Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Roadmap to Animal Liberation

The Roadmap to Animal Liberation
Why, What, How, Who, and When

A talk in Los Angeles, November, 2014

Perhaps the single line most animal advocates would agree on is:
“We want animal liberation.”

But exactly what does this mean?

The first question – Why – is the easiest to answer and the hardest to face. I assume we don’t have to go into detail. We all know non-human animals suffer absolutely horrific brutality in numbers that completely dwarf the human population of the earth. We could spend all day watching sickening footage of animals being tortured and brutalized, and when we get up tomorrow, there would probably be another investigation revealing new horrors.

Piglets being stomped; from this video.

A lot of people don’t want to face this constant and stomach-churning cruelty. I can certainly understand this. And others believe the brutality justifies anything, including burning anger and even hatred of those who eat meat. I also understand this.

Going forward, I ask that you keep in mind this “Why” – the overwhelming cruelty to animals, and the moral imperative to end it as quickly as possible. This is the bottom line.

While the “Why” of animal liberation is clear, “What” animal liberation will entail is a topic of significant dispute. For some individuals, animal liberation requires that everyone adopt their specific diet, lifestyle, and philosophy. And not just our views about animals, but about religion, politics, GMOs, smoking, alcohol, families, and every other subject.

Of course part of me wants everyone to hold all my views. But this will never happen. And if I insist “veganism” must encompass all my views, I make it significantly harder, if not impossible, for others to even consider the animals’ plight. The more we insist on, the fewer individuals we’ll inspire to take any constructive steps for the animals.

Lessons from Other Movements
In one sense, it is instructive to consider human liberation. While things are by no means perfect for people, we have to admit most of us in the US have it way better than other animals. This doesn’t mean no one faces oppression, discrimination, or even violence. This isn’t to say there is no racism, sexism, or homophobia. This isn’t to say we don’t have a long way to go to achieve equality for all people.

What we have accomplished, though, is that now our society generally says these things are no longer acceptable.

What does this tell us about working for animal liberation?

If we step back for a second, we should note that about 99% of the animals killed in the US die to be eaten. So from where we are now, to a first approximation, animal liberation would be achieved if society no longer viewed animals as food. Not that everyone agrees with us on everything, but that animals are generally seen as individuals, not food.

This might seem far off, but in a way, bringing about this shift in perspective is an easier task than securing full human liberation. The vast majority of people oppose cruelty to animals – far more than believe in equal marriage, or equal pay for equal work, or even in racial equality.

Think about it this way: there are people who will consciously discriminate against or even work to deny equality for their fellow human beings. But almost no one eats meat because they actually want animals to suffer.

This brings us to the “How” of animal liberation: There are millions and millions of people out there who share our disgust, our moral revulsion, at animal cruelty. In fact, there are already enough people close to us to change society’s norms and bring about de facto animal liberation!

VegFund's pay-per-view video.

What we have to do now is convince those people to match their actions with their ethics.

Being Right Is Not Enough
Here’s one of the many mistakes I made in the past: I thought being right was enough. I thought all I had to do was point out how immoral it is to eat animals, and I was done.

But of course, being right isn’t enough. Resting on my perceived superiority wasn’t just harmful to making progress for the animals – it was downright stupid! I hadn’t changed my diet simply because someone pointed out what I was doing was “wrong.” Instead, I evolved over time, in fits and starts, even backsliding away from vegetarianism for a while.

Most vegans I know also evolved over time. They didn’t change because someone screamed at them. They weren’t chanted into being vegan. They changed, like me, because our hearts and minds were slowly opened to the animals’ plight. Just as importantly, we slowly became convinced that we had the ability to take meaningful action.

So as tempting as it is to be “right,” to be “pure” in our beliefs, what is actually important is that we are effective in getting people to start to evolve, to begin taking meaningful steps for the animals.

And in many ways, our task is actually easier than other social justice movements. We don’t have to eradicate a lifetime of racism. We don’t have to undo centuries of oppressive culture.

We already have people’s revulsion at cruelty to animals. We just have to get them to act according to the ethics they already have.

Yes, of course this can be difficult – we have to overcome habit, convenience, and peer pressure. But it is getting easier and easier every day! There was a great review of the vegan restaurant Souley Vegan, where someone who calls himself “a carnivore all the way” said:
Wish they were in my neighborhood, ‘cause I’d be one happy fat vegan cat eating some deep fried tofu with their crazy good tartar sauce. This food is the shizznyee. Not kidding.

We can do this. We no longer have to settle for the attitude of “do something, do anything.” We no longer have to settle for advocacy practices that were popular twenty years ago. Now, via groups like VegFund, we can pursue modern outreach like video that leverage the latest technological advances and psychological research. These new tools and insights mean our efforts and our donations can have the biggest possible impact for the animals.

And just as important, we now have vegan food that is the shizznyee!

