Monday, March 23, 2015

Thanks re: Arizona Daily Star Article!

Thanks so much to everyone who liked, shared, and commented on the Arizona Daily Star article about VegFund's work!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Stark Numbers

Saw this online -- a very stark representation of the reality is of the average animal consumption:

If the average person in the US were to stop eating chickens (even if they replaced that spot in their diet with equal amounts of pig and cow flesh) they would move from eating 24.4 farmed land animals a year to 1.9 animals a year. Were they so bold as to drop turkey as well it would move down to 0.9 farmed land animals. From over two dozen to less than one animal a year!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Two Scenarios

Imagine World A, where everyone who is vegan had gone vegan overnight. No intermediate steps, no evolution -- just one day the standard American diet, and the next, pure vegan. Everyone who goes vegan stays vegan. The only positive impact on the number of animals killed in the world is from the number of vegans increasing.

Now imagine World B, where most people who are vegan evolved to be vegan. For example, they gave up red meat, then all meat, then eggs, then dairy. In World B, the majority of people who go vegan eventually go back to eating animals. And the quicker someone goes vegan, the more likely they are to quit being vegan. The main positive impact on the number of animals killed in the world isn't from more people going vegan, but from those who are cutting back on their meat consumption.

If your bottom line is helping animals as much as possible, would your advocacy be different in World A vs. World B? If you want to build a vegan world as quickly as possible, would the differences between World A and World B influence how you pursued your goal in those worlds?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How Vegan? (Originally Published in 1998)

How Vegan? 
Ingredients vs. Results

When I first got actively involved in animal rights around 1990, “How vegan?” had a simple answer: either something is vegan or it isn’t. The way to tell was to compare all of the ingredients on every product against lists of all possible animal products. This list eventually became a book, Animal Ingredients A to Z, which was the best-selling book at for many years.

This simple means of defining “good” and “bad” attracted many of us because it was so straightforward. But even before the list began to grow into an encyclopedia, it was inconsistent. The production of honey kills some insects, but so does driving (and sometimes even walking) and harvesting foods. Many soaps contain stearates, but the tires on cars and bicycles contain similar animal products. Some sugar is processed with bone char, but so is much municipal water. Adding “not tested on animals” to the definition of vegan added a whole new level of complexity.

Still, it can be difficult to give up a black-and-white set of rules. Over the years, people have added “exceptions,” definitions of “necessity,” or claims of “intention” to save the laundry-list approach. But trying to have a hard definition for “vegan” is, ultimately, arbitrary. The production of organic vegetables often uses manure; the production of “veganic” food injures and kills animals during planting, harvesting, and transport.

Of course, we could all “do no harm” by committing suicide and letting our bodies decompose in a forest. But short of this, the best path is to take a step back and consider why we really care whether something is vegan.

Effective Advocacy
The question “How vegan?” is important not for us, but because raising and slaughtering animals for food is, by far, the most significant cause of suffering today, both in terms of the numbers and the level of cruelty inflicted.

Knowing this, the issue for thoughtful, compassionate people isn’t, “Is this vegan?” Rather, the important question is: “Which choice leads to less suffering?” Our guide shouldn’t be someone’s endless list of ingredients, but rather doing our absolute best to stop cruelty to animals. Veganism is important, not as an end in itself, but as a powerful tool for opposing the horrors of factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses.

This moves the discussion away from finding a definition or avoiding a certain product, and into the realm of effective advocacy—advocacy in the broadest sense, in every aspect of our lives. In other words, the focus isn’t  our personal beliefs or specific choices, but rather animals and their suffering.

If we believe being vegan is important, we must recognize that being an effective advocate for the animals is far more important! The impact of our individual veganism—several hundred land animals over the course of a lifetime—pales in comparison to what we have the potential to accomplish with our example. For every single person inspired to change their habits, the impact we have on the world doubles!

Conversely, with every person who decides veganism is overly demanding because of our obsession with an ever-increasing list of ingredients, we do worse than nothing: we turn someone away who could have made a real difference for animals if they hadn’t met us!

