Monday, May 22, 2017

Something Good re: Greenpeace

Lord knows I'm not a fan of Greenpeace (1, 2). But this article in the Guardian by their Executive Director is very good. Excerpt:

So the distinction diehard carnivores need to make is not between cattle and chickens or pigs but between intensively farmed animals – which depend heavily on grain or soya and are therefore in direct competition with humans for land – and those that predominantly eat grass or, in the case of pigs, heat-treated swill from our waste food mountains. This means no industrially raised chicken and pork, as it is nearly all intensively reared indoors on animal feed. Factory farming is not only unacceptably cruel, but unsustainably inefficient.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How Vegans Hurt Animals

As I and others have noted many times, what we do with our example, our advocacy, and our donations is far more important than what we choose to eat. Yet few of us worry as much about the impact of our example as we do about the purity of our ingredient lists.

The first mistake many of us made is that we have poisoned the brand.

Of course, knowing what happens to animals every day, we are totally and completely justified in being angry.

Rage, fury, and even hatred – these emotions are entirely understandable.

But turning this fury onto people is not the way to have anyone open their heart or mind to the idea of considering their culpability and contemplating change.

This is dead-simple obvious to anyone who has studied psychology or surveyed vegetarians. (“How many of you stopped eating meat because someone yelled 'Go VEGAN, you MURDERER!'? Anyone?”) And yet for the three decades I've been an advocate, there has always been a segment of vegans who have built vast and elaborate rationalizations for basing their “activism” on screaming and hatred (and attacking anyone who is not sufficiently pure and dogmatic).

Thus it is not surprising that research at the University of Arizona's Eller School found that the general public thinks that vegans are annoying (to put it mildly). This recent survey found that vegans are viewed more negatively than atheists, immigrants, homosexuals, and asexuals. The only group viewed more negatively than vegans were drug addicts.

It is clear that the “vegan” brand is damaged beyond repair, yet many of us insist on pushing the vegan message knowing full well that the vast majority of the populace will reject it without consideration.

Even though most people oppose factory farms, and would be willing to take some step to cut back their support of factory farms, many vegans refuse to take the opportunities we have to offer up a constructive, achievable, and sustainable ask.

For example, when we're making a specific case about certain animals – e.g., that birds are brutalized horribly on today's factory farms, and in numbers far beyond any other species – many of us just can't help but end with a “Go VEGAN!” message, nullifying any chance we had of making a real connection and difference.

Furthermore, even when we don't use the word "vegan" explicitly, we use arguments that, when heard in the real world, leads to many more animals suffering. When we argue health, what people hear is that chicken is much, much healthier than red meat. When we argue the environment, people note that beef is orders of magnitude worse than chicken. Even arguing compassion has pitfalls, as people generally identify much more with mammals.

Although these arguments can seem effective within our community, in the bigger picture, they lead to a lot more animals suffering. The push to replace red meat with chicken – supported by all our arguments – has driven the huge increase in the number of animals factory farmed every year.

However, promoting a poisoned brand and using counter-productive arguments are not even the half of it.

As has been found by a number of surveys, the vast majority of people who go vegetarian eventually go back to eating animals. More than four out of every five individuals who go veg eventually quit!

It would be bad enough to realize that we’re throwing away more than 80% of advocacy efforts. But it is actually worse than that. Everyone who quits being veg becomes an anti-spokesperson against making compassionate choices – a public (and often loud) example opposing taking any steps that help animals.

And why does nearly everyone who goes vegetarian go back to eating animals?

One main reason is that people don't feel healthy. Again, this has been a failing of many of us in the vegan advocacy community. We vigorously insist that all animal products are deadly poison, and promise that eating vegan will cure all our ills. We fail to give people a complete understanding of nutrition, and we also fail to provide them with a reasonable guide to what they can eat that they'll find familiar and satisfying, as well as easy to shop for and prepare.

