Monday, June 13, 2016

"The power is ours now. Let’s never stop fighting."

From Ellen yesterday:
Good morning. 
Where do we go from here?
I’ve spent most of Sunday trying to put the words together to try and say something helpful about this, the loss of 49 of my LGBTQIA sisters, brothers, and siblings, and the injury and suffering of at least 53 more.
I’ve seen people posting that this came as hardly even a surprise, that it was one more day, one more mass shooting. I’ve seen people ready to give up on 2016, a year with 133 mass shootings in 164 days. I’ve seen people ready to give up, period.
And you know what? Fuck that.
Pulse was a place where we were supposed to be able to go and be free to be ourselves. So was Stonewall. But this time, 47 years after the Stonewall Riots, it wasn’t the police we were fighting -- instead, it was police who brought down the murderer.
I don’t say this to minimize the suffering and loss in Orlando. I don’t say this to minimize the hatred that lead to this attack, or the systemic problems we face and will continue to face. I say this to help us remember that change is possible. We have come a long way from a period when we could be arrested for dancing together, or for wearing the “wrong” clothes. Change has happened. Not because “it gets better”, but because people kept fighting even when it seemed impossible.
I say this to remind us of the power we still hold.
I’ve never been one for “thoughts and prayers”. Though often they feel like the best thing we can offer, too often we see them come from insincerity - perhaps you’ve already seen the posts collecting tweets of “thoughts and prayers for Orlando” from politicians who stand against equal rights for LGBTQIA people, who feign care only when it’s socially required, when they can erase who we are and why we were attacked.
I understand the impulse to thoughts and prayers, I don’t live in Orlando, I can’t donate blood or comfort the survivors. There’s nothing I can punch, no race I can run to fix this.
Here’s what I have to offer instead.
I offer a promise. A promise that that I will never stop fighting for us. With words, with advocacy, and importantly, with my ballot. I’ll keep fighting, for those of us who can’t anymore, and for those of us for whom finding a way to stay alive and love who they are is fighting.
We’ve created tremendous change in the past. We have that power now, right now, to keep making change.
Please, take care of yourselves. Mourn as you need to. This day and this week in particular, surviving is fighting. If you need to rest, get offline, binge watch cartoons and cry into some ice cream - do it. Do what you need to do to be safe, that’s what I ask, first and foremost.
But if you’re angry, when you need something to do - let’s get it done. I’ve already emailed my Senators and my Representative, and I recommend that you do too -…/it-s-on-us-too-an-easy-guide-to-contac…this makes it easy. Use the form letter if you want, add what you need, write your own letter - tell them how angry, how saddened you are that 50 of our brothers and sisters are dead, that we can’t stand for this, that it’s long past time for change.
Those politicians offering hollow words? The ones who offer sympathy after they’ve thrown us under the bus countless times with their words and laws? Vote the fuckers out. Register to vote now if you haven’t, . Let’s mobilize NOW to put politicians in office who have proven they will protect us, will fight for our rights, proven that will stand up against laws that allowed this man to buy and carry a fucking assault rifle and murder 50 people. Can you phone bank? Can you stuff envelopes? Can you go door to door? Can you help register your friends to vote, and get them to the polls? Can you help raise awareness, help mobilize people on facebook and twitter? Let’s do it.
Let’s make no mistake: this is political. This became political the moment the shooter bought this assault rifle - ASSAULT RIFLE - legally, without a background check. This was political when the shooter chose to target us in one of our places of safety, on Latin night, on a night headlined by Latinx trans women. This was political when the shooter’s hatred came on the heels of the same hatred and fear from many of our politicians and our laws, seeking to make us unsafe and deny us equality.
Let’s not forget about this. Let’s not let this be another moment of “Never again” that passes too quickly. Let’s remember this in November and beyond.
The power is ours now. Let’s never stop fighting.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Animals as the Bottom Line

Animals as the Bottom Line

Global Warming, Human Psychology, and Net Impact for Animals


At first blush, global warming seems to be a great hook for those of us promoting animal-friendly eating. But there are two problems:

1. Offering accurate information
Many vegans suggest meat is the leading cause of global warming. But this is not true. The production of meat is not the leading cause of greenhouse gases—only more than transportation. The following comes from a paper in The Lancet entitled “Food, Livestock Production, Energy, Climate Change, and Health”:

Although the main human source of greenhouse-gas emissions is combustion of fossil fuels for energy generation, non-energy emissions (including from agriculture and land-use changes) contribute more than a third of the total greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide.[1]


Greenhouse-gas emissions from the agriculture sector account for about 22% of global total emissions; this contribution is similar to that of industry and greater than that of transport. Livestock production (including transport of livestock and feed) accounts for nearly 80% of the sector’s emissions.

So livestock comes after energy generation and industry. And that is only globally. From Salon:

Here in the US, livestock’s impact is not quite so extreme: Six percent of our greenhouse gases come from livestock production, compared with 19 percent from cars, light trucks and airplanes.[2]

Very few meat eaters are actively seeking to eat vegetarian; rather, most people are looking for a reason to dismiss us. When we exaggerate or lie, that is all that is remembered—not our other points or even the underlying reality. That worldwide meat production contributes more to global warming than all of transportation is accurate and striking; there is no reason to exaggerate.

2. The Expected Impact in the Public Mind and How It Actually Affects Animals
When the public hears “livestock” (as in “livestock causes more global warming than transportation”), they think cattle, and the conclusion is that they should eat less beef. Even when people hear “meat . . . global warming,” they think of burping (or flatulent) cows. (Of course, the news is written by, and the media run by, meat eaters. They will always choose the side that is least challenging to their habits/the status quo.)
For those who look into the science and aren’t already vegan, concern for global warming leads almost inevitably to more chickens being eaten (it takes approximately 200 chickens to provide the same number of meals as one steer).
For example, from the Salon article referenced above:

“Astonishingly enough,” says study coauthor Gidon Eshel, a Bard College geophysicist, “the poultry diet is actually better than lacto-ovo vegetarian.” In other words, a roast chicken dinner is better for the planet than a cheese pizza.

How about going vegan?

The average American is responsible for about 26 tons annually, so if the entire US population went vegan, we’d reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by only 6 percent.

The vast majority of that six percent is from cutting out beef and dairy.
Similarly an article in Environmental Science and Technology entitled “Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States” notes:

Different food groups exhibit a large range in GHG [greenhouse gas] intensity; on average, red meat is around 150% more GHG-intensive than chicken or fish. Thus, we suggest that dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household’s food-related climate footprint than “buying local.” Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.[3]

The Los Angeles Times shows “replace beef with chicken” in action:

“No hamburger patties?” asked an incredulous football player, repeating the words of the grill cook. He glowered at the posted sign: ‘Cows or cars? Worldwide, livestock emits 18% of greenhouse gases, more than the transportation sector! Today we’re offering great-tasting vegetarian choices.’ “Just give me three chicken breasts, please,” he said.[4]

Global warming and diet is an argument that makes sense to us vegans and makes us think, “Here is a great, self-interested hook I can use to convince others of veganism’s superiority!” But it isn’t a question of whether veganism is the best diet for addressing global warming. The bottom line has to be the actual impact of the message we choose to present. In other words: we shouldn’t seek out and use arguments that seem to support veganism—veganism isn’t the point. If we take suffering seriously, we must seek to present a message that reduces the most suffering.
As Nobel Prize–winning economist Herbert Simon discovered, human psychology and decision making are generally determined by “good enough.”[5] People don’t hear about a concern (especially a relatively abstract issue like global warming) and take it to the fullest extent—e.g., stop driving entirely—but rather, those motivated enough will do something (drive a bit less, drive a more fuel-efficient car) and feel good that they are doing something.
In this case, though, doing “something” means eating a lot more chickens. We can say, “But being vegan is even better!” until we’re blue in the face, but experience shows that this is effective only in the rarest of cases. The vast majority of people who will be moved at all about global warming are happy to be “taking action” by eating a lot more chickens. And it is the cattle industry that is worried about the global-warming-diet argument, not the poultry industry. The latter loves anything and everything that badmouths beef.
Although the global warming–food connection seems clear to us, what actually matters is how the argument plays out in non-vegans’ minds. When used on its own, the diet/global-warming angle can easily do more harm (increase in chickens eaten) than good (people going veg).
Instead of an oblique anti-beef message, we can present a direct anti-cruelty/pro-animal message, and convince more people to move toward eating fewer or no animals. For this reason, I think we should be very careful how we use global warming. It is a hot topic, so it gives us an “in” with the media and environmental groups. But presented on its own, the case will very often have the bottom line of more chickens dying, given human psychology. The global warming–diet connection can work as a hook to capture attention and allow us to draw attention to the horrors of modern agribusiness, with a special focus on cruelty to chickens.