The specifics of “How” to bring about animal liberation is a huge topic in and of itself. This is why I wrote The Accidental Activist and co-wrote The Animal Activist’s Handbook – to share what I and my colleagues have learned over the past quarter century. If we all can avoid the mistakes I’ve made in the past, the animals will be much better off.

Effective Advocacy Requires Focus
But before I cover the last two topics, I want to mention one key lesson we should keep in mind if we want to be effective advocates:

We should leave our ego at the door.

I know I’ve said this already, but I really can’t emphasize it enough. I deeply regret all my many failed opportunities to help animals – all because I couldn’t keep the focus on the animals and on the person with whom I was speaking.

In short, we have to stay focused if we want to be effective.

Again, the “How” is covered in my books and on websites like VegFund.org. Now, I want to conclude by covering the

When and Who
Because of number of individuals suffering, and the horrific brutality they face, I firmly believe animal liberation is the moral imperative of our time. Looking back at the long arc of history over the millennia, I know animal liberation will come about as our ethics gradually continue to evolve.

Working along with the expansion of our ethics, capitalism – which brought us factory farming – will continue to squeeze the inefficiencies from food production. This will ultimately end the practice of feeding grain to animals first, and then eating a part of the animal. As we know, it is much more efficient, and cost-effective, to just eat foods made directly from the plants.

But when de facto animal liberation will finally occur is an open question. Will it be decades? Centuries?

The variable that will determine “When” is “Who.” Specifically: You. Specifically: Us.

In retrospect, the expansion of our ethics seems inevitable. But it didn’t just happen on its own. Countless individuals struggled and sacrificed over the centuries to bend the arc of history towards justice.

I know at times, things can appear to be so overwhelming as to be hopeless. It is easy to feel that we can’t make a difference.

But if there are just two things you take with you tonight, know

One: we are winning, and
Two: you really can make a difference.

I stopped eating animals over a quarter century ago. At the time, I never dreamed of restaurants like Veggie Grill or Native Foods. I never dreamed Bill Gates and other billionaires would be investing in vegan food companies. I never dreamed of presidents going vegan.

Click image for larger.

Most of all, I never dreamed the number of animals killed in this country would decline by hundreds of millions every year since 2006, even while the population increases. We’ve changed the world so much in the past 25 years – far more than I ever dreamed!

VegFund's vegan food sampling.

The next 25 years could exceed our dreams even more! Of course, we are on the right side of history. But more importantly, we are stronger and much, much smarter. We are equipped with better tools and, with groups like VegFund, a growing dedication to optimal advocacy.

And although big ag is ruthless to the animals, we are now just as relentless in our efforts for the animals.

More importantly, we are winning! It can take some perspective to see it, but the wind is at our backs and our sails are unfurling.

You can be a part of this! Your time and donations can now accomplish far more than they did 20 years ago.

I implore you to be a part of this work. You can bend the arc. You will change the world. And you will live a meaningful life alongside some of the best, most dedicated individuals who have ever lived.

Thank you so much.

You can help bring this about today by just clicking here!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Big Numbers Hurt Animals

Cross-posted at the VegFund blog.

As Stalin said, "One death is a tragedy, but a million is a statistic."

This Psychology Today article discusses the dynamics in detail; excerpt:

"Mother Teresa once said, 'If I look at the mass I will never act.' When Stalin and Mother Teresa agree on a point, I sit up and pay attention. It turns out that the human tendency to turn away from mass suffering is well documented. Deborah Small and Paul Slovic have termed this phenomenon the collapse of compassion. It's not simply that as the number of victims goes up, people's sympathy levels off. No, when the numbers go up, the amount of sympathy people feel goes perversely down. And with it goes the willingness to donate money or time to help."

This has obvious implications for animal advocacy. Many vegans talk about how many billions and billions of animals are killed every year. But as the above article relates, this just numbs people.

Furthermore, in the face of unfathomable numbers, the one burger or chicken leg someone is going to eat that day seems negligible -- indeed, less than negligible.

Obviously, if we are going to create a world where all these animals aren't killed, we have to convince people not to eat animals. We need to be psychologically insightful in our efforts to do this, instead of repeating facts / stories that move us. Indeed, if something is meaningful to us as long-time vegans and activists, it is almost certainly not the best way to reach someone who currently eats meat.

Furthermore, we are not only looking to get people to stop eating animals. Rather, we need them to maintain that change, be a positive example of compassionate living, and to help advocate for the animals. In other words, we need to think strategically about our advocacy -- not just the immediate impact.

If we do this, change can grow exponentially!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Vegan Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Wet ingredients

  • 3⁄4 C brown sugar
  • 3⁄4 C sugar
  • (or use 1 1⁄2 C of one kind of sugar)
  • 3⁄4 C canola oil
  • 1⁄2 C water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Dry ingredients

  • 3 1⁄2 C oats (regular or quick)
  • 2 C flour (some whole wheat flour can be used if desired, but not more than about 1⁄2 C)
  • 1⁄2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 12-oz package chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine the wet ingredients in one bowl, and the first three dry ingredients in a larger bowl. Then pour the wet mixture into the dry, and mix thoroughly.

