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.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Lesson Learned Advocacy Can Hurt Animals

Let’s say we have developed what we think is the most powerful pro-veg argument ever, and we present it to ten people. Incredibly, five of them stop eating animals; the others decide to “eat better”—following the mainstream suggestions of their doctor and friends by giving up red meat.

We might think, “Fifty percent conversion rate? That must be the way to go!” This is how I used to think. But after years, I finally learned to ask: How does this argument actually affect animals?

Every year, the average American eats  twenty-three birds, a third of a pig, and a tenth of a cow. It currently takes about 193 birds (chickens + turkeys) to provide the same number of meals as one steer. It takes fifty-six birds to equal one pig.

So, before our presentation, the ten people consumed a combined 234 land animals every year. After our presentation, the same ten—including the five who joined our vegetarian club—eat 296 land animals per year. This is because, even though our argument convinced fully half of them to stop eating animals entirely, the others replaced their red meat intake with birds in order to eat more healthfully.

Moving from red meat to chicken is a well-documented fact. For example: “‘If you look at dietary recommendations put forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture [and other health institutions], they are to decrease red meat and substitute lean meat, poultry and fish,’ says Daniel [a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center]. ‘We’ve seen in other data that people are gravitating toward poultry.’”

Finally, the National Institutes of Health notes “[t]he growing preference in the US for poultry, but not fish, as a replacement for red meat.”

There are contradictory studies on how much chicken is eaten by people who give up red meat entirely. But for people who reduce the amount of red meat they eat—the majority of people who change their diet for health reasons—all the data are absolutely clear: red-meat reducers eat much, much more chicken. For example, in the largest recent study, those who consumed the lowest amount of red meat ate fifty percent more chicken than those who consumed the most red meat. [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.]

Fifty percent more! The facts are clear: anything at all that might possibly lead anyone to cut back on red meat actively harms animals.

Of course, we all know people who have gone veg for health reasons. As vegetarian advocates, we are obviously in a position to hear from and remember them. When we survey vegetarians (and/or meat reducers), of course we sometimes hear the “health argument” as a motivation. But looking only at vegetarians doesn’t begin to show the full impact of any argument. The error is thinking the “health” vegetarians we know or survey are a true sample of society. They aren’t. Rather, they represent a highly self-selected sub-sample.

History shows that eating fewer large animals and more small animals for health reasons isn’t a made-up, worst-case scenario. It has been the driving force for the suffering and slaughter of billions and billions of birds. Just look at any graph of animals killed in the U.S.: as the consumption of mammals declined, the slaughter of chickens skyrocketed over the decades!

This is one of the reasons I don't use any argument that could, in any way, support the general move toward giving up only red meat. Every person who decides to “eat better” more than counters the good done by a new vegetarian.

In other words: I won’t repeat anti-meat arguments. We promote pro-animal arguments. Obviously, it feels good to say: “Vegans have lower rates of disease X.” But the point isn’t to feel good about ourselves or our diet. We’re not out to justify or glorify our choices. Our goal is to keep as many animals from suffering as possible.

Of course, advocates can claim eating birds is bad for everyone’s health and the environment. Putting aside the veracity of those health and environmental claims, this simply isn’t the way the world works. People don’t simply accept what a vegan advocate says as gospel truth. Rather, they combine what they hear from all sources, paying more attention to what their doctor and friends say. On top of this, people generally give much more weight to advice that leads toward what they want to do—i.e., continuing to eat the familiar and convenient foods their friends and family eat.

More importantly, we simply don’t make decisions based on what is “perfect” for our health or the environment. None of us, vegans included, exercise the optimal amount, sleep the optimal amount, floss every day, work standing up, give up our car, etc. With few exceptions, we all follow our habits/peers. For most people (not a self-selected vegetarian sub-sample), if we change anything, we do something somewhat “better”—eating chickens instead of cows.

In other words, no matter what vegans claim is true or what we want, people will react from where they are, based on what they’re used to and with an eye for what they want. No matter how strong we think our arguments are, no matter how noble our intentions or passionate our desires, when we advocate without considering human nature, history, and the numbers, we cause more animals to suffer and die.

If we want to help animals, we need to advocate for the animals.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Why We're Winning (Talk in Phoenix)

Photo by Kari Nienstedt, from an earlier talk.
All the best public speakers know it is key to start with a joke, so here goes:

This past June, I nearly died.

What? Not funny?

As with many people who almost die, I found myself thinking a lot about what is most important. In doing so, I realized much of what seems to be important really isn’t.

But another thought occurred to me: How would the world have been different if I had died? Beyond my immediate circle of friends and family, what really would have changed?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized this is a good question to ask, especially in regard to our activism. How many people here are vegan? So many of us see veganism as the pinnacle, as the end point. I know I certainly did. But if that’s the extent of it -- if all we do is not eat animals or animal products -- then what would it matter if we died tomorrow?

Luckily, everyone here tonight is dedicated to having a constructive, positive impact on the world. We’ve all gone beyond the passive philosophy of “Do no harm” to the active goal of “Do good.” If any of us died tomorrow, the world really would be a worse place in the long run.

There have been many people dedicated to the concept of “Do good.” But history shows good intentions aren’t enough.