On a related topic, there is growing recognition that increased usage of certain biofuels will exacerbate global hunger.[6] Of course, the same argument of resource usage can be made regarding using crops as animals feed.[7] According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), only a hundred million metric tons (tonnes) of cereal crops go to biofuel, while 760 million metric tons go to animal feed—and the latter figure isn’t even counting soy:

There is plenty of food. It is just not reaching human stomachs. Of the 2.13bn tonnes likely to be consumed this year, only 1.01bn, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, will feed people. . . . But there is a bigger reason for global hunger, which is attracting less attention only because it has been there for longer. While 100m tonnes of food will be diverted this year to feed cars, 760m tonnes will be snatched from the mouths of humans to feed animals—which could cover the global food deficit 14 times. If you care about hunger, eat less meat.[8]

Keep in mind, however, that beef is much, much less efficient than chicken (and eggs)—see, again, the Salon article:

Welcome, then, the savior of environmentally concerned carnivores everywhere: the chicken. Unlike cattle, chickens don’t burp methane. They also have an amazing ability to turn a relatively small amount of grain into a large amount of protein. A chicken requires 2 pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat, compared with about 6 pounds of grain for a feedlot cow and 3 pounds for a pig. Poultry waste produces only about one-tenth of the methane of hog and cattle manure.

Like thousands of activists over the past decades, I’d love to think there is some perfect, logical, self-interested argument that won’t just vindicate my veganism, but will actually convince large numbers of people to go vegan, while not leading others to eat more chickens. But this is not the case—there just aren’t lots of people out there who secretly want to be vegan but just need that one statistic. For nearly everyone, any change away from the status quo is difficult and resisted. As much as we’d love to argue otherwise, in response to health or environmental arguments, the first, easiest, most convenient, and socially acceptable step is to eat more chickens.
It is worth briefly considering why health and environmental arguments seem to be more easily “accepted” by people, and why most individuals are resistant and defensive when faced with the cruelty argument. Much of this could well be that health choices are personal (and easily overridden by habit and convenience, even in the face of severe health issues), while environmental concerns are abstract and easily assuaged by taking some minor action (new lightbulbs, recycling).
The obvious cruelty and vicious brutality of factory farms, however, is both real, immediate, undeniable, and clearly an ethical challenge to our view of ourselves. For these reasons, the animals’ suffering can’t be easily dismissed and forgotten. Thus, it is important for meat eaters to avoid the issue as much as possible (and to make the messenger the issue, whenever possible). For the same reason, it is incumbent on us, as animal advocates, to actually advocate the animals’ case, so that no one can avoid facing the hidden reality.
In deciding what to present to the public, our criterion shouldn’t be, “Does this seem (to me) to denigrate (some) meat and/or support veganism?” We shouldn’t be trying to justify our diet—we need to stand up for the animals. We don’t get to determine how people should react; we must consider how our chosen argument will actually play out among the general public and through the media. We must set aside our personal biases and needs and honestly ask, “Is this the argument that will alleviate as much suffering as possible?” The animals are counting on us.

