Compassionate Candy
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Mercy For Animals supporter and animal activist Liz Dee lives the sweet life ... literally. Her family created the American classic and insanely delicious Smarties candies over 60 years ago!

Now at the helm of the Smarties communications department, Liz proudly lets fans know that her family's candies are 100 percent vegan. A fantastic page on the company's website refers to the sugary, yet tart, confections as "cruelty-free" and declares, "We are delighted to offer a compassionate candy to satisfy the vegan sweet tooth!"

We recently sat down with Liz to find out more about her secret to success and her inspiring activism.

1. Tell us the story of how you went vegan.

Like so many people, I grew up a devoted omnivore. I loved eating meat, dairy and eggs, and never questioned where these "products" came from. I wasn't aware of the suffering required for those items to be on my plate, nor did I want to open myself up to face that inconvenient truth. At dinner parties, I would (inwardly) roll my eyes at vegetarians. I knew one vegan, and I thought she was extreme.

One day in August, 2011, everything changed: I went from a die-hard omnivore to vegan in a matter of minutes. I had no intention of becoming vegan. I was just doing research for work. Because consumers were regularly contacting Smarties Candy Company asking if Smarties were vegan, we decided to add a page to our website explaining that our candy was indeed vegan.

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I had to do research to write about Smarties being vegan because the only thing I knew about veganism at the time was that I thought it sounded terrible and I wanted nothing to do with it. As I was researching veganism and figuring out how to write about it, I experienced a complete change of heart. The information was so compelling, the evidence so concrete, and the suffering so abominable, that I became convinced to go vegan myself.

Undercover videos from factory farms and slaughterhouses, such as those produced by Mercy For Animals, played a huge role in my awakening. Once I saw the horrific practices required to produce meat, dairy and eggs, I could not in good conscience continue to support them. In short, animal products are cruel and unnecessary, and I feel much better off without them!

2. What made your family consider promoting Smarties as a vegan product?

We saw promoting Smarties as a vegan product as an extension of our customer service. Our website is designed to be fun but also informative. We constantly receive emails and calls from customers asking us all sorts of things about our products. If we are getting enough contact from customers about a specific issue, we will consider adding new information to our website. In this case, we heard from concerned vegans so frequently that we decided it made sense to add the vegan landing page to Smarties.com.

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3. Outside of work, what are some ways you like to get active for farmed animals?

I am always finding new ways to be active on behalf of farmed animals. Where to begin?! Of course, three (or more!) meals a day, I eat exclusively vegan. I also avoid purchasing, wearing, or using non-vegan clothes or products. When I go out to eat to a non-vegan restaurant, I try to always call in advance. I actually wrote an article about restaurant advocacy for Our Hen House. I encourage people to never doubt their power as a consumer to advocate non-violence. Businesses listen. After all, it's because of consumers speaking up that I went vegan!

I love participating in animal advocacy; it fills me with hope. Last year, I overcame my fear of leafleting and now leaflet regularly. It is an incredibly empowering way to advocate for animals (I wrote an article about that too!).

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I also volunteer with local vegan student groups and help out at paid-per-view events with Mercy For Animals, where we pay people a dollar to watch the four-minute version of "Farm to Fridge." Because watching videos of how animals are raised and slaughtered had such a profound impact on me, I am dedicated to sharing this life-altering footage with people who are ready to see where meat, dairy and eggs come from. The feedback we get from paid-per-views is phenomenal. Many people start out skeptical and then go vegan on the spot.

Last but not least, I am the associate producer for the Our Hen House podcast. Our Hen House is a multi-media powerhouse non-profit that empowers people to change the world for animals, and the podcast is its most popular program. In addition to the podcast, it produces an online magazine, a brand new eBook Publishing Arm called "Hen Press," and - launching later this month - a TV show hosted by the fabulous co-founders, Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan. I highly encourage anyone looking for new ideas on how to advocate for animals to visit OurHenHouse.org and check out our resources.

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 4. What is your advice for vegan entrepreneurs just getting started?

First of all, to any vegan entrepreneur: You are incredible! Thank you so much for your bravery and commitment to dedicate your professional life to changing the world for animals. I send you a great big virtual high five!!!

To answer your question, as a businessperson, I would say that the most important thing to focus on is offering the best overall product or service, not the best vegan product or service. In other words, vegan businesses should strive to be better than their non-vegan rivals in every way. Through appealing to omnivores and vegans alike, you hugely expand your target market. This allows for the possibility of greater success and a larger impact for farmed animals.
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