2012: Compassion In Action

By Nick Cooney

January 1, 2013

Looking back over the past twelve months, what can we say but “thank you!” Thank you for helping to make Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign a success. Thank you for helping to spare tens of thousands of farm animals from a lifetime of misery. Before we dive into a new year of advocacy, let’s take a quick look back on 2012 and what we, together, achieved for animals.

The Campaign kicked off in March of 2012 with the launch of our groundbreaking compassionatecommunities.org website. For the first time ever, farm animal advocates now have a one-stop shop for learning how to carry out effective veg advocacy programs in their community. With how-to videos and guides and a library of some of the most thought-provoking essays and videos around, it’s no wonder thousands of grassroots advocates in the U.S. and abroad joined the Campaign in the months that followed.

Meanwhile, the Compassionate Communities blog dug into the latest research to provide eye-opening advice for animal advocates. We discussed why the phrase “meat-free” may be better than “vegetarian”; looked at who former vegetarians are and why we lost them; busted the myths that are told inside the vegan bubble; showed the neuroscience behind caring vegetarians; and took a data-based look at the impact of welfare reforms on vegan advocacy.

As Compassionate Communities volunteers got active, local veg dining guides, both printed and online, began popping up around the country. Residents of cities like Pittsburgh and Rochester, among many others, now have an easy way to find veg food near them, and local activists and grassroots groups have a great resource to direct the public to.

The summer of 2012 saw the launch of our snazzy new 16-page veg advocacy booklet, Something Better. Over the course of the year, Compassionate Communities volunteers distributed more than 265,000 copies of Something Better and other literature to people around the country, bringing Farm Sanctuary and its animal ambassadors to a wide audience of people across the country. This included over 55,000 vegetarian starter guides distributed through businesses and newsstand racks, as well as nearly 200,000 booklets handed out at colleges, festivals, and on busy city streets.

In the fall, we hit the road for our Compassionate Communities tour, traveling to 11 key cities around the country to rally grassroots advocacy efforts. Hundreds of local animal advocates came out for our workshops on effective veg advocacy and signed up to get active for farm animals. Many joined us for hard-hitting outreach events, from the beaches of Florida to the universities of Portland to the cold streets of Boston.

In November, Compassionate Communities launched its hard-hitting new video, What Came Before. The 10-minute film short, narrated by TV and movie star Steve-O, introduces viewers to individual animals rescued by Farm Sanctuary, exposes the cruel realities of factory farming, and strikes a hopeful note by pointing out the benefits of a meat-free diet. In its first two months, more than 180,000 viewers saw the cruel reality of What Came Before, with many leaving heartfelt messages or comments about how the video inspired them to go vegetarian.

Thanks to the support of our donors, Compassionate Communities also launched a massive online advertising campaign to bring What Came Before and resources on vegan eating to the computer screens of hundreds of thousands of young women around the country.

All told, Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign was able to directly reach nearly half a million people in 2012 with printed literature or video on the cruelties of factory farming and the benefits of vegan eating, inspiring dietary change and saving the lives of farm animals. Your involvement and support have spared tens of thousands of individuals like “The Doctor” from a lifetime of misery.

On behalf of all of us at Farm Sanctuary, have a Happy New Year! We look forward to working with you in 2012 to achieve even more for animals!

 

Want to receive blog updates twice a month? Join the Compassionate Communities Campaign to get them delivered straight to your inbox.

The 2012 Presidential Election and the Future of Veg Advocacy

By Nick Cooney

December 11, 2012

Regardless of your political affiliation, there’s a lot to learn from the 2012 presidential election – a lot to learn about effective vegan advocacy.

No, neither candidate uttered the word “vegan,” or even addressed the issue of factory farming on the campaign trail. But, as the Los Angeles Times and New York Times reported in the weeks following the election, the political game has shifted permanently as a result of the Obama campaign’s successful use of data analysis and social psychology to win over swing voters in battleground states.