[1] McMichael, Anthony J. et al. Food, Livestock Production, Energy, Climate Change, and Health. The Lancet 370(9594): 1253–63, October 6, 2007. See <>
[2] “Earth to PETA,” by Liz Galst., October 22, 2007. See <>. The entire article is definitely worth reading for how “informed” opinion plays out this issue.
[3] Weber, Christopher L. and H. Scott Matthews. Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States. Environmental Science Technology 42(10): 3508–13, 2008. See <>.
[4] “With Low-Carbon Diets, Consumers Step to the Plate, by Kenneth R. Weiss. Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2008. See <>.
[5] See <>.
[6] See, for instance, How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor,” by C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer. Foreign Affairs, May/June, 2007. See <>.
[7] See “Resources and Contamination” at <>.
[8] See “The Pleasures of the Flesh,” by George Monbiot., April 15, 2008. See <>. For more on Monbiot’s “evolution,” see “Murder: A Benign Extravagance?” by Dr Matthew Cole, The Vegetarian (Winter 2010)  <>

Monday, May 2, 2016

Every Day for Farm Animals

Might be worth reading:

Every Day is Animal Advocacy Day for Matt Ball

The full interview:

1. What brought you to Farm Sanctuary?  When did you start?
Gosh, I’ve been a fan of Farm Sanctuary almost since it started. As soon as there were cabins, Anne and I took our belated honeymoon there. In conversations since I started actually working for Farm Sanctuary a year ago, I found out that Holly would have been there in October 1993 – so I almost certainly met her even before Gene!

I didn’t become friends with Gene until April 1997, when he and I were at a Nalith-sponsored conference in the Finger Lakes region. I’ll never forget it. My project at the time was to distribute as many pro-veg booklets as possible. At one point, Gene held up a copy of the booklet and said, “We can all agree that we need to get more of these out there.” It really showed his generosity. Ever since, Gene has been one of the warmest, most supportive people I’ve known in the animal advocacy movement.

2. How long have you been vegan (were you vegetarian before), and what inspired you to make that switch?

Freshman year of college (1986), my roommate was an older transfer student. He was also a vegetarian, and he made me his personal project. I would love to say I went vegan as soon as I learned about what happens on factory farms, but as I write about in one of my books, this wasn’t the case at all. Rather, I went vegetarian and then vegan in fits and starts. It is for this and other reasons that I’m very sympathetic to people who are (initially) resistant to the message, who make incremental change while rationalizing other actions. So although all psychological research supports it as well, Farm Sanctuary’s approach of meeting people where they are has a personal resonance with me.

It is nice to be able to say I first stopped eating animals the year Farm Sanctuary was founded!

3. Describe a typical day.

My day-to-day responsibilities include the Compassionate Communities Campaign and Farm Sanctuary’s online outreach. The former requires keeping up with news for the CCC Facebook page, the CCC blog, and alerts to our members, in order to make sure our activist members are engaged and able to make a difference day to day. As part of this, I represent Farm Sanctuary in a variety of coalitions, so I’m often on conference calls or reviewing email alerts. Lindsay M and Jae are super helpful with all of this. I also have been developing materials for the CCC. For example, on the upcoming CCC booklet, Susie has been very insightful (and generous with her time), and Crissy is absolutely brilliant with her ideas and designs!

Online outreach is a fun, multivariate problem. I can create multiple ads and choose different target audiences, and then monitor which perform best. I’m always iterating on this, to make sure we are “spending thousands to reach millions.” I also monitor the comment threads when I can, to try to make sure things don’t get out of hand, and to give encouragement, too.

One of the best parts of my job is to watch what Wendy comes up with for her various projects, like V-lish. I can always expect innovative, creative, and fresh ideas from her. Sometimes, I’m even able to contribute a useful bit of feedback here or there. Mostly, though, I just want to make sure I’m not hindering her. I can only hope the Engagement Department’s new hire is a clone of Wendy!

