Thursday, February 4, 2016

“I've become almost embarrassed to say I'm vegan”

Not surprisingly, there have been some ... negative ... reactions to my recent post.

As usual, there is the claim that True Vegan campaigning just hasn't been really tried yet, and it is all the nasty evil welfarists who have prevented True Veganism from growing rapidly.

It is exactly like the true believers of communism – no matter the string of failures, they insist it is only because True Communism hasn't really been implemented yet.

Of course, communism has been tried as well as it possibly can be, in the real world with real people. And ever since I stopped eating animals 30 years ago, there have always been individuals insisting that they have the breakthrough that will finally implement True Vegan campaigning!

One comment said all successful social movements had their radical elements, and thus the radicals are necessary. Joe replied:

All past social change movements also went on when bread existed. Therefore bread was an essential component. 
The key to animal liberation?
OK, I am being funny. The point I am trying to highlight is that the presence of something does not mean it was useful to the progress being sought. It could have positive effects, no effect, or negative effects. It could well be that nearly all past animal protection efforts (which typically try to get people to empathize with our fellow mammals) have actually increased animal suffering and death as people decrease consumption of cows and pigs and increase consumption of birds

Joe also noted how all significant and lasting change occurs in incremental steps. Christine expands:

Say you are in a motorcycle club and want to recruit more members. Which choice will result in a larger number of recruits and people interested in what what your club is about? 
1) Tell people that their current brand of motorcycle (which they've grown up with all their life and their family has owned for generations) is wrong and lacking, and they will only be right once they have the exact same brand as you and those in your club. Tell them joining your club is the only way to be right. End of story. 
2) Invite people to learn more about your club in a friendly way. When they show interest, even if though they currently own a different brand of motorcycle, you let them know they're welcome come check out a meeting. 
You also let them know they are also welcome to ride with the club on one of its weekly drives to see what your club and your brand are all about. 
You give them a flyer about your club and directions how to get there (the next club meeting is on "Monday" about that?). 
Maybe they don't join your club right away, but at least they're interested...and at the very least, you haven't scared them away because they think you're part of some crazy biker gang. 
You left them with a good impression, so they do decide to join your club on one of it's weekly rides.  
Maybe this leads them to realizing that your club's brand of motorcycle is actually better than the one their family has owned for years.  
And maybe a couple weeks later they trade in their old motorcycle for the same brand as yours.

Christine goes on to make the most poignant and insightful point:

I've been an activist for over 20 years, and while I don't keep a tally or have precise figures, based on my experience and what I've witnessed, one of the biggest obstacles to increasing that 0.47% figure is the negative experiences people are left with from vegans who behave and speak condescendingly towards them. 

I can't but wonder if vegans and activists have considered the possibility that the 0.47% isn't “the meager outcome that 3 decades of welfaristic campaigns,” but rather a result of negative and condescending behavior by vegans turning people off from veganism. 
Citation here.
What about this possibility? What if “3 decades of welfaristic campaigns” at one point actually helped increase the number of vegans to 10%, but 9.53% left because of the the negativity encountered once in the vegan community? 
As Matt wrote, “we know that the vast majority of people who go vegan quit and go back to eating animals.” I can only speak for myself, but I've become almost embarrassed to say I'm vegan...not because of what it stands for, but because of the negative impression people have been left with due to other vegans and their negative behavior and words. 
This article is a perfect example of what I see that turns people off and away from vegans and our message.
Citation here.
I can't help but wonder if the author was truly interested in persuading others to make the switch to veganism, rather than criticize people for what she sees that she doesn't like. Maybe if she'd instead offer support & encouragement for what “plant based eaters” are doing that she does like, she'd most likely have much better results. 
And actually help decrease the number of animals suffering.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What We Fight About When We Fight About "Vegan"

Harish Sethu, the brains at Counting Animals, estimates that vegans make up 0.47% of the US population (based on the Faunalytics study, which Harish considers the best).

Not even half a percent.

Not even 1 in every 200 people.