Here’s what it looked like on the ground. First, a team of 50 “data nerds” spent months compiling more than 80 pieces of information about individual voters in swing states – everything from age to household income to voting history to magazines they subscribe to. Using that data, a mathematical model was created to predict how likely any individual voter was to vote for Obama. Special efforts were then made to target hundreds of thousands of voters who, according to the model, were on the fence but who could be persuaded to vote for Obama.

Meanwhile, a team of behavioral scientists was advising the campaign’s get-out-the-vote department on the finer points of persuasion. Canvassers used subtle tactics such as getting likely Democratic voters to sign a written commitment to vote or informing them that most of their neighbors vote – tactics that increased people’s likelihood of showing up at the polls on election day.  The rest, as they say, is history. Swing state after swing state, as well as the general election, went to Obama.

Just what does this mean for the future of veg advocacy? We can ignore these results – or, we can steal a page from the Obama campaign’s playbook and begin making data-driven decisions in our veg advocacy work. To be more specific, we can look to data to figure out who we should focus our veg advocacy efforts on, and how we can best reach them.

Who

With only limited time and money, it makes sense to target our veg advocacy towards those we are most likely to persuade. For example, because young people are more likely to go vegetarian than other age groups, it makes sense to target them. Vegan Outreach focuses most of their leafleting outreach on college campuses for that very reason. Passing out 1,000 leaflets on a college campus is likely to create far more vegetarians and meat-reducers than passing out the same number of leaflets on a city street.

Another benefit of focusing on young people is that when they go vegetarian, they really go vegetarian. A 2009 study from Europe – but likely applicable to the United States – revealed that young people who go vegetarian are much more likely to follow an actual vegetarian diet, free of chicken and fish, than older individuals who say they have become vegetarian.

Similarly, women are more likely to go vegetarian than men. In the United States and Europe, both female vegetarians and female meat-reducers outnumber their male counterparts by a ration of 2:1. Some recent testing by The Humane League found that online vegetarian advertisements shown only to women were about three times more effective than ads shown to men and women equally. Therefore, it makes sense to focus our veg advocacy on women (especially young women) as much as possible.

Apart from age and gender, there are, no doubt, other demographic groups who are more likely to go vegetarian. Art students, fans of punk and indie music, Mac users, and people with tattoos are a few examples. The more we target our veg outreach efforts towards those groups, the more animals we will save.

How

How do we become more effective in persuading individuals to make a change? Thankfully, the very research the Obama campaign relied on is available for anyone to read. Change Of Heart, available in the Farm Sanctuary store, discusses that research and how animal advocates can apply it to their work. Classics in the field of persuasion science, such as Robert Cialdini’s Influence, may also be of interest.

Even beyond the specifics of how and why, perhaps the most basic lessons veg advocates can take from the presidential election is that it pays to understand our audience. It pays big time. And understanding our audience does not mean making assumptions about what will motivate them. It doesn’t mean guessing which groups are most likely to care. Understanding our audience means looking at the data and then making data-based decisions. If it can shift the tide in a multibillion dollar election campaign, then it can certainly shift the tide towards a more compassionate world as well.

 

Want to receive blog updates twice a month? Join the Compassionate Communities Campaign to get them delivered straight to your inbox.

On the road with Compassionate Communities

By Nick Cooney

October 2, 2012

Two months. Eleven cities. Tens of thousands of people educated about the cruelties of factory farming and the benefits of vegan eating. Hundreds of volunteers taught how to become more effective advocates for animals.

That was the goal of the Compassionate Communities national tour as it kicked off on a sunny San Francisco afternoon last week. Compassionate Communities Manager Nick Cooney led a workshop on effective advocacy for farm animals. Touching on research covered in his book Change Of Heart, Nick explained how animal advocates can become more persuasive when speaking to family, friends and the public about farm animal issues. Volunteers shared their personal experiences and networked with one another to make plans for carrying out Compassionate Communities programs together.