My wife Anne (who works for Our Hen House, headed by former FSer Jasmin Singer) and I both work from home here in Tucson, and we’re very much early birds. A typical day starts around 6 with all the emails that came in overnight. I’ll try to exercise most days (although I’m no Marathon Man like Gene), in part because I can get in some of my best thinking while running. For example, a few weekends ago, Hank sent me, Sylvia, and Lindsay an email about a Facebook post on welfare reforms. That led to a longer conversation on my Monday call with Sylvia, Lindsay, and Wendy. Over my next two runs, the idea for a blog post on the topic took shape. 4. Describe a day that was less typical and memorable.
I have Meredith to thank for my most memorable days. She has arranged my various interviews, including a one hour radio interview with a station in rural Alabama. Such a fun time! She also got me all my television appearances last fall – an amazing job. She made sure the stations had all the information (I was promoting a Walk for Farm Animals each appearance) and B-roll (so the audience was able to look at cute animals instead of having to watch me).

The best week was probably last October. I did the Seattle Walk, where Hero of Compassion Christina Cuenca organized an absolutely incredible event! (And Meredith had, of course, previously had me on the radio to promote the Walk.) People were so fired up – I’ve never been interrupted by cheers and applause so often. Not ever! I was able to spend time with different activists in Seattle, too, separate from the Walk. Then I met with other members in Portland and gave a talk there. Next was up to Vancouver, where I had another hour on the radio (this one was in studio) leading up to the great Walk (which was the only time I saw the sun there!).

Of course, compared to Gene, I’m an absolute amateur when it comes to travelling and speaking. I truly have no idea how he does it. I spent at least 20 hours researching, writing, getting feedback on, and practicing just my “Understanding the Numbers” talk for AR2015. I don’t know how Gene could possibly do it, day in and day out.

But for me, the Seattle / Portland / Vancouver trip was an amazing week. 5. Was there a time when you reached someone whom you never expected to be receptive to your message?

I know I don’t have anywhere near the number of stories Gene has (I love listening to his stories), but I do have loads of experiences like this (including at the national Future Farmers of America conference).

One of my first unexpected encounter like this was speaking at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, in rural PA. A young man in the audience was clearly agitated and just itching to get up and say something. As soon as I opened it up for questions, he jumped up and gave a dissertation on the “values” of hunting.

It was obvious that debating hunting wouldn’t be a winning strategy. More importantly, I knew arguing with him wouldn’t do anything to change anyone else’s mind or choices. I was, of course, tempted to make the full, consistent “animal rights” case, but I decided it was more important to try to get some of the people to actually make constructive change that made a difference for farm animals.

So I said, “Well, I can tell you this: I would rather live my life free and be shot dead as an adult, than be crammed into a bathroom with a bunch of others such that I can hardly move, living in our own waste.” As soon as I said that, the young man visibly calmed, and sat down to listen. I then went on to reiterate how bad farm animals have it on factory farms. At this point, the whole audience was more attentive than they had been during my main talk. I concluded my “answer” to him by repeating that I didn’t think anyone in the room would condone the way these animals are treated, and that each of us can choose compassion every time we eat.

Not only did the rest of the Q & A go great, but after everything was done, the young man thanked me. He said he always thought factory farms were bad, but hadn’t known just how bad. He also hadn’t known how rough it was for chickens (which I had focused on in the main talk), and concluded that not eating meat from factory farms was the right thing to do.

To me, this shows the power of Gene’s idea of meeting people where they are. I have always found it to be much more constructive and impactful to focus on the first step, rather than presenting a fixed dogma.

6. What do you enjoy doing outside of Farm Sanctuary life (hobbies, interests, etc.)? On one of our calls, Hank made the comment, “Matt, most people don’t have the the opportunity we have, to be able to work for animals.” This is really insightful: we are really incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity, and I want to make the most of it. Since we work at home, Anne and I are able to work every day. But we do try to go for a hike together once every week or two (where, of course, we talk more about work). I try to log off of work by 8pm, so I can do a little reading and wind down some. A while back, Hank and Leila gave me a number of book suggestions, and I’ve not yet had a chance to make a dent in that list.

I try to cook a good dinner 3-4 times per week (making enough for leftovers).

