Saturday, February 28, 2015

Houston: Thanks!

Thanks to whoever in Houston put this sign together!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Interesting Links

In response to yesterday's post, my friend Tobias sent along these posts:

On being right vs winning ("winning" = actually creating meaningful change that helps animals)

Persuasion resistance

And Adam sends this link of Dr. Katz's take on the new dietary guidelines, from a paleo perspective. Worth reading to understand this perspective.

Finally, here is a deeper look into the institutional callousness of modern chicken "farming."

Thanks to everyone who sends me these stories!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Animals Not Arguments

From 2010. Taken from The Accidental Activist.

When I went vegan more than twenty years ago, a common theme was to “win an argument with a meat eater.” Every topic was fair game, and every question or theory—no matter how tangential or absurd—was promoted and defended fanatically.

I fell into this trap, too, believing and parroting the most outrageous claims about impotence, water usage, and other absurdities. It took me a long time to realize the point isn’t to show how many claims I had memorized, or to glorify my veganism, or to “defeat” a meat eater.

Rather, the bottom line is to help animals by helping more people make informed, compassionate choices.

Nonetheless, many dubious “pro-veg” claims continue to float around today, undermining effective advocacy for the animals. For example, some vegans feel the need to claim that veganism is “natural” (whatever that might mean). To this end, the vegan diet (as though there is a single vegan diet) has to be perfect in and of itself, no planning required, and no supplements. This leads to one of the most harmful fantasies: that we don’t need to worry about nutrition at all, including things like protein, zinc, iron, or vitamin B12.

Of course, I understand the desire to believe that veganism is our natural diet (and would cure baldness, feed the hungry, bring world peace). But our goal isn’t to show how awesome veganism is. What is important is preventing cruelty to animals. To do this requires an honest evaluation of reality, from the nutritional aspects of veganism to the psychology of how people can and do change.

Still, many activists think, “If one argument for vegetarianism is good, then ten are better, and a hundred are even better!”

But this is actually the opposite of how human psychology works. An argument for significant change isn’t strengthened by volume. Rather, any case for change is a chain—only as strong as its weakest link. Past a certain point, every additional argument offered to a non-vegetarian both dilutes and distracts from the strongest argument for making compassionate choices.

Instead of being left with the concrete, indisputable connection to cruelty, the case often presented leaves many meat eaters thinking the following:

  • “Yeah, maybe I should get a chicken sandwich instead of that burger.”
  • “What I eat isn’t really going to impact someone starving in Africa.”
  • “What I eat isn’t really going to affect global warming.”
  • “This reminds me of that story showing how chicken is so much more environmentally friendly than beef.”
  • “Gawd, what a fanatic—like I’m gonna eat only unprocessed fruits and vegetables.”
  • “They think animals are more important than people!”

As I’ve said before, meat eaters are the only ones in a position to save animals in the future. We have to engage them in a realistic, constructive, and honest manner—not glorify ourselves or impress other vegans.

Of course, just as I appreciate the desire to believe veganism has near-magical powers. I absolutely understand the desire to defend our personal veganism with an endless litany of arguments, so as to “win an argument with a meat eater.” But again, defending ourselves/winning an argument is actually the opposite of how best to create real change for the animals in today’s society.

Any time we offer an argument that can be debated (caloric conversion ratios, water usage, mortality/specific disease rates, relative carbon footprints/nutrition quality), the animals lose.

Whenever I mention that we must stay focused on the indisputable bottom line of cruelty to animals, some folks reply: “But my Uncle Bubba doesn’t care about animals! I have to appeal to his self interest! Suzy at Meetup said she went veg for health reasons, so it obviously works!”

It is hard to accept, but Uncle Bubba is ultimately irrelevant to our current work for the animals. He will be dead long, long before he could possibly become the impediment to a vegetarian society. Instead, our insistence on believing in and promoting the “magic” argument that “appeals to everyone” will, at best, lead Uncle Bubba to replace red meat with much smaller chickens and fishes. The net result will then be that his choices cause many, many more animals to suffer.

