Sunday, October 22, 2017

From 2006 – What Have We Learned?

More than 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.” In this talk, Professor Haidt 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 exact personal view of ethical] veganism!”

But for most of the time since I stopped eating animals in the 80s, there has been no actual, 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, products that are actually appealing aren’t all of equal quality, aren’t convenient, and aren’t quite cost competitive.

From 2006

I think convenience may be the biggest stumbling block.

If people could get a well-prepared Beyond Burger or something made with Tofurky strips as easily as anything else, many more people would choose more meat-free meals. But few people know the Impossible Burger even exists, let alone that they could cook with anything as amazing as Tofurky strips. All of those shortcomings – lack of awareness, convenience, and cost-competitiveness – is why The Good Food Institute's work is so essential.

The second thing that gives me hope is that 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 (and drive up the cost of production). 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 demand-side advocacy, as discussed here.

We know that many 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!  :-)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sound Familiar?

“This is the mentality of a cult, in which fantastical beliefs are flaunted as proof of one’s piety. This mentality cannot coexist with an esteem for the truth.”
Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate

Friday, October 13, 2017

Even Vegans Die. But Not Today.

tl;dr – Kindness should be our baseline.

My good friend (and One Step advisor) Ginny Messina recently co-authored a book entitled Even Vegans Die. If you haven’t read the book, it is important for at least two reasons. The first is that because of our understandable anger, many vegans are simply cruel (1, 2, 3), especially regarding health issues (even to other vegans). The second is that not feeling healthy as a veg is the leading cause of recidivism. Many vegans oversell their diet as the cure-all; when meat-eaters go vegetarian and feel worse, they go back to eating animals. Furthermore, they tell all their friends and family about how terrible vegetarianism is. This is one of the main reasons the percentage of the population who are veg has basically not changed in decades, and, more importantly, that per-capita consumption of animals is at an all-time high.

Many if not most of my friends have learned to avoid the vegan fanatics online and elsewhere. In their book, Ginny and her co-authors give examples of the cruelty of many vegans, so I won’t go into depth here ... except for one story. Once a person attacked me for promoting this graph:

saying I would lead to more people getting Crohn’s disease by “promoting” dairy. Little did they know that I have had Crohn’s for decades, and had developed it well after being vegan. I know so many others who developed Crohn’s after going vegan that it is frightening. Sometimes, if I mention having Crohn’s, someone will come along and tell me I need to just go vegan. Some even imply I deserve the disease for not being vegan.

Now to my personal update.

Note: I had not planned to have any of the below known publicly. But for a variety of reasons, the story is creeping around, and I’d rather people hear it from me instead of as a rumor. Also, a wise person reminded me it is arrogant to try to do utilitarian calculations on one’s friends.

During track season at Pomona College in 2013, our kid EK (and lifelong vegan) developed costochondritis.

Thus, when I started having some discomfort in my chest upon running, I thought it was that. When I saw my new primary care physician, he did an EKG (all fine). Given my age (49), my 30+ years as a vegetarian, my fitness (regular vigorous exercise), and my low blood pressure (~110/70 on average), he was trying to figure out some skeletal-muscular explanation. That didn’t pan out, but again, my history and the EKG argued against anything to do with the heart. I went to the pulmonologist to see if there was anything going on with my oh-so-wonderful left lung after its multiple collapses. When the pulmonologists didn’t find anything, he sent me to a cardiologist.

The cardiologist scheduled a stress test for Sept 28. I failed that badly; they immediately scheduled me to go to the catheterization lab on Friday, Oct 6 at the local hospital. At that time, angioplasty with contrast would allow them to look inside the arteries and determine what was going on (below), and if I could get by with a stent (or stents) or if I needed open-heart surgery and bypass.

They also put me on beta blockers (which lowers the heart rate and blood pressure). The next day, Sept 29, I went back to the cardiologist’s for an echocardiogram. That was perfect – could not have been better: muscle strong, valves all in good shape, aorta looked perfect.

Side note back to my lead point about vegans: I asked a vegan medical professional what preparation advice they would have if someone might be having bypass surgery in a week. This person basically said not to have the surgery, but instead go vegan. I asked what to do if that wasn’t an option and I never heard back.

After a very stressful week, Anne and I got to the hospital at 4:45am on Friday the 6th for a 7am procedure. I watched the screen as the doctor did the angiogram and checked (with contrast) every aspect of the heart. One 8 mm section of a major vessel was 95+% blocked (occluded). This was entirely obvious even to my untrained eye – it was so bad I thought I must be misinterpreting what I was seeing.

