Sunday, July 23, 2017

“Have you ever had a bad vegan experience?”

As discussed here, objective surveys of public opinion have shown “vegan” to be a severely damaged brand. (And the attacks, vitriol, and censorship I've encountered for simply pointing out these studies seems like a conscious attempt to prove the public right in their perception!)

One Step 
advisor, Dan Kuzma (right), once gave me great advice for using this fact about public opinion to be able to reach new people. Dan works at Youngstown State in Ohio, and speaks before classes all the time. His insight led me to change my approach. What follows is one example of why it is important to be honest about public perception, and what we gain from reaching people where they are (please also see also this related story from 2015):

Something was wrong.

As I worked through my prepared remarks, I sensed a distinct lack of interest. Funny slides went by without even a chuckle. My questions went ignored. Many in the audience simply looked down – not to take notes, but simply because they weren’t engaged.
Article about my time
with this class

I knew I had to do something, so I asked:

“How many of you have had a bad vegan experience?”

To my left, the professor laughed.

Only later, after the class had ended and all the lingering students had left, did the professor tell me the class hadn’t wanted me there. When she had discussed my visit the previous week, the consensus was, “Vegans are angry. Vegans are fanatics. Vegans are unreasonable.” And “Vegans are nuts." 

But by unknowingly referencing their stated dislike of vegans, I had gotten through. Having broken the ice with “bad vegan experience,” the questions came quickly. I did my best to emphasize that my only goal was to reduce suffering as much as possible. For example, I’d rather that three people ate half as many animals than have one person go vegan – as this saves more animals and each meat reducer has more potential for further change.  

One of the early questions was, “Do you think all killing is wrong?” In a twist on the Socratic method, I replied, “What do you think my answer will be?” 

“That all killing is wrong.” 

“And what do you think?”

“Not all killing is wrong. Mercy killings, for example.”

Well, yes, I agreed. I would never keep a dog or cat alive if the rest of their life was only going to be suffering. I’ve experienced times when I’ve wanted to die; if I knew all I had to look forward to was more suffering, I’d want the option to end it.

Prompted by other questions, I agreed that not all suffering is equal, and not all “animals” have the same capacity for suffering. Fish almost certainly do not have exactly the same capacity to suffer as the great apes. Clams and oysters can’t suffer at all. 

And yes, I admitted the general treatment of different species does vary. I’d much rather be reincarnated as a cow destined to be slaughtered for beef than as a chicken being raised for meat (to make it fair, one would have to be reincarnated ~250 times as a chicken – a truly hellish scenario – to provided the same amount of “meat” as a steer). 

As the students realized I wasn’t there to preach at them (one told me later that they expected moralizing and scolding), but instead to have an honest exploration of the issues, the questions got deeper. For example: No, I’d rather not exist at all than be a factory farmed chicken or pig. But I don’t know if non-existence would be preferable to the life of any cow in any circumstance. 

This entire time, I knew some people outside the classroom would disagree with my shades-of-grey answers. But the point isn’t to reinforce an easy, black-and-white worldview. I wasn't there to make people who already agree with me feel good about themselves.

Rather, my goal was to get these students to take animals seriously, to really consider the issues and the implications of their choices. 

And they did! Over and over, someone would say, “I never thought of it that way.” “I never considered that.” “No one has ever put it like that before.” “I can see that.” They all knew – and had rejected out-of-hand – the caricature of the vegan worldview (everything all-or-nothing, all killing wrong, honey as bad as veal, etc.).

But the conversation we were having was a different ballgame.

The discussion went on and on, respectful, insightful, and sincere. It went on after the class was supposed to end. No one left. Eventually, the professor stepped in, but students stayed around to ask more questions. (Since then, I’ve been contacted by many of them who had additional questions or who want to talk more.)

The class wasn’t a “vegan” experience, good or bad. It was a discussion of and for animals, the unseen individuals these students rarely (or never) considered previously. At least for these students, animals won’t be forgotten.

The professor – not a vegetarian but sympathetic – was surprised and pleased. “You won them over. You really won them over.”

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Wages of Sin

As many of you know, the Vox video received some ... less-than-favorable reactions from those who are already vegan (despite what I actually said).

But there have been a lot of interesting reactions from the target audience – people who currently eat animals.

For example, the reporter who put the video together gave up eating chickens, and later told me it was surprisingly easy.

One of the two videographers who ran the shoot pulled me aside to ask details about how to eat vegan.

Yesterday, some of my relatives came across the video. I then got this email:

“Very good! Makes sense to us. I'm giving up chicken.”