Look for nondairy chocolate chips at your local supermarket, health food store, or co-op; or order online from Pangea (vegan marshmallows, gelatins, pudding, and baking mixes are also available).

Form dough into patties on ungreased cookie sheet; then push in chocolate chips. (Adding the chips to the mix before forming the patties tends to make the patties too crumbly.)

Bake 10–12 minutes, testing after 8. Ovens tend to vary, as do the baking times for the top and bottom racks. Longer baking times lead to crunchier cookies, but a greater risk of burning!

Variations: Decrease flour by 1⁄4 C and add 1⁄2 C ground nuts.
Add 1⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon to the dry mixture, and use raisins instead of chocolate chips.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Great Marla Rose on TAA

The hilarious and cuttingly insightful Marla Rose has a review up of The Accidental Activist. Her review concludes:

Even if you don’t agree with every point, they are all thoughtfully presented and some, I will admit, made me challenge some of my own less than well-articulated beliefs as well as work toward improving my habits. I also appreciate that it is written with humility, with humor and understanding. In short, this is the collection to give someone new to the movement, someone who is burned out and feeling ineffective, someone who has been at this a long time or basically anyone who cares about other living beings: with wisdom, grace, straightforwardness, and an almost disconcerting lack of pretension, Matt Ball cuts to the heart of the matter. I highly recommend this collection. It will make you a better person. 

After you read the review, be sure to subscribe to Marla's Vegan Feminist Agitator blog, and you'll get a free copy of her ebook!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Difference Between Vegetarians and Former Vegetarians

HRC's big study of people who quit eating vegetarian (funded in part by VegFund) found very significant differences in the motivations for why the people originally chose a vegetarian diet:

Please click on image for larger

The data clearly shows the biggest difference between those who are currently vegetarian, compared to those who stopped being vegetarian, is that current vegetarians are motivated by "Animal Protection" -- 68% for people who are veg, vs only 27% for those who went back to eating animals.

This is not surprising. As I've argued for years, telling people they should chose their diet based on self-interest (health) leaves them much more easily influenced by peer pressure, family, and convenience. It is in most people's "self interest" to fit in and eat what their friends and family eat.

On the other hand, people who are motivated by the animals, disgust at eating animals, and concern for the environment -- in short, individuals who care about more than self-interest -- are those who are stay veg. That these motivations prove "protective" against recidivism should strongly inform our advocacy choices.

HRC makes another very important point: like the vast majority of people who are motivated by health, former vegetarians eat a lot of chickens, leading to an immense increase in cruelty and suffering. Again, this is a known fatal shortcoming of the health argument, as discussed in Advocacy Can Hurt Animals, and Ginny Messina's Bad News for Red Meat Is Bad News for Chickens.

HRC offers other important recommendations:

  • Include honest and thorough information about the "how" of ethical eating; 
  • Think of advocacy as a long-term relationship; 
  • Encourage people to take incremental, sustainable steps;
  • Focus on chickens.

But most importantly, the data supports the bottom line:

If we want to actually help animals, if we want to change society's view of animals, we need to advocate for the animals.

Thanks to HRC and VegFund for this study. See also: this Psychology Today summary, as well as Why Do Most Vegetarians Go Back to Eating Meat?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Extracto de Carta al Joven Matt

Un capítulo de The Accidental Activist; texto leído en una conferencia de 2009 en Chicago.

Una de las cosas que las personas veganas desde hace mucho suelen olvidar es lo duro que puede resultar ser vegano en nuestra sociedad. Yo lo he olvidado, en buena parte porque estoy casado con una vegana, tengo una hija vegana y tengo literalmente miles de amigos y compañeros veganos.

Pero si me pongo a recordar cuando me hice vegano hace más o menos dos décadas, recuerdo lo duro que resultaba. No solo por el hecho de encontrar comida vegana (aunque era bastante más duro en aquel entonces), sino por vivir en un mundo no vegano. Finalmente había llegado a darme cuenta de la brutalidad que tenía lugar de manera oculta, pero a mi alrededor a nadie parecía importarle. Incluso peor, ¡se burlaban de mí y me atacaban por ser vegano!, quiero decir, ¡no solo apoyaban esa crueldad sino que me ridiculizaban por no comer animales!

Así que, cómo no, tenía que mostrarles lo ético que yo era, cuánta crueldad podía eliminar de mi vida y hasta dónde estaba dispuesto a llegar por los animales. Ser vegano se convirtió en mi principal rasgo de identidad, y me obsesioné con justificar e idealizar el veganismo (y, por lo tanto, a mí mismo). Los debates sobre el lenguaje, la filosofía y la teoría llegaron a ser de vital importancia para mí. Tenía que participar en cualquier acto de protesta que tuviese lugar, no importa lo lejos que tuviese que conducir, que hiciera temperaturas bajo cero o que fuese arrestado. No podía "dar la espalda" a los animales. ¡Así me entregaba a la causa!

