Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ginny for the Win!!!

Don't refer to cruelty-free Thanksgiving dishes as the "healthy alternative." People know plants are good for you. They need two know they are yummy & celebratory!
-from Ginny Messina, @TheVeganRD 

Friday, November 20, 2015


In a discussion with Tobias, he told me he thought about it this way:

Are we looking  to police purity and attack "traitors"?

Or are we looking for the necessary allies / converts needed to change the world?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Psychology, Not Dogma

Our friends at Latest Vegan News have a great interview up with Dr. Gordon Hodson, a psychology researcher and professor. The entire interview is worth reading; here are some excerpts:

[A]dvocacy is about the group in need of support, not you. Don’t let your ego, pride, or hurt feelings get in the way. In the case of animal rights, keep the animals in mind at all times. They have little voice or recognition; animals are relying on advocates to keep calm, appeal to reason, and set a good example to others ... long-term change comes often from being genuinely convinced, not from being exposed to strong or dogmatic viewpoints. 
How do you think an “all or nothing” approach by advocates affects the cause?I think it can seriously hurt the cause. Most social change happens more gradually. If someone is interested in adopting a vegan lifestyle, a first step is doing less harm to animals (e.g., eating less meat; adopting a neglected animal). 
Do small steps matter?
Big steps can represent hurdles that are difficult to get over, setting you up for failure. And not just for advocacy, but for losing weight, quitting smoking, achieving work goals, and so on. Smaller goals are more obtainable, and you build on your strengths moving forward. There are decades of psychological research on the importance of setting clear, achievable, and reasonable goals.

By the way, here is the link to the videos mentioned earlier. And here is another good video featuring an upcoming star!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Monday, November 2, 2015

You Are Not Your Audience


Tobias Leenaert,  one of the founders of the Belgian organization Ethical Vegetarian Alternative, has a really insightful saying: You Are Not Your Audience (YANYA). This was one of my greatest failings in my early years of advocacy – I chose my message based on what sounded good to me, rather than what would have the biggest impact on non-vegetarians. Nobel laureate Herb Simon makes the important point that took me years to understand: People don’t make optimal choices. Rather, we make choices that are good enough. Consider this chart:

Where the Y-axis is any negative measure – pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, saturated fat, etc. If they care at all about the measure, the vast majority of people would look at this chart and say, “I should give up A.” And a few might say, “I should give up A, B, and C.” Basically no one will say, “I should only consume I.” But put labels on the chart:
And now vegans see something different: a case for veganism. It will, of course, be true – a vegan will generally use less water, or cause less pollution / global warming, or consume less saturated fat. The labels don’t change anything, however – non-vegan people are still going to see beef as bad, or beef, pork, and veal as bad. As you’ve probably noticed in your day-to-day lives, people substitute chicken (and sometimes chicken and fish) for red meat. This is backed up by research: 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 (Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 26(1), October 18, 2012). Given that it takes over 200 chickens to provide the same number of meals as one steer, this causes a lot more deaths.


Given that chickens are so intensively raised, anything that encourages a move from red meat to chicken causes more suffering.


I bring this up because I so often see advocates hop on every story that sounds anti-meat, regardless of how it will actually affect animals in the real world. We can't just repeat messages that feel like they justify our personal veganism. Rather, we have to advocate such that fewer animals will suffer.

Friday, October 16, 2015


I subscribe to a lot of blogs regarding nonprofits, including fundraising, government regulation, outreach, marketing, etc. Here is a great post about what makes a great manager / leader:

If you want to find a great leader or manager, look for these qualities:

  1. Developers — Great mangers love to develop people. They find joy in taking someone who has ability and honing their skills to become great at something. 
  2. Finds joy in the success of others — This is how real leaders think. When one of their employees succeeds, they are ecstatic. Why? Because they know they have been able to help that person get to where they are. Great managers feel this in their bones, and it comes out with caring, compassion, and guiding energy.
  3. A wonderful encourager and guide — Employees need someone that will walk with them and encourage them in their journey. I’ve talked to so many employees who tell me over and over that their manager has not once told them “good job” or shown any kind of appreciation. This is so sad. Great leaders know that saying “thanks” and telling someone he is doing a great job helps motivate people to want to do more. Why? Because they feel secure and want more slaps on the back. Who wouldn’t?
  4. Amazing communicators — World-class leaders talk to their people… a lot. They have regular meetings scheduled, and they keep them. They show their people respect by telling them what senior management and leadership is doing and thinking. They are real with the folks they manage. They are not afraid to deliver tough news. They deliver that news with compassion and understanding. They have an open door. They welcome conversation and critique. They don’t punish people for opinions.
  5. They “go to bat” for their employees — The best manager I ever had not only encouraged me and thanked me for my good work, but proactively sought out influence and higher compensation for me with senior management, without my ever having to go to him. In fact, I never had to ask for a raise because my manager saw my work, and when it was time for evaluations he had already secured more money for me than I ever even thought of. Later, I asked him why he did that and he said, “Look, you’re doing an outstanding job, and you should be paid well for it; those of us in senior management need people like you at our organization. I’ve got your back.” Wow! I still tear up thinking about that moment. Great managers always have your back. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Morality vs Personal Comfort

In my first year of college, my roommate - a vegetarian - pointed out that what I was choosing to eat was immoral. He noted that meat was part of an individual who wouldn’t have suffered and died if I had made different choices.

I didn’t want to hear this. I wanted the world match up with my choices, and I wanted to consider myself a good, moral person.

Eventually, my discomfort prompted me to start altering my food choices. I didn’t just stop eating animal flesh, but realized I had to continue to evolve so that my choices would cause the least amount of suffering.

Not surprisingly, when I started as an advocate, I wanted everything to be “vegan” - the name, the title, the message. I created long and loud arguments to rationalize a pure message. Again, though, I was uncomfortable when I started to realize a vegan message was ineffectual. Person after person would say, “Oh, I could never be vegan,” and that would be the end of any discussion or consideration.

Again, I wanted to be a moral person, and I desperately desired the world to match up with my advocacy choices. But clearly, by failing to engage people with a constructive message that reached them where they were at the moment, I was failing to lead to the least amount of suffering. Just like my non-vegan food choices were immoral, once I knew it wasn’t optimally effective, my pure vegan advocacy was immoral as well.

This was a very uncomfortable realization. Like everyone, I wanted to consider myself a good person, and I yearned to justify my choices. I am fortunate that my friends and colleagues helped me get over my ego and insecurities, and return the focus to helping the most animals possible.

Of course, this isn’t to say we should base our advocacy and discussions on calling people “immoral.” Rather, we should keep in mind that when we know better, we need to do better. It is possible to make a huge difference in the world; we just need to step outside our comfort zone.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Choice We Face

Check out the first link here!

A new survey indicates that the majority of people are concerned specifically about the treatment of chickens, and they don't have confidence that the meat industry will treat chickens humanely. This is an obvious "in" we can use to help the most animals possible.

Joe and crew have heard a lot of feedback on the approach taken by One Step for Animals. Not surprisingly, many people won't support harm reduction, saying instead that the message has to be compassion for all animals.

Oddly, though, a number of people have said that "stop eating chickens" is a "harder" ask than "go vegan" or "go vegetarian." This is very odd, given the logical contradiction (i.e., it is obviously easier to give up X than W, X, Y, and Z). Also, all the surveys show that it is other products that are hardest for people to give up (e.g., “Kicking dairy was brutal,” he said. “That’s like getting off OxyContin.”).

It is, of course, easy to view our vegan-only Facebook feed, and believe that veganism is exploding. Within the vegan bubble, it is easy to think we have to promote veganism, since there seems to be such a vast hunger for vegan information.

But in the real world, things aren't so rosy. Although per-capita chicken consumption in the US fell from 2006-2012, it is now on the rise again.

The choice is clear - we can stay in our vegan bubble and keep our message pure to stay popular and keep our friends happy.

Or we can realize that even more chickens are being slaughtered in the real world, and adjust our advocacy accordingly.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Tobias is Blogging Up a Storm!

