A Quick Guide to Our Biases

Few of us were raised following a compassionate diet, and few of us immediately stopped supporting the exploitation of farm animals once we found out about factory farms.

Yet if we’ve been living a compassionate life for an extended period, it is easy to forget what it is like to be a meat eater in this society, surrounded by friends are family who also follow the standard American diet. If we are to be effective advocates for farm animals, however, it is important to be able to step outside of ourselves and reach out to people where they are currently.

While the case for our current diet seems entirely self-evident to us, it doesn’t come across that way to others. We all have significant psychological tools and tricks that can help us rationalize and justify our current choices. Understanding these biases is important if we are going to help people get past them and on the path to an ethical diet.

LifeHacker published a nice infographic from Business Insider to summarize our main biases, such as choice-supportive bias, availability heuristic, and the bandwagon effect. Give it a review, and keep them in mind the next time you are talking with someone about the reasons for following a compassionate diet. You might just have a more productive dialog!

 

The Lives of Modern Chickens

In the 1920s, chickens raised and killed for meat lived 112 days, growing to 2.2 pounds on optimal feed before being slaughtered. Now, after decades of genetic manipulations, they are butchered after only about 45-55 days, at 5.5 pounds or more.

This report by Watt Poultry shows some producers with an average weight of more than 8 pounds at slaughter, and this report from the University of Alberta has a strain reaching more than 9 pounds in 56 days.

chicken-illustration
In the latter case, this means chickens are growing more than four times larger in just half the time.

It is now truer than ever what John Webster, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Bristol and Former Head of the Bristol Vet School. has said about modern industrial chicken production: “in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animal.”

This is all the more reason to keep chickens off our plate, and instead try some of the amazing plant-based meats available to us today!

Gene Baur: Going the Distance for Animals!

Following up on Gene’s previous post from 2011, we revisit his first experience with running a marathon.

2013_03-17_gene_in_la_marathon_727959-1044-0034s_credit_marathonfoto_1400x2100_300_rgb

We grow up bombarded with the false idea that consuming meat is necessary to promote strength and athletic endurance, but there are more and more vegan athletes proving that we can perform exceptionally well eating a plant-based diet. Some have even commented that they heal faster and feel better after cutting meat, eggs, and dairy from their diet. I wanted to personally demonstrate how well vegan food supports athletic feats, so I signed up to run my first marathon [in 2011] in Washington, D.C.

While training for the marathon, I completed two 20-mile runs but had never run a full 26 miles, so I was a bit anxious and concerned as race day approached. I’d heard for years about “hitting the wall,” that point when your body runs out of energy after running 20-plus miles. I hoped I would I have the mental toughness to continue running through that pain.

The week before the marathon, I consumed lots of nutrient-dense green smoothies (which I make with bananas, blueberries, flax meal, kale, spinach, and nondairy milk), along with other healthy plant foods. I wanted to store as much energy in my body as possible to get me through the race. I checked the weather forecast, and the temperature on the day of the race was projected to be in the 70s, which is very warm for March. With warm temperatures, I would need to stay properly hydrated for the 26.2-mile course.

On race day, I had a breakfast of oatmeal, nuts, and bananas, and then rode a very crowded metro to the race location. Packed in tightly with other travelers on the train, I was reminded of how farm animals are crowded on factory farms and in transportation trailers.

When the marathon started, I settled in with the 3:30-pace group, hoping I would be able to maintain that pace over the 26-mile course. I guessed that I would finish the race in somewhere between three-and-a-half and four hours and didn’t want to push myself too hard too soon. I was warned by several marathon veterans that running too fast during the first part of the race causes runners to break down during the last five or six miles.

We ran along the national mall and wound our way through the streets of our nation’s capital with well-wishers and musical performers cheering along the way. I felt comfortable keeping up with the 3:30-pace group for most of the race, stopping to drink at every water and Gatorade station to stay hydrated. Then, around mile 18, I decided to speed up, hoping I could finish the race strong. During the last eight miles of the race, I had moments when my legs felt heavy and my joints ached, but I kept going. I remembered my training and the nutrient-rich foods fueling my body, and I also took heart from the vegan organization I was representing. As I approached the finish line wearing my Farm Sanctuary t-shirt, I sprinted and completed the race with a respectable time of 3:28:03. On Sunday, I learned that time qualified me for the Boston Marathon!

genemedal

As numerous runners have expressed over the years, finishing a marathon is a very satisfying accomplishment. It can be even sweeter and more satisfying when a cause that is bigger than oneself provides the inspiration. For me, that cause is going the distance for farm animals and joining an ever-growing group of athletes who are thriving on a vegan diet.

Since his first marathon, plant-powered Gene has done 6 marathons and 7 triathlons, including an Ironman. Please also see this Runner’s World interview with Gene!

generunIf you are interested in what Gene eats for his amazing plant-based feats, check outWhat Does a Vegan Marathoner Eat?

