How Living ‘Off the Grid’ Brought Me Nearer to Veganism

Twelve years ago, my partner and I left Sydney for an adventure.  My partber, a social disrupter and avid believer in renewable energy use, and myself embracing the opportunity to ‘live the dream’, moved to New Zealand to build an ‘Off the Grid’ house and experience lowering our environmental footprint.   Like most plans, they don’t always work out as expected.  There are unexpected learnings along the way, much more profound than what was planned.  I entered New Zealand thinking we were doing as much as we could to live sustainably and ethically, and left the country four years later with only a couple of months left of being non-vegan.

We spent the first year building our house incorporating such materials as wool insulation, non-petrochemical bio-paints and a Biolytix converter (giant worm farm) to process sewage into brown water.  With no connection to the grid, we obtained our power from solar panels and a Pelton water turbine for generating electricity.  And with myself being a ‘vege-quarian’ for over 30 years and my partner one for eight, we believed were were living ethically with a light environmental footprint.  Our education was only just beginning.

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Would a Sales Process Help Activists Convert More People to Veganism?

Imagine you are a part of an international sales team who have been tasked with the job of selling the most amazing solution the vast majority of the world’s problems?  You hold the solution to the current global challenges to human health, environment, social justice, the economy, conscience, spiritual growth etc.  The customer is every person on the planet.  What training will your team need to convey the solution and match it to the problems the customer is facing?  Surely a team tasked to deliver such promises, would have a clear strategy and sales process or would they ‘wing’ conversations with customers and get annoyed at them when they don’t buy the solution offered?

Well, if you are vegan reading this, you are part of this sales team.  You may feel resistant to selling, believing that the current financial and economic system perpetuates a system of greed and selling products and services on the back of human, animal and environmental suffering.   If so, how do you feel that you’ve been recruited to this global sales team?  Also, if we use this sales analogy, there are other customers who’ll benefit from your endeavours – the animals.  And they are silent, you’re unsure they even know you’re working at a global level to improve their quality of life and you can’t easily canvass their feedback on how good a job we’re all doing.

How do you feel about selling veganism?

Faced with this responsibility, you may feel you’re facing this task with no real training, only skills you’ve acquired along the way.  You may feel alone in the process, wish you had more information to hand to convince people to buy the solution of veganism. You may long for linguistic mastery to deal with buyer resistance or would like help in upselling them from vegetarianism to veganism – the crème de la crème solution which involves their greatest investment and yet the greatest reward.

You won’t have the chance to meet all the sales team, practice selling with them or ensure your sales materials are branded and professional.  However, we’re all relying on each other to do a great job of offering the solution.  It’s hard because no-one likes rejection and when we offer the solution, our customers often deny they have a problem, the solution doesn’t work, they like existing solutions or can’t afford it, etc.

The best thing you can do is adopt key principles from sales psychology and understand that sometimes the sales cycle is short and sometimes long – some people buy on the spot, others buy lesser priced products and when satisfied make higher investments. There’ll be customers who say ‘no’ or ‘not yet’, because they’re insufficiently convinced of the solution.  Sometimes we have to wait because it’s not until sufficient people change that they decide to ‘Keep up with with the Jones’, and change or they see the latest celebrity convinces them to buy.

What do you need as vegan salesperson?

