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!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Message to Friends (Or: An Early Holiday Letter!)

Dear Friends,

We wanted to again thank you for your support this year, and update you on our current status (some of which you already know).

Anne started working for Our Hen House in mid-May. We are both extremely grateful to Jasmin and Mariann for hiring Anne, sight unseen. Anne only met them both in person at the end of last month! Her role has grown greatly since then, and her title has been changed to “Director of Operations." She is working to help Our Hen House expand. (For example: she put together their largest end-of-year matching challenge pool ever. It will start on 10/30 - Jasmin’s birthday!) She’s still getting paid for part time, but if the end-of-year fundraiser goes well, she will hopefully be able to go to full time.

Matt started as Senior Advisor for VegFund in mid-September. We recently returned from the East Coast (the trip that allowed Anne to meet Jasmin and Mariann) for the annual VegFund summit. There, Matt met the staff and Board (most for the first time). He’ll be working to increase VegFund’s visibility and income, so as to help expand and refine VegFund’s cutting-edge grassroots work.

Matt’s lung continues to heal, with the pain generally being very manageable. But he won’t be travelling alone again any time soon!

As always, Ellen is doing great at Pomona College. In addition to cross country and her various clubs, she’s spending more time in labs -- for two classes and working in her advisor’s lab twice a week. She is also an official tutor for other classes! Her web comic -- -- continues to cover interesting topics and gain followers.

As per our new jobs, there are several lessons we’ve learned in our decades of activism that makes these positions a great fit for us both and for the animals.

Ever since we were hand-collating, folding, and stapling booklets a lifetime ago, the world has been changing and evolving. To do our best for the animals, we must change and evolve as well. We need to take advantage of new opportunities and technologies as they arise, so we can help more and more people take the first step -- and then the next step -- to help animals. Video, podcasts, television, online, and even sampling tasty, familiar, cruelty-free foods -- these are all opportunities unavailable to us 20+ years ago (we shudder to think what would have happened if we had offered people a 1990 veggie burger!).

Now, however, all these new options allow us to reach more people in a much more powerful, lasting way.

Just as importantly, we realize that just tossing the message out to the public isn’t enough. We need to provide people a stream of information and encouragement, and the ability to be a part of a supportive community. It is amazing to us (just to give one example) how many individuals are so incredibly committed to Our Hen House. Not only did Jasmin and Mariann change their life with a podcast or article, but being a member of the Flock also provides so many with the support and friendship they need to stay vegetarian, or evolve to being vegan, or take the first step as an activist.

Your support and friendship has helped us to take our next steps for the animals. We appreciate it more than we can ever express.

Our sincerest thanks,

For the animals,

Anne and Matt

Monday, October 13, 2014

Video Nation: Evolving Our Advocacy

What was cutting-edge in we could do for the animals 20 years ago is no longer the best we can do. This article -- Video Nation -- explains a bit of how things have changed:

"We are roused to action by cruel realism, but only if it looks and sounds authentic. Reasoned calls to our better angels are no longer enough."

H/t: Bruce

Friday, October 10, 2014


If you care at all about honesty (and I believe it is a key to our long-term success in working for animals), you should subscribe to Ginny's blog. This article:

Real Vegan Cheese and Real Nutrition Science

Is outstanding in many ways. Please pass it along!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Second Podcast

If you listen to just one podcast this year, well, it should be this one.   ;-)

But if you listen to two, this Freakonomics podcast is fascinating (not about animals, but about doing the most good, in the human realm):

Fixing the World, Bang-for-the-Buck Edition

Monday, October 6, 2014

ARZone Podcast

My friends Carolyn and Tim at ARZone talked with me about VegFund, The Accidental Activist, and how we can bring about animal liberation as quickly as possible.

Here is the post where you can download the podcast (you can also get it via iTunes).

Guess how old
this picture is.