Wednesday, September 7, 2016

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.


Vincent Berraud said...

Eat less meat does not equate to eat more chicken if it is made clear that chicken is meat, as it is. Eat less meat means eat less meat and over all less chicken as well as less every other meat.

Matt Ball said...

This is logically true, but not true in the real world. People (at least in the US) just don't think chicken is "meat," and they aren't going to be convinced in a quick conversation with someone.
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 we should adjust accordingly, IMHO.

Austen said...

Kateman certainly doesn't take a clear moral stance in his position that there is no preferable way to eat less meat. He is an environmentalist and I get the impression that he is primarily driven by environmental concerns, which would entail prioritizing beef reduction. He is still young and relatively new to the animal rights field, so I think that with pressure from the AR community, he will at least mention the importance of animal size to meat reduction consistently in the reducetarian message. It may not be a coherent pro-animal call-to-action, but at least Kateman's movement is one avenue to education the public about the significance of animal size in meat reduction. To Kateman's credit, he includes fish rights in his message, which I don't see enough of among AR people. Fish are breathing, feeling animals, as well, and the harm of shortening wild fish lives is comparable to the harm experienced by land animals in factor farms. I would rather live as a miserable broiler chicken for 6 weeks than have my life shortened by years as a wild fish.

Matt Ball said...

>I would rather live as a miserable broiler chicken for 6 weeks than have my life shortened by years as a wild fish.

Wow. That is TOTALLY the opposite of my view.

Austen said...

Do you not think that shortening the life of a wild or domesticated animal is a bad thing in itself, even if no physical pain is involved? Physical pain and mental distress (as is common in factory farms) are 2 types of harm but stealing the remainder of a being's life away from him or her is also a serious type of harm (not to mention can cause mental distress to the animal's friends and family). Animals have the right to keep living, not just to be free from direct abuse.

Matt Ball said...

I think it is entirely possible that ending the life of a wild animal in a painless way could be a net good, given that it is possible they may have lives not worth living (more suffering than pleasure). I

Austen said...

Following this logic of simple pleasure minus pain estimates, brutally killing a wild animal would still be an admiral thing to do if it spares the animal from living the rest of its life with even mild net unhappiness. Why, Matt, don't you encourage people to replace chickens, pork and beef with wild fish, deer, etc.? If wild animals have no right to life or quality of life, eating them is not only moral, but altruistic. You should make One Step for Animal's call-to-action to hunt and fish as much as possible so there's no need to buy farmed meat.

Austen said...

Of course, an eat-more-fish/wild animals message wouldn't work even if you wanted to do it. People would reject the notion of eating more animals for animal rights reasons, wouldn't develop empathy for animals, and wouldn't progressively reduce their meat consumption. Also, a lot of fish bought in grocery stores is farmed, so the demand for farmed fish would go way up. No one would donate to a charity that advocates for this. Moreover, the sick morals behind using hedonistic utilitarianism as an excuse to kill innocent animals would spill over onto our fellow humans. No rules bind atheists.