Immediately after the workshop, volunteers headed to a festival to distribute vegan food samples and pass out hundreds of Farm Sanctuary’s new “Something Better” veg advocacy leaflet. Others headed downtown to leaflet hundreds of tourists and locals shopping in San Francisco’s bustling downtown area. The next day, the advocacy work continued at the University of California at Berkeley where we distributed information to 1,800 students on the reality of factory farms and the benefits of veg eating. One student even doubled back to mention that she changed her life and her diet two years ago as a result of receiving a similar booklet.

The tour then headed north to Portland, Oregon, and from there on to Seattle, for three more workshops and a half dozen additional outreach events. All told, over 150 Compassionate Communities volunteers joined us for workshops in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, and over 9,000 members of the public were reached with information about factory farming and vegan eating.

As the tour rolls on to other key cities –  Boston, New York, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington DC, Phoenix, and Los Angeles – the groundswell of local advocacy for farm animals will continue. We are building compassionate communities one city at a time – and we hope you’ll join us in our work!

 

Want to receive blog updates twice a month? Join the Compassionate Communities Campaign to get them delivered straight to your inbox.

Compassionate Communities: On tour across America

September 11, 2012

Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign will be hitting the road this fall, traveling to eleven major cities to help kick off the campaign. In each city we’ll be holding a dinner or lunch, a workshop on improving your advocacy skills, and local veg outreach events. If you live in or near one of these cities, please join us! For details, email: [email protected].

Compassionate Communities Fall 2012 Tour

Sep 23 to 24:  San Francisco – click here for details

Sep 26 to 27:  Portland – click here for details

Sept 28 to 29:  Seattle – click here for details

Oct 10 to 11:  New York City – click here for details

Oct 12 to 13:  Boston – click here for details

Oct 18 to 20:  Atlanta – click here for details

Oct 21 to 23:  Miami – click here for details

Oct 25 to 26:  Chicago – click here for details

Nov 2 to 4:  Washington DC – click here for details

Nov 8 to 11:  Los Angeles – click here for details

Nov 12 to 14:  Phoenix – click here for details

 

Want to receive blog updates twice a month? Join the Compassionate Communities Campaign to get them delivered straight to your inbox.

Welfare reform and vegan advocacy: the facts

By Nick Cooney

August 21, 2012

This week, a video blog post takes a data-based look at the impacts of farm animal welfare reforms. The powerpoint is excerpted from a plenary presentation given at the Animal Rights 2012 national conference.

 

Sources

Data Point 1: Welfare reforms reduce suffering and provide immediate good for animals

Note:  the following white papers review the current research and cite dozens of peer-reviewed studies on the welfare of animals in different housing systems.

Shields, S., & Duncan, I. (n.d.). An HSUS report: A comparison of the welfare of hens in battery cages and alternative systems. Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/hsus-a-comparison-of-the-welfare-of-hens-in-battery-cages-and-alternative-systems.pdf

The Humane Society of the United States. (2012, July). An HSUS report: Welfare issues with gestation crates for pregnant sows. Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/HSUS-Report-on-Gestation-Crates-for-Pregnant-Sows.pdf

The Humane Society of the United States. (n.d.). An HSUS report: The welfare of intensively confined animals in battery cages, gestation crates, and veal crates. Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/hsus-the-welfare-of-intensively-confined-animals.pdf

 

Data Point 2: The animal ag industry spends millions to oppose welfare reforms, because reforms are bad for the industry

Sethu, H. (2012, July 12). Look who is talking about animal welfare! [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://countinganimals.com/look-who-is-talking-animal-welfare/

Smith, R. (2011, December 28). Groups urge Congress to reject HSUS-UEP deal. Feedstuffs. Retrieved from http://fdsmagissues.feedstuffs.com/fds/PastIssues/FDS8401/fds04_8401.pdf

 

Data Point 3: Welfare reforms are followed by a reduction in consumption of the affected animal products

(2012, March 12). Egg prices set to rise after EU battery cage hen ban. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17336478

(2012, March 13). Food price hike threatens egg sandwich. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/9140925/Food-price-hike-threatens-egg-sandwich.html

Cooney, N. (2012). European egg consumption and battery cage bans. Retrieved from http://ccc.farmsanctuary.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/European-Egg-Consumption-and-Battery-Cage-Bans.xls

Note: clicking the above link downloads the Microsoft Excel document to your computer; it does not open it in a new browser window.