Similar to mine. Yikes!

Given that only one tiny segment of an artery had any blockage at all, the doctor speculates that sometime in the past, somewhere in this small segment, there might have been some kind of injury (maybe a virus, maybe Crohn’s related) that caused it to accumulate deposits. A close (vegan) friend of mine had died in his sleep in his 30s and the autopsy showed his heart had been damaged by an infection when he had been a child. I’ve heard other bizarre stories as well.

But everything else was absolutely fine – no sign of disease anywhere in any of the other arteries. The entire occlusion was between arterial branches, so the doctor was able to stent it (so no open-heart surgery). I watched as he retested that artery after the stent, and blood flow was 100%. It was amazing (here is what it looks like in a broad view). The doctor then closely checked all the other coronary arteries again, and they were all perfectly clear. While I was still on the table, the nurse gave me a big dose of aspirin and Plavix, another blood thinner. I had also taken my beta blocker that morning (foreshadowing).

So at this point (about 9 am Friday, Oct 6), I was absolutely ecstatic. Heart was fine, muscle was strong, valves all good, and all arteries fixed or clear. I was discharged at 3 pm and Anne drove me home.

But of course, you know it doesn’t end like that.

At some point after we went to bed Friday night, I got up and walked into our bathroom. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor. I must have passed out. In retrospect, I should not have gotten up on my own, being on blood thinners and beta blockers (on top of low blood pressure to begin with). It just hadn’t occurred to me to worry about it – I had walked around fine during the day.

EK suggests I always wear one of these now.

I hit the back of my head (I have a contusion there) and utterly mangled my torso. A later CT scan showed I cracked one rib. It hurt to breathe and was agony to move at all. After I realized this wasn’t just a temporary injury, I had Anne take me to the Emergency Department, and we got there at 2:30am on Saturday morning.

Over the almost 8 hours we were there, they gave me morphine (did nothing), Fentanyl (helped a little), and, at the end, Dilaudid (also helped a little). I had a CT scan of my head and chest. That is where they found one cracked rib (I still can’t believe only one). The stent was still in place.

But of course, that’s still not enough. Here is the kicker: CT scan revealed a small pneumothorax in my lower left lung.

Yes, that’s right: a small section of my left lung is collapsed. Again. #3.

Yes, this is the lung they cut a portion out of after my second lung collapse in 2014. This is the lung they glued in place so it could never collapse again. They can’t tell if this pneumothorax was from the fall, or if it had been there before. Dealing with that is further down the road. I certainly couldn’t feel it (and still can’t) – the rest of my pain is just overwhelming.

I am still in a great deal of pain, but it is somewhat better day-by-day. Ultimately, though, the bottom-line take-away is good: like Crohn’s and never-ending lung collapses, the damage to this one tiny segment of my artery was just a fluke. Because of the miracles of modern medicine, it was found and fixed. Once I heal up from my fall, I can go back to hiking, running, and biking – there will be no lingering issues.

Again, I didn’t want to publicize this, because I think it creates more suffering for my friends than glee for those who loathe me and One Step. Saying all this is self-indulgent, and doesn’t help us help animals. But if you take one thing away from this story, though, please let it be that our baseline should be kindness. If you take away something else, realize that decades of veganism, healthy living, and relative youth won’t protect you from heart disease, lung collapses, Crohn’s, chronic back pain, or even tinnitus.

All the more reason to be kind to one another.

My deepest thanks to everyone who has supported me and Anne through all this, and everything else we’ve gone through since March 2014. As another long-time friend sent:

“I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”
-William Penn

Monday, October 9, 2017

Anger, Humor, and Advocacy

Seeing Mike Wolf's post (and the deliberate misreadings) and the reaction to this made me think that maybe it is worth re-running this (for more info, please visite 1S's About page):

Click for larger

Some people have asked how I can make jokes when the animals are suffering so terribly, when I’m supposed to be entirely focused on animal liberation. I believe that having a sense of humor is in the animals’ best interest, because not only does it make our example more appealing, it also aids in avoiding burnout. In the cumulative 40+ years we’ve been active, Anne and I have known hundreds of activists who have given up working for the animals – some of whom have even gone back to eating meat! On the other hand, almost all of the successful long-time activists we’ve known – those who have made a real difference in the world – have a sustaining sense of humor.

