Struggling with being vegan? Or finding your advocacy niche? Learn how Mat Thomas discovered his inner vegan strengths.
Name: Mat Thomas
City: San Francisco
How long I have been vegetarian/vegan:
I’ve been vegetarian 9 years, vegan for 3½ years.
What motivated me to make this change:
I became a vegetarian soon after moving from New York to California: it was a time of major transition for me, and I was wide open to new experiences. I was attending grad school, studying to be a transpersonal psychotherapist, and was assigned to read an interview with John Robbins for a class called Paradigms of Consciousness. I became a vegetarian that day, in July 1996.
Over the next few years, I tried going vegan many times, but I didn’t meet any vegans until I’d already been vegetarian for five years, so change was difficult. I was working as a business proposal writer for a managed behavioral healthcare company, occupying a cubicle in a Financial District skyscraper, when I met my first two vegans (out of 2,500 employees). We’d been going to dinner Friday nights, and their influence facilitated my transformation from conflicted vegetarian into empowered vegan.
Becoming a vegan was one of my delayed responses to 9/11: like many people, I was asking hard questions about the meaning of life, and that’s when the change took hold. I became a vegan in February 2002, after eating a cheese omelet that made me nauseous. I said to myself, “That’s it,” and it was: I just knew then that, from that day forward, I was going to be a vegan for the rest of my life.
How I got started in activism:
Determined to help animals, I began doing activism within weeks of going vegan. Through BAV, I found out what was happening in the Bay Area. I started out by leafleting with other activists (usually accompanied by a TV/VCR showing factory farming videos) because that seemed like entry-level “activism” to me. After a couple of months of this, I got involved with a local grassroots group that was just starting up at the time called Freedom For Animals (FFA). I hit the streets with them on various campaigns, and wrote some flyers using my background in marketing and psychology. I enjoyed seeing “average folks” actually read what I’d written about factory farming issues, and hopefully making more compassionate choices as a result.
I did public outreach on and off for more than two years, but decided to stop because the emotions it raised – grief, anguish, rage – were driving me to despair. Ultimately, I found I could be a more effective advocate by focusing my energies on writing. To prosper, activists must do what they find most personally exciting and motivating: for me, that’s working with language.
The hardest part of being vegan:
Living in a society that engages in a form of speciesist holocaust every moment of every day, and having to interact with those who can’t see the truth or empathize with enslaved animals. The fact is that most non-vegetarians would rather eat the corpse-flesh of a factory-farmed animal than read the words I write to describe that animal’s life and death! In psychological terms, this widespread disconnect from reality is symptomatic of an undiagnosed emotional disorder of epidemic proportions. Yet, killing and eating animals is the norm, so I strive to attain a higher level of sanity in a world where mass murder is considered natural, acceptable and inevitable. I cope by trying to use my voice to move people toward greater sensitivity.
What I am working on:
- I work for In Defense of Animals (IDA), writing and editing their weekly e-news, action alerts (e.g., Bay Area Events), web content, leaflets, brochures, magazine articles: whatever the organization needs.
- I’ve written a number of articles for VegNews, and wrote some profiles of companies specializing in vegan travel for the latest issue.
- I just finished my first article for Satya magazine, which will probably be in the October issue, and have plans for more articles.
- I write a monthly column for The Animal World, a paper out of Tennessee.
- I enjoy writing for BAV, and a lot of my stuff is on their website to read or print out for tabling: The Rough Guide to Animal Rights,
- • I volunteer for the production crew of Undercover TV, an animal rights television show that broadcasts on over 50 public access stations nationwide, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Marin County, Pacifica and Palo Alto.
How others can get involved (with above):
- Sign up for IDA’s e-news and action alerts at www.idausa.org.
- Watch Undercover TV (check www.undercovertv.org for days/times/channels).
- I’m looking for artists and graphic designers who want to collaborate on advocacy materials (e.g., brochures and booklets) that will reflect a high level of visual/textual integration and eye-catching aesthetic style. E-mail me if you’re interested.
Advice to aspiring activists:
Apply your unique skills and talents to helping animals. If you’re good at something and you love doing it, make that work for yourself and the animals.
Who/what inspires you to keep going?
I share my life and apartment with two incredible cats, Zelda & Jasmine (a.k.a., Jazzie), both adopted from SF Animal Care & Control. One look in their eyes convinces me that seeking to save animals’ lives is among the noblest of callings.