 

 

Seth Tibbott, Hero of Compassion

We are thrilled to continue Heroes of Compassion, where we recognize people who are working tirelessly behind the scenes to help animals and make the world a more compassionate place.

seth and gene2

Gene Baur and Seth Tibbott

Today we honor Seth Tibbott, founder of Turtle Island Foods, makers of the amazing line of Tofurky products! Since founding Turtle Island in 1980, it is certain that Seth has touched the lives of just about everyone reading this post. For example, when I first discovered Tofurky slices, I immediately emailed another friend and said, “Stop whatever you are doing, go to the co-op, and buy these new Tofurky slices.” A half hour later, I received a response: “How do they do that??”!

tofurky-deli-slices-hickory-smoked-package

Cultivating Compassionate Communities: What does the term “living compassionately” mean to you? 

When in Germany last year, an animal rights group gave me a bracelet that sums up compassionate living to me. In German it reads “Leben Und Leben Lassen,” which translates to “Live and Leave Living.” Life on this beautiful planet is all too short for all sentient beings, human and non-human alike. Anything we can do to live more compassionately and do less harm pays huge dividends to ourselves and the planet as well.

What inspired you to start down this path?

I stopped eating animals in 1972 after reading Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moore Lappé. I was a teacher/naturalist at the time and her book pointed out to me the inefficiency of animal agriculture from an environmental perspective. The word vegan was not in popular use at the time and I started out as a vegetarian, flopping back and forth from vegetarian to vegan — which had been called a “pure vegetarian” diet for many years. When I later learned about the health benefits of a plant-based diet and of the cruelty inherent in the factory farm system, it felt like my decision was a win-win-win for myself, the animals, and the earth.

My flopping stopped when, thanks to Farm Sanctuary, I finally understood, in my heart, the sentience of farm animals — who just like you and I, only want to spend as much time as possible on this glorious earth, living in peace with our friends and family.

What was the transition like for you, and what did you learn that might be useful to people currently trying to make changes?

Some people, smarter than I, change from their meat- and dairy-based diet overnight to a vegan diet. I was not one of them. On the one hand, in 1972 there were no farm sanctuaries of any kind that I was aware of, nor animal advocacy groups beyond the ASPCA. PETA was founded, I believe, the same year I started making tempeh — in 1980. But even after that, when more and more information became available, it was still a gradual process. Even though I thought of my diet as “flexo-vegan,” eating a small amount of cheese and at some points even fish, it took many years before becoming totally vegan. Though I regret not becoming vegan sooner, I am glad to be vegan now and I know too much now to ever go back.

What has been most challenging and/or surprising about living a compassionate life?

Finding food is no problem, even while traveling the world and visiting strange places that you would not think of being vegan-oriented. I think it’s challenging sometimes interacting with friends and loved ones who are not vegan. I try and live by example without judgment, but sometimes struggle with feelings of separateness by eating a diet that is very different than the norm of many friends. That said, I recently went to a potluck hosted by some of my best friends and as it turned out, there was no meat at all there!

What advice / tips would you give to people who find it hard to cope with living in a world where the vast majority of people eat meat and so many farm animals are suffering and dying every day?

I am 65 now. I’ve been in business for 37 years with a front row seat, watching the world slowly begin to change its dietary course. While this change is more like an ocean liner gradually turning than a small sailboat tacking on a dime, the growth I have seen over my lifetime has been tremendous. In 1972 there were not only no meat alternatives in wide circulation, there was not even any granola on the shelves of the supermarket. Today, plant-based foods are a five billion dollar industry and growing fast. That’s basically growing from zero to billions in what is a blip in time. None of the great social causes changed fast enough and this change is no different, but this change IS happening. We are well on our way to seeing plant-based foods be the new norm.

How did you learn about Farm Sanctuary, and how did you get involved?

I first found out about Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt a Turkey Project in 1997, I think [see Tofurky Feast box below]. We had just launched the Tofurky Feast two years earlier, so it seemed like a good fit to support Gene and Lorri, who were just getting started. We devoted one panel of the box to this great program and gave a little money. Gene’s story of authentically growing Farm Sanctuary has paralleled, in many ways, our own approach to developing the Tofurky Company: slowly but surely, not selling out to anyone who would tell us what to support and what not to support. It’s an honor to be associated with the Farm Sanctuary today that is in full bloom and changing so many lives.

farm sanctuary tofurky box0

Has there been a specific animal who was special to you?

Well of course I love the turkeys, but honestly it is the pigs that I really like to hang out with the most. So cuddly but also so smart.

Do you have a favorite resident at one of the sanctuaries, and/or do you have a special affinity for a certain species of farm animal?

It was a great honor to meet my namesake, Tibbott the turkey [below] at Orland in 2013.

tibbott1

How do you think things will change over the next 50 years or so?

I think the protein market will be dominated by plant-based foods and possibly, if they develop in the right way, cultured meat grown without harming any animals. I doubt that all animal agriculture will disappear by then, but factory farms will be a shameful footnote in history and no one will understand how this generation ever accepted such institutionalized cruelty.

What is your favorite “main dish” recipe or meal? 

I love all products but keep going back to the Tofurky Roast with gravy and all the trimmings.

seth's plated roast0

tofurky-holiday-feast-main

Thanks to much for everything, Seth!