When we offer arguments that reinforce the idea that everyone should be motivated only by self interest, we reinforce society’s call for people to change from eating large animals to smaller animals. Therefore, we must always assess the total net impact of our advocacy on all animals—not just whether an argument sounds good to us or a worked for a few individuals we happen to know. Regardless of how a story, study, or claim sounds to us, if there is any chance it could lead non-vegetarians to eat more chickens and/or fish, we should not promote it.

Of course, arguing for people to eat “healthy” will also reinforce the assumption that we should only do what we feel is in our best interest.

When I stopped eating animals, about five billion birds were killed in the U.S. each year. Now it is almost ten billion—all because of “self interest.” We advocates obsess over the fact that the “health argument” convinced raw foodist Suzy at Meetup, and we conveniently ignore our culpability for the near doubling of animals slaughtered for “healthy” food. It is simply wrong, on every level, to turn a blind eye to the huge increase in the number of animals suffering and the reason behind that horror: self interest.

Let me emphasize again: I want to do whatever I can to reduce the number of animals suffering. I totally sympathize with the desire to find the perfect self-centered argument that will appeal to more people. But we can only help animals by being more interested in reality than our personal desires. How powerful an argument seems to us is utterly irrelevant. Only by working in the real world and convincing more non-vegetarians to make net positive change can we really help animals.

The facts are simple, stark, and indisputable:

1. At this time, there simply is no magic argument or combination of arguments that will convince everyone—or even a majority—to go vegan.
2. The health argument, as it is actually interpreted and acted on in the real world by non-vegetarians, has killed many, many more animals than it spared.
3. Every additional argument we present to meat eaters gives them more distance between themselves and their real and immediate connection to the brutality on factory farms.

The question we must each ask is: Will we work for animals in the world as it is, or live in the feel-good vegan echo chamber?

Each of us can make a real, significant difference. But we can’t afford to make my past mistakes again, or try to win an argument. Rather, we must focus on truly helping animals.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Actually Useful Comments!

Pre-script: If you read only one link related to this, please read Vincent's great article!

At least someone cares about my financial well being*:
Matt Ball should just get a corporate public relations job at Niman Ranch Meats, Chipotle, or some other corporate animal product food peddler. He’d fit in with the big shots, and the job would fit his philosophy. He make a lot more money, too!

But some people actually read all of my article and Tobias' article, and offered insightful comments:

Carolyn summarizes:
They're asking us to think about why we'd say yes or no - to give the issue serious consideration, therefore seriously considering why we're vegan ourselves.

Gerry gives this example:
Funnily enough, something similar to this came up the other day for me in a way that was not hypothetical. A friend asked me how to deal with family members who would not eat at her house because they refused to eat vegan food (not for any ethical reason but because it was unfamiliar).
    We discussed whether she should agree to cook meat for them the next time they visit if they in turn agreed to try the vegan food on the following visit. If you run the numbers, it means that one less meat meal is consumed (without this Faustian bargain the meat eater would stay home and eat meat both times).
    More importantly, if the visitors ended up liking the vegan dish it could mean that they would broaden their diet to to include more protein from non-animal sources even if they continued to eat meat (as they probably would).
    This situation did not involve my vegan friend actually eating any meat, her compromise was merely to cook meat. It seemed like a good compromise to me

Dobrusia has an even better example:
Some undercover investigators eat meat because otherwise they would blow their cover. It's hard to pretend you're a factory farm worker when you eat tofu. So it's not just hypothetical, extremely devoted activists make this decision, and YES it does help more animals than being vegan for the same period of time.

I brought up Dr. Greger's example of how our pursuit of being ever-more-vegan can actually hurt animals by turning off people from considering it.

Thanks to everyone who actually read the articles and gave thoughtful, non-knee-jerk responses! (*And in case you were wondering, I'm joking re: financial well being.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Is Veganism More Important than Helping Animals?

Years ago, I wrote that I would gladly eat a burger* (or a triple-cheese Uno's pizza) if it would prompt someone to go vegan for the rest of their life.

