By Kitty Jones, VRG Intern
One of the best ways to spread the idea of vegan (or vegetarian) eating is simply by giving people vegan food to try! Not only do they literally get a taste of vegan food, but they are left with a positive impression of the lifestyle; who doesn’t like smiley people giving away free snacks?
I first did vegan food sampling with Action for Animals in Seattle. We had set up a table on the sidewalk to give out free veggie hotdogs because it was National Hotdog Day. Most organizations and individuals do food sampling on special days or specific occasions. I do them every Friday evening in front of my local grocery store. I think it’s a lot of fun and it is not too hard for anyone to do themselves!
The first and sometimes most difficult step is to find a location to sample. Some people pass out samples on the sidewalk, on their campus, at events or shows, in their school cafeteria, outside stores, or wherever people are that might be receptive. Always make sure you have permission to pass out food. You may have to fill out an application or permit. If you’re tabling at an event or with an organization, check if food is allowed. Chances are you can have whatever you want at your table. If you want to table at a grocery store check with the manager ahead of time to make sure that it is okay. With stores they often don’t believe that you just want to give away free food (your only motive being the promotion of vegan or vegetarian diets). Employees may tell you that you can only do sampling on public property, which might be far away from the store entrance; if that’s the case you might try speaking with the manager of the store again or asking a different store. When I began tabling at my local grocery store they told me I couldn’t. So I did anyway and now I’m friends with the assistant manager and a bit of a store-wide celebrity. This method may not always be successful.
The next step is to get all your materials together. First you will need a small card table, or a bigger one if you’re doing a big event, like the Great American Meat Out. You should also get fliers about what you’re doing. You can get great fliers about going vegan and health, animals, the environment and more from groups like Action for Animals, Vegan Outreach, PETA, The Vegetarian Resource Group, etc. I personally use “How you can help animals” and “What’s wrong with dairy and eggs” fliers from Action for Animals. Make sure the fliers you get are appropriate for the food you’re handing out. For example you wouldn’t want to hand out Tofurky sausage samples along with “Fishing Hurts” fliers. Don’t forget to have a sign somewhere that says “FREE VEGAN FOOD SAMPLES” or something along those lines to get people’s attention. Depending on the food you’re sampling, you may or may not need gloves. I have rarely needed gloves because I choose to sample food using tooth picks or with sample cups. If you’re directly touching food, use gloves. I recommend using biodegradable ones (yes, those exist) if you need them. You may also need toothpicks, small sampling cups, and a trash/compost container. People often want coupons for the products if they like them. You can contact the companies and ask for coupons to give away. Companies are often more than happy to give you free coupons and people are more likely to buy vegan food if they have coupons.
Next, decide what food you want people to try! Remember that the people sampling this food may not have ever eaten vegan food so you want to make sure it’s something tasty. Even though you may love kale chips or almond butter spirulina sandwiches (I sure do!) these types of foods are not food for sampling. Some people are adverse to veganism because they feel they have to change their whole lifestyle; that’s why it helps to show them that there are vegan versions of all their favorite foods. Foods like Tofurky deli slices and sausages, vegan yogurt, soymilk and almond milk, and vegan brownies or cookies are more likely to get people interested in vegan eating. If you have foods that require cooking, like Tofurky sausages, cook them ahead of time and keep them warm until sampling in some sort of container. With frozen or cold foods, such as Tofutti Cuties, keep them cold in a cooler until it’s time to give them out. Don’t leave samples that need to be refrigerated sitting out for a long time and don’t use them a second day if they weren’t kept consistently cold. Try to cut your foods into bite-sized samples. For example, I cut Tofutti cuties in half and Tofurky deli slices (on small pieces of bread with Vegenaise on them) into fourths when I’m sampling.
It is always very helpful to have someone working with you. Ask your friends if they would like to help you, even if you think they don’t care about vegan activism. A lot of my friends who are not vegan still enjoy helping me sample vegan food. Plus, if there is more than one person at the table one can hand fliers to each person that takes a sample while the other person talks to people or hands out samples.
In my experience, I usually set up a table with the samples in cups or on a tray with toothpicks in front of the packages of the products. I have a sign or two on the sides of the table that say “FREE VEGAN HOTDOGS” or “FREE SOYMILK,” or whatever it is that I’m sampling. People can take samples right off my table or tray while I also hand them directly to people walking by. Sometimes people want to talk to me or have questions about why I am giving away free food or about vegan eating. Your answers will vary from mine, but I always explain that I don’t work for the company and am doing this activity because I care and want people to eat vegan food. I also have a food handler permit (a card that certifies that you know proper food handling techniques), however I doubt this is necessary for most people, as I’ve never been asked for it.
I have found that people are very receptive to leaflets and the idea of eating vegan when they’re literally eating vegan food. Occasionally someone will dramatically spit out whatever you’ve given them, but just brush it off and let them know there are lots and lots of foods that don’t contain animal products, which they might like better. People are almost always happy to try the samples and only rarely have I ever been given a hard time. If someone is rude to you or antagonizing you, just ignore them. If they’re finding fault with you (which often happens when people feel guilty for eating animals), just remind them you’re doing the best you can and let it go. The most common negative comment I hear is “the plants that made this felt pain too”, which I don’t take seriously at all (clearly they don’t either if they’re eating the sample) and I often say that there is no need to kill and eat animals and give them a flier.
In case you don’t have the money to buy vegan food samples, or to pay for the fee for a table at an event (if it costs you anything), or to buy leaflets, I recommend checking out VegFund.org. VegFund is a non-profit that gives activists small grants in order to buy the supplies they need for vegan food sampling, video outreach and other projects to promote veganism. I have used VegFund for almost all of my food sampling events.