It Is Possible that Some Arguments Don’t Help Animals

CoverAt Farm Sanctuary, we believe that each and every cow, turkey, pig, chicken, goat, duck, sheep, and other farm animal deserves to live free and according to their own nature. However, as long-time advocates, we know that presenting an “all-or-nothing” message to non-vegetarians is not the optimal way to create real and lasting change.

Thus, we seek to come up with other messages. However, it doesn’t matter how the argument sounds to us, but how this message will actually play out with the targeted audience.

Let’s say we have developed what we think is the most powerful pro-veg argument ever, and we present it to ten people. Incredibly, five of them completely stop eating animals; the others decide to “eat better” — following the mainstream suggestions of their doctor and friends by giving up red meat.

We might think, “Fifty percent conversion rate? That must be the way to go!” This is how I used to think. But after years, I finally learned to ask: How does this argument actually affect animals?

Every year, the average American eats about twenty-three birds, a third of a pig, and a tenth of a cow. It currently takes about 193 birds (chickens + turkeys) to provide the same number of meals as one steer. It takes about fifty-six birds to equal one pig.

So, before our presentation, the ten people consumed a combined 234 land animals every year. After our presentation, the same ten — including the five who joined our vegetarian club — eat 296 land animals per year. This is because, even though our argument convinced fully half of them to stop eating animals entirely, the others replaced their red meat intake with birds in order to eat more “healthfully.”

Anecdotally, we’ve all heard, “Oh, I don’t eat much meat. Just chicken.” Beyond our experiences, though, moving from red meat to chicken is a well-documented fact. For example: “‘If you look at dietary recommendations put forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture [and other health institutions], they are to decrease red meat and substitute lean meat, poultry and fish,’ says Daniel [a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center]. ‘We’ve seen in other data that people are gravitating toward poultry.’”

Finally, the National Institutes of Health notes “[t]he growing preference in the US for poultry, but not fish, as a replacement for red meat.”

There are contradictory studies on how much chicken is eaten by people who give up red meat entirely. But for people who reduce the amount of red meat they eat — the majority of people who change their diet for health reasons — all the data are absolutely clear: red-meat reducers eat much, much more chicken. For example, 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. [Aston, L. M., et al. Meat Intake in Britain in Relation to Other Dietary Components and to Demographic and Risk Factor Variables: Analyses Based on the National Diet and Nutrition Survey of 2000/2001. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 26(1), October 18, 2012.]

Fifty percent more! The facts are clear: anything at all that might possibly lead anyone to cut back on red meat actively harms animals.

Of course, we all know people who have entirely stopped eating animals for health reasons. As vegetarian advocates, we are obviously in a position to hear from and remember them. When we survey vegetarians (and/or meat reducers), of course we sometimes hear the “health argument” as a motivation. But looking only at vegetarians doesn’t begin to show the full impact of any argument. The error is thinking the “health” vegetarians we know or survey are a true sample of society. They aren’t. Rather, they represent a highly self-selected sub-sample.

History shows that eating fewer large animals and more small animals for health reasons isn’t a made-up, worst-case scenario. It has been the driving force for the suffering and slaughter of billions and billions of birds. Just look at any graph of animals killed in the U.S. over time: as the consumption of mammals declined, the slaughter of chickens has been skyrocketing for decades!

bean

This is one of the reasons I won’t use any argument that could, in any way, support the general move toward giving up only red meat. Every person who decides to “eat better” more than counters the good done by a new vegetarian.

In other words: it is important not to simply repeat anti-meat arguments. Instead, we need to carefully promote pro-animal arguments that will actually have a positive net impact for animals in the real world.

Obviously, it feels good to say: “Vegans have lower rates of disease X.” But the point isn’t to feel good about ourselves or our diet. We’re not out to justify or glorify our choices. Our goal is to keep as many animals from suffering as possible as we work toward the world we want, a world where all animals are respected.

Of course, advocates can claim eating birds is bad for everyone’s health and the environment. Putting aside the veracity of those health and environmental claims, this simply isn’t the way the world works. People don’t simply accept what a vegan advocate says as gospel truth. Rather, they combine what they hear from all sources, paying more attention to what their doctor and friends say. On top of this, people generally give much more weight to advice that leads toward what they want to do — i.e., continuing to eat the familiar and convenient foods their friends and family eat.

More importantly, we humans simply don’t make decisions based on what is “perfect” for our health or the environment. None of us, vegans included, exercise the optimal amount, sleep the optimal amount, meditate perfectly, work standing up, give up our car, etc. With few exceptions, we all follow our habits/peers to a significant extent. If we change anything, almost all of us do something somewhat “better” — eating chickens instead of cows.

In other words, no matter what vegans claim is true, and no matter what we want, people will react from where they are, based on what they’re used to and with an eye for what they want. No matter how strong we think our arguments are, no matter how noble our intentions or passionate our desires, when we advocate without considering human nature, history, and the numbers, we can actually cause more animals to suffer and die.

If we want to help animals, we need to advocate with animals as the bottom line.

-Matt