In her introduction, Anne noted the great successes we are having [legal protections; better and more widespread vegan options; Presidents, Vice Presidents, athletes and celebrities going vegan; the number of animals slaughtered down by hundreds of millions each year], and that we are winning on every front. But we aren’t winning simply because we want to win. Rather, we are winning because more and more people are dedicated to doing the most good, to having the biggest possible impact.

This wasn’t always the case when it came to the animals. Even though almost 99% of the animals killed every year die to be eaten, 25 years ago, we focused most of our efforts on fur and vivisection. This was true for me as well.

Now obviously, this isn’t to say the animals killed for fur or vivisection don’t deserve our consideration. Of course they do. But if we give all animals equal consideration, it would be hard to argue that we should spend our extremely limited time and resources on something other than the 99% who die to be eaten.

One of the many, many, many mistakes I made over the past quarter century was failing to realize that when we choose to do one thing, we are choosing not to do another.

Think about it this way: We could spend our entire life trying to free a bear from a Siberian zoo. The bear is obviously worthy of consideration, and winning his freedom would be a victory. But the opportunity costs are significant. If we instead spend that time and money advocating for farmed animals and promoting cruelty-free eating, we would have a much, much greater impact in the world.

So here’s the punch line: Because there is so much suffering in the world, and our resources are so very limited, we are morally obligated -- morally obligated -- to pursue the course of action that will have the greatest impact. We must base our choices on what will reduce suffering as much as possible.

In other words, we owe it to the animals to give them the biggest bang for the buck.

If we want a vegan world, we have to convince more and more people to stop eating animals. It really is that simple. And this is what we strive to do at VegFund, where I work. VegFund is driving the actions that are building the vegan world as effectively and efficiently as possible. We fund online ads, pay-per-view videos, food sampling, and movie screenings. We leverage the passion and opportunities of activists around the world to give the animals the biggest bang for the buck.

25 years ago, most of us -- myself included -- adopted the “do something, do anything” approach to activism. We protested whatever was right in front of us, or what was in the news, or whatever personally upset us.

Now, however, more and more of us are dedicated to optimal advocacy, to working for the 99%. We use the latest psychological research and most modern tools available, and we strive to make sure our limited time and resources have the greatest possible impact.

This is why we are now winning. This is why we will win.

And each of our lives will matter, and each of our lives will be memorable. Thank you for being a part of this vital work.


Cross-posted at the VegFund blog.




Wednesday, October 22, 2014

“Humane” Meat and Welfare Concerns as Gateways to Helping Animals

From Veganomics:
People Willing to Purchase “Humane” Meat Are More Likely to Go Vegetarian
A national U.S. poll carried out by the Humane Research Council found there was an overlap between vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, and people willing to spend more for “humane” animal products. Consumers who were willing to pay more for “humane” products were more likely than the general public to be willing to go vegetarian or semi-vegetarian. They were also more likely than the general public to already be vegetarian or semi-vegetarian (Humane Research Council, Advocating Meat Reduction). Similarly, a Dutch study indicated that people who bought free-range meat tended to eat less meat overall (de Boer et al. 2007).
Some animal advocates cast particularly dirty looks at people who have switched to organic, free-range, or cage-free animal products. These studies should come as encouraging news to them. “Humane” eaters are more likely than the general public to be willing to go vegetarian or cut back on meat consumption if shown why and how to do so.




Monday, October 20, 2014

Rotate the Universe: Stewart Solomon


Originally written in 2006; taken from The Accidental Activist.

Matt Ball’s “How Vegan Is Enough?” lecture at the 2006 Animal Rights Conference was refreshing. I almost didn’t go because I was afraid the answer would be that there was no limit to how vegan one should be, that it might be some fire-and-brimstone speech with someone reciting the entire encyclopedia of animal products. Many people hear about all of these trace animal products and think veganism is beyond impossible.

I remember when one person asked Matt how to convince his brother to go vegan. He’d been at it for years and years to no avail and basically felt like a failure. If he couldn’t convert his own brother, he thought, how could he affect anyone else? Matt told him to forget about his brother, that his brother wouldn’t turn vegan to spite him, if for no other reason. Matt told him to go to a college campus, a concert, a record store, and hand out literature: “Some of them will read it, become vegetarian or vegan, and you will have saved thousands of lives.” I took great comfort in that remark. It was as if a huge burden was suddenly lifted from my shoulders.

I remembered that talk earlier today. I was very tired and my back hurt, but I was able to distribute 750 booklets at Pasadena City College. On the drive home I started thinking about an old riddle: How many physicists does it take to change a light bulb?

Two. One to hold the bulb and one to rotate the universe.

I think that holding the light bulb is easy, and rotating the universe is sometimes difficult. However, that light bulb must be changed.

-Stewart Solomon


Cross-posted at the VegFund Blog.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

HSUS (and review)


My friends at ARZone have a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion with Paul Shapiro, touching on his early days, but delving more deeply into the inner workings of and decision-making processes at HSUS. If you or anyone you know has questions about HSUS, give this podcast a listen!

Paul also listened to my ARZone interview, and said his favorite lines were:

  • I don’t care about ideology; I care about results.
  • We’re social animals long before we’re philosophical animals.


Thanks, Paul!