The blank look on her face and the extended silence finally clued me in to realizing that she had never heard the word before.
I would bet that she isn't that great of an exception...maybe she's even in the majority. Maybe one of the easier bits of consciousness raising any of us could do is to, inoffensively and unobtrusively, find out if folks we meet and/or know are aware of the word VEGAN and what it means...and once we discover ignorance then we can do some information sharing.
The title of this post presents a visual of the origin of the word. Some British vegetarians, way back in 1944, founded The Vegan Society and coined the word VEGetariAN by taking the first 3 letters and the last 2 letters from the term vegetarian. Donald Watson is the name most often associated with this founding and he is a fine human for all vegans to reference as our founder but do remember he didn't do it alone. Their first newsletter indicated there were at least 25 members who shared his concern about the exploitation of animals and who wanted to avoid any and all foods or 'products' or behaviors that contributed to this exploitation. Here's an excerpt from that initial newsletter:
Having followed a diet free from all animal food for periods varying from a few weeks in some cases, to many years in others, we believe our ideas and experiences are sufficiently mature to be recorded. The unquestionable cruelty associated with the production of dairy produce has made it clear that lacto-vegetarianism is but a half-way house between flesh-eating and a truly humane, civilised diet, and we think, therefore, that during our life on earth we should try to evolve sufficiently to make the 'full journey'.
We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals' bodies. Even though the scientific evidence may be lacking, we shrewdly suspect that the great impediment to man's moral development may be that he is a parasite of lower forms of animal life.If you aren't familiar with these founders and what their original goals were, I urge you to read about them...and...if you are like me...read about them more than once. I find I discover something new or realize some facet that I previously missed each time I return to their writings. Here's a link to an interview with Mr. Watson that was conducted when he was 92 years old. He was a very admirable being and that's a heartening thing. More good information can be found in the Wikipedia article on Veganism.
Sometimes I forget that one of the goals of veganism, aside from the profoundly important one of reducing and/or eliminating the unnecessary suffering and death inflicted on living beings by us human animals is to elevate the consciousness and "moral development" of all. It really is quite a step, if you think about it, to move to a position of respecting all living beings and of opting out of the stance of "owner" or "master" of other living beings.
Not only do the other animals benefit from veganism...we human animals do too by not falling into the power-trip trap of thinking we are better than other beings. We can recognize the inherent repulsiveness and destructiveness of the superior/inferior or the "better than" position when we encounter it being played out human to human...that destructiveness also applies when we apply it across species too. That sort of interaction damages and diminishes and victimizes all who are involved in it, not just the identified victim (although they suffer the most).
So...maybe you don't need booklets and gory pictures and signs and such to do some consciousness raising...maybe all you need to do is to increase someone's vocabulary...and, of course, to live as a good member of the community of living beings...by being vegan.