Mucho me temo que si mi yo de 21 años se encontrara con mi yo de 41, mi yo anterior sentiría asco de mi yo actual. El joven Matt consideraría al Matt actual un cobarde intelectual, un vendido patético, un traidor del veganismo. Me temo que no habría nada que pudiese decirle para cambiar su parecer. Así de puro, cabreado y obsesivo era.

Pero a veces me pregunto qué le diría si tuviese la oportunidad.

La lección más importante que he aprendido en los últimos veinte años es que en el corazón de lo que verdaderamente importa está el sufrimiento. En aquel entonces, aunque estaba completamente seguro de saberlo todo, en realidad no sabía nada sobre el sufrimiento. Desde entonces he contraído y padecido una enfermedad crónica y he pasado por momentos en los que creí que iba a morir, momentos en los que deseé morir. En aquel entonces me preocupaba sobre asuntos abstractos, palabras y principios. Discutía sobre explotación, opresión, liberación.  No me tomaba el sufrimiento en serio. Ahora, conociendo de verdad lo que supone sufrir, y sabiendo cuánto sufrimiento hay en el mundo, todas mis preocupaciones anteriores parecen, bueno... por decirlo de manera suave... ridículas.

No sé cómo podría transmitir esto a mi yo de aquel entonces, quien nunca supo realmente qué era el sufrimiento. Aun así ahora veo de manera clara que cuando tomamos una decisión deberíamos decidir en base a qué nos lleve a la menor cantidad de sufrimiento. Esta es la cuestión de fondo: que algo es bueno, justo y ético si causa menos sufrimiento que sus alternativas.

Obviamente el joven Matt alardearía, "¡Por supuesto que tomo decisiones éticas, por eso soy vegano!". Pero esto es lo que no entendía en aquel entonces: lo que pongo en mi boca es solo una pequeña fracción de lo que importa.

En aquel entonces, al estar rodeado de personas que comían carne me obsesioné con las cosas que estaban bajo mi control: mi pureza personal. Fue tiempo después cuando me di cuenta de que a pesar de todo mi discurso sobre "los animales" en realidad me estaba protegiendo y proyectando a mí mismo.

Me llevó literalmente años llegar a entender que hay mucho más en la vida que mi propia pureza y mi propia rectitud. Pero las cosas que tan obvias me parecen ahora (como la crucial importancia del sufrimiento) nunca llegaron a calar a través de mi enfado y mi auto convencimiento.

Como se suele decir, una persona inteligente aprende de sus errores, pero una persona sabia aprende de los errores de los demás. Otro error en el que solía quedar atrapado era "¡haz algo, haz lo que sea!". Si tenía lugar algo "por los animales", yo tenía que estar ahí. Nunca se me ocurría pensar en qué tipo de resultado constructivo conseguiría la acción, cómo de efectiva era la acción, o qué podía hacer alternativamente con mi tiempo y recursos. Solo pensaba en mostrar mi dedicación, en expresar mi furia.

Pero por supuesto, las expresiones de furia no van a conseguir la liberación animal. Finalmente llegué a entender que si realmente me importaba algo más allá de para desfogar mi furia, mis acciones tenían que formar parte de una estrategia razonada y lógica. Y que el plan debía ser realista, no basado sencillamente en mis deseos y en mis reivindicaciones de lo que "tenía" que ser. Dicha estrategia tiene que asentarse en cómo es el mundo en realidad, aprendiendo de lo que nos enseña la historia sobre cómo cambian las sociedades y lo que nos dice la psicología y la sociología sobre la naturaleza humana  y cuáles son nuestras capacidades en ese momento (1, 2).

Resulta vital comprender nuestras capacidades. No disponemos de recursos infinitos. En realidad tenemos extremadamente poco tiempo y dinero, especialmente si lo comparamos con el de las industrias que explotan a los animales. La mayoría de presupuestos de los grupos de base no llegan ni al millón de dólares al año. Es cierto que el presupuesto de People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) es mayor, y que The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) tiene alrededor de cien millones de dólares anuales de presupuesto. Pero comparemos con los de las empresas que explotan animales: en 2007, solo dos de estas empresas (Tyson y Cargill) tuvieron beneficios de unos 115 billones de dólares. ¡Billones, con "B"!

¡Ya solo sus presupuestos para publicidad empequeñecen nuestros recursos!
Tras años de activismo sin objetivos y lleno de furia, finalmente me di cuenta de que si de verdad me importaban los animales tenía que maximizar la cantidad de resultados que obtenía con mi limitado tiempo y recursos. Y que para hacer tal cosa, tenía que poner a un lado mi ego y parar de centrarme en aquello que más me enfurecía. Por el contrario, tenía que empezar desde las dos lecciones fundamentales que me llevaron tanto tiempo aprender:

  • El sufrimiento es inherentemente indeseable, y por lo tanto eliminar el sufrimiento es el objetivo  final.
  • Cada vez que elegimos hacer una cosa, estamos eligiendo no hacer otra.