  1. Mind-shift change
    You must believe in your ability to communicate and sell veganism.  If you feel anxious and tongue-tied, your whole neurology will work against you.  When you’re discussing animal cruelty, for example, you’ll often feel anxious and in pain.  When this discomfort or anger occurs, blood flows from your frontal cortex to the reptilian brain at the back of your head.  This is the ‘fight or flight’ red zone where it’s difficult to stay calm, confident and convincing. The same thing occurs for the listener resulting in resistance and comments like, ‘Don’t tell/show me any more!’The good news is that there’s a contagion effect and if you can keep calm and and empathise with the person struggling to receive this challenging information, you’ll influence their blood to flow to the frontal cortex with the increased likelihood that they’ll listen to you.You must regularly practice techniques to remain calm like meditation, positive self-talk, increasing confidence through communication mastery and seek out social support from other vegans.
    A useful technique to calm yourself and move the blood to the frontal cortex in readiness for these challenging conversations is, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).  For a short video on this technique, visit neuroscience and parts of the brain responsible for decision making and emotional responses, is invaluable because as every sales person know, ‘People buy with emotion and back up decisions with logic’.  The information you share must evoke and sufficiently emotional response requiring them to want a solution, which can be reinforced with logic.  Such logic is influenced by providing them with facts, figures and evidence that veganism works.People buy from people they like so learning to be empathic, non-judgemental and supportive of where they are in their journey, they’ll learn to trust you (and other members of the vegan sales team) and say that magic phrase every vegan wants to hear, ‘That’s interesting; tell me  more’.
  2. A Sales Process
    When engaging people to talk about veganism, it’s best not to ‘wing’ your conversations or ‘play them by ear’.  It’s important to develop a sales process, to move them along a continuum from ‘not interested’ to ‘tell me more’ or, even better, ‘I am becoming a vegan!’  Note, you may need several conversations for them to become vegan and they may not all be with you.  They’ll also be influenced by videos, TV adverts, media reports on animal cruelty etc.  Once you start the conversation, they won’t be able to see issues around veganism in the same light.  New information about the subject will activate what you’ve told them so it’s important that you make a good impression and provide information to back up your claims.Here are some key principles:a)    Make a contract. – Tell the person what you’d like to talk to them about and get agreement to discuss it.  When they say yes, you can refer back to this later when they say, ‘I can’t continue discussing this’.  Their comment isn’t then a signal to stop, merely to modify the intensity of the information you share.b)    Use questions to elicit their motivation. – Ask lots of questions to ascertain their understanding, interests and problems around health, social justice, environment and social concerns.  Then you can position the vegan message so it meets their needs. If you insist on talking about animal cruelty when they’re asking about diet or environmental sustainability, they’ll switch off.  Listen, ask questions and provide information relative to the person’s need.  You can add other information later when they say, ‘Tell me more’.

    c)     Handle resistance – It is normal and predicable for someone to resist changing their attitudes and behaviour.  When a person resists what you’re telling them, instead of sighing, judging them as blind and selfish, see resistance as positive.  Appreciate that you’ve elicited an emotional response in them, they’re uncomfortable and will want to remove that discomfort.  They can choose to ignore what you’ve told them (which is often more difficult than they think) or seek a solution.

    Resistance in any sales process occurs for 4 main reasons and in the context of veganism, typical responses include:

    i)    Money:  ‘I can’t afford to be a vegan and buy organic fruit and vegetables’.
    ii)   Time: ‘I don’t have time to prepare vegan food’.
    iii)  Need: ‘I’m not sufficiently convinced I could live without meat or dairy’.
    iv)  Urgency: ‘I’ll think about it later as not pressing for me now’.
    v)   Trust:   ‘I don’t believe you’.

    By seeing resistance as positive, indicating that you must answer their concerns, you’ll become empowered rather then believing it’s futile and that some people will never change.

    d)    Sales Materials to support your arguments – Provide as much information and evidence that veganism is the solution e.g. Testimonials and case studies of people who have benefited from adopting veganism. Send links to videos or articles with evidence of the positive changes that result when they adopt veganism.

    e)    Provide the solution – Provide as much information as you can, relevant to their interests, questions and willingness to receive it.  Follow up with information to back your claims and always make a time to talk to them when they have had time to review it.

    Remember, you may not ‘close the sale’ and hear them say ‘Yes, I’m choosing veganism’.  You are part of the global vegan sales team and your contribution is to influence people every day to adopt the veganism.  Likewise, when someone tells you they’re becoming vegan, it is likely that another member of the team influenced their decision.