Doward, J. (2012, August 11). Price of bacon set to soar as producers are hit by new EU animal welfare laws. The Observer. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/aug/12/price-of-bacon-to-soar

Sumner, D. A., et al. (2011, January). Economic and market issues on the sustainability of egg production in the United States: Analysis of alternative production systems. Poultry Science 90(1): 241-250. doi: 10.3382/ps.2010-00822. Retrieved from http://www.poultryscience.org/docs/PS_822.pdf 

Note: while not mentioned in the video, the above study concludes that banning cages for egg-laying hens in the U.S. would reduce the number of hens raised (anywhere) for U.S. egg consumption by about 3%, meaning 8 million less hens would be raised and killed for egg consumption.

Data Point 4: Media coverage of animal welfare issues causes people to eat less meat

Tonsor, G., & N. Olynk. (2010, September). U.S. Meat Demand:  The influence of animal welfare media coverage. Retrieved from http://www.agmanager.info/livestock/marketing/animalwelfare/MF2951.pdf

Tonsor, G., & Olynk, N. (2011). Impacts of Animal Well-Being and Welfare Media on Meat Demand. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 62: 59–72. doi: 10.1111/j.1477-9552.2010.00266.x.

 

Data Point 5: Welfare reforms go hand in hand with decreased meat consumption

Note:  for the first graph in this section, a law that bans both gestation crates and veal crates is represented as two practices being banned.

Meyer, S., & Steiner, L. (2011, December 20). Daily Livestock Report. Volume 9, No. 243. Retrieved from http://www.dailylivestockreport.com/documents/dlr 12-20-2011.pdf

Pichler, R., & Blackwell, G. (2007, February). How Many Veggies…? Retrieved from http://www.euroveg.eu/lang/dk/info/howmany.php

Sethu, H. (2012, July 12). Look who is talking about animal welfare! [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://countinganimals.com/look-who-is-talking-animal-welfare/

The Humane Society of the United States. (2012, July 23). Timeline of Major Farm Animal Protection Advancements. Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/confinement_farm/timelines/timeline_farm_animal_protection.html

Vegetarianism by country. (n.d.). Retrieved August 21, 2012 from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetarianism_by_country

 

Data Point 6: People who make a small change become more likely to make a large change

Burger, J. “The Foot-In-The-Door Compliance Procedure: A Multiple-Process Analysis and Review.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 3.4 (1999): 303–325.

Cooney, N. (2011). Foot In The Door. In Change Of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change (Chapter 5). Retrieved from http://changeofheartbook.com/e_foot.htm

 

Want to receive blog updates twice a month? Join the Compassionate Communities Campaign to get them delivered straight to your inbox.

Best advice for animal activists – part one

July 30, 2012

Farm Sanctuary’s Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives Bruce Friedrich was recently asked to share his “top three pieces of advice for aspiring and fellow activists to become more effective.” His response will appear in the forthcoming book Strategic Compassion by Ben Davidow.

Matt Ball and I wrote a book about how advocates can be maximally effective for animals, The Animal Activist’s Handbook. Peter Singer says about the book: “Rarely have so few pages contained so much intelligence and good advice. Get it, read it, and act on it. Now.” Taken from our book, my top three recommendations are:

1. Remember the multiplier

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you’re saving dozens of land animals and even more sea animals every single year. That’s something to be proud of, and it’s a deeply powerful statement in support of compassion and mercy and against cruelty and misery. Amazingly, if you convince one more person to adopt a vegetarian diet, in that moment you’ve doubled your lifetime effect as a vegetarian. So we should all be doing what we can to influence others to adopt a vegetarian diet, including little things like wearing vegetarian T-shirts and putting “Happy Vegetarian” bumper stickers on our cars and laptops, and bigger things like getting active through Vegan Outreach’s Adopt a College campaign or Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign.