He leído y debatido mucho, pero por mucho que lo he intentado no he sido capaz de desprenderme de estas nociones verdaderas:

Eliminar el sufrimiento es el objetivo final y cada vez que elegimos hacer una cosa estamos eligiendo no hacer otra.

Mis principios provienen de estos dos hechos. Mis objetivos fundamentales: eliminar tanto sufrimiento como sea posible. Todo lo que hacemos proviene directamente de esto. Tomamos nuestras decisiones basándonos en cuál nos llevará a la menor cantidad de sufrimiento.

Por supuesto hay mucho más que tener en cuenta en términos de los cómo y los porqués del activismo más efectivo. Bruce Friedrich y yo hemos sintetizado las lecciones de nuestras décadas de activismo y de los conocimientos de cientos de activistas más en nuestro libro The AnimalActivist's Handbook.

A pesar de todo el horror y sufrimiento que tiene lugar, si nos decidimos por actuar a largo plazo y estamos dispuestos a destinar nuestro limitado tiempo y recursos al trabajo que se necesita hacer, deberíamos ser profundamente optimistas. Si nos tomamos en serio el sufrimiento y nos comprometemos con una manera efectiva de hacer activismo, cada uno de nosotros puede generar cambios fundamentales cada día.

Por el número de víctimas que sufren y las motivaciones tras esta brutalidad oculta creo que la liberación animal es el imperativo moral de nuestro tiempo. Podemos ser la generación que posibilite este enorme avance ético. Deberíamos disfrutar (¡Sí, disfrutar!) por la libertad y la oportunidad que tenemos, ¡la oportunidad de formar parte de algo tan profundo! Una vida dedicada a algo así resulta más significativa y feliz que cualquier otra que pueda imaginar.

No tenemos excusa para esperar. Ponernos en marcha de manera significativa y concreta por los animales no requiere más que tomar la decisión. No necesitas hacer un grupo. No necesitas aprobar una ley. Solo necesitas tomar la sencilla pero determinante decisión que cambiará tu vida siendo parte de este trabajo vital.

En el fondo, en nuestros corazones todos sabemos que a pesar de lo que pensemos de nosotros mismos, nuestras acciones muestran quiénes somos realmente. Cada uno de nosotros podemos tomar la decisión justo ahora, justo aquí. La decisión de unirnos y dedicar nuestras vidas a un propósito mayor que nosotros mismos: maximizar la cantidad de efectividad que logramos, cambiar realmente el mundo para mejor.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Capitalism: A Love Story

Many of us wish that pure vegan companies will arise and take down established companies like McDonald’s and Tyson. While there are great examples (Hampton Creek Foods, Tofurky, Veggie Grill, Native Foods), these are all very small scale compared to the main food players in the country.

At his great Counting Animals blog, Harish Sethu looked at the advertising budgets (just the advertising budgets, not the operating budgets) of the major animal agriculture companies, and compared them to the full operating budget for animal advocacy groups:

This is why stories like this week’s news are potentially positive for animals: Pinnacle Foods acquires maker of Gardein vegan food line for $154M

We certainly know big companies like Pinnacle are rarely ethical paragons. But for animal liberation to advance, and a vegan world to be built, the concern isn’t whether current vegans personally like a certain company.

Rather, the issue is how quickly we can get new people to stop eating animals and start making ethical choices. And although we’d like everyone to make decisions purely on the basis of ethics, this is not about to be the case. If we are to do our best for the animals, we need to recognize that cost and convenience are key considerations for many current meat eaters.

Of course, Pinnacle could just let Gardein wither and die. But this acquisition could potentially increase the visibility (and decrease the cost) of Gardein products, reaching more new people. And if this turned out to be the case, some vegans might be unhappy, but it could well be a net advance for the animals and our overall goal of a vegan world.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Las lecciones arraigadas en el activismo pueden dañar a los animales

Thanks to José Ramón Mallén Vargas-Machuca for the translation!

Pongamos que hemos conseguido elaborar lo que creemos sea el argumento más infalible a favor de vegatarianismo/veganismo, y se lo exponemos a diez personas. Sorprendentemente cinco de llas dejan de comer animales; las otras deciden "comer mejor" dejando las carnes rojas, siguiendo las típicas sugerencias de sus doctores y amigos.

Podríamos pensar, "¿Un 50% de éxito? ¡Estamos en el camino adecuado!". Así solía pensar yo. Pero los años me han enseñado a preguntar: ¿En realidad, cómo afecta el argumento a los animales?

Cada año, un estadounidonense promedio come 23 aves, 1/3 de un cerdo y 1/10 de una vaca. Para producir el mismo número de raciones que proporciona un buey se necesitan alrededor de 193 aves (pollos y pavos). Para un cerdo se requieren 56 aves.

