Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Can Our Choices Make a Difference? The Video

For those of you who won't be in Portland at the VegFest this weekend, here is the video of talk I'll be giving (updated and modified).

Thanks to everyone who has provided feedback; I'll be incorporating as much as I can this Saturday in Portland.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

More Best Time Ever

Previously, I mentioned that by objective measures, this is the best time to be alive (as a human). I'm happy to see Peter Singer making the same point.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Point of View

This new post from Tobias does a nice job of summarizing the difference between consequentialists and those concerned with "values."

He hints at an even better frame: If we take the animals' point of view, or if we are primarily concerned with how something makes us feel. Of course, I have sympathy for those who want everything to directly and fully conform to their personal ideals. But for me, all that matters is reducing the number of individuals suffering in the real world.

By the way, Anne and I think the Tofurky strips are noticeably better than the Beyond Meat strips!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What Have We Learned?

A decade ago, Peter Singer invited me to be on a panel at Princeton with Jonathan Haidt. Professor Haidt gave the first presentation entitled, “Why Good Intentions Don’t Lead to Good Actions,” where he noted that whenever he was around Peter, he would decide to stop eating animals. But after he was home and into the routines of his life, he’d fall back into his old ways.

In my presentation, “Causing Good Actions Anyway,” I opened with why we should care (showing a brief clip of some of the cruelty farm animal face). Then I talked about how food technology will continue to advance such that people will eat whatever they want, but the products will be cruelty-free.

From 2006

I noted, “Compare a Boca burger today to one from 20 years ago, and just imagine how good a  veggie burger will be 20 years from now.”

From 2006

This very insightful new Vox article – “Ethical arguments won't end factory farming. Technology might.” – makes the same case Jonathan and I did in 2006. I would like to amplify several points here.

In the past, I’ve made statements similar to the Vox title, and I’ve always received pushback along the lines of “There is so much interest in veganism! It is growing by leaps and bounds – we have to keep pushing for [my personal view of ethical] veganism!”

But for most of the time since I stopped eating animals in the 80s, there has been no true, bottom-line evidence of the growth of veganism or even vegetarianism. In fact, the percentage of people who don’t eat animals is more-or-less unchanged, even declining from 2012 to 2015 (but always within the margin of error).

There were a few years when the number of animals killed for food in the US went down, but that trend has reversed and per capita meat consumption is at an all-time high.

Yet I’m encouraged by two things. First is the current emphasis on and embrace of new food technologies.

I actually don’t think we need huge breakthroughs in tech to produce food that everyone will eat. I think the best plant-based foods out there now are good enough to satisfy most people most of the time. We can make plant-based food as satisfying and mouth-watering as what you would see on a TV commercial, but we often choose to go for hyper-healthy gourmet instead.

Will never be seen on a TV commercial.

That's more like it!

Unfortunately, actually appealing products aren’t all of equal quality, aren’t convenient, and aren’t quite cost competitive.

From 2006

(I think convenience is the biggest stumbling block.

If people could get a well-prepared Beyond Burger or something made with Tofuky strips as easily as anything else, many more people would have more meat-free meals.)

Secondly, many in the animal advocacy movement have grown beyond the dogma: “I have to stay true to myself and only advocate exactly what I want.” More and more advocates recognize the futility (at best) of an “all-or-nothing” approach, and now take a more realistic tact. We know there are many, many people like Dr. Haidt and Sean Illing (the interviewer in the Vox piece referenced above) – intelligent and thoughtful individuals who just won’t give up (animal) meat. Vox founder Ezra Klein makes the comparison to the Founding Fathers (minus Adams and Hamilton) who bemoaned the horrors of slavery, all while adding to their slave holdings.

Understanding this has led more and more groups and advocates to adopt incremental tactics and pursue realistic goals to reduce suffering. From abolishing cages to Meatless Mondays to slow-growth birds, more efforts are being put into actions that don’t (immediately) increase the number of vegans, but do actually impact many animals, and are able to reach new people.

Not surprisingly, I think One Step for Animals is the epitome of this pragmatic, harm-reduction trend in advocacy, as discussed here. (Last month alone, this all-volunteer organization reached well over a million people with a next-to-nothing budget.)

We know the people who don’t think they can go veg would be willing (and are often eager) to make some change for the “better.” But the message that’s usually promoted – health, environment, animals – is almost always interpreted to apply first and primarily to mammals, leading to a lot more birds suffering. With One Step, the call for change will “do no harm,” and will prompt the most impactful realistic step anyone can take, no matter how much they love meat.

Postscript: At the meal after the Princeton talk, we were served a disgusting slab of undercooked tofu. It was as though the chef sought to mock my idea that plant-based foods could be tasty! Yet a week later, I received an email from Jonathan Haidt, saying that after my talk, he and his wife were really going to stop eating animals. This time, they really meant it!  :-)

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

And Now: A Message from a Supporter

For the duration of this piece, I’ll put aside the question of what's the optimal message to the general public for reducing farm animal suffering. Vegan or vegetarian. Meatless Monday or cage free. Several groups are doing great work in this area, and hopefully, we’ll soon have reliable data to make conclusions.

Instead, the question I’ll focus on is “What is the best marginal message for reducing farm animal suffering, given the current state of groups doing work in this area?” By “best marginal,” I mean that we assume existing groups continue to promote meat reduction, vegetarian transitions, and vegan advocacy. Now what?