This is what we fight about when we define, debate, and defend "vegan." This is the impact we've had in decades of defining, debating, and defending "vegan":

As the surveys show, the percentage of vegans has hardly changed in decades. But even if our obsession with only speaking and promoting our truth was somehow to allow us to double, overnight, the number of vegans, this would be the impact:

Or, in terms of animals, a full doubling the number of vegans would spare 0.47% of the animals being brutalized on factory farms and being slaughtered in industrial slaughterhouses.

Of course, we know from decades of experience that there is no magic wand we can wave to convince others to magically go vegan. And furthermore, we know that the vast majority of people who go vegan quit and go back to eating animals.

Please believe me, over the past three decades, I have heard every single argument about why our message must be "vegan." Many times. Many many many times.

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. The suffering of farmed animals isn't philosophical. It isn't a matter of semantics or purity or baselines or "truths." It is real – brutally real.

And any sane individual should realize it is time to try something new.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Give People What They Want, 2016

A few days ago, I met a highly intelligent lawyer who was recruited to one of Dr. Esselstyn's vegan diet studies. She told me, "My cholesterol went way down, I lost weight, and I had so much more energy!"

However, she missed cheese and eggs too much. At first, she thought she could just add those back in, but soon found herself back on her previous diet.

Now it is easy to mock, ridicule, or attack her, but I'd like to make two points:

1. This is exactly the type of person we need to convince to change her diet if we are going to bring about a truly different world. So it is better to understand than insult.

2. I find it easy to understand where she's coming from. I first stopped eating animals 30 years ago now, and being vegan is generally super easy for me. But for most people, vegan is as difficult and unthinkable as raw foodism is to me.

Seriously – you could utterly convince me that going raw would fix my chronic back pain, my Crohn's disease, my insomnia, and also prevent another lung collapse, and I still wouldn't go raw!

Food is one of the major pleasures in my life. It simply isn't enough to just have a longer life; for me and for most, we need pleasure and joy in our life.

This is why I believe we not only need to be joyful examples of compassionate living, but we also have to actively promote cruelty-free food that will bring pleasure to our non-veg audience. And we should also support all efforts to advance plant-based food science so they can displace animal-based foods.

It may not be our current personal diet (whole foods, non-GMO, gluten free, raw, etc.), but it is the way to actually get more people to eat more cruelty-free meals. This is the only way we'll have fewer animals suffering, which, of course, remains the bottom line.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Thanks Mike!

Mike Wolf of Compassion Over Killing (above) and I both spoke and tabled at the recent AZ Veg Food Fest. Yesterday, he kindly sent me this email:

Someone came up to my table Sunday afternoon, probably shortly after your talk ended. She said that in the past, she was a follower of [a different approach], but lately she was having trouble being 100% vegan. She has been feeling a lot of negativity lately, and didn't know what to do. She said that after hearing both my and your talks, she was feeling much more positive about the movement, and that she can continue with it. She was happy to hear us say that it doesn't have to be an all or nothing thing. She was pretty relieved about it.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Humane Education

Ellen spoke to six high school classes here in Tucson last Friday. Here was her speech as prepared:

Hello! Good Morning. I’m Ellen Green, I’m a senior molecular biology major at Pomona college, and I’ve been vegan for my whole life.

Here’s a question - raise your hand if you’ve had a bad experience with an angry vegan? [raise hand]

It’s okay. It’s happened to me too. And before that I’ve been the angry vegan more than once.

Fortunately I’m not here to rant - which is good for both of us, because I’m doing six of these and if I tried to yell each time I’m pretty sure I’d lose my voice.

So. Let’s not spend time cataloging the brutalities of factory farms. I’m sending booklets around with more information. Let’s suffice it to say that the meat industry doesn’t treat chickens and pigs the way you’d like your cats and dogs to be treated. What can you do?

One option that isn’t discussed enough is not cutting out, but instead cutting back on meat consumption, or ‘reducitarianism’. This can make a huge difference! Most of the current decline in meat consumption isn’t due to vegans and vegetarians, but the increasing number of people who are reducing their meat consumption.