De esta manera, antes de exponer nuestro argumento a las diez personas estas comían un total de 234 animales al año de los mencionados. Tras nuestra exposición, las mismas diez, incluidas las cinco que se unieron a nuestro club vegetariano, comerán 296 animales al año. Esto sucede porque, a pesar de que convencimos a la mitad de dejar de comer animales, el resto sustituyó las carnes rojas con aves para comer de manera más saludable.

Sustituir las carnes rojas con pollo es un hecho bien documentado. Por ejemplo, como dice Daniel (un epidemiólogo nutricional del Centro para el Cáncer MD Anderson de la universidad de Texas, "si se observan las recomendaciones nutricionales propuestas por el Departamento de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos [y otras instituciones para la salud], en ellas se recomienda reducir las carnes rojas y sustituirlas con carnes sin grasa, carnes de aves y pescado. También hemos observado por medio de otros datos que la gente está pasándose a las carnes de ave."

Existen estudios contradictorios de cuánta cantidad de pollo es comida por las personas que dejan las carnes rojas por completo. Pero para las personas que solo reducen la cantidad de carnes rojas (la mayoría por motivos de salud), los datos son absolutamente claros: las personas que solo reducen las carnes rojas comen mucho, pero mucho pollo. En el mayor estudio realizado en fechas recientes, por ejemplo, aquellos que comen la menor cantidad de carnes rojas comen un 50% más de pollo que aquellos que comen mayor cantidad de carnes rojas. [Aston, L. M., et al. Meat Intake in Britain in Relation to Other Dietary Components and to Demographic and Risk Factor Variables: Analyses Based on the National Diet and Nutrition Survey of 2000/2001. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 26(1), October 18, 2012.]

¡Un 50% más! Los hechos son claros: cualquier cosa que lleve  a la gente a reducir el consumo de carnes rojas daña a los animales activamente.

Por supuesto, todos conocemos a personas que se han hecho vegetarianas o veganas por motivos de salud. Como difusores del vegetarianismo, estamos en una posición en la que es fácil oír de estas personas y recordarlas. Cuando hacemos encuestas a vegetarianos (y/o a personas que reducen la cantidad de carne), por supuesto que algunas veces escuchamos el "argumento de la salud" como motivación. Pero encuestar solo a vegetarianos no nos muestra el alcance completo de ningún argumento. El error está en pensar que los vegetarianos por motivos de salud que conocemos o encuestamos son una muestra real de la sociedad. Y no lo son. En vez de eso, constituyen una sub-grupo que elegimos por nuestras preferencias.

La historia nos enseña que comer menos animales de tamaño grande y más animales pequeños por motivos de salud no constituye un escenario inventado por nosotros. Es una realidad que lleva al sufrimiento y la muerte a billones y billones de aves. Solo hay que mirar a cualquier gráfico que muestre los animales matados en los USA: a lo largo de decádas, según decrecía el consumo de mamíferos, las muertes de aves crecían exponencialmente.

Este es el motivo por el que no uso ningún argumento que pudiese, de alguna manera, apoyar la tendencia general de dejar solo las carnes rojas. Cualquier persona que decide "comer mejor" [dejando las carnes rojas] contrarresta con creces los beneficios causados por cada nuevo vegetariano.

En otras palabras: no usaré argumentos anti-carne. Nosotros difundimos argumentos pro-animales. Obviamente es atrayente decir "los veganos tienen una menor tasa de la enfermedad X", pero el objetivo no es decir algo que nos haga sentir bien o dejar en buen lugar a nuestra dieta. No hacemos activismo para justificar y idealizar nuestras elecciones. Nuestro objetivo es conseguir que el mayor número de animales no sufran.

Por supuesto los activistas podrían lanzar el mensaje de que comer aves es malo para la salud y el medio amabiente. Pero dejando a un lado la veracidad de semejantes argumentos medioambientales y de salud, sencillamente no reflejan la manera en que funciona el mundo. La gente no acepta como verdad absoluta lo que diga un vegano. Más bien se combina lo que se escucha de todas las fuentes, y se presta más atención a lo que dice nuestro doctor o nuestros amigos. Y por encima de todo, las  personas dan mucho más crédito a los consejos que las llevan a hacer lo que ya quieren hacer (por ejemplo seguir comiendo la comida ya conocida que sus familias y amigos comen).

Y más importante aún, sencillamente no tomamos decisiones basándonos en lo que resulta "perfecto" para nuestra salud o el medioambiente. Ninguno de nosotros, veganos incluidos, hacemos la cantidad de deporte que deberíamos, dormimos la cantidad de horas que deberíamos, usamos hilo dental cada día, trabajamos en la postura adecuada, dejamos de usar el coche, etc. Con escasas excepciones, todos seguimos nuestros hábitos de grupo. Para la mayoría de gente (y no para un sub-grupo que elijamos sesgadamente), si cambiamos en algo, cambiamos para hacerlo, de alguna manera, "mejor" (comer pollos en vez de vacas).

