump in, but I don’t want to turn away. What are some other options?
- Do my food choices reflect my values of compassion, mercy, and love?
- Should I find out if there’s really dye in the pool that illuminates urine?
Asktivism may seem like a chore at first, but once you realize it’s the simplest way to be an activist, your soul will soar knowing that lives may be saved just because you asked a question or two. Asktivism is a powerful way for lazy people like me or busy people like you to beneficially alter the course of history. I mean, think about it. If you were wrongfully convicted of a crime you didn’t commit and sentenced to torture and death in prison, you’d want someone to speak up on your behalf if it might save your life and grant your freedom…
“Woman and server” Photo by Fraser Cottrell on Unsplash