Of course, the problem with reducing your meat consumption is that it’s kind of like a New Year’s resolution to exercise more or be friendlier - it’s pretty vague, and therefore it’s hard to ensure any real change. Some more concrete steps might include taking on Meatless Mondays - cutting out meat just one day a week!

Another common option is to cut out meat from one or two meals of the day, or be ‘vegetarian before 5’. If dinner is your big meal of the day, try to avoid meat for breakfast and lunch, which isn’t too hard if you’re already just having a bagel or cereal for breakfast - or skipping breakfast altogether, which you should not be doing. Even if you have an 8am class in college, keep some bagels or cereal in your dorm, do your brain a favor. Don’t try to learn organic chemistry on an empty stomach. Trust me.

Another simple step that really has the maximum doesn’t involve cutting out all meat, is just cutting out chicken.

Why chicken? This may not seem obvious, but let’s do the math. How big is a cow? A cow’s pretty big [measure it out with arms]. Like, I could feed you all lunch from a cow and we’d have leftovers for dinner - and the next day! Chickens? Chickens are pretty small. [do the arm thing again]. I could feed, what, maybe 3, 4 of you with one chicken? We’d need like, 8, 9, maybe 10 chickens to feed this whole class for a meal. All told, it takes over 200 chickens to make the same number of meals as a cow.

That’s born out by the statistics - vastly more chickens suffer for meat than any other animal. The average American eats 24.4 farm animals a year - if that you replaced all the chicken in that diet with pigs and cows, it’d be less than two. Way, way more chickens are suffering for meat.  You can check the booklets if you’re interested in the details. And - I know I promised I wouldn’t dwell on factory farm’s brutality, but let me just say that these chickens do suffer. A lot. [take a beat]

So if you’ve got Monday meals, or lunches, or formerly-chicken filled dishes that you’re trying to fill with something else, what are you going to do? You’ve already seen a lot of what you can do with something simple like beans - trust me, I’ve learned not to undervalue a good burrito. But if you’re like me, whose idea of cooking usually involves the microwave, or, at best a toaster oven - seriously, best dorm room investment I ever made, I wholeheartedly recommend it - something simpler is going to have to be on the menu.That’s where vegetarian meat’s are going to come in.

Now, not all of these veggie meats are created equal, so if you’re first reaction to the idea is “ick,” I don’t blame you. I have some non-vegetarian friends who love black bean burgers, but they’ve never been my thing, and I swear to god, if my dining hall tries to call fried tofu ‘vegan steak’ one more time. [sigh] Yeah. Believe me, I get it.

But when veggie meats are good, they’re really good. My old high school science olympiad team basically devoured Boca chicken nuggets, and my dad loves to tell the story of how a bunch of U of AZ students fell in love with the “chicken” fingers at Lovin’ Spoonfuls. These don’t have to be a pain to get your hands on or make! You can find new stuff to try in a whole lot of grocery stores - Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Bashas - and they’re spreading all the time. There are lot’s more options in these booklets. Stuff like Gardein’s ultimate beefless burgers can just be heated up in the microwave, which even I, with my nonexistent cooking skills, can manage.

So if you want to make a difference for the animals, give them a shot!

Any questions?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Living in a Non-Veg World

Talk, as prepared, January 2015. 
I assume that if you’re here today, you have some issue with living in a non-vegetarian world, that being surrounded by meat eaters most days isn’t all unicorns and rainbows.

I should start by saying that I don’t have any brilliant insight or twelve-step plan to make everything better. I can’t conjure up a unicorn for everyone. I stopped eating animals almost thirty years ago, and have yet to discover the magic incantation to make living in this world easy.

What I can tell you is that I have experienced a lot of what many of you have gone through and are going through. Anger, frustration, rage, despair, disappointment, depression – I’ve been through all those.

And I can tell you, every single one of these feelings is justified. I assume each of us here knows just how much suffering there is on factory farms, how much incredible cruelty farm animals face every moment of their lives. We could spend all day watching horrific footage of factory farms and slaughterhouses, and we wouldn’t begin to capture how bad things are.

