If you poll a room full of vegans and ask what their reasons were for deciding on a diet free of animal products, you'll hear a laundry list of reasons.
Many times, it was the first time they made the connection that the cheery Old McDonald's Farm we recited as a kid was perhaps not as advertised and little more than propaganda sing-a-long for the meat and dairy industry.
Others would say it was the first time they made a connection with their companion animal and realized the potential hypocrisy of loving one animal but eating the other.
And other times, initial reasons for going vegan were far less altruistic but still valid - weight loss, better skin, the way to avoid a triple bypass surgery, the gateway to the fountain of youth, you saw Queen Bey and Jay Z do it for 30 days and wanted to give it a go, or you heard it was a way to combat impotency.
For Animal Rights Foundation of Florida's Humane Educator James Wildman, the goal of his work is not necessarily to get everyone to pledge a vegan diet (although, that would be awesome!), but to at the very least start to re-think what they are eating and get people to see that our diet is a learned behavior based on a cultural story (i.e. - you believe you need cow's milk to be healthy and strong because you have been hearing it 'does a body good' since birth).
"I think for most people who are willing to listen to the reasons for going vegan - their health, the animals, and the environment - it's a pretty easy concept to grasp. The hard part for many is implementing it. A lack of social and family support can lead to some struggles in the beginning...We have been so conditioned as a culture to believe that it is necessary to eat animals, that when someone comes along and suggests otherwise, people don't know where to begin. So I try to show people that going vegan is not only sensible but easy," Wildman says.
Since 2007, Wildman has given his talk "101 Reasons to Go Vegan" to over 50 high schools and universities in South Florida. His YouTube presentation of the same name has garnered over 232,000 views and his last talk at Darbster sold out.
On Saturday, Wildman brings his 101 reasons to Darbster's Boca Raton location.
Wildman (who holds a Master's degree in Humane Education) says the easiest part for people to agree on is compassion for other living beings.
"Compassion for animals is something that most people can relate to and support," he says. "When people see the actual conditions that animals endure on factory farms (which makes up 90% of animal agriculture), most can empathize with their pain and suffering. For many, the ethical reasons are what drive people to go and remain vegan. And, when people learn about the health benefits of going vegan - no cholesterol, less saturated fat, no animal growth hormones, no stress hormones - the drive becomes that much greater. It's a win-win. No animal has to suffer or die for our health, or appetite."
But Wildman realizes his presentation is the alternative to the standard narrative that the meat and dairy industry is pumping out daily and they have a far greater budget than non-profits who promote a vegan lifestyle. Still he says it's the willingness of people to listen that keeps him going.
"These presentations have reached thousands of people from all walks of life, empowering youth and adults to live a healthier and more compassionate life," says Wildman. "The meat, dairy and egg industries have spent billions of dollars trying to convince people that animal death and suffering are necessary. My job is to give the alternative, to awaken the compassion in us all, and to remind people that eating animals is not only unnecessary but completely insane. Eating meat, dairy and eggs has become so ingrained in our culture that people are blinded to the facts around them; more people are dying of heart disease and cancer than ever before. But, as more people are willing to listen, a healthier and more humane world we will become."
Described as "A humorous and honest look at diet and culture" the free "101 Reasons to Go Vegan" presentation is scheduled from 4 to 5 p.m. Saturday with a pre-event happy hour from 3:30 to 4 p.m. After the talk, guests can take part in an all-you-can-eat buffet from 5 to 7 p.m. for $25. Advance tickets are required. Visit www.darbster.com for more info or call (561) 586-2622.