  3. Exquisite communication skills
    You must become a great communicator if you are to influence people to become vegans.  Partner with non-vegans and talk to them as someone who has also been duped by society and industry to live in a non-vegan world.  Learn to listen and position your responses relative to their needs, gain rapport and build a relationship or trust so they don’t ‘shoot the messenger’ when they receive challenging information.For free video communication skills training, visit


Vegans are part of a global relay team

Communicating veganism is like running a relay race.   You tell somebody something, later they see a TV advert or something on social media and one day, the tipping point comes, their resistance reduces and they choose veganism or as as I prefer to say, ‘They return to their vegan birthright’.  Some may never become vegan in their lifetime but every conversation we all have contributes to a vegan world becoming the norm.

Your job is to be a great salesperson so you don’t let the team down and, most importantly, the animals.


This article entitled Would a Sales Process Help Activists Convert More People to Veganism? was originally published in the May/June 2016 of Barefoot Vegan. The issue focused on vegan businesses with a feature article on successful US-based vegan businesswoman Victoria Moran of Main Street Vegan.

To access this issue, visit:





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Raising Compassionate Children

Whilst I don’t specialise in child psychology, over the years I have been invited into the lives of thousands of people who share their childhood experiences with me. Undoubtedly, their experiences influence how they see themselves, others and the world. I would like to share some anecdotal experiences with you about human beings’ capacity to develop compassion, what might contribute to it and the role veganism has in extending our circle of compassion to non-human animals.


Scenario 1:

Imagine a child is born into a rural farming family. The biggest employer in the town is the local abattoir and a hunting culture exists through which boys especially are inaugurated into manhood.

Scenario 2:

A child is born into a family who recycle, vote for the Greens party, use renewable energy and are vegetarians. Animals live in the home and there is interaction with rescued chickens, ducks and rabbits.

What is the likelihood of these respective children developing compassionate towards people and animals?

We might assume (and understandably) that the child born into the farming environment would be less compassionate to farm or other animals, instead seeing them as food. Their sentient nature may be not acknowledged, nor their suffering at the hand of the industrial process. We might assume that their compassion towards people would be more limited in its range or extent. We might assume that the child in the second scenario is likely to be more compassionate towards animals and people. However, trying to predict adult behaviour from childhood experiences is not straightforward but it is true to say that parental behaviour is a powerful role model for it. What children do beyond their childhood varies, depending on later experiences, role models and influences.

In an interview with Josh Agland, Advisor to Hon Mark Pearson of the Australian Animal Justice Party, he said that he used to work in an abattoir. He said that, despite how horrific his job was, he rationalised the process and became desensitized from the reality of animal suffering. When his daughter was born, he become more attuned to his emotions and empathised with animal suffering. This resulted in a massive shift in his values and beliefs and he now works fulltime in animal social justice. A vegan client in her twenties relayed her distress about her father being a hunter and yet he would stand up to anyone who hurt the family dog.

When I interviewed Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals (2009), he told me that he started exploring the disconnect between giving children toy animals and eating them after his child was born and he gave her a fluffy toy animal. I have also witnessed a mother’s distress at her twelve-year-old son eating meat outside of the home despite being raised in a vegetarian household. This latter example indicates the power of role modelling and how peer role models often overriding parental ones. The boy in question faced huge pressure from other boys who told him that eating meat was ‘what real men do’ and in his desire to identify with them he changed his behaviour.

The process of desensitisation

Desensitisation is well documented in the psychological literature as one of the responses to extreme trauma, along with other symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For example, soldiers returning from warzones, residents having lost their homes and villages to natural disasters and physical attacks that threaten a person’s basic safety are all examples of extreme trauma. A similar desensitisation often occurs in children regarding role modelling of animal cruelty. Numerous vegan clients have told me that their recall distress at witnessing the family dog or farm animals being killed, some begging their parents to spare their lives. The response of ‘Dry your tears and man up’ is not an atypical response in some families, leaving the child with huge internal conflict. What the child does beyond that varies; some go on to abuse animals whilst others become vegans.