We each know this, and yet we live in a world of complete denial. If we look around, there is no sign that so many animals are being tortured and slaughtered right now. All the people around us – including many of our family, our friends, our co-workers – go about their daily lives as though factory farms don’t exist, as if there is no brutality lying hidden, just below the surface.

It is as though we are delusional, that we simply had a bad dream where we just imagined that animals suffered and died to become the meat being consumed all around us.

What often makes it even worse is that we love many of the people who continue to eat animals. It doesn’t matter as much that Ted Cruz or Donald Trump or Dick Cheney pay people to kill chickens and pigs. But when it is our Moms, our brothers, our cousins, our childhood pal, even our spouse – that adds an extra layer of heartbreak to having to live in a world where animals suffer and die to be eaten.

So the main thing I can offer you today is understanding. I get it – the anger, the hurt, the disappointment.

You are not alone; others are going through this, too. I’ve given hundreds of talks in the past decades, and I can tell you that so many people have asked me, often almost pleadingly, “What can I do to convince my sister, my Dad, my husband?”

I would love so much to be able to give you a magic answer. But I can’t. And I know understanding isn’t enough.

But maybe I can help at the margins. Maybe I can show there is hope.

The first thing I would suggest is to remember that few people change overnight from the standard American diet to a cruelty-free lifestyle. There are some, yes, but research actually shows that the quicker people change, the more likely they are to revert back to eating animals. So to begin with, as much as we would love everyone to GO VEG RIGHT FREAKIN’ NOW, realistically, we should give people a break.

Even if you changed overnight and maintained that change forever, know that most people don’t. For example, once I learned the reality behind meat, I kept eating animals. When I first went veg, it didn’t last. Cutting out eggs and dairy took me a long time. And it is likely that if people had mocked my weakness, or treated me with disdain or hatred for my rationalizations, I would have used their anger as an excuse to maintain my meat-eating ways.

My story shows us several things. The first is that many people – probably most people, nearly all – don’t want to change. They don’t want to be different from their friends and family. They don’t want to be inconvenienced.

Like me, most people are capable of great cognitive dissonance. They want to consider themselves good people. At some level they know eating animals is wrong. And yet they don’t want to change. So they’re looking for an excuse.

And as justified as our anger is, we have to know that being “the angry vegan” gives people an excuse to maintain the status quo. I’ve seen this over and over again. For example, last year, I was involved in marketing research at the University of Arizona, and one of the key findings was that the general public views vegans as angry, unhappy, and unfriendly. The general public also views veganism as extreme and impossible.

So we find ourselves in this catch-22 – we are understandably angry because the people around us create the demand that causes animals to suffer so horribly. But our understandable anger is a key reason people are able to avoid facing reality.

I’m in no position to judge. For a long time, I acted from anger, and gave many people a lifetime excuse to not consider the animals’ plight. I consistently made it about winning an argument, or speaking my truth, rather than actually creating real change that would make a difference. It took me so long to finally stop expressing my anger and justifying my lifestyle. And it is something I still struggle with every day – to truly deal with people where they are, rather than chant and argue about what I want.

With the help of some very insightful friends, I finally realized that if we truly want to create fundamental, lasting change in the world, we must deal with our emotions in a constructive way. We need to ask ourselves:

  • Are we willing to direct our anger, rather than have it rule us?
  • Are we willing to put the animals’ interests before our personal desires?
  • Are we willing to focus seriously and systematically on being the animals’ voice?

It is not enough to be vegetarian, or vegan, or even a dedicated advocate. I believe we should focus on actually reducing suffering – and actively be the opposite of the vegan stereotype. Just as we need everyone to look beyond the short-term satisfaction of following habits and traditions, we need to move past our sorrow and our anger to optimal advocacy. We must learn “how to win friends and influence people,” so we leave everyone we meet with the impression of a joyful individual leading a fulfilling and meaningful life.

Understand, though: I’m not saying we should put on an act of being happy. Rather, as thoughtful advocates, we can truly be happy!