To me, this is a no-brainer. Veganism isn't a religion I have to follow. I draw no sense of self-worth from being vegan.

Rather, eating vegan is merely one tool for helping animals. If not being vegan were to help animals more -- either for one bite or for the rest of my life -- then I definitely would do that.

In other words, I don't judge opportunities or questions based on whether they are "vegan." Rather, I make decisions based on what will best help animals -- which option will lead to the least amount of suffering. (How could I possibly justify making a choice that led to more suffering?)

This is, I believe, the only consistent, moral way to live my life.

I was reminded of this when I saw this recent blog post by my friend Tobias:

Would you eat meat for a lot of money?**

He answers it perfectly:

I wouldn’t hesitate. I’m not vegan for the sake of being vegan. My main reason to be vegan is to help animals and do my thing to make the world a better place in general, for all beings. If someone offers me a good amount of money to eat a steak (which is not the same as offering me money to kill an animal, which I wouldn’t do), I would take it. More than that: I would feel guilty if I didn’t. I would not want to put my own ideological or physical purity above the practical implications of accepting that sum.

Well said!

*Not that I'd like a non-vegan burger --
there are amazing vegan burgers out there!

**Be sure to read the full explanation: the money would then be used to advocated for animals, convincing many new people to stop eating animals.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Different Audiences, Different Goals, Different Approaches

Regarding the video shown here, Anonymous asks:

Your PS statement reads like an endorsement of the tactics you oppose, "But online, the loudest people seem to be the most passionate -- and often persuasive." You seem to say confrontational approaches (this video is clearly very confrontational) are the most effective, despite saying elsewhere that you oppose confrontational approaches. 

This is a very good question. What approach is best depends on the audience and the goal.

When it comes to the general public -- the people we need to reach with the animals' plight -- I absolutely believe in only constructive, positive outreach. No one has ever been shouted into changing their diet. Any rudeness or abuse becomes the issue, distracting from the important message of how animals are abused, and what positive steps everyone can take to help.

However, when it comes to communications within the activist community, we have to keep in mind the audience, and where the mindset often is. Many activists -- especially those who have only recently learned how animals are treated in hidden factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses -- are burning with anger. (I know this was the case for me.) As such, these activists react more positively to those who express the same anger and the same passion they feel. The constructive activists can come across as dispassionate, even uncaring.

This is what I like about Phil and Matt's video -- they show passion. They clearly understand the outrage we feel. They also show how the angry activists can appear -- when you're on the other side, it is hard to realize how you come off to the general public.

Of course, I believe in thoughtful, dispassionate analysis dedicated to using psychology and research to open the hearts and minds of as many new people as possible; indeed, I believe that is my niche. But having dealt with thousands of activists over the past quarter century, I appreciate the need for a different approach in some circumstances.

PS, Feb. 18: Anne and I were trying to figure out something about YouTube, and ended up watching the first 30 seconds of the above-mentioned video. We both burst out laughing ... again. Bringing such joy to our lives has to count for something, no?   :-)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Strike 3 (and a mea culpa)

Many people have argued that Bill Clinton's near-vegan diet proves "the health argument" works. The main problem with this is that it suffers from selection bias, ignoring the net impact our arguments can have for animals.

And it ignores that people who go veg for health are the ones most likely to go back to eating meat. With President Clinton admitting he has given up on veganism, we see this in action once again - someone we praised up and down and put forward as our spokesman, now saying veganism is impossible and undesirable.

With that, I re-run a blog post I wrote shortly after President Clinton adopted a near-vegan diet. My apologies for thinking the health argument could work and last even in President Clinton's unique, privileged situation.

A Target Audience of One 
I was recently asked if Bill Clinton’s near-vegan diet proves that the “health argument” works.