Our (lifelong vegan) daughter is away at college, so I look forward to opportunities to chat with her on Google Hangouts whenever she has a few spare minutes (usually in lab, between experiments). When she’s home, I try to keep up with her on her daily runs! 7. You’ve raised Ellen vegan; what advice do you have for vegan parents?

Oh, the world is so incredibly different now than it was 22 years ago, especially in this respect!

Reannon, who organized all our Walks for Farm Animals, is one of the founders of Generation Veggie – an amazing website and community for anyone who is vegan in a family (raising vegan kids, kids who have chosen to go vegan in a non-veg family, etc.). If you have questions or concerns, GenVeg has an article or someone who can help. It is a great resource!

And chill out if your son or daughter doesn’t like veggies!

8. Gene mentioned mixing soy powder to make soymilk back in the day… how has vegan food changed for you? What can Ellen enjoy that you couldn’t when you were in college?

HA! Comparing my attempts to just eat vegetarian (dairy-a-palooza) to eating vegan today is crazy! When I first stopped eating animals, I lived on cheese sandwiches and Captain Crunch with cow’s milk. Now at college, Ellen has vegan options at every dining hall at every meal (that video’s star doesn’t appear until 51 seconds in). Other colleges (including in Texas!) have entirely vegetarian or even vegan dining halls! Vegan reubens, vegan pizza, vegan Tofurky feasts – not only around Thanksgiving but regularly? (Thanks, Seth!)

Of course, I know that most people think veganism is impossible from where they are now (all the more reason to focus on the first step). But I could literally write a book about how crazy-different it is today than 30 years ago.

9. Why should someone visit Farm Sanctuary?

Of course, you don’t need to visit one of our sanctuaries to make an absolutely huge difference in the world. Every time we choose what to eat, we can make a powerful statement against cruelty and for compassion. Every time someone asks us why we’re vegetarian, we have the chance to provide farm animals a voice.

But there is something truly wonderful about getting to know individuals like Valentino, Emily, and Lucie. It makes our choices and our opportunity to advocate for these animals less abstract, more concrete. For me, at least, spending time with these individuals leaves me energized and even more motivated to change the world, to build a society where individuals like Frank and Ellen are no longer our job, but simply our friends.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Long-Term Payoff of Dietary Change

I never understood putting so much money and effort into eradicating polio until I considered Exhibit 1* here:

I view the eradicating factory farming the same way: Once we drive demand (e.g., One Step) and supply (GFI) such that people eat plant-based and in vitro meats merely for economic reasons, we will have done more to alter the cumulative suffering / pleasure balance over the next X number of centuries than anything else that I think is reasonably on the table. (Except the Singularity, of course! :-)

More on how to get there here.

*A little more explanation: This graph represents two options:

1. The cost, over time, of control (in blue), or
2. The cost, over time, of eradication (in grey).

If you pay a lot at first to eradicate something (the grey line), your costs go to zero. If you just control something (blue line), costs are initially lower, but never go down. It is like paying $100 up front for something, or paying $20/year forever.

In other words, it is worth it to invest a lot now in veg promotion and veg proteins, because the payoff over time is huge!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Convenient Cooking

My long-time friend Ginny Messina has a great post about following a compassionate diet without a lot of time or ingredients.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ellen the Stalwart

Lifelong vegan Ellen currently has a 3.9 GPA in Molecular Biology (with an emphasis on Public Policy) at Pomona College (Forbes' #1 school in the entire US, ahead of Harvard and Stanford). She's been accepted to grad school everywhere she applied, including MIT.

Running a 5:20 metric mile.

Since the Pomona's founding in 1887, Ellen is only the 13th woman to letter in both cross country and track all four years (she also earned eight varsity letters in high school). Not surprisingly, she's made the league's All-Academic Team as well.

Still in running shoes at 7th grade honors.

At Senior Appreciation this past weekend, the word her coach used to describe Ellen was "stalwart" - loyal, reliable, and hardworking. Couldn't have put it better myself.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Reality Check

If you've never watched a Hans Rosling talk (and I know some of you have), it is a great reality check, especially since the vegan bubble can be so utterly given to doom and gloom.