So it isn't surprising that so many people revert to eating meat. But we go out of our way to make it even worse.

We continually police our little club, attacking everyone who isn't vegan enough, who isn't vegan for the right reason, who isn't outspokenly vegan. We rain our most awful fury on people who have taken steps to change their diet, but aren't yet “fully vegan” (“Dairy? Why are you pro-rape?!?!?”)

Now of course, this doesn't matter if all we care about is the exclusivity of our little club. And we've done a good job of that, given that the percentage of vegetarians has basically not changed in decades, with all the fluctuations within the margin of error.

But if we care even the tiniest amount about the suffering of farm animals, then we simply must admit that the outreach we vegans have done has been an absolute and utter failure.

The facts are stark, and they are brutal. This year in the US, more animals will suffer horrific cruelty on factory farms than ever before. This year, the average American will eat more factory farmed animals than ever before.

And for all the reasons outlined above, we vegans are culpable. We (and I include myself here) have poisoned the message of compassion, insisted on pushing a message we know people will automatically reject, and have undermined and driven away millions of individuals who have tried to join us. As Paul Shapiro and I have said for at least 15 years now: The greatest impediment to the spread of veganism is vegans.

Luckily, I believe there is a better way. I hope you will click and consider it.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Simply Give People What They Want

One of the commonest questions I’ve gotten over the past 30 years is how to convince a loved one – often a spouse – to stop eating animals. It is a difficult issue, and I’ve struggled to find a satisfactory answer.

Today, though, it is much easier to answer this question. The key is to change the issue from “How do I get my partner to believe what I do?” to “How can my partner’s diet cause less harm?”

One mistake I made early on was to think that the only diet worth promoting was exactly what I ate. Spicy Thai dishes, vegetable-stuffed peppers, quinoa and mung beans – making extended family eat meals like these led to upset stomachs, resentment, and an even worse opinion of vegans and veganism than they had already.

Contrast this with people who don’t care about pushing personal philosophy, but simply want their family members to eat fewer animals. For example, we have friends who make their family’s Taco Tuesday meals with Gimme Lean Ground Beef. No one has ever noticed the change – except, of course, the cows who haven’t been killed.

Currently, most people have a negative view of vegans and veganism. Sadly, this is partially because some vegans are like I was – pushing vegan food that others might find “weird” and “unsatisfying,” all the while convincing many people that veganism is an intolerable deprivation.

Humans have been programmed by evolution to want fatty and high-protein foods. Instead of pontificating about the dangers of fat and the protein content of broccoli, we should recognize that basically no one eats meat because they want animals to suffer. They simply want familiar, tasty, satisfying foods.

We are extremely fortunate to live in a time when we have the ability to put aside our personal preferences and simply give people what they want! I have seen this work over and over and over.

For example, I was once working with MBA students at the University of Arizona on marketing research into attitudes about vegetarianism / veganism. After preliminary research, they created categories for individuals; one category was “hard core meat eater, will never consider changing.” On the last day of the research project, the owner of the local veg restaurant brought in “chicken fingers.” One of the students who had listed himself as “hard core / never change” exclaimed, with genuine surprise, “Hey, I could eat this!”

Ellen, who has never eaten “real” meat, would take Boca chicken nuggets to events in high school. These nuggets – never labeled “vegetarian” – were always scarfed down immediately. Once, a Science Olympiad teammate saw Ellen eating a nugget and exclaimed in shock, “Ellen! You’re eating meat!!” They couldn’t believe the nuggets were entirely plant-based.

So if you live with a meat eater, don’t try to convince them to “go vegan.” Just feed them what they want! If they don’t like Gardein’s Ultimate Beefless Burger, try the Beyond Burger. If they don’t like Beyond’s chicken strips, grab Tofurky’s! Tofurky’s sausage not a hit? Try Field Roast’s next. And I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like Gimme Lean’s sausage or Tofurky’s deli slices. There are so many “roasts” out there that you’re sure to find one everyone loves! My homemade seitan and gravy has satisfied the holiday demands of hard-core meat eaters, leaving everyone happy – especially the animals!