Studies like Dr. Harish Sethu's Counting Animals blog post show the average meat-eating American kills the most land animals with their chicken consumption: 23.7 chickens vs 1.3 for all other land animals combined. In addition to quantity, broiler chickens on factory farms are subjected to immense suffering (John Webster, professor of Veterinary Science, has noted that industrial chicken production is, “in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animal.”). Chickens are also one of the smallest animals on a factory farm. Being smaller means it takes many more individuals to make 100 lbs of meat. 

So what if Americans stopped eating chicken, as urged by One Step’s compelling message? If they substituted plants, they’d take their average from 25 to 1.3 land animals per year. (If they stopped eating all birds, they would be responsible for the death of fewer than one animal every year.) And even if they substituted with pork, the average would still be fewer than 2 land animals per year.

Dropping the average American’s land animal consumption to 1.3 per year is the equivalent of making all Americans vegan for 11+ months per year.

This angle, largely unprioritized by other groups, is why I support One Step For Animals

Other reasons are that it is a 100% volunteer organization - all funds go to online outreach and booklet distribution. It's also run by 3 people with oodles of cred: Joe Espinsoa, the #1 volunteer leafletter of all time; Anne Green, one of the hardest workers I know; and Matt Ball, a father of our movement's focus on farm animals.

So other groups out there, please continue doing the great work you’re known for. And supporters, please continue to support them. But if you have a few extra dollars and would like to contribute to an important opportunity for farm animals, largely unprioritized by other groups, please click here.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Best Time Ever

If you listen to the news and / or read your Facebook feed, it is easy to imagine that the world is going to heck in a handbasket. But it really is the best time ever to be alive (at least for a human).

Hans Rosling has shown this graphically (below; fuller version here). Steven Pinker has documented this as well. This new report – In 1990, more than 60% of people in East Asia were in extreme poverty. Now only 3.5% are. – documents just how much things have changed in only our lifetime!

Of course, this doesn't mean that everything is perfect; that is obviously not true. But we will be better off at changing the world if we are honest with ourselves and with others about the progress that has been made.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Best Policy Analysis I've Come Across (Seriously)

With all the discussions about style of substance, I found this post to be an actual analysis of policy and what is at stake:

Hey. I am terrified of the possibility of Donald Drumpf becoming president of my country. So. 
Friends in the US who are eligible to vote:
If you’re considering voting third party or not voting, please, actually consider where your values are. Please actually look into Hillary’s platform - honestly, if there are issues important to you, they’re probably there, with specifics, with history.
LGBT equality? check. Here’s an excerpt:
“Hillary will work with Congress to pass the Equality Act, continue President Obama’s LGBT equality executive actions, and support efforts underway in the courts to protect people from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in every aspect of public life…. Hillary will end so-called “conversion therapy” for minors, combat youth homelessness by ensuring adequate funding for safe and welcoming shelters, and take on bullying and harassment in schools. She’ll end discriminatory treatment of LGBT families in adoptions, and protect LGBT elders against discrimination.”
Provide comprehensive support to survivors. Every campus should offer survivors the support they need—no matter their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or race. Those services, from counseling to critical health care, should be confidential, comprehensive, and coordinated.” [This then goes on to address improving legal processes and prevention efforts]
  • Reform our broken criminal justice system by reforming sentencing laws and policies, ending racial profiling by law enforcement, strengthening the bonds of trust between communities and police, and more. Read more here.
  • Protect the right to vote by fighting to repair the Voting Rights Act and implementing universal, automatic voter registration so that every American will be registered to vote when they turn 18, unless they opt out. Read more here.
  • Protect immigrants’ rights and keep families together by fighting for comprehensive immigration reform, including a full and equal pathway to citizenship and an end to family detention and private immigrant detention centers. Read more here.
Secondly, if you’re not satisfied, if you really, truly, believe that Jill “Wi-Fi is dangerous” ‘Lemme just appeal to my anti-vax base for a second’ Stein or Gary “No minimum wage” “Get rid of the department of education because bathrooms for trans kids are ruining education” “abolish the income tax and eliminate environmental regs” Johnson are the best match for your values, or if you’d rather just sit at home because it makes no difference whether the former Secretary of State or a former game show host becomes president - if you really believe that, please consider whether your sense of absolute moral purity is worth the lives that will be put at risk by a Drumpf presidency.
I am entirely serious: This is a man who treats the prospect of nuclear war cavalierly, whose first ‘diplomatic’ enterprise was a disaster, who denies climate change, who has been not only lacking in compassion but needlessly cruel, who has said we should ban Muslims from entering the country, we should ban abortion, and would sign laws to make discrimination against queer people legal if it’s done on a ‘religious basis’, who, for the love of all that is holy, is a GAME SHOW HOST who’s cut reams of corrupt deals and bankrupted his businesses six times and still wants to be president. Nearly a quarter of his own supporters believe that he would start a nuclear war. I am not kidding when I say there are lives at stake. I am not kidding when I say I am absolutely, nauseatingly terrified of this prospect. 
Now go! Register to vote! And make sure you know how to vote early or to vote absentee if you need it, and how to find your polling place if you can vote in person