2. Pretend you’re Socrates

Socrates asked questions of those with whom he was engaged to help others see that their current moral paradigms supported his position. We should also do precisely that. No one wants to support cruelty to animals, and yet anyone who is eating meat is supporting egregious abuse. So our best way of engaging with people is to help them question how, when eating meat, their values and actions are not in alignment. All other arguments are a diversion from this central and winning argument—which should be framed as a discussion, not a diatribe.

3. Don’t get discouraged

As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It’s remarkable to think that for most of human history, humans have considered it acceptable for some humans to hold others as slaves, and for women to be—for all intents and purposes—the property of their husbands. Think for a moment about how quickly that understanding has completely changed in the developed world—in just a few generations. There’s so much animal suffering that it’s easy to get discouraged, but we shouldn’t: We have science, logic, and morality on our side; it’s only a matter of time before we win.

 

Want to receive blog updates twice a month? Join the Compassionate Communities Campaign to get them delivered straight to your inbox.

Best advice for animal activists – part two

July 30, 2012

Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign Manager Nick Cooney was recently asked to share his “top three pieces of advice for aspiring and fellow activists to help them become more effective” in 400 words. The following is his advice, which will appear in the forthcoming book Strategic Compassion by Ben Davidow.

1. Think like a businessperson

It is wonderful to care about animals.  And, if we do care, we certainly want to be maximally effective with our advocacy efforts.  That means we should focus on the activities that help as many animals as possible.  So, we need to think like businesspeople. Companies have a financial bottom line, and every decision they make is based on whether it’s good or bad for that bottom line. We need to be just as calculating in our work. We need to look at the different advocacy programs out there and decide which of them will allow us to help the greatest number of animals possible and reduce the greatest amount of suffering possible.

2. Ask, “How many animals did I help?”

An easy way to see how effective we’ve been is to ask ourselves (perhaps each month), “How many animals did I help this month?” You might not know an exact number, but you can get a decent sense. If you’ve passed out a couple hundred leaflets to college students you’ve probably gotten one person to go veg and spared 30 animals a year a life of misery. If you’ve shown a video on animal cruelty to 100 people, probably one has gone veg and you’ve also spared 30 animals. These are complete ballpark estimates, but it’s clear that the end result of either of these activities (or similar veg advocacy work) is dramatically higher than many other forms of animal activism. The next important question to ask yourself is, “How can I help a greater number of animals next month?”

3. Be more like your audience

People are more likely to listen to you, and be persuaded by you to care about farm animals, if you look, talk, act, and interact like them. No matter how you may be in your regular life, the more you can look and act like your audience when doing veg advocacy the more effective you will be and the more animals you will spare. Consider it like wearing a uniform to work: uncomfortable, but important to success. And it is doubly important for us because lives are on the line.

 

Want to receive blog updates twice a month? Join the Compassionate Communities Campaign to get them delivered straight to your inbox.

The Summer Outreach Challenge is in full effect

By Nick Cooney

July 24, 2012

Kudos to the 60 volunteers who have signed up for the Summer Outreach Challenge and are each aiming to reach 1,000 people this summer with booklets or videos about farm animal cruelty and healthy plant-based eating:

Jessica Spain, Anne Kennedy, Audrey Fotouhi, Katie Moore, Robin Skov, Brandi Duffy, Barbera Thumann-Calderaro, Virginia Hanrahan, Desi Harpe, Dawn Nichols, Dennis Akpan, Don Blackowiak, Eileen Persichetti, Kamal Prasad, Emmaly Beck, Gail Mayer, Renee Gallaway, Gina Esposito, Greg Brumfield, Jolene Olson, Jen Manzari, Judi Megarity, Jonathan Hussain, Karen James, Kimberly Floyd, Laney Hopper, Laura Lyons, Shauna Saling, Malik McLean, Marilyn Nusbaum, Linda Marcovici, Maria Alexandre, Megan Della Fave, Meredith Hemphill, Michelle Brown, Milena Esherick, Myleme Montplaisir, Heather Stadther, Pam Driggs, Pamela Coleman, Patricia Massari, Patricia Haddock, Sarah, Piper Crussell, Ryan Wychowanec, Carla Wilson, Sarah Woodcock, Sherri Hendricks, Sherry Liu, Sarah Shaffer, Sue Bruzzese, Steve Small, Susan Earnest, Silvana Singer, Hilary, Tina Horowitz, Virigina Fitt, Wendy Cliggott, Victoria, Denise Anderson, and Hussein Mourtada.