In the end, it is easier to agree on food first and worry about details like philosophy and purity later. We only care about the bottom line – that people aren’t eating animals, regardless of their reasons.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Language and Consequences (2017 Update)

Many activists appear to love internecine debates about language. Fights over the word “vegan” seem particularly addictive. Nearly every vegan has an opinion regarding the definition and use of this word, but the fundamental goals of those individuals often differ. Given the disparity of underlying motivations, it is not surprising that there is much disagreement.

For many, “vegan” is an end in and of itself. The only thing that matters is using the word “vegan” and glorifying veganism.

On the other hand, many activists are concerned with the real-world consequences of the words they use. These activists don’t want to use a specific word because they like it or because it captures their particular worldview. Rather, consequentialist activists choose language that influences the actions of those who currently eat animals. In this case, words only matter in as much as they actually reduce suffering.

For the group that is primarily concerned about consequences, there are a number of studies to influence optimal messaging. For example, there is much to learn from Faunalytics’ large study of former vegetarians and vegans – which showed that more than 4 out of every 5 people who go veg eventually revert back to eating animals. A key strategic take-away from this survey is that people who change rapidly are less likely to maintain that change; those who take incremental steps are more likely to maintain that change.

Another key lesson is that former vegetarians point to their inability to live up to the demands for “purity” from the certain portions of the veg community. The angry, judgmental attitude associated with the vegan community has driven away even highly-motivated, dedicated individuals, as we can see in this article.

Marketing research done in 2015 at the Eller Business School of the University of Arizona also provides a number of insights. Each of the four investigative teams of MBA students found that the general public views “veganism” as impossible, and “vegans” as annoying. (2017 updatenew survey finds that the only people viewed more negatively than vegans are drug addicts )

The University of Arizona restaurant and grocery store research group found that non-vegetarians are less likely to order a dish or buy a product if it is labeled “vegan,” compared to if the same product has a non-veg label (e.g., “vegan burger” vs “black-bean burger”).

We also have a number of recent data points, as new companies enter the marketplace and existing companies move into this space. What these firms have in common is a desire to reach new, non-veg individuals, rather than appeal to current vegans (a market so small it is within the margin of error). For these companies, non-vegetarians are their path to profits and success. The more companies succeed in having new people buy their products, the fewer animals will suffer and die.

This article discusses the trend, and their lead graphic – a sign at Target (above) – shows the conclusion reached by profit-motivated companies seeking to reach non-veg audiences. Their marketing research shows that “plant-based” is the phrase that will reach new people.

Forbes magazine has a new article that explicitly addresses the debate about language. Of course, there are still those who are primarily and personally concerned with trying to alter the perception of the word “vegan.” But the major up-and-coming companies – such as Hampton Creek Foods and Beyond Meat, which are seeking to reach new people right now, as well as the existing multinationals moving into this space – have all clearly chosen “plant-based” as the way forward.

I understand, and have written about, how inviting and even intoxicating it is to worry about words and defend definitions. It feels great to be part of an elite club, and ego is one of the most powerful drives, spawning the most amazing rationalizations. But if we care more about animals than ideology, and if we want to have the biggest possible real-world impact, we need to set aside our ego and use the most inclusive and persuasive language possible. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Against Reducitarianism

From this interview:

VS: What do you think of reducetarian outreach?

The reducetarian approach is rooted in one vitally important psychological insight: people are more likely to attempt and maintain a change that seems achievable, rather than something that seems far beyond where they are now. This has been shown over and over again – not only that the more realistic a change is, the more likely people are to attempt it, but also that the more stepwise a change, the more likely people are to maintain that change.