This piece emphasizes the point that the easier we make it for people to try compassionate foods, the more people will join us.

This piece - Confessions of an Abolitionist - is really fascinating.

What I take from it is that it is very important to try to understand where the other person is coming from. We shouldn't just "try to win an argument," but rather, try to put ourselves in the other person's shoes and see what their motivations are, etc.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Does Altering Your Diet Really Help Animals?

Modified from “Expected Utility, Contributory Causation, and Vegetarianism” (PDF)

Some people argue vegetarianism isn’t morally necessary because a single meat purchase will not actually cause more farm animals to be raised or slaughtered. Thus, regardless of whether or not the production of meat is inhumane to animals, someone who buys meat is doing nothing wrong. This argument fails to show that meat purchases are morally permissible, however, because our choice to buy meat affects the expected number of animals bred, raised, and slaughtered.

Given the size of modern animal agriculture, it seems plausible to assume that a single meat purchase is too insignificant, relative to the vast number of other meat purchases, to be noticed by the manager of a factory farm. If the manager cannot perceive any increase in demand caused by a single meat purchase, no additional animals will be raised or slaughtered, and thus no harm will have been done to animals by the purchase. In other words, it is claimed that most meat purchases are “causally inefficacious.”

This may be true but it is irrelevant to how we ought to make moral decisions under uncertainty. When we make a decision about how to act, we can never know for certain all of the actual consequences that will result from al our possible actions. We may, after making a decision to act in a particular way, come to know the actual consequences that resulted from the one action we decided upon. However, this knowledge is not helpful in making the original decision, since it is not only reached after the fact, but also limited to only one of the many possible actions we may have had to choose from. Consequently, it is more reasonable that we should make decisions, not on the basis of actual consequences (which we can’t know for certain), but on the basis of expected consequences – the product of those consequences resulting from an action and the probability of those consequences resulting – that one might reasonably predict given the available evidence. Since the expected consequences, not actual consequences, can be known when making decisions, only expected consequences can help ethical individuals decide what course of action to take.

Acting on expected consequences can be understood in problems of “contributory causation,” where many people seem responsible for causing something to happen. Jonathan Glover provides an example of contributory causation called The100 Bandits, where 100 bandits descend on a village that has 100 villagers, and each villager has one bowl containing 100 baked beans. Each bandit takes one bean from each bowl, so that each bandit ends up with a bowl of 100 beans. Now, no villager can perceive the difference made by one bean being stolen from his bowl (either at the moment or later, due to malnutrition). Thus none of the bandits would seem to have individually harmed any of the villagers and so none of the villagers should have been harmed. Yet 100 villagers are without lunch and hungry. So something is wrong.

Glover suggests we approach contributory problems like The 100 Bandits by employing a “divisibility principle” – in other words, a single agent is causally responsible for the consequences of a contributory result divided by the number of contributing agents. In this case, the hunger of 100 lunch-less villagers is divided over 100 bandits. Glover would thus say that each bandit is responsible for the hunger of one lunch-less villager. If we accept Glover’s divisibility principle, each bandit ought not to steal 100 beans because he would then be causally responsible for the disutility of one lunch-less villager.

There may be a more compelling solution to contributory problems such as this one, however, that does not attempt to reconcile actual causal responsibility with our intuitions about moral responsibility. For in the case of the Bandits, it is not true that none of the bandits is actually causally responsible for harming the villagers. At the very least a handful of the bandits are causally responsible for the villagers’ hunger – those bandits who complete threshold units. While it is true that no villager can perceive the difference made by one bean stolen from their bowl, each can clearly perceive the difference made by 100 beans stolen from their bowl. Thus there must be some number of beans between one and 100 that is the smallest number of beans a villager can perceive. Call this number the threshold unit. Say, for instance, the threshold unit is 20. Any number of beans stolen below 20 cannot be perceived. Any number of beans stolen between 20 and is perceived only as 20 beans being stolen; between 40 and 59, only as 40 beans being stolen; and so on, up to 100 beans. Thus bandits who cause a 20th bean to be stolen are responsible for the disutility of 20 beans being stolen. For instance, bandits who cause the 100th bean to be stolen from a bowl are responsible for the consequence of 20 beans being stolen, since had they not caused the 100th bean to be stolen, only 80 beans would have been perceived as stolen.