Looking at the long arc of history, we see how much society has advanced in just the last few centuries. It was over two thousand years ago that the ideals of democracy were first proposed in ancient Greece. But only during the eighteenth century did humanity see even the beginnings of a truly democratic system. Not until late in the nineteenth century was slavery officially abolished in the developed world. In all of human history, only in the last hundred years was child labor abolished in the developed world, child abuse criminalized, women given the vote, and minorities given more rights.

Many people worked diligently to bring about those ethical advances for humanity. Now, because of the number of individuals suffering and the reason they suffer, I believe animal liberation is the moral imperative of our time. If we take suffering seriously and commit to optimal advocacy, we too can bring about fundamental change. We can already see progress in just the past decade – there has been a huge increase public concern for farm animals, as well as condemnations of factory farms. There are more vegetarians, near-vegetarians, and vegetarian products. Our focus, tools, and programs have also improved immensely during that time.

Animal liberation can be the future. As the magazine The Economist concluded, “Historically, man has expanded the reach of his ethical calculations, first beyond family and tribe, later beyond religion, race, and nation. To bring other species more fully into the range of these decisions may seem unthinkable to moderate opinion now. One day, it may seem no more than ‘civilized’ behavior requires.”

We can be the ones to bring about this next great ethical advance. We don’t have to just try to live in a non-veg world. We can be building the vegetarian world we want! We should revel in the opportunity we have to be part of something so profound, something fundamentally good. This is as meaningful and joyous a life as I can imagine!

We have no excuse for waiting – we have the knowledge, the tools, and the truth. Taking a stand against cruelty to animals requires only our choice.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.:

The arc of history is long
And ragged
And often unclear
But ultimately
It bends towards justice.

We can each help bend the arc of history toward justice!

Thank you.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Big Numbers Hurt Animals, Revisited

One of my biggest regrets is that for years after I stopped eating animals, I would lapse into Carl Sagan mode and talk about "billions and billions" -- how many animals were killed for food each year, etc. It was only later that I realized that using big numbers was actually undermining my efforts to convince people to take a step to help animals.

This article by Scott and Paul Slovic discusses the issue in more detail. Excerpt:
How big do the numbers have to be for insensitivity to begin? Not very, it turns out. 
Consider the recent death of the Syrian child Aylan Kurdi when his family braved the choppy seas off the coast of Turkey. The image of Aylan lying face down on the beach captivated the world’s attention and even, in short order, resulted in refugee policy changes in countries as far away as the United States. But 14 Syrian children drowned in the Aegean Sea the next day. Did you notice? Did you care? 
And even 14 is much higher than necessary to desensitize us.... “Compassion fade” can occur when an incident involving a single person expands to as few as two people. 
Of course, this is a hard issue to deal with constructively, given that most people care more about and relate better to individual mammals, while the vast majority of factory-farmed animals are birds. But at the very least, we should stop talking about how many billions of animals are killed, and talk more about individual stories, and the brilliance of individual birds.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Anger and Clarity

A nice quote, sent in by Christine:

Anger gives the illusion of clarity, as Buddhist teacher Dzigar Kongtrul writes:
“The difference between the clarity we believe we have when angry and the clarity that results from actually seeing clearly is that aggression has its own narrow logic, which does not take into account the deeper level of causes and conditions that surround each situation.”
Think about what happens to us and our relationships when we feel a sense of urgency. We work harder and harder, we push our plans and agendas, we shove aside or disdain anyone with an alternate plan or point of view. We push forward because we think we have no choice, the situation demands it, there’s no time to lose.

But lose we do. We become exhausted. We alienate people. Our own fierceness creates opposition and resistance. We shut down and stop taking in information that could be useful to our cause.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Winter in Tucson

From Anne's naturalist pal, Phil Bentley, the Santa Catalina Mountains in snow, Tucson below covered in fog. Click for larger. (Note: On Wednesday, Dec. 30, the North Pole will be warmer than Western Texas, Southern California, and parts of the Sahara.)