But as currently embodied, the reducetarian movement misses another important psychological truth (as discussed by Dr. Gordon Hodson): goals must be not only reasonable and achievable, but clear. “Eat less meat” is not a clear goal. Reach out to just about anyone considered to be a likely target for dietary change and ask them to “eat less meat,” and they will almost universally reply, “Oh, I don’t eat much meat.”

They often add, “Just chicken.” Of course, "chicken" is "meat," but that is just not how people see it. When I give talks, I ask, "Who here has been told, 'Oh, I don't eat much meat. Just chicken.'" Everyone raises their hand. This is reality, and rather than insisting on the "truth" ("but chicken is meat!") we should adjust our advocacy accordingly.

In addition to all the arguments against red meat, we know that nearly everyone cares more about mammals than birds. And of all the factory-farmed animals brutalized and killed for food, the vast majority are birds. As Professor of Veterinary Science John Webster has noted, modern poultry production is, “in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animals.” Combine this with the fact that it takes more than 40 chickens to replace the meals produced by one pig, and more than 200 birds to replace one cow, everyone who “eats less [red] meat” and replaces even a little of it with birds is causing a lot more suffering.

Like doctors, our first duty as advocates should be to “do no harm.” The initial test we should run on any potential campaign or message is, “Is there any chance that my efforts will actually lead to more animals suffering in the real world?” Unfortunately, I think the “eat less meat” campaign might fail that test.

Luckily, there is a better way.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Letter to Senator re: AHCA

Dear Senator Flake and Staff,
I was shocked and appalled when the House passed the AHCA. Every Republican who voted for that bill made it clear that they value ideology over their constituents. Representative McSally has lost my vote, and I will be actively supporting their opponent in the next election. I desperately hope that you and your colleagues in the Senate will see sense and stop this bill before it can harm the people of Arizona.
The ACA literally saved my life. Every analysis has shown that AHCA would take healthcare away from tens of millions of Americans, leading inexorably to countless deaths. No matter how many times Republican leaders have said that the bill will protect pre-existing conditions, we know that is a lie. The House didn’t even wait to see a new CBO score before passing the AHCA – they didn’t value American lives enough to look at even the most basic analysis of its consequences.
I was in the audience when you were on Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me in Phoenix. You have made it clear that you are not a blind partisan.
I’m pleading with you, Senator Flake, not to make the mistake that Arizona’s representatives in the House did. This is a life or death decision, and the one I will remember above all others when I’m at the voting booth in 2018. Please vote NO on the AHCA.
Matt Ball
Tucson, AZ

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Rerun: Why Keep Working and Hoping

E found this song - how can you top the lyrics?



The reason that I'm not a nihilist
Is some day I wanna live like in Star Trek
And I know that we'll never build starships
Until we tackle poverty, war, and hardship
So we fight overnight and over lifetimes
Organize for that warp drive
And of course I realize
That we're a long way from it
But what better reason to start runnin'? [literally]

No friction; no flame
No struggle; no progress
No sweat
How many times do we have to win
'Til you realize that we are not lost yet?

There is no Superman in that phone booth
There is no rewarding our faith
There is no one who can save us
So it's a good thing we don't need to be saved

There are no starships in low earth orbit [yet]
No aliens to save us from ourselves
There is no voice willing to speak for us
So it's a good thing we know how to yell

There is no chosen one, no destiny, no fate
There is no such thing as magic
There is no light at the end of this tunnel

So it's a good thing we brought matches

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

You Can't Save the Earth

Equitable Ethics vs. Easy Environmentalism
The Essence of Earth Day
From The Accidental Activist

It is easy for us to criticize the prejudices of our grandfathers, from which our fathers freed themselves.
It is more difficult to distance ourselves from our own views, so that we can dispassionately search for prejudices among the beliefs and values we hold.
—Peter Singer, Practical Ethics

Many people express concern for the environment, and believe Earth Day is a good opportunity to draw attention to various issues. Sadly, yet not surprisingly, Earth Day has become largely a meaningless event, with just about everyone from the strictest vegan to the largest multinational corporation claiming to support “the Earth.”

