We spoke to Sandra Higgins, the founder of Go Vegan World, about her vegan journey and the future of the organisation
The Go Vegan World campaign has clearly caused quite a stir among the dairy farming community, as the National Farmers’ Union backlash demonstrated. It’s an innovative campaign that firmly shines the mainstream spotlight on veganism by putting campaign media in highly visible spaces from on the side of black cabs, to bus shelters and even at high profile sporting events.
Vegan Life was honoured to sit down with campaign founder Sandra Higgins and talk about her remarkable work.
Please could you outline exactly what Go Vegan World is, and what it does?
Go Vegan World is an educational advertising campaign aimed at giving a clear and consistent call for veganism for social justice reasons. It is one of the activities of Matilda’s Promise, Animal Rights & Vegan Education Centre, a grassroots organisation that has been offering vegan education since 2012.
Can you tell me a little bit about your own vegan journey?
I was given two orphaned lambs to care for several years ago. They opened my eyes to animal sentience as I began to see their personhood. But I went vegan following a visit to a dairy. As I describe in the adverts: I went vegan the day I visited a dairy. The mothers, still bloody from birth, searched and called frantically for their babies. Their daughters, fresh from their mothers’ wombs but separated from them, trembled and cried piteously, drinking milk from rubber teats on the wall instead of their mothers nurturing bodies. I learned that their sons had been killed that morning and that on other dairies they are slaughtered for their flesh. A little more investigation led me to the other horrors that I was perpetrating on them through my choices as a consumer and I stopped immediately. My learning has continued by what I have witnessed at Eden. I am in awe at the strong personalities that I had never considered. In exactly the same way as cats, dogs and those other species we regard as companions, farmed animals are such characters, each of them unique and precious. Although the conventional focus of many organisations is on how we treat them while they are alive, I have come to realise that the roots of the injustice occur long before we cause them to be brought into the world.
Most of all, they have taught me that the very act of breeding them into this life for our use is what damages them so badly and is so unjust.
And what prompted you to set up Go Vegan World?
I was frustrated because I could not reach enough people through the vegan education I was doing. I knew that the most powerful aspect of what I was teaching was the direct message from the animals to the public to stop using them. Go Vegan World has enabled me to reach millions whereas the methods I was using were restricted to hundreds.
You’ve done some of the most mainstream vegan campaigns ever seen – was this always the plan?
The only plan was to shine a light on the injustice of animal use so that people would be prompted to research the issues for themselves. At the outset I had faith in the public I was addressing through Go Vegan World. I believe that people are receptive when the message is given honestly, clearly, consistently and powerfully. The power of Go Vegan World is that it is, in effect, run by the residents at Eden. They inspire and inform my campaign decisions and the campaign creativity is based on my years of working with them. They feature in the ads, not as nameless or anonymous individual members of species we use, but as unique beings with names, personalities, histories and a home at Eden. That is why it has expanded to be the most mainstream campaign of its kind.
What are the logistics like when you’re setting something up like a billboard at a sporting event?
They are straightforward unless the ads are censored which has happened on many occasions. Then it is a case of submitting evidence on the factual basis of the ad. This process, in itself, is a very powerful form of vegan education and many people in the advertising industry have been exposed to the truth since the inception of Go Vegan World. Some have gone vegan on foot of it.
I get a thrill when I see one of your posters on a cab or in a phone box – you must feel very happy with how it’s all going? What are some of your proudest moments?
Thank you. I can’t claim to feel pride because I consider veganism to be the very least any of us can do, however it is satisfying to see that the ads look as good on the street as I imagined when I designed them. For me, it is more a case of assessing the campaign effectiveness and estimating whether this particular form of activism justifies the resources invested in it. The large format ads, particularly the video ads, look great and attract a lot of attention, but some of the smaller ad formats, such as bathroom advertising, have been very successful. When someone writes to say that the campaign moved them to research the issues and that they have gone vegan as a result, I feel encouraged to see that the campaign is doing what it set out to do. I feel particularly grateful when someone writes to say they went vegan a year or more ago, and have stayed vegan and gone on to work in an ethical or vegan related field, or to do activism themselves.
However, the weight of knowledge of those uncounted individuals who continue to be exploited by us, is always with me and it is a more prominent feeling than anything else, and motivates me to continue. If I experienced the sensation of pride at any point, it was when I saw the residents of Eden in the ads and knew that Go Vegan World had facilitated the animals to go out onto the streets, as capable, feeling, intelligent beings and demand their rights for themselves.
Do you have any data to suggest what impact your work in having?
It is difficult to quantify the impact of the campaign. The most important aspect is the fact that the truth is exposed in such a public and wide reaching manner, and that it disrupts the traditional, speciesist advertising that portrays other animals as compliant victims in their own exploitation and death. We have qualitative data from the people who have contacted me to say they went vegan, or from people who have been interested enough to write and ask for clarification or information. Quantitative data can be gleaned from some of the measures built into the campaign. On average we get 5500 visits to the website per week and about 500 vegan guides are downloaded. But when the campaign is fully operational, for example during the January campaign, there were 61,208 visitors to the vegan guide download page of the website.
I am also using social media to target very specific demographics within the non-vegan population. Between January and March the number of people reached on social media grew by 794.8 per cent.
What kind of feedback have you received?
The feedback from the public has been very positive. People are very shocked to learn the impact of their non-vegan lifestyles on other animals, as well as the intersectional consequences for human health, the environment and other social justice issues. The strength of the campaign is that it clarifies veganism and corrects misconceptions around veganism being a diet, a difficult or extreme lifestyle, or something that only concerns animal flesh. It also clarifies why vegetarianism leaves a trail of victims in its wake and why reduced animal use falls a long way short of the goal of non-violence. Feedback from the lecture tour has been very positive, with many people grasping the essence of veganism and leaving the talks armed with the motivation and information to change their behaviour so that it is aligned with their values.
What are your future plans and goals with the organisation?
The goal is a non-violent, vegan world in which other animals are not used by humans. Go Vegan World will continue its efforts to reach that goal and expand the campaign. We are just about to launch a very big campaign in Manchester and we would like to invite people to our day of activism in Market St on 22nd April.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The best way for people to support the campaign is to draw the attention of their non-vegan family, friends and colleagues to the street ads and the social media posts. Please also avail of our free Vegan Guide available to download on the website.
Find out more at goveganworld.com