This is the approach to take in describing the causal responsibility, after the fact, of agents in similar problems of contributory causation. However, as suggested above, this retrospective description of actual consequences does not help us to decide on a course of action.

For this, ethical individuals must combine the knowledge of thresholds with expected consequences. Imagine that the bandits are contemplating stealing beans again. This time, each bandit knows villagers can perceive only threshold units of 20, but each bandit does not know whether he will be stealing a 20th bean from each bowl. Under this uncertainty, each bandit ought to calculate the expected consequence of stealing 100 beans as the probability of completing a threshold unit in each bowl (1/20) times the consequence of perceiving that threshold unit (20) times the number of bowls (100), which equals 100 – one hungry villager.

Even if each bandit knows neither the size of the threshold unit nor which bean he is stealing, he can still calculate the expected consequences. In each case he will know that the consequences of reaching a threshold unit times the probability of completing a threshold unit in each bowl is one. (This is so because the size of the threshold unit and the probability of completing it always vary inversely.) Hence the expected consequence of stealing 100 beans will always be 100. The only condition under which the expected consequence will be les than 100 is when the Bandit has information about both the exact size of the threshold unit and the exact position of a particular bean within that unit. In most cases of contributory causation, this kind of information will not be available.

As a decision procedure, expected consequences yield the same prescription as Glover’s divisibility principle: don't steal beans. This makes sense, since the sum of all the bandits’ chances of completing a perceptible unit is one and the product of each of these probabilities is also one. One virtue of calculating expected consequences, then, is that it provides the same prescriptions as Glover’s divisibility principle but without a questionable view of actual causal responsibility.

Recognizing the expected consequences of an action, the “causal inefficacy” defense of buying meat no longer holds. There must be some threshold at which point a unit of meat demanded by some group of customers is perceived by the grocer. At the very most, the size of this threshold unit is the difference between the demand for no meat and the current demand for meat. Likewise, there must be some threshold where a unit of meat demanded by some group of grocers is perceived by the butcher. And so on, all the way to the farmer. The expected consequence of completing a threshold unit that affects the production and slaughter of animals is thus the product of al the probabilities of completing each threshold unit [p(Al)=p(Grocer)* p(Butcher) *…* p(Farmer)] times the consequence of that entire threshold unit of animal production. It is likely that the probability is quite small. However, the consequence of completing the threshold unit is the consequence of the entire unit, not some portion of it. This consequence is quite large and terrible, since it involves raising and slaughtering a significant number of animals.

For example, take the case of The 200 Million Consumers. There are 200 million consumers, each of whom eats 50 farmed animals each year. In this market, there are only ten possible annual outputs of animals for farmers: one billion animals, two billion, and so on, up to ten billion. The difference between each of these annual outputs – one billion – is the smallest unit of demand perceivable to the farmer and is thus the threshold unit. Since there are 20 million customers per threshold unit, and only one of these customers will actually complete the unit of which his other purchase is a part, the probability of my completing a unit is one in 20 million. That means by buying meat for the year, an individual has a one-in-20 million chance of affecting the production and slaughter of one billion animals. The expected consequence is then one-20-millionth times one billion, which equals 50 – that is, raising and slaughtering 50 animals per year. Given the horrors of today's animal agriculture, that is a substantial consequence. These hypothetical numbers are close to the actual numbers for meat production and consumption in the United States.

As with The 100 Bandits, in the case of The 200 Million Consumers, only a small fraction of individuals may actually cause harm, as determined after the fact. While at first glance this seems to weaken the argument against buying meat, on closer inspection it makes no difference. Since we can never have perfect knowledge beforehand, only a decision procedure can tell us whether or not we ought to buy meat. An ethical individual must thus use expected consequences to make a decision about buying meat, and the expected consequences of buying meat are terrible.