On behalf of the animals at Farm Sanctuary, and farm animals across the country, thank you! June was our most successful month yet with more than 25,000 leaflets and starter guides distributed!

Challenge participants and other Compassionate Communities volunteers had this to say about their recent work for animals:

“Thank you so very much for sending me the Compassionate Choices leaflets and the Guide to Meat Free Meals. My family started handing them out immediately. My daughter took some to school to pass out to her classmates; I took them to work and passed them out to everybody, and gave one to my hairdresser as I have been discussing this with her for weeks.” –Brenda Lyon

“It was a beautiful day, and I think the turnout was probably their best ever!  I had about 170 people stop by my table…Cute story for Gene:  I had a copy of his book displayed, and one woman said she read it after it literally fell on her head at the library!  Her husband also read it, and it was the impetus for them going vegetarian.” –Susan Jones

“Just want to give you a status report for Central Valley Animal Liberation. We are well on our way to meeting the Summer Outreach Challenge…Grand total: 750 [leaflets distributed so far].” Jonathan Hussain

“My parents have always been indiscriminate carnivores. I used to think that I could simply lead by example, but when I realized that my dining/living habits weren’t really changing their hearts or minds, I sent them two very passionate emails. Yesterday, my dad emailed me back to say that my arguments were very compelling and because of them, he and my mom are going to phase meat out of their diet! Hooray! I’m looking forward to handing out leaflets and making starter kits available – hopefully we can reach even more people.” Meg York

 

Want to receive blog updates twice a month? Join the Compassionate Communities Campaign to get them delivered straight to your inbox.

The Caring Vegetarian

By Nick Cooney

July 12, 2012

“There are more important problems to worry about than animals.”

If you’re an animal advocate, you’ve probably gotten a response like this at least once. You may have heard it at protests, when passing out vegetarian leaflets, or even when speaking with friends about animal cruelty.

As a way to ignore the issue at hand, some people spin things around and accuse animal advocates of being the uncaring ones. There is a persistent notion among some that vegetarians and vegans care only about animals, and not people.

The idea is not a new one. In the 1940s, one leading psychiatry journal even published a scholarly article entitled “The Cruel Vegetarian.”  The author — the head of psychiatry at a major American hospital — argued that vegetarians were domineering and sadistic and that they ‘‘display little regard for the suffering of their fellow human beings.”

Of course we know that is not true. Most animal advocates also care deeply about a broad spectrum of social justice and humanitarian causes. An interesting recent study shows that vegetarians and vegans appear to have more of an empathetic response to both human and animal suffering.

Vegetarian, vegan and omnivore brainsFMRI brain scans showed that the areas of the brain associated with empathy (such as the anterior cingulate cortex and the left inferior frontal gyrus in this study) were more activated in vegetarians and vegans compared to omnivores when all three groups were shown pictures of human or animal suffering. Written questionnaires on empathy, in both this and other studies, seem to confirm higher empathy levels in vegetarians and vegans (Preylo and Arkiwawa, 2008; Filippi et al, 2010).

Why do some people still have the impression that vegetarians care only about animals and not people?

For one thing, sometimes our anger over animal cruelty gets directed at others. While it’s frustrating when someone does not care about animal abuse, we need to realize that attacking them for it does no good for animals. It simply creates more of a divide between us and those we are trying to persuade.

A second reason could be that, although there are many serious issues that are worthy of our attention, we have made the choice to focus on farm animals. Because we focus on these issues and not others (poverty, environmental destruction, human health, etc.), we may unintentionally give the impression that we don’t care about other causes.