En otras palabras, no importa lo que los veganos digamos que es verdad o lo que nosotros queramos, la gente reaccionará desde el momento vital en el que se encuentre, basándose en lo que está acostumbrada a hacer y condicionada por lo que quiera realmente. No importa cómo de sólidos pensemos que sean nuestros argumentos, no importa cuán nobles sean nuestras intenciones o cuánta pasión pongamos. Cuando hacemos activismo sin tener en cuenta la naturaleza humana, la historia y los números [estadísticos], hacemos que sufran y mueran más animales.

Si queremos ayudar a los animales, necesitamos hacer activismo para los animales.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

excerpts from Letter to a Young Matt

A chapter in The Accidental Activist; originally a talk 2009 talk in Chicago.

One thing long-time vegans often forget is how hard it can be to be vegan in this society. I’ve forgotten to a large extent, because I’m married to a vegan, have a vegan daughter, and have literally thousands of vegan friends and colleagues.

But if I think back to when I went vegan about two decades ago, I remember some of how hard it was. Not so much finding vegan food (although it was much harder then), but living in a non-vegan world. I had finally come to recognize the brutality that went on behind the scenes, but it seemed no one around me cared. Even worse than that, they mocked and attacked me for being vegan! I mean, not only did they support cruelty, but they ridiculed me for not eating animals!

Of course, I had to show them: how ethical I was, how much cruelty I could purge from my life, how far I would go for the animals. Being vegan became my defining characteristic, and I became obsessed with justifying and glorifying veganism (and, thus, myself). Debates about language, philosophy, and hypotheticals all took on vital importance. I had to take part in any protest that came along: driving long distances, being out in sub-zero weather, getting arrested. I couldn’t “turn my back” on the animals. I was just that dedicated!

I’m afraid that if my twenty-one-year-old self met my forty-one-year-old self, prior me would loathe current me. Young Matt would consider current Matt an intellectual coward, a pathetic sellout, a traitor to veganism. I fear there is nothing I could say to change my mind. I was so self-righteous, so angry, so obsessive.

But, sometimes, I wonder what I would say, if I had the chance.

The single most important lesson I’ve learned in the past twenty years is that the irreducible heart of what matters is suffering. Back then, even though I was absolutely sure I knew everything, I really didn’t know anything about suffering. Since then, though, I’ve developed a chronic disease and experienced times when I thought I was going to die, times when I wished I would die. Back then, I worried about abstractions and words and principles; I argued about exploitation, oppression, liberation. I didn’t take suffering seriously. Now, knowing what suffering really is, and knowing how much there is in the world, all my previous concerns seem, well . . . to put it kindly . . . ridiculous.

I don’t know how I could convey this to my younger self, who had never really known suffering. Yet it seems clear to me now that when we make a decision, we should decide based on what leads to the least amount of suffering. This is the bottom line: that something is good and right and ethical if it causes less suffering than the alternatives.

Obviously, Young Matt would crow, “Of course I make ethical choices, that is why I’m a vegan!” But here is what I couldn’t understand back then: what I put into my mouth is only a tiny fraction of what is important.

Being surrounded by mocking meat eaters back then, I became obsessed over what I could control: my personal purity. It was only later I came to realize that, despite all my talk about “the animals,” I was really only protecting and promoting myself.

It literally took me years to understand that there can be so much more to life than my own purity, my own righteousness. But things that seem painfully obvious to me now—like the fundamental, irreducible importance of suffering—never made it through my anger and self-absorption.

As the saying goes, a smart person learns from their own mistakes, but a wise person learns from the mistakes of others. Another error I had to make for myself was the trap of “do something, do anything!” If there was some action going on “for the animals,” I had to do it. It never occurred to me to consider exactly what constructive purpose the action served, how much actual good was going to be accomplished, or what were the alternative uses of my time and resources. I thought only of showing my dedication, of expressing my outrage.

But of course, expressions of outrage aren’t going to bring about animal liberation. I finally realized that if I really cared about something more than venting my anger, my actions had to be part of a reasoned, logical strategy. And the plan has to be realistic, not based simply on my desires, my demands of what “must” happen. This strategy has to be grounded in how the world actually is, learning from what history teaches us about how societies change, what psychology and sociology tell us about human nature, and what our capabilities are at the time (1, 2).

Understanding our capabilities is vital. We don’t have infinite resources; we actually have extremely limited time and money, especially compared to the industries that exploit animals. Most grassroots group's budgets aren't even a million dollars a year. It’s true that the budget for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is bigger, and that of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) over a hundred million dollars. But compare these to the companies that exploit animals: in 2007, just two of these companies—Tyson and Cargill—had revenues of over $115 billion. Billion, with a “B”!

Even their advertising budgets dwarf our resources!

Advertising budgets, from http://countinganimals.com/meat-industry-advertising/
After years of unfocused, angry activism, I finally came to realize that if I truly cared about the animals, I had to maximize the amount of good I accomplished with my limited time and resources. And to do so, I had to set aside my ego and stop focusing on what most outraged me personally. Rather, I needed to start from the two fundamental lessons that took me so long to learn:

Suffering is irreducibly bad, and thus eliminating suffering is the ultimate good.
Every time we choose to do one thing, we are choosing not to do another.

