This week I welcome part of The Food Duo to Cowgirls & Collard Greens! Carmella Lanni-Giardina is half of the dynamic vegan twosome that covers all things plant based on The Food Duo, a vegan lifestyle blog. Additionally, Carmella is the Founder and co-host, along with her husband, of #VeganFoodChat a weekly live chat that occurs each Wednesday evening on Twitter. I had the pleasure of meeting Carmella briefly in August of 2013 at the Will Travel for Vegan Food party and benefit for Woodstock Animal Sanctuary as well as the Vegan Mainstream Professional Bootcamp conference, both in New York City. I had no idea how much of a talented mover and shaker she was, and continues to be, in the vegan community until afterwards. I am honored to have her be a part of my blog this week where she shares her expertise in building vegan communities. Take it away Carmella, and thanks so much for your contribution!
xo & yeehaw, Kayle
Veganism has certainly hit the mainstream HARD in recent years. It’s a beautiful thing to see individuals come into it, learn from it and share it with others. The reasons why we go vegan vary from health reasons to ethics. It’s the differences that can make any community special and strong. So, how can one build a community of vegans? How can it grow? How can it thrive?
Merriam-Webster defines community as a “a unified body of individuals.” Underlying that definition is the who, what, where, when and why communities exist. I find there’s something about sitting at a table with people who share similar interests or tastes. Conversations flow. Ideas sprout. Friendships form. This is how communities are made.
The communities to which we belong create affiliations. As we tie ourselves to be identified with our groups, it’s important to maintain or deepen the bonds made and the reasons we’ve come together. Some communities grow organically, just the nature of being. Others require structure to build and grow. Whether it’s stated or even known, every community has a purpose. To thrive, it needs passion and the ability to act upon it.
Being a part of a vegan community
Whether you’re a new or a seasoned vegan, there is a common bond that makes all of us a greater community. It’s our decision to not consume and to reduce the suffering of ALL animals. At the same time, the vegan community is diverse, full of people from different walks of life. The reasons we enter the community are varied. The motivations to stay within it are different for each member. The passions we have for our veganism and how we connect it to other factors of life are frequently not alike.
Within this greater community of veganism, smaller, distinct communities are formed. Some are based simply on location. Others are baked around food. Many stem from intersectionality, the crossroads of where veganism ties to other social issues. Often, as many of us do in life, we belong to more than one community; some from our own creation.
Part of being in any community is rooted in having needs met individually and as a whole. For each person, it could be a desire for education and knowledge. It could also be finding a sense of kinship, camaraderie and support. Not everyone “gets” what makes us who we are and why we do the things that we do in life. Many vegans can attest to that by the questions we’ve heard and responses we’ve received from others who lack understanding.
Are vegan communities really that different?
Starting a community can happen in 2 ways: organically or by design. Why people come together isn’t always explainable. Sometimes, it just happens. It’s possible for communities to form as an extension of something else and just grow. It’s like meeting a stranger and then becoming friends. There is a spark that kicks thing off. It’s as simple or as complex as an idea.
Organic communities. I’m not referring to food or clothing, but there are communities for that! Organic communities are those that form not necessarily by intention. For instance, on social media, communities have been created around Twitter hashtags. Blogs and their commentary can create community. Attending a local event and speaking with friends or a few attendees can lead to a community as well. What is at the base is interaction and conversation.
Communities by design. Think back to when you were a kid. Did you belong to any groups, fan clubs, school clubs or “secret societies?” Do you remember how they were created? I remember sitting on the school bleachers with friends, talking about something we saw on TV. Suddenly, we decided to create a club. We structured it as to who would lead it, how many people we’d allow, what activities we did. Looking back at that club, sure it was silly, but it was a learning experience in how to organize.
Communities can be as structured or as loose as you want. Not all communities have a defined leader. It has to work in a way that’s best for all involved, just like in government (yeah right)? Seriously, when creating a community, there needs to be checks and balances to support its system and the members.
How does this work amongst vegans? Well, being vegan doesn’t mean that you do things differently in how you create a community. You have your own premise, ideals, and ways of organizing. You also have to learn to engage with members, compromise at time and be flexible. Again, the process isn’t exclusive to vegans.
Building & growing a vegan community
There isn’t a singular step-by-step manual on how to develop a community. However, you do need to have a foundation set, as you would in building a house. You need tools and materials to put a frame or structure together. It requires a team for upkeep and regular maintenance. Yes, I used a house-building analogy here. I could also throw in some gardening references, but you get the point, right?
Your community can be online or offline. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. A lot will depend on your time, commitment and ability to manage them in whatever way you choose. That management will be key to your group’s success, no matter the form.
When you start a community, think about what you ideally would like to come out of it. How should your group be defined? Consider the people you want to be a part of it. Ask yourself why this community is necessary, why it needs to exist and the value it brings in sharing veganism with others.
Whether your group is based on local potlucks at each other’s homes or online debates on serious social subject, you have to remember that you’re not the lone ranger in the group, just because you’re set or are seen as its leader. You’re interacting with PEOPLE. You have communicating with PEOPLE. If you have difficulty with that, ask others to help you. The best communities thrive on support and teamwork.
Any movement or community is only as strong as its members. Communities can only flourish if the members do as well, and not only in size. Quality vs. quantity comes down to how you build and grow together for the greater good of your group’s core values. Whether it’s around a table or in front of a screen, veganism can only progress with the help, support and openness of its communities.
Carmella Lanni-Giardina, VLCE is the “Macaroon” half of The Food Duo, a vegan lifestyle blog she shares with her husband, Carlo! She’s founder and co-host of the weekly #VeganFoodChat on Twitter, a May 2014 graduate of Main Street Vegan Academy and an “organizer” of the Westchester NY Veggie EatUp group on Meetup.com. She uses her voice and work to spread the messages of compassionate living and community building.
Want to learn more about Carmella? Her About.me page is quite telling!