So when talking to friends, family or the public, it may be helpful to mention our concern for some of these issues. It’s easy to point out that we eat vegan for the same reason that we donate to fund anti-malaria efforts in Africa: they are both easy ways to reduce the amount of suffering in the world.

And sure, it’s true that a small number of people love and dote on animals but lack much empathy for other human beings. While we may not be able to change their attitude, we can work to ensure that, in our own lives,  our empathy and compassion truly extend to all living creatures.

 

Want to receive blog updates twice a month? Join the Compassionate Communities Campaign to get them delivered straight to your inbox.

Inside the vegan bubble

By Nick Cooney

June 12, 2012

All of us tend to think with a closed mind. Many studies have shown a basic human tendency when it comes to hearing new information. If it fits what we already believe, we uncritically accept it. If it contradicts what we believe, we search for a reason to dismiss it. We even get a rush of pleasure when we think we’ve found that reason!

There are many ideas that we animal advocates accept as true without thinking critically about them. Below are three examples of how what we hear in “the vegan bubble” isn’t always true.

Bubble-Buster 1: Even if slaughterhouses had glass walls, not everyone would be vegetarian

It’s true that a lot of people who go vegetarian do so after seeing the cruelty inside of factory farms and slaughterhouses. But it’s naïve to think that if we simply show the public how animals are mistreated, they will change. The vast majority of people who see what goes on inside factory farms and slaughterhouses continue eating meat. Why?

That simple question should be seen as a jumping-off point for us as animal advocates. Of course we have to keep showing people pictures and video of factory farming. These materials are some of the most powerful tools we have for creating new vegetarians. And even if only 1 in every 100 (or 500) people we reach makes a change, that’s still a phenomenally effective use of time and money. But we also need to figure out what more people need. For example, many people also need to know how to change their eating habits. When that’s the case, how can we help?

The fact that most people who see what goes on in factory farms do not go vegetarian also underscores the importance of improving living conditions for animals that are eaten, like the recently-introduced federal hen bill would do.

Bubble-Buster 2: Vegans do not live a cruelty-free lifestyle

Eating vegan is a great way to put our compassion for animals into practice, and it’s the right thing to do. A danger of acting ethically, though, is that it can cause us to look down our noses at others. (Some vegans even have a particular disdain for vegetarians!). That’s not good for promoting vegan eating. If people get the impression that you think you’re better than they are, they’ll tune out.

So, here’s a reality check to keep us grounded. We vegans kill animals – many animals – with our consumer choices. For example, windows kill nearly a billion birds a year, and cell phone towers kill tens of millions more. Cars cause a painful death to well over 100 million animals a year in the U.S., and pesticides do the same.  Over a trillion fish are killed each year by U.S. power plants. We all contribute to our share of those deaths when we buy and use windows, cell phones, cars, non-organic food and electricity.

Of course, none of us are perfect. By being vegan, we reduce the amount of animal suffering and death in the world. That matters! Yet as we go about our advocacy, let’s do it without the attitude that we are so much better than and so different from everyone else.

Bubble-Buster 3: Vegetarianism is not a white, upper middle class phenomenon

Those who don’t support vegetarian eating sometimes decry it as a white, upper middle class phenomenon. Unfortunately, many in the animal advocacy movement believe the same thing. Sometimes it leads to a good bit of hand wringing. But statistics show that this is simply not true.

In terms of race, Americans of Asian or Indian descent are most likely to be vegetarian. Caucasians are much less likely, coming in third. African-Americans are nearly as likely as Caucasians, with Latinos trailing close behind.  (Teenagers are the one group where whites are more likely to be vegetarian. But they still trail Asians and Indians.)

While there is some connection between income and vegetarianism, it is not dramatic. It is also not linear. (In other words, those with the lowest incomes are not the least likely to be vegetarian; those with the highest incomes are not the mostly likely to be vegetarian.) Vegetarian eating does not belong to any one economic class.

 

What else do we animal advocates tell ourselves that is not true? Thinking critically is important if we want to be as effective as possible for animals.

 

Want to receive blog updates twice a month? Join the Compassionate Communities Campaign to get them delivered straight to your inbox.