VEGAN PROFILE: Ashley Fournier

NAME: Ashley Fournier
AGE: 23
LOCATION: Columbus, Ohio
JOB: Administrative assistant, vegan activist, and volunteer outreach coordinator at Mercy For Animals

When Ashley Fournier was in seventh grade, her English teacher gave the class an assignment: write a persuasive paper on a controversial topic. Her teacher offered the issue of animal testing as an example. Like most children, Ashley had always felt a deep connection with animals, so she took her teacher’s suggestion and got to work reading, researching, and writing.

“After presenting my project, an important connection formed in my mind, Ashley recalls. “I realized that these animals I was speaking about—monkeys, rats, and rabbits—were no different from the animals I was eating. It really put that hypocrisy in plain view.

The assignment forced Ashley to awaken to the realities of how animals are treated, not only in medical and cosmetic testing, but in the mass production of food.

It was never something she’d been encouraged to question. Ashley had grown up in a typical American family. “We ate meat and dairy, she says. “I enjoyed eating meat as much as anyone. I would get excited when my family grilled our steaks, or when I got to order an elegant seafood dish at my favorite restaurant.

At just 12 years old, she made the decision to go vegetarian.

A decade later, she was at her desk at work when an email from PETA appeared in her inbox. It was about the treatment of cows on dairy farms. Ashley had been considering veganism for a while, but had always been too daunted to commit. Once she started reading, she knew it was time.

“I was blown away, she says. “I realized that my purchasing choices were contributing to this horror. I closed the email and went vegan the next day.

Although Ashley felt good about finally aligning her diet with her values, those early days of veganism were lonely and challenging. She hadn’t yet found her confidence or her community, both of which are crucial to staying motivated and empowered. Ashley’s family and friends clearly felt a bit threatened and defensive, despite their best efforts to support her decision.

Overcome with the need to educate herself about veganism, to read and watch everything she could, Ashley went through a period of profound sadness as she realized just how deeply ingrained and widespread the abuse of animals really was. Ashley remembers this period as a very isolating time—no one around her was especially moved or activated by her newfound knowledge, and she couldn’t understand why.

“Initially, I would judge people, she says. “That’s natural and that’s common. Once you’ve awakened to all these horrors, you feel like everybody else should as well.

“She did have one unexpected ally: her boyfriend, Tyler, who transitioned from carnivore straight to vegan, not only to share in and support Ashley’s new worldview, but also to protect animals and the environment.”

Slowly, Ashley began to connect with animal welfare organizations on social media, attend meetups in her area, and volunteer her time to help with leafleting. She eagerly encourages any new vegan to do the same. Ashley started blogging about the challenges and triumphs of her transition, and became the local volunteer outreach coordinator at Mercy For Animals in Columbus, Ohio. As her sense of community solidified, she started to become a prouder, more joyful activist.

Ashley has been vegan for just over a year now, and increasingly, she feels a responsibility to help educate and empower others.

“You’re more likely to save animals by reaching a broad number of people rather than focusing on one person and trying to change that person’s mind, she explains. “The best way to do that is leafleting. People make choices individually and in their own time. Nobody likes being told what to do. Don’t even waste time on somebody who’s reluctant to hear the message. Simply be a joyful person, be happy with your choices, and often people will start approaching you and asking questions.

Despite her rewarding and meaningful activist work, Ashley still encounters people who hold outdated, damaging, and unfounded views of what it means to be vegan.

“I’d like to dispel the myth that vegans are judgmental, she says. “It takes a lot of sensitivity and reflection to think critically about what we’ve been taught all of our lives and replace it with our own conclusions and values. But that knowledge of animal cruelty can be difficult to deal with. It can be frustrating to talk with people who are resistant to knowing how meat and dairy are made. When vegans talk negatively about eating meat, they are not criticizing the person who eats meat. They are genuinely concerned with the institutionalized practice of cruelty to animals and want to change it.

Written by: Sophie Kohn