Edward Winters isn’t afraid of challenging conversations. In fact, he invites them. One chilly September afternoon, Winters — a veganism and animal rights advocate known more widely as “Earthling Ed”— sat outside the Science Center with a microphone, beneath a banner that read, “Give me your best argument against veganism.” Two professional-grade cameras were filming the scene for his over 400,000 YouTube subscribers. For hours, dozens of students congregated around Winters, braving the biting wind to present their contentions. Winters sat patiently through each conversation, calmly rebutting each argument posed by students and explaining his logic.
Those not familiar with Winters’s style of activism may see him as just another YouTuber asking students questions on campus, but to a few freshmen, he’s also a teacher. As a Media and Design Fellow at the university, Winters helps teach Animals and Politics — one of the classes offered through Harvard’s first-year writing program — alongside Sparsha Saha. The two began collaborating in 2020, when Winters created a webinar for her class. Now, Winters leads six in-class workshops for Saha to support students with their capstone projects, and he hopes to use his own experience as an activist to encourage students to find their own voices.
Winters’s style of activism focuses on drawing people — whether his students, the people he debates, or his viewers at home — into what he hopes are reasonable, logical, and understanding discussions about veganism. “The conversation I always try and strike up with people is one of viewing animals as deserving moral consideration,” Winters says in an interview. His content, which ranges from debates on college campuses to video essays, emphasizes the care and sympathy for all creatures that is fundamental to his ideology.
Winters first became a vegetarian after reading a 2014 article about a chicken truck crashing near Manchester, England. He starts many of his talks by referencing this article, painting a picture of the 1,500 chickens littered across the road, some killed by passing cars, others surviving but just barely, their wings and bodies broken and contorted. The horror Winters felt recontextualized the way he viewed animal suffering. After learning more about animal exploitation within the dairy industry, Winters went fully vegan.
Since then, he’s made it his mission to teach those around him about veganism and animal rights. “There’s a good number of academics and intellectuals talking about these issues, but in terms of advocates and educators, engaging with consumers and people, I feel that there’s not enough conversation around the merits of [veganism],” says Winters.
Social media has made conversations about veganism more accessible and widespread, though the attention the movement has received online is not always positive. Some of the most vocal vegan influencers have been criticized for their antagonistic methods and tone-deaf rhetoric. One of the most controversial vegan influencers, Kadie K. Diekmeyer, better known as “That Vegan Teacher” on TikTok, has been denounced for her inflammatory rhetoric and her conflation of animal rights abuses with human rights abuses, like the Holocaust.
“We should be extra careful of how we come across online and how we come across to the everyday person,” says Winters, commenting on this sort of divisive activism. “The moment that we stop seeming reasonable or logical or even just understanding, I think, is the moment where we lose people and lose their interest in this issue.”
Rather than seeing arguments against veganism as something to attack, Winters tries to use these moments as learning opportunities. He says that the students who sit down to talk with him are usually open to new ways of thinking. “I think that veganism is logical, which is just based on what we know about the biology of animals, the sentience of animals, and then applying the moral values that we’ve already had in a consistent way,” he says.
He also believes that logic often resonates better than appeals to emotion. “I like logic because I think it makes people feel less like they’ve been guilted into something,” says Winters. “I don’t want people to feel like I’m forcing my views on them. I am hopefully trying to encourage them to recognize that the views they already have actually aligned with veganism already.”
In addition to his work at Harvard, Winters has various other active initiatives, both online and offline: a new book called “This Is Vegan Propaganda: (And Other Lies the Meat Industry Tells You),” a vegan diner, TED Talks, an animal sanctuary, and a sustainable clothing brand. These projects are all part of Winters’s multi-pronged approach to dismantling animal injustice, an issue he calls a “hydra,” an evil that needs to be attacked from multiple angles.
Winters asserts that veganism is not only a diet, but also a lifestyle and way of thinking.
“What I think is really powerful about veganism is that it challenges one of our most ingrained biases and ingrained prejudices,” Winters says. “It really opens your eyes to thinking, ‘Well, where else are we out of sync here?’”