I’ve read a lot and debated a lot, but as much as I’ve tried I’ve just not been able to get away from the simple truths:

Eliminating suffering is the ultimate good; and every time we choose to do one thing, we are choosing not to do another.

From these two facts comes my principles, my bottom line and guide: to eliminate as much suffering as possible. Everything we do derives directly from that; we make our choices based on which option will lead to the least amount of suffering.

Of course, there is a lot more to discuss in terms of the hows and whys of optimal advocacy. Bruce Friedrich and I have distilled the lessons of our decades of activism and the insights of hundreds of other activists into our book The Animal Activist’s Handbook.

Despite all the current horror and suffering, if we take the long view and are willing to devote our limited time and resources to the work that needs to be done, we should be deeply optimistic. If we take suffering seriously and are committed to optimal advocacy, we can each create real, fundamental change, every single day.

Because of the number of individuals suffering and the reason behind this hidden brutality, I believe that animal liberation is the moral imperative of our time. We can be the generation that brings about this next great ethical advance. We should revel—really revel!—in the freedom and opportunity we have, the chance to be a part of something so profound! This is as meaningful and joyous a life as I can imagine.

We have no excuse for waiting. Taking meaningful, concrete action for the animals doesn’t require anything other than our choice. You don’t need to start a group. You don’t need to pass a law. You just have to make the simple but profound and life-changing choice to be a part of this vital work.

In the end, in our hearts, we know that regardless of what we think of ourselves, our actions reveal the kind of person we really are. We can each make the choice, right here, right now, to join together and dedicate our lives to a larger purpose, to maximize the amount of good we accomplish, to really change the world for the better. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Dr. Greger from 2005: Why Honey Is Vegan

I recently submitted an article for an online project of Satya's, and it reminded me of this gem by my longtime friend Dr. Michael Greger:

Honey hurts more than just bees. It hurts egg-laying hens, crammed in battery cages so small they can’t spread their wings. It hurts mother pigs, languishing for months in steel crates so narrow they can’t turn around. And the billions of aquatic animals who, pulled from filthy aquaculture farms, suffocate to death. All because honey hurts our movement.

It’s happened to me over and over. Someone will ask me why I’m vegan—it could be a new friend, co-worker, distant family, or a complete stranger. I know I then have but a tiny window of opportunity to indelibly convey their first impression of veganism. I’m either going to open that window for that person, breezing in fresh ideas and sunlight, or slam it shut as the blinds fall. So I talk to them of mercy. Of the cats and dogs with whom they’ve shared their lives. Of birds with a half piece of paper’s worth of space in which to live and die. Of animals sometimes literally suffering to death. I used to eat meat too, I tell them. Lots of meat. And I never knew either.

Slowly but surely the horror dawns on them. You start to see them struggling internally. How can they pet their dog with one hand and stab a piece of pig with the other? They love animals, but they eat animals. Then, just when their conscience seems to be winning out, they learn that we don’t eat honey. And you can see the conflict drain away with an almost visible sigh. They finally think they understand what this whole “vegan” thing is all about. You’re not vegan because you’re trying to be kind or compassionate—you’re just crazy! They smile. They point. You almost had me going for a second, they chuckle. Whew, that was a close one. They almost had to seriously think about the issues. They may have just been considering boycotting eggs, arguably the most concentrated form of animal cruelty, and then the thought hits them that you’re standing up for insect rights. Maybe they imagine us putting out little thimble-sized bowls of food for the cockroaches every night.

I’m afraid that our public avoidance of honey is hurting us as a movement. A certain number of bees are undeniably killed by honey production, but far more insects are killed, for example, in sugar production. And if we really cared about bugs we would never again eat anything either at home or in a restaurant that wasn’t strictly organically grown—after all, killing bugs is what pesticides do best. And organic production uses pesticides too (albeit “natural”). Researchers measure up to approximately 10,000 bugs per square foot of soil—that’s over 400 million per acre, 250 trillion per square mile. Even “veganically” grown produce involves the deaths of countless bugs in lost habitat, tilling, harvesting and transportation. We probably kill more bugs driving to the grocery store to get some honey-sweetened product than are killed in the product’s production.

Our position on honey therefore just doesn’t make any sense, and I think the general population knows this on an intuitive level. Veganism for them, then, becomes more about some quasi-religious personal purity, rather than about stopping animal abuse. No wonder veganism can seem nonsensical to the average person. We have this kind of magical thinking; we feel good about ourselves as if we’re actually helping the animals obsessing about where some trace ingredient comes from, when in fact it may have the opposite effect. We may be hurting animals by making veganism seem more like petty dogmatic self-flagellation.

In my eyes, if we choose to avoid honey, fine. Let’s just not make a huge production of it and force everybody to do the same if they want to join the club.