Currently, the vast majority of people in our society have no problem eating an actual chicken’s leg. It is not surprising that many people dismiss vegans as unreasonable and irrational when our example includes interrogating waiters, not eating veggie burgers cooked on the same grill with meat, condemning medicines, etc.

Instead of spending our limited time and resources worrying about the margins (cane sugar, drugs), our focus should be on increasing our impact every day. Helping just one person change leads to hundreds fewer animals suffering in factory farms. By choosing to promote compassionate eating, every person we meet is a potential major victory.

Hard Questions and Results
Admittedly, taking a results-based view of veganism is not as straightforward as consulting a list. Areas of concern range from the example we set to the allocation of resources. We need to ask questions such as: Do I bother asking for an ingredient list when eating out with non-veg friends and family, perhaps ending up not eating anything, and risk making veganism appear irrational and impossible? Also: how should I spend and donate my limited time and money?

Situations are subtle and opportunities unique, thus there can be no set, easy answers. But if our decisions are guided by a desire to accomplish the most good, we each have enormous potential to create change.

It is not enough to be a righteous vegan, or even a dedicated, knowledgeable vegan advocate. The animals don’t need us to be right, they need us to be effective. In other words, we don’t want to simply win an argument with a meat eater, we want to open people’s hearts and minds to a more compassionate lifestyle.

To do this, we have to be the opposite of the vegan stereotype. Regardless of the sorrow and outrage we rightly feel at the cruelties animals suffer, we must strive to be what others want to be: joyful, respectful individuals, whose fulfilling lives inspire others. Only then can we do our best to really make a difference for animals.

Need longer arms for full-family selfie.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Charlie on Remembering

Charlie writes:

You pack a lot information and thoughtful observations into a small essay with elegantly simple prose.

One of the concerns I have with the "Why did you go vegan?" question is that the final straw is seldom the only one or even the heaviest one.  I went vegan on 4/4/04, after seeing the Chicago premier of Peaceable Kingdom at a Farm Sanctuary conference.  To get to the Farm Sanctuary conference, I first had to read Michael Pollan's NYT piece, "An Animal's Place", almost two years earlier. This led me to Matthew Scully's Dominion, which led me to Farm Sanctuary.  I'd guess that when most people answer the question of why they went vegan, they're thinking of the final straw, and not necessarily the as-important or the more-important ones that came before.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Arguments Can Hurt Animals in the Real World

Advocates often promote arguments that appear, to us, to be anti-meat. But how the arguments appear to us is less than irrelevant. 

The only thing that matters is how an argument actually plays out in the real world.

This video shows how concern for global warming is causing more chickens to suffer and die.

As Nobel Laureate Herb Simon pointed out, people don't seek to find the perfect solution. They look for something that is "good enough." And when we make an argument where red meat is the worst and a certain form of veganism is the best, the vast majority of people choose somewhere in the middle. And this almost always means eating many more birds.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Focused on the True Bottom Line

I got loads of feedback on Is Veganism More Important than Helping Animals? I've also recently read two interesting and thoughtful posts by my friend Tobias (1, 2).

As any long-time readers know, I'm not one to debate words or discuss hypotheticals. I only care about real-world results. I only brought up the question of eating a non-vegan product to get others to go vegan to illustrate the point that veganism itself isn't the bottom line. Rather, the consequences -- what is done to animals -- are the bottom line.

I first thought about this when I considered the question: If you could create a vegan world where there was actually more suffering than currently, what would you do?

One common response is to refuse to grant the question any legitimacy. But the point isn't that this is a likely scenario. (Maybe you could send a signal to space that would bring in aliens who remove all non-human animals, breed humans and keep us in a state of perpetual near-death agony. There are sure to be other ridiculous scenarios.)

But aliens aside, the point of the question is to emphasize that suffering is the bottom line.

As Tobias' second article makes clear, a strict, uncompromising message is incredibly attractive. It is human nature to want to believe we are the smartest, most dedicated individuals, and everyone outside of our small, elite group are weak and compromised.