Several ago after rescuing a two-year old golden retriever who was regularly beaten, I reflected on why this happened to her and not the other dogs in the family. The other dogs were older, more independent cattle dogs. What was it that caused the owner to abuse her? The owner worked a manual worker in the boatyards and when the golden retriever was a year old, he suffered a stroke, rendering him paralysed on the left side of his body. Neighbours said that he changed overnight from a ‘confident and tough guy’ to an ‘angry and withdrawn’ man, filled with rage towards the Golden Retriever. The other dogs were more independent and robust and were not abused. As a psychologist with over twenty years’ experience, I hypothesise the following:

Golden retrievers are typically affectionate dogs who people say make great family pets. (For the purpose of this example, let’s hold aside any sensitivity we might hold in terms of sub-speciesism and choice of dogs for human convenience). This golden retriever was affectionate and demanded regular physical touch and engagement. What effect might this have on the man whose identity and strength had changed? I suggest that the golden retriever’s ‘neediness’ acted as a powerful mirror to him of weakness he was struggling to accept in himself. If that was the case, abusing the golden retriever was an attempt to destroy that reflection and subvert his own feelings of powerlessness.

Having worked with clients from a phenomenological-existential basis for many years and seen so many ‘tough’ people share experiences of being told that compassion and concern (particularly towards animals) are signs of weakness, this might be a valid interpretation of the man’s behaviour towards the golden retriever. Like many of my clients, perhaps his earlier experiences led him to bury his distress and when confronted with the dog’s vulnerability, he hit her in an attempt to ‘stamp’ out the reflected vulnerability?

The Importance of Teaching Compassion to Children

Ample research evidence indicates that children go to great lengths to be accepted by their caretakers. Writers like Alice Miller in The Drama of Being a Child: The Search for the True Self (2008) shows how children in order to avoid rejection, typically subvert their own feelings of fear, sadness, shame or compassion when told to ‘stop crying and not be a baby’. In extreme cases a child, denied the right to experience their own feelings, becomes confused about what they do feel or desensitised from anything that arouses emotions unacceptable to the parent. Donald Winnicott in The Child, the Family and the Outside World (1992) introduces the concept of the ‘false self’ which develops in a child denied expression of strongly felt feelings and punished by the parent for having them.

Thus where a child is taught that compassion or empathy is a sign of weakness, there is a greater probability that they will deny or bury those feelings deep in their unconscious selves. They are more likely to avoid any reactions that make them feel weak as it activates previously felt painful memories. Vegans are often bewildered at people who appear indifferent to animal cruelty and blame them for being unfeeling. The vegan can judge a person for lacking compassion without understanding that many people’s childhood experiences are deeply traumatic and their responses developed in order to avoid rejection and pain. Examples of how adults in later life reconnect with feelings of empathy and compassion is encouraging, although we can surmise that some might be equally resistant to the vulnerability of their own children as they might be to a golden retriever.

Veganism, the philosophy of the non-use and exploitation of animals is a value system, that if taught in childhood, extends the circle of compassion beyond other human beings to animals and the environment. Such a value system promotes compassion in children with the resultant hope that as adults they might walk more lightly on the earth.

Key suggestions for enhancing compassion in children

  • •Allow children the right to experience their own feelings.
  • Avoid shaming children for their feelings as it has a deleterious effect on the development of compassion.
  • Parents who identify, label and communicate their own feelings are are powerful role models to their children that it is acceptable to have feelings.
  • Helping children to experience empathy and compassion towards people and animals increases the probability of them becoming compassionate adults.


MILLER, A. (2008) The Drama of Being a Child: The Search for the True Self. UK: Little, Brown Book Group.

SAFRAN FOER (2009) Eat Animals. US: Little, Brown & Company.

WINNICOTT, D. (1992) The Child, the Family and the Outside World. UK: Perseus Publishing.

This article entitled Raising Compassionate Children was originally published in the March/April 2016 of Barefoot Vegan (Page 36). The issue focused on children and young people with the feature article by Genesis Butler, a young vegan, who is an inspiration for every young person and every parent to be inspired by how children are leading the way for a better society.

To access this issue, visit:


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