Consider President Clinton’s situation. He is very rich and powerful and can afford to have any chef prepare him anything he wants. He is very close to his outspoken daughter, who was an outspoken vegetarian for many years. Yet it still took extremely serious health problems (emergency surgery for a collapsed vein after quadruple bypass), his daughter’s wedding, a desire to live to see grandchildren, and personal friendship with several vegan doctors to get him to finally eat a more plant-based diet. (2013 update—the latest media coverage makes it clear President Clinton eats eggs and/or fish once a week. In other words, Clinton’s case would indicate you can’t really be vegan; you need to eat animals and animal products. Also, eating eggs and fish weekly causes more animals to die than someone who eats beef and dairy at every meal.)

So yes, it is clear that the health argument has some impact on rich, powerful men with vegetarian daughters, personal chefs, vegan doctors, and nearly fatal heart problems.

Of course, it’s great to hear pseudo-veganism discussed positively (especially given the absurd attacks floating around), but we should not read more into this than is really there. Land animals are in deep trouble if significant changes in diets are limited to rich guys with personal chefs, vegan daughters and doctors, and severe health problems.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Most Telling Quote (and not-work-safe video)

"[Our tactics] aren't meant to win people over."

In a capitalist society, animals will continue to suffer and die as long as people want to each meat. No controversy or news stories will change that. The only way we can make progress toward animal liberation is by having more and more people make compassionate choices. (More here: The Roadmap to Animal Liberation.)

PS: I understand the arguments against this video (i.e., the opening doesn't seem to espouse the ideals they are promoting). But online, the loudest people seem to be the most passionate -- and often persuasive. That's why I love this video, despite the endless F-bombs -- Matt and Phil are unashamedly passionate about their constructive commitment to the animals, and are honest about the mistakes they made in the past.

Monday, February 9, 2015

From Karen Dawn: Let's Put Our Energy Toward Helping Animals, Not Hating Humans

"As activists, let's do our best to focus on helping animals rather than persecuting the most prominent abusers. The animals killed on Matthew McConaughy's brother's ranch suffered no more, generally less, than those consumed by most actors, and by many of our beloved family members, eating bacon topped burgers. The animals killed by Kendall Jones are no worse off than the animals killed by most hunters who talk about how much they respect nature. And Jennifer Lopez is likely to save far more animals as she pushes vegan diets, than can be saved by an ethically purer but unknown vegan activist. Our drive to go after those prominent people is utterly natural but a form of human centricism, which pulls our energy away from those who need it most – the animals."

PS: Karen expands on this idea here.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Not Everything Is Equal. Or Even Positive.

A great summary (on a FB thread) from Mikael Nielsen (and not just because he quotes me!):

When it comes to activism, I do what I do based on my experience, feedback from other activists I respect, books I have read, what I see the animal agriculture say about the groups that do this kind of outreach, and research I have seen on the best ways to reach people. I think that these days we know more than ever about what works and what doesn’t. But I think there is still much to learn and perhaps new research will show that we should be doing other things to reach our end goal. But till then I will stick with what I think is the most effective to reduce as much suffering as quickly as possible, on the road to total animal liberation.

I think it’s irresponsible to not evaluate our actions as activists and just say that anyone doing anything is great. While I applaud anyone that wants to help animals, obviously some actions are far superior than others. Which actions those are is debatable, but if you think all actions are equal then I think you are doing a disservice to the animals. We also need to think about not only who our actions are turning on, but who our actions are turning off. If they are turning off more people than they are turning on, should we still be doing it?

At the end of the day we all want the same thing and I think everyone on this thread has much more in common than not. Much love for that.

I’ll end with a great quote from Matt:

“It is not enough to be a righteous vegan, or even a dedicated, knowledgeable vegan advocate. The animals don’t need us to be right, they need us to be effective.”

Joe chimed in with:

The pertinent question to consider is not just has an action ever caused anyone to change their behavior, but what is most likely to cause the greatest number of people to change their behavior in the direction we are seeking, sparing animals. Let's not forget that advocacy can hurt animals. Despite our good intentions taking an action and not paying attention to the negative data, those who do not change or those we inadvertently moved further from the change we were hoping for, can mean that animals will suffer and die due to our actions. Take the suffering of animals seriously enough to not ignore the negative data.