But of course, the planet itself – the mass that circles the Sun – is in no danger. There is no way we can destroy a hunk of rock that weighs 13,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds. (That’s 13 septillion pounds.)

Let me emphasize this point again, as it has generated about as much angry feedback as anything I’ve ever written: “How can you say the Earth is in no danger?? What about fisheries’ collapse/ atmosphere pollution/ rainforest destruction/ topsoil erosion???”

But none of these are “the Earth.”

The oceans could empty and the atmosphere blow away, and the planet would still exist.

Only the razor-thin biosphere matters, because it is where we and our fellow feeling beings reside.

This indicates what really matters. The bottom line is the lives of sentient beings.

This is not something most people want to face, though. To avoid considering all our fellow creatures – and the implications that would have for our personal lives – many simply proceed as if any and every environmental problem were equally pressing, and anything “green” equally commendable.

When you look at what has become of “environmentalism” in the U.S., the emphasis tends to be either on the feel-good-about-ourselves (“I recycled!” “I bought a hybrid!”), or on condemning the “other” (“British Petroleum is evil!” “The government must do something about global warming!”). The avoidance of an honest, meaningful analysis of the fundamental bottom line isn’t surprising. It is much simpler to parrot slogans, follow painless norms such as recycling, vilify faceless corporations, and demand that the government take action.

All of this makes it easy to continue the status quo and still feel smugly green and good.
Personal “environmentalism” is often nothing more than an expression of self-interest, just another laundry list of “we want.” We want to feel good about ourselves for doing relatively painless things. We want charismatic megafauna to entertain us. We want wild spaces for our use. We want clean air and water for our children.

But ethics aren’t a question of what “we want.” We can be truly thoughtful individuals and go beyond personal preferences, feel-good campaigns, and the vilification of faceless others. We can each recognize that sayings and slogans are superficial, intentions and ideology irrelevant.

What matters isn’t this rock we call Earth. What matters are the sentient beings who call this rock home. We can’t care about “the environment” as though it is somehow an ethically relevant entity in and of itself. Rather, what matters are the impacts our choices have for our fellow feeling beings.

In the end, all that matters are the consequences our actions have for all animals.

All creatures – not just wild or endangered animals – desire to live free from suffering and exploitation.

Cruelty is wrong, whether the victim is an eagle or a chicken, a wolf or a pig. The rest is just noise and obfuscation.

We simply can’t consider ourselves ethical if we make choices that lead to more suffering for these creatures. And the greatest amount of suffering on Earth is caused when we choose to eat animals instead of a cruelty-free alternative.

A compassionate diet is a statement against “we want.” It is the embodiment of a consistent, universal ethic. Choosing to live with compassion is a real choice with real consequences – a way to oppose and actively reduce violence, to make the world a truly better place for all. When we choose to live consistently and ethically, we can look in the mirror, knowing we are good people making choices that won’t lead to more suffering for our fellow feeling beings.

But we know that our food choices are only the beginning. There are many further opportunities to make the world a better place. Even if our food choices aren’t directly causing animals to be slaughtered, our other choices – optimizing our example, time, and resources to have the greatest impact – have consequences even more important than what we eat.

This is why we are so honored to work with all of you, who recognize that every day is a day to make a real difference.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Every single moment that we were alive & we were together was miraculous

Anne Druyan on her husband, Carl Sagan:

When my husband died, because he was so famous & known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me — it still sometimes happens — & ask me if Carl changed at the end & converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage & never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief & precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive & we were together was miraculous — not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance… That pure chance could be so generous & so kind… That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space & the immensity of time… That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me & it’s much more meaningful…

The way he treated me & the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other & our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Sustainable Activism Webinar

Thanks to Christine, In Defense of Animals invited me to be a presenter for their Sustainable Activism Campaign. You can watch the video on YouTube.