I know this was true for me. I wanted to believe I was one of the few truly honest, rational, pure individuals out there. You can see this dynamic in action every day: Facebook posts saying how great veganism is, and how "stupid" everyone else is, are the ones that get by far the most likes and shares. (Conversely, posts about research or insights into effective outreach are basically ignored.)

But I've been at this a long time now. I know "Likes" from other vegans don't help animals. I know the competition to be the "purest" simply takes one further and further from the mainstream -- away from the people we have to influence in order to make any real progress for animals.

Now, I no longer look at people with an eye to judge them on a "vegan" scale. Rather, I look to see how much of an impact their work has for reducing suffering in the real world.

More importantly, though, is that I care more about trying to make sure my work and example is having real consequences, rather than just reverberating within an isolated vegan community. As always, animals don't need us to be right or pure. They need us to be effective.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Raw Data: Attitudes Relevant to Our Efforts for Animals

Last year, my friend Peg, who owns / runs the local vegan restaurant, was reading The Accidental Activist. It inspired her to contact different departments at the University of Arizona here in Tucson, with the question if anyone would be interested in doing research into vegetarianism. Professor Merrie Brucks got back to her -- she teaches a marketing class in the MBA program there. Every semester, the new class takes on a "client" for whom the class does marketing research. So I'm the client this year (on behalf of VegFund and, ultimately, of course, the animals).

I gave a presentation the first week of classes, and answered questions (the class is 1:15 long, and Professor Brucks had to stop the conversation after we had gone way over). The class was subsequently divided into four groups, and the different groups have been meeting with me to discuss their ideas, research, etc.

VegFund has pledged some money to allow the class to do larger, national surveys with their final questions. This way, we can maximally leverage the efforts of the class, to get the most useful data to allow us to help animals better. Here is my report from being with the class again last Wednesday:

The four groups are doing their exploratory research -- more in-depth interviews and surveys of individuals that are intended to both utilize the research techniques they are learning in class, as well as to inform the design of their larger final survey. Professor Brucks, the class, and I asked questions and gave feedback.

There were several universal findings:

1. Everyone views veganism as much much harder than vegetarianism, and views vegans negatively (angry, fanatics, judgmental).
2. Everyone views chicken as healthy. Everyone who talked about health ate a lot of chicken.

I have pages of notes. As you might guess, some groups were further along. It was interesting to learn about the different research methods intended to get at people's true motivations / opinions, rather than their rationalizations or desired view of themselves. Here are just a few items in addition to the above:

Group 1: Food Choice Motivations (general, not veg-specific)

When we met a few weeks ago, two of the people in this group had very different views on what they should be doing.
Looking to separate out what people think they should do vs what they actually do.
Motivations run into so far (in order of prevalence): health (chicken), religion, animal issues, environment

Group 2: Social Norms and Stigmas

One aspect is looking at people's perceptions of the ladder, meat lover à omnivore à meat-reducer à vegetarian à vegan (a general theme of the class).

Most interesting here was their word association. Words like "meat" and "steak" and "chicken" all had positive associations, but "Tyson chicken" and "factory farming" had negative. "Tofu" was neutral, "faux meat" bad ("disgusting").

They asked what a person would choose as their last meal (steak, surf-and-turf), and asked what one food they would eat for the rest of their life (chicken, because it is healthy). One of the team members was interviewing another team member's roommate, and asked when the last time the roommate had had a meatless meal. "Oh, I can't remember. Has been ages." But they had just had vegetarian pad thai the night before.

Group 3: Vegetarian Products and Restaurants

People don't see vegetarian products as healthier than eating chicken; think eating healthier means replacing red meat with chicken.

People can imagine eating veg for breakfast and lunch, but not dinner. Need to have meat to be satisfied. (Discussion of Bittman's "Vegan Before Six" idea.)

Group 4: Animal Suffering

Very hard to discuss; people immediately defensive.

Cognitive dissonance.

People think cows, pigs, and chickens are all treated the same.

Rationalizations (in order of prevalence): Top of food chain, religion, just how it is, healthy to eat meat.

People say it is worse in other countries (China).

That's all for now,

Saturday, February 28, 2015