Thanks to everyone who has been sharing the video (which has over 820,000 views on YouTube, and about 500,000 on Facebook) and promoting One Step's message!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Big Numbers Hurt

As discussed on this blog before, Vox has another good explainer of why:

A psychologist explains the hard limits of human compassion
Why do we ignore mass atrocities? It has to do with something called “psychic numbing.”

Saturday, July 15, 2017

July 16

But the single most remarkable and defining moment of the past 500 years came at 05:29:45 on 16 July 1945. At that precise second, American scientists detonated the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico. From that point onward, humankind had the capability not only to change the course of history, but to end it.
-Yuval Harari, Sapiens

Happy Birthday, Ellen!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Veganism vs Animals

My friend Tobias (whose new book is out) recently explored whether Israel really is the vegan miracle many claim.

Tobias cites claims that Israel is "the most vegan country," a "vegan paradise," and even considered "proof" of the efficacy of certain vegan advocacy tactics.

According to other sources, Tobias shows that Israel's per capita meat consumption is one of the highest in the world. Worse, Tobias notes they are the largest consumers of chickens in the world.

This means that in Israel, the average person eats more factory-farmed animals than anyone else. Although it may be a great country for vegans, it is the exact opposite for animals.

We tend to judge news based on how it makes us (vegans) feel or how it helps us (e.g., more vegan options). But for me, vegans aren't the measure we should use. Rather, the only metric that matters is how many animals are suffering and dying.

In other words, we shouldn't judge something as "good" solely because it's vegan, good news for vegans, or proof of vegan "victories." Instead, we must look at how a new tactic or news actually impacts animals. Given that per-capita consumption of animals is at an all-time high (in the US and Israel), we need to focus on actually helping animals, rather than making vegans feel good.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Do You Love Books?

Thanks to generous friends, Anne and I received and read the following books:

We would rather pass these along thank keep them stacked up somewhere. If you would like one, please contact me. Preference given to One Step donors, of course. 😇

PS: If you shop at Amazon, using this link:

Will support One Step's work, allowing us to reach even more people! Thanks so much!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Free Speech

I tend to be on the "free speech" side of most debates (having been censored myself), but I am not sure everyone (especially well-off white men) considers all aspects of every situation.

The Supreme Court has listed various restrictions on free speech (below), such as yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater. I'm not sure I see much distinction between that and lying to incite hatred and violence against people.

For example: there are public figures who claim trans people molest young children in public bathrooms. This claim is simply not true - trans individuals are the victims of sexual crimes at a higher-than-normal rate, not the perpetrators. Knowing this, I can understand an argument that people spouting this hateful and inciting lie shouldn't be given a platform. I can certainly understand protesting strongly against allowing such an individual to speak at my school or in my community.

The Supreme Court has held that "advocacy of the use of force" is unprotected when it is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and is "likely to incite or produce such action".[1][2] In Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the conviction of a Ku Klux Klangroup for "advocating ... violence ... as a means of accomplishing political reform" because their statements at a rally did not express an immediate, or imminent intent to do violence.[3] This rule amended a previous decision of the Court, in Schenck v. United States (1919), which simply decided that a "clear and present danger" could justify a congressional rule limiting speech. The primary distinction is that the latter test does not criminalize "mere advocacy".[4]
In Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942), the Supreme Court held that speech is unprotected if it constitutes "fighting words".[30] Fighting words, as defined by the Court, is speech that "tend[s] to incite an immediate breach of the peace" by provoking a fight, so long as it is a "personally abusive [word] which, when addressed to the ordinary citizen, is, as a matter of common knowledge, inherently likely to provoke a violent reaction".[31] Additionally, such speech must be "directed to the person of the hearer" and is "thus likely to be seen as a 'direct personal insult'".[32][33]

Threats of violence that are directed at a person or group of persons that has the intent of placing the target at risk of bodily harm or death are generally unprotected.[38] However, there are several exceptions. For example, the Supreme Court has held that "threats may not be punished if a reasonable person would understand them as obvious hyperbole", he writes.[39][40] Additionally, threats of "social ostracism" and of "politically motivated boycotts" are constitutionally protected.[41] However, sometimes even political speech can be a threat, and thus becomes unprotected.[42]

Sunday, July 2, 2017

My Dearest Dream

A longtime friend recently provided this feedback regarding One Step’s approach to advocacy:

I don't have much faith that many vegans, at least among those who are active in advocacy, will be willing to deviate from vegan orthodoxy. They seem to equate strategy and ideology. Our opponents certainly don't do that, which gives them a decisive advantage in the conflict.

This might be the most insightful comment I’ve read all year.

