Stephen Balfour muses on different kinds of advocacy and the importance of providing positive feedback in the vegan community


In the dim and distant past I spent a few summers driving a taxi on Nantucket Island in the USA. If you’ve never heard of Nantucket, the Island was inspiration for the book Moby Dick and the film Jaws (Amity Island was a fictional version of Nantucket). As these films may suggest, the Island has a bloody history, and once laid claim to being the ‘whaling capital of the world’.


On a lighter note, some readers may also know the limerick about ‘there once was a man from Nantucket’. Various versions of the limerick exist, each one ruder than the last so be warned should you be inclined to Google them.


So I spent a couple of summers on an island, what’s my point. God you lot are impatient. Anyway the reason I bring Nantucket up is that during one summer I dated an American girl called Katherine. I have a particular fond memory of her writing a really lovely thank you note on the bill thanking our waiter during one of our first dates. When I asked her why she did this, she explained that she felt that people are always quick to complain when service encounters aren’t up to par, but how we rarely acknowledge and praise those that exceed our expectations. This was by no means an isolated incident. Throughout our time she was true to her word and she was forever writing small notes thanking people for their service. A year later she dumped me. I never found out if she left me for a waiter.


Besides getting me in trouble with my partner Seonad for reminiscing about previous partners, what relevance does this have to veganism? The reason I got thinking about this is that your truly has recently been the recipient of a few lovely notes from Vegan Life magazine readers following the publication of a few articles.


Initially these emails came from friends and others I know online. Whilst this feedback was very much appreciated, I was particularly affected by further correspondence from some stranger’s thanking me for the articles and detailing why the articles had resonated with them so much.


As most of us will be aware, vegan advocacy ‘work’ can often be equal parts frustrating and demoralising. That’s perhaps why this correspondence had such an impact on me. These emails genuinely made my day. I felt extremely privileged that someone had taken some time out their busy schedule to write to a total stranger. Is it over the top to say that it restored in me a wee bit of faith in humanity? Maybe it is but I tell you that’s what it felt like to me.


I started to think about others that I engage with who have a similar effect. Two such individuals are Polly and Beverley – members of an online vegan community that I am a member of. These two individuals are constant beacons of positivity, offering support and words of encouragement when others, including yours truly, are less forthcoming. I think that it’s easy to dismiss this as just someone being nice but I think such people play a vital role in propping up fellow advocates so they can re-group before going to do battle again in our non-vegan world.


I think if the majority of us were being honest we would admit that we are more ready to criticise than we are to offer praise. If I want proof of that I only have to log online and I’m sure I will see the latest ding dong taking place in one of our vegan communities.


Anyone reading this and who knows me well will probably be saying: check him out in his vegan greenhouse chucking his stones! Ok I’ll admit I have been known to have the occasional falling out with fellow advocates. The point I’m trying to make however is that we don’t all have to agree with each other. Full and open discourse (a good old fashioned rammy) can be healthy and shouldn’t be discouraged. I am suggesting however that perhaps occasionally we need to step back and think about we deal with others – are we being respectful, do we offer enough praise and support? I believe we should acknowledge the work of advocates that we admire. I for one am going to try better in this regard.


A recent example put this whole subject in context for me. Just last night, I engaged in an online discussion in which a fellow vegan was served quite possibly the worst main meal that I have ever seen served at a wedding. Her main meal comprised of a dry roll with a large Portobello mushroom in it. We are talking about no sauce, not even a salad. To make matters worse the roll was served on a huge white plate. This roll looked marooned in a sea of white porcelain. There followed some heated discussion how best to respond to this – direct contact with the caterer, a tweet storm or by posting a negative review on TripAdvisor. I think the outcry was warranted and all the tactics perfectly valid.


The flipside of this however is how many of us acknowledge and give direct feedback when we attend events like weddings and are served something better than a big mushroom in a bap? These days it couldn’t be easier. Many organisations like Go Vegan Scotland or Evolve sell inexpensive cards that you can leave in establishments telling them that you ‘ate there because you had vegan options’. The majority of us could offer a bit more praise and make sure establishments know we appreciate their efforts. Will it change the world, maybe not but a wee bit of praise can go a long way. And on that note if you had been blown away by this article my contact details are listed below.


Stephen lives in Fife, Scotland with his family including a collection of waifs and strays that he loves dearly. He is happy to discuss any vegan opportunities, no matter how wacky, and he can be contacted via email at or via many of the usual social media channels.


More on Stephen:

Scottish Vegan Stephen Balfour on Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Stephen Balfour on the Glasgow Earthlings Experience

Stephen Balfour: Journey to Hell – The Agony of Live Export


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