As a reaction to what goes on in factory farms and slaughterhouses, very strong feelings are understandable and entirely justified. But I believe that our inability – individually and as a movement – to deal with our anger in a constructive manner is one of the greatest hindrances to the advancement of animal liberation.

Over time, people tend to deal with their anger in different ways. Some take to protesting, some to screaming, hatred, and sarcasm. Others disconnect from society and surround themselves with only like-minded people, seeing society as a large conspiracy against veganism.

I do not believe either of these reactions help to move society toward being more compassionate.

A different approach is to try to maintain a positive outlook and a sense of humor. This makes it easier to continue in activism, as well as avoid self-righteous fundamentalism. In turn, this makes it possible to interact positively and constructively with others, thus making it more likely they will take steps to help animals.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to gain and maintain a sense of humor. One suggestion is to always remember your ultimate goal. In my case, it is the alleviation of suffering. If I allow myself to be miserable because of the cruelty in the world, I am adding to the suffering in the world. More importantly, I am saying that unless utopia is instantaneously established, it is not even possible to be happy. Thus, my goal is inherently unachievable.

To help build any real and lasting change in the world, we need to convince others to think beyond themselves. We must be willing to do the same. Just as we want others to look beyond the short-term satisfaction of following habits and traditions, we need to move past our anger to effective advocacy – i.e., moving from yelling and chanting and arguing to positive, constructive outreach.

If I believe I can’t be happy – that I am a slave to my situation – how can I expect others to act differently?

It also helps to maintain a historical perspective. I realize I am not the first person to be upset by the state of affairs in the world. I can learn from the mistakes and successes of those who came before me.

Few people come to an enlightened view of the world overnight by themselves. It took me over a year after my first exposure to the issues to go vegetarian, and even longer after that to go vegan. If I had been treated with disgust and anger because of my close-mindedness and (in retrospect) pathetic rationalizations, I would certainly never have gone veg.

My story is not unique. Not only does my journey show the downsides of anger and the benefits of kindness and patience, it also indicates that you shouldn’t give up on friends if they don’t react to information as you would like. Shunning friends because they don’t immediately adopt your vegan views not only cuts you off from the very people we need to reach, it also perpetuates the stereotype of the joyless fanatic with no life other than complaining.

“Fighting” suffering is not the only way to make a better world; creating happiness and joy as part of a thoughtful, compassionate life filled with constructive advocacy can be a far more powerful tool for creating change.

As long as there is conscious life on Earth, there will be suffering. The question we face is what to do with the existence each of us is given. We can choose to add our own fury and misery to the rest, or we can set an example by simultaneously working constructively to alleviate suffering while leading joyous, meaningful, fulfilled lives.

In the end, being an activist doesn’t need to be about deprivation, sobriety, and misery. It’s about being fully aware so as to be fully alive.

For more ways to get involved, please visit 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

An Approach to Actually Reaching New People

In response to “Have you ever had a bad vegan experience?” a Facebook reader commented:
EK Green
I love these articles. I was talking with someone at work about vegetarianism the other day, and I brought up how grateful I am that EK Green talked to me about this topic. Before, I'd had a negative attitude toward veganism, as you talk about in these articles. But EK introduced me to a realistic, shades-of-gray way of thinking.

I had mostly avoided vegetarianism because of 1) a sentimental connection to some meals (Mom's Thanksgiving stuffing) and 2) occasional anemia. Both things that I could have worked around, but I just wasn't ready to. So I put it off and kept eating meat, often multiple times a day. EK's example, attitude, and understanding approach made it really easy to cut back a bit at a time. At this point, I'd say I only eat meat two or three times a week, and I'm trying to cut back further.

Bottom line: there's at least one vegan making a real difference by talking to non-vegans in a positive, constructive way!

You can be a part of realistic, impactful work. Please just click here - thanks so much!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Another Bad Vegan Experience

You can add my story, Matt. I was vegetarian and already doing some animal advocacy when someone let me have it for not being vegan. I almost quit veg and advocacy right there. BTW, the someone who attacked me is still with a vegan group.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Example of a Bad Vegan Encounter

Hi Matt,

I read something you had said about vegans not being overly critical of people, as doing so can turn people off. That it hit home. I used to think I was a vegetarian but I was rudely told I am a pescatarian as I do eat fish. I stopped eating meat 2 years ago, but I still eat fish. I'm working on stopping that, but for some reason, I am having a difficult time.

