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!

One Possible Future

With cruelty rampant on factory farms, and vegetarians currently a small minority, it is easy to dismiss the hope for a truly compassionate world. “My Uncle Dick hunts, and my cousin Jeb is always mocking me for being vegan. You’re crazy if you think they will ever change!”

These are legitimate concerns. However, it is nevertheless possible to achieve our goals – and much more quickly than we imagine.

Taking a longer perspective can help guide our advocacy. Society has advanced an incredible amount in just the last few centuries. Even though democracy was first proposed in ancient Greece, only during the eighteenth century did humanity see the hints of a democratic system. Only recently was slavery abolished in the industrialized world. It was not until the last century that child labor was ended in Europe and North America, child abuse was criminalized, and women were allowed to vote. Some minorities have attained more equal rights only in the last few decades or even the last few years.

It is hard to comprehend just how much society has changed in recent history. Prejudices we can hardly fathom today were completely accepted just decades ago. For example, if we read what was written and said about slavery – fewer than 150 years ago – the defenders were not just ignorant racists, but admired politicians, civic and religious leaders, and learned intellectuals. What is horrifying to us now was once not only accepted, but respected.

However slow our progress may feel, we are advancing at lightning speed compared to past social justice movements. A century ago, almost no animals received any protection whatsoever from abuse. Now, according to a Gallup poll, 96 percent of Americans want to see animals protected from abuse, and 32 percent believe that animals deserve “the exact same rights as people to be free from harm and exploitation.” Until 1990, only a single ballot initiative to protect animals that had passed at a state level – just one! Since 1990, animal advocates have passed dozens, including several directly abolishing some of the worst abuses on factory farms.

Not only do the vast majority of people oppose cruelty to animals, many question eating animals, at least on some level. In 2011, Grist’s Tom Laskawy reviewed a survey from agribusiness front group Center for Food Integrity: “The study’s analysis notes that 51 percent strongly agree that they have ‘no problem’ eating meat and dairy. It’s still a majority, but the number is down a full 12 percent since 2007.” Consumers losing faith in Big Food.

Thus, the discussion now must focus on helping people see that eating meat violates their own principles. This effort is only just beginning. In the 1980s, most animal advocacy in the U.S. was focused on fur and vivisection, mostly ignoring the roughly 99 percent of animals who are butchered for food. Only relatively recently have more individuals and groups focused on this ninety-nine percent by exposing the cruelty of factory farms and promoting compassionate eating.

In large part because of this shift in advocacy, factory farms – which most people knew nothing about 10 or 20 years ago – are now considered by many to be ethical abominations to many. As noted in The Animal Activist’s Handbook:

Twenty years ago, few people had heard the word “vegan.” Finding mock meats and soymilk was nearly impossible. According to market research by Mintel, “Until the mid-1990s, change was slow in coming to the world of vegetarian foods, and many average consumers relegated ‘vegetarian products’ to a counter-cultural movement, not a mainstream trend.”

Today, even cousin Jeb doesn’t need “vegan” explained to him. You can find veggie burgers, soymilk, and various other convenience foods in most grocery stores. And plant-based meats, milks, and cheeses is a huge trend across the market.

As we continue our efforts, more plant-based products arrive on the market every month. Having convenient options available is vital, as it makes it easier for new people to try and, more importantly, to stick with a compassionate diet. As more people sample plant-based meats and other products, competition will continue to increase the supply and variety, improving quality and driving down prices. This cycle of growing numbers of vegetarians and the increasing convenience of vegetarian eating is self-reinforcing. Essentially, the technology of vegetarian meats and other foods is both driven by and a driver of moral progress.

If we continue to expand and refine our advocacy, the growth of compassionate eating will accelerate to a tipping point, where opposition to factory farms and the adoption of plant-based foods become the “norms” among influential groups. Legislation, as it usually does, will continue to follow these evolving norms, and we’ll see more of animal agriculture’s worst practices outlawed and abolished – something that has already begun. Corporate practices will also continue to adjust to the demands of an increasingly aware market.

At the same time, powerful economic forces will kick in, because ultimately, meat is inefficient. It is more efficient to eat plant foods directly, rather than feeding plant foods to animals and then eating some of the animals’