It is useful to keep this in mind when you read through your Facebook feed and fundraising materials from different groups. If you are like me, you’ll see a significant trend in the comments:

  • Is this pushing exactly what I want? (“I don’t want clean meat [therefore, no one should be pursuing it]. Everyone should eat exactly as I do!”)
  • Does this promote my ideology and make me and my tribe look good? (“How dare he not adhere exactly to our dogma! We will censor him!”)
  • Does this make me feel good? (“WE are winning! We ARE winning! We are WINNING!”)

Of course, there are many advocates who care about more than protecting a poisoned brand – they actually focus on what will reduce suffering in the real world.

It is my dearest dream that more people will put aside labels and dogma, and join this animal-first advocacy. When we care about and focus on labels, ideology, and protecting personal purity, we make it easy for everyone else – the people we actually need to reach – to ignore us.

Despite all the rhetoric and claims, the simple bottom line remains the same: this year in the US, per-capita consumption of animals is at an all-time high. Despite decades of pushing purity and dogma, this year, the average person in the US will cause more suffering than ever before.

If we truly care about animals first and foremost, this is the only fact that will drive us.

So please don’t ask me if I’m pro-this or anti-that. I am simply pro-animal and anti-suffering. I believe everything we say and do should tie directly to a realistic and workable plan to change the fact that animals are worse off than ever before.

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Super-Simple Mental Exercise

Our good friend Kristie sent this report, which reaches conclusions along the same lines as the above graph: 1 kilogram of lamb produces 39 kg of greenhouse gasses. 1 kg of beef produces 27kg GHG, cheese produces 14, pork 12, farmed salmon 12, chicken 7, and eggs 5. One kilogram of tofu produces 1 kg greenhouse gasses.

Now imagine going to a college campus or your local grocery store. Imagine giving the people there this information. What do you think they'll hear? More importantly, what do you think they'll change, if anything?

Herb Simon won the Nobel Prize for his simple but important insight into human behavior: We don't make optimal choices. We make satisfactory and sufficient choices.

We are actively delusional if we think any significant proportion of people are going to move from burgers and steak to tofu. This delusion helps feed the ongoing move from red meat to chicken. It is why, in 2017, more than 40 years after the publication of Animal Liberation, the average person in the US will eat more animals and cause more suffering than ever before in history.

Luckily, a growing number of people are recognizing our failure to alter the trajectory of animal consumption. It is why more work and money are going to welfare reform, as well as the supply side. But I believe we also need to work on the demand side, with a specific focus on actively and realistically opposing the increase in animal consumption.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

CBC Interview

While it didn't cause as much vitriol and hatred as the Vox video, the interview I did with the Canadian Broadcast Company reached a lot of people! I especially love his last question.


Direct link to audio.

Text of article, in case it disappears elsewhere:

When Matt Ball stopped eating meat in the 1980s, he became what he describes as an "angry vegan."

But years later the Tucson, Arizona activist, who had co-founded the group Vegan Outreach, realized that perhaps his message wasn't getting through.

He says it dawned on him that it had been over 40 years since the seminal book Animal Liberation came out in 1979, and since then decades of animal rights organizations urging people to stop eating meat, but the percentage of the U.S. population that are vegetarian has basically stayed the same, around two per cent.

"In 2017 the average person in the United States will eat more animals and cause more suffering than ever before in history … and that's with all our efforts. We have failed on the one metric that we should guide ourselves by, and that just shows us … that we really need to re-evaluate, we just really need to take a new approach." 

So Ball co-founded the group One Step for Animals with a new, simple message: Stop eating chickens.

He says the eating habits of the average person in the United States account for about 25 factory-farmed animals — including 23 chickens, a fraction of a pig and a fraction of a cow.

"In the United States, about nine billion animals are killed for food each year, and the vast majority of these are chickens. So if someone stops eating chickens they will remove the vast majority of their support for factory farming." 
- Matt Ball

So, even if people replaced chicken with other types of meat such as pork and beef, then they would only be responsible for "one or two animals every year," Ball says. 

Ball, who is still vegan, isn't suggesting that people eat more pork and beef (The One Step for Animals website advertises plant-based meat alternatives, and not "beef burgers", Ball says). 

If people really want to reduce animal suffering, cutting out chicken is the best step, he says, because they have been "genetically manipulated" to grow quickly and are in chronic pain for most of their lives. 

It's a message he wants to get out because many people have been cutting down their red meat and instead eating more poultry, for health and environmental reasons.

"It takes over 200 chickens to provide the same number of meals as one steer, and more than 40 chickens to provide the same number of meals as one pig. So if you stopped eating pork or you stopped eating beef and you replaced it with chickens, then you're causing a lot more animals to suffer."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Subsidies, Antibiotics, and Market Concentration

Lewis Bollard has a great new piece looking at the effects of these structural supports. A very thorough look, with what you might find to be counter-intuitive conclusions.