I guess I have come a long way, tho, because I was a huge meat eater and I was one of those people who was disconnected from saving animals yet eating beef, pork, and chicken.

But this is what I want to say: I have been chastised like a child, heavily criticized, and called names by vegans here on FB because I still eat fish. While I understand the message, and again, I'm trying and working towards stopping, I am so turned off and angry over so-called "peaceful" people. Vegans even have a problem with vegetarians for God's sake.

I am still continuing to strive to not eat fish as I said, so what nasty people say doesn't influence me in that way, but it still pisses me off in a sense. Does that make sense? Your message that vegans shouldn't be over critical is right on the mark.

I do see many people who think about becoming a vegetarian or a vegan do let the nasty people change their decision, which is unfortunate. Thank you for not being one of the mean ones.

Sunday, September 24, 2017


From Anne's friend Bill Kaufman, at his hummingbird feeder (click for larger):

Friday, September 22, 2017

Trader Joe's!

Our friends at World of Vegan have a new video up about their favorite items at Trader Joe's:

Olive Tapenade
Black Bean & Corn Enchiladas (Cheaper than Amy’s)
Island Soyaki
Garlic and Herb Pizza Dough (near marinara sauce)
Vegan Marshmallows
Dark Chocolate Crisps
Thai Vegetable Gyoza
Chocolate Chips
Spicy Lentil Wrap
Thai Green Curry
Vegetable Panang Curry
Japanese Fried Rice
Soy Chorizo
Kettle Corn
Cherry chocolate chip ice cream
Mediterranean hummus (for the pine nuts)

I asked on my Facebook page for suggestions, and got a lot of the above plus:

Cinnamon rolls (fridge)
Toffee super nutty cluster cereal
Vegan Mochi
Tofu salad rolls w/ peanut sauce (fridge)
Vegetable spring rolls
Soft Pretzels
Raspberry-lemon-strawberry bars
Dark chocolate covered almonds
Dark chocolate covered cherries
Belgian dark chocolate bars
Dried fruit (especially dried blueberries, every day!)

Also: Single serving guac! This is life changing!

Leave any other ideas in comments. Thanks!

Monday, September 18, 2017

What One Step Can Do

A number of people have come out of the wordwork to say One Step doesn’t have a huge, long-term study to prove our approach is better than just continuing to push veganism. All the facts that drive One Step are therefore irrelevant and are thus ignored.

Here’s the amusing thing: We do have a long-term large-scale study to show the outcome of vegan advocacy. And the outcome is simple and straightforward:

Record levels of suffering.

Unlike others, this result makes us want to do better. Here’s a story from One Step advisor Dan Kuzma about how we can do better.

I have been busy giving guest lectures to start off the semester, and my two favorites were when I got to talk to a Writing 2 class regarding One Step For Animals (in order to give them some potential research topics). I distributed 1S booklets to each student in the two classes.

My presentation consisted of a basic introduction, showing the One Step Matters video, then elaborating further by showing the two graphs regarding farmed animals. I made a point of always coming back to animals, specifically chickens.  I asked the class: How many chickens are in a bucket of chicken?  How many buckets of chicken do you think people consume?  I also noted the cost of chicken per pound and cited Chipotle's pricing for meats - chicken is $0.50 cheaper than Steak and Carnitas.

I mentioned how One Step is different from other organizations, based on our decades of experience and learning from our mistakes, while using current data regarding consumption trends and studies on effective advocacy to hone in on what is conceivably the best approach to reduce animal suffering.  I also made certain to not alienate anyone or make it seem like the talk was about me, even though I had to talk a bit about myself and share my Steps in getting here. (We know that people like stories, so this helped maintain attention.) I did speak briefly on health and well-being by sharing my story because it added some humor. When I was 16 and seeking more information about vegetarian health and nutrition, my then-doctor basically lied to me. I told them not to be misled by any claims of inferiority or superiority regarding meatless diets. Always track the source!

I got some great questions and feedback, one regarding One Step's overall goal - reduce suffering or stop the slaughter?  I told the student that we would all like to see the slaughter stop. But we know that nothing, including civilizations, changes overnight. So we want to reduce suffering now. If the slaughter stops 100 years from now, at least fewer animals suffered in that time, rather than more animals suffering while waiting for liberation to occur.  We especially don't want more animals to suffer when people could have easily taken practical steps, such as excluding chickens from their diet.  It may not seem like a great deal for the cows, pigs, and sheep, but let's remember how many chickens it takes to fill a bucket of chicken - how many wings, how many breasts, how many thighs/legs?

