Meet The Man Behind Vegan Outreach

Today we’re talking to Matt Ball, co-founder, along with Jack Norris, of Vegan Outreach (VO) . Since 1993, Matt, as Executive Director, has grown VO into the leading grassroots animal advocacy organization, with active members across the country and around the world distributing VO’s detailed, documented booklets, Why Vegan , Compassionate Choices , and Even If You Like Meat , along with the Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating .

VO has distributed more than 13,000,000 of these powerful booklets. As Matt said when he was inducted into the Animal Rights Hall of Fame , Vegan Outreach’s mission is to make everyone and anyone, in any situation, the most effective advocate for animals possible.

Over the past 17 years, VO has published some of the most influential essays, including How Vegan and A Meaningful Life . Matt is also co-author, with Bruce Friedrich, of The Animal Activist’s Handbook .

MJR:
Thanks for talking to us, Matt! Was there an inciting circumstance or incident that caused you to go vegan?

Matt:
After graduating high school in a small, rural town in Ohio, I was going to be a rocket scientist, make good money, and live the “American Dream.” But my roommate freshman year – Fred McClintock – was a vegetarian, and his prodding eventually led me to go vegetarian. That, in turn, led me to meet other vegetarians, and eventually Jack Norris via the local animal rights group.

Once I spent time with vegans, I heard about the reality behind eggs and dairy. More importantly, I saw being vegan was possible (although much more difficult 20 plus years ago in Ohio!).

MJR:
What’s the one food product you can’t live without?

Matt:
You know, there really is no single food that I couldn’t do without. There are so many great things out there that if one product was discontinued (or got too expensive), I’d replace it with another. And it might lead me to explore something new – that’s happened in the past.

MJR:
What are some positive changes you’ve noticed, in your health or otherwise, that occurred since you started your diet?

Matt:
My entire life has changed since I went vegan. My career has obviously changed as well, and I’ve met and had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing and dedicated people in the world.

More importantly, I met Anne Green, my wife of 18 years, when I was head of the Students for Animal Rights group at the University of Illinois.

MJR:
What’s the most awkward food encounter you’ve had in relation to your diet?

Matt:
When I went vegetarian, and then vegan, my family didn’t react with, shall we say, the greatest enthusiasm. This was in part my fault. For one, I didn’t know nearly enough about nutrition to convince them that I could cut animal products out of my diet and remain healthy (I’m famous for not liking vegetables).

Second, I initially had the fire of the converted, and was rather angry (and preachy) when others didn’t react to the truth of factory farms as I did. It took me quite a while to learn how to deal constructively with situations like that. I talk about it a lot in the The Animal Activist’s Handbook .

MJR:
“The Fire of the Converted” – a lot of us can relate to that! It was a great idea to write about how to deal with those situations.

So, is there any type of situation (e.g. social, survival) that would cause you to cheat on your diet? When?

Matt:
I’d like to think that over time, my survival is a net good for the animals, so I think I would “cheat” on my diet to survive. But it also depends on what you mean by “cheat.” I’ll take medicines that have been tested on animals, I’ll drink tap water filtered with bone char, I’ll eat a veggie burger cooked in a non-vegan restaurant, etc. – all things that some vegans consider to be “non-vegan.”

But to me, “vegan” isn’t a diet or a set of rules or exclusions. Rather, my veganism is about trying to reduce as much suffering in the world as possible. To do so requires more than just making the right purchases, but also being an example that leads to more people changing their habits and diets.

MJR:
It’s your last day on Earth and you can eat anything you want for your final meal… what would it be?

Matt:
The veg sampler plate from the Ethiopian restaurant Meskerem in Washington, D.C. Would have to be delivered, though, because I’d want to spend the day here at home.

MJR:
Do you think this is a diet that everyone in the world needs to adopt or are we better off with only a portion of the population following it?

Matt:
The world would be unbelievably better if everyone respected other animals as the individuals they are, whose lives matter to them, rather than viewing them as food.

MJR:
If you could make everyone do just one thing that would advance the vegan cause, what would that thing it be?

Matt:
I’d just want people to have full knowledge of the hidden reality behind their food choices, so they aren’t making decisions based on agribusiness’ lies. I’d want everyone to work in a chicken farm and a slaughterhouse, so they could really experience, and not just see, the horrors e.g. Meet Your Meat .

MJR:
Whom do you most respect/look up to in the vegan community?

Matt:
I wouldn’t really be able to pick one person. The people who have helped create Vegan Outreach and make it what it is today – Jack, Anne, Jon Camp, Lauren Panos, etc. – are simply amazing folks who have accomplished so much! (We also have a core of supremely thoughtful donors who are completely dedicated to having the greatest possible impact with their contributions.)

I am honored to count (listed in alphabetical order) Josh Balk, Bruce Friedrich, G Matheny, Ingrid Newkirk, Paul Shapiro, and Peter Singer as personal friends.

MJR:
What is your favorite Earth Balance® product to use, and in what recipe?

Matt:
We use Earth Balance® Original Spread the most, and our favorite recipe is the one for “buttercream” frosting. We use it on chocolate cake or cinnamon rolls (or sugar cookies). But we more frequently have it (Earth Balance, not frosting!) on pancakes, with maple syrup, on Sundays.

MJR:
Thanks Matt! We’ll post the recipe for Vegan “Buttercream” Icing this afternoon!

Why are you vegan? Tell us about it here and you could receive a coupon for free Earth Balance!

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