The "Vegan Prom" and Other Forms of Activism

04/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Anneli Rufus Journalist, author of 'Unworthy,' 'Party of One', and 'Stuck.'

Last night, millions of Americans watched CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric visiting an Iowa hog farm. The seven-minute segment sparked responses at Dairy Herd Management magazine and its sister publication, Pork.

"The fact that she used the term 'factory farm' or 'factory farming' five times in a three-minute period probably showed her bias," is how the story at DHM begins.

If Jack Norris had his way, hog farms anywhere would be a thing of the past.

Norris heads Vegan Outreach, a nonprofit whose volunteers distribute millions of free booklets every year at concerts and festivals, on college campuses and streetcorners. On a single day last week at the University of Central Florida, VO leafletters handed out 7,000 booklets.

The group's mission "is to encourage people to make their diet as close to vegan as we can persuade them to go," says Norris, a California registered dietician who remembers happening upon the PETA benefit album, Animal Liberation, in a record store some 23 years ago:

"I had always disliked how I saw people treating animals and this album resonated with me. I sent away for more info from PETA and learned about farmed animals. Because the animal suffering was and is so intense, I decided I had to do something to stop it, so I got involved in the local animal rights organization in Cincinnati." There he met fellow activist Matt Ball; in 1993 the pair decided to form their own organization "to help promote what we wanted to do, which was get the message out to more people on a more personal basis. ... At the time, there was very little effective information on going vegetarian for [the sake of] farm animals, and so we decided that one of the first things our new group needed to do was print some hard-hitting booklets and start handing them out."

"Most breeding sows spend their adult lives inside stalls without room to turn around," we read in the VO booklet Why Vegan?, which includes horrifying photographs of stockyards, slaughterhouses and even bison "culling." In another VO booklet, Compassionate Choices, details how chickens with "large tumors" enter the human food chain and male chicks, "of no value to the egg industry," are "typically ... gassed or ground up alive."

VO supports its efforts with the help of events such as last summer's "vegan prom" and a Vegan Valentine's Day Dance set for this Friday Night in Berkeley, California. In keeping with VO's principles, the night's organizer is Karine Brighten, the Berkeley area's only vegan events planner, who specializes in green weddings, conferences, and fundraisers. Along with music, the dance will feature vegan hors d'oeuvres and desserts crafted by local artisan bakeries -- including Oakland's Fat Bottom Bakery -- as well as goodie bags, a date auction, speed dating for singles, and raffle prizes: Appropriately enough, most of these are gift certificates for local vegetarian restaurants and companies such as MooShoes, a New York-based cruelty-free boutique.

"The main thing we hope to achieve is to raise funds for our work on behalf of farmed animals as well as have a really fun time," Norris says.