I also got a question about laws to protect animals, to which I asked the class, Who drives over the speed limit? Do you always get pulled over when you speed?  I mentioned there is some strength in recognition by laws, but the lack and futility of enforcement weakens the laws. I referenced undercover videos of factory farms to illustrate that the industry is not scared of breaking laws. And since politics changes, we cannot rely upon laws completely. 

I had a couple students tell me after the presentation that they were not aware of all of this and that they were very impressed with the One Step approach. One student told me that the estimated 24 chickens per year is probably too conservative based on how many chickens he thinks is in a bucket of chicken and how much chicken that he and his family and friends consumes. He said he is going to seriously attempt to eliminate chicken from his diet, acknowledging the data provided by One Step and the overall arguments for reducing animal suffering.  He said he also likes the format of the booklet - it is not wordy, it visually appealing, the message is clear and well-received, including great recommendations for how to take One Step.

“I want to punch that kid in the face.”

A friend of mine posted about an encounter one of her daughters had in kindergarten. Another five year old told her that her sandwich looked “gross.” No big deal, a five-year-old boy calling something “gross.” Didn't abuse an animal, didn't endorse hurting animals, didn't throw bologna in her face. (But if he had, remember: 5 years old.)

A vegan publicly commented on the Facebook thread, “I want to punch that kid in the face.”

OK, you might think this is extreme. But I monitor the comment threads for One Step’s online outreach. These ads reach between 1.5 and 2.5 million people a month. And you would not believe the hateful things vegans say to others on those threads.

Watching all this on a daily basis, it is absolutely not surprising to me that vegans are hated, and about as popular as drug addicts. We can complain about this, or deny it. We can even rationalize it, as if this is a “good” or even a “necessary” thing.

Or we can stop obsessing about a word, and actually focus on animals.

What would that look like? First, we would stop using any “v” word. If we can't make our case just talking about animals, we need to rethink our case. Second, we should rethink our message.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Lincoln and the First Step

We finally watched the movie Lincoln, and found it amazingly relevant. The hero is clearly Thaddeus Stevens (played by Tommy Lee Jones, shown here). More than anyone, he had reason to preach no compromise on equality, demand full abolition of any and all discrimination, and insist on nothing less than full and total rights immediately. He clearly would have been justified in raging with hatred at the venomous racists in congress (even a century-and-a-half later, knowing history vindicates Thaddeus, it is difficult not to be outraged when watching a re-enactment of this long-past debate).

Yet Rep. Stevens didn’t give in to his understandable anger. Instead of being “true to himself” – justified and righteous, and on the losing side – he chose possible progress over personal purity, incremental advance over impotent anger.

This – progress over purity – is my hard-won mantra. I wish one of us had summarized it as well as Jonathan Safran Foer, who, in his interview with’s Erik Marcus, explained the two motivations for his book Eating Animals: 1. To be useful, not thorough; 2. To get new people to consider taking the first step, rather than demanding the last.

I was reminded of this on Facebook recently. Our friends at Compassion Over Killing have VegWeek, a positive, inviting / non-intimidating way to get new people interested in taking the first step. But in a FB post promoting VegWeek, all the judgers came out of the woodwork: “Why just a week?? Be vegan forever!” “When you say ‘veg,’ you had better mean Vegan!!” Etc.

Of course, we all want our views and convictions to be validated, especially when in the minority. But the question is: Do we seek to justify our views / demand our position, or do we want to get as many people as possible to take a step that helps animals? We may, like Thaddeus Stevens, burn with righteous anger, but we can also recognize that to make real progress to reduce real suffering, we need to get past our fury and embrace effective, thoughtful, focused advocacy.

If we really care about the animals first and foremost, we can abolish our personal desires and demands. We can see past our rationalizations, and focus instead on making real, practical progress for the animals who are suffering to death every day. To do so requires opening the hearts and minds of others – there is no way around it. And helping new people open their hearts and minds isn’t done by anger and hatred, but by compassion and understanding.

You and I have each other for support;. Animals need us to be uncompromising and unwavering in our dedication to helping them as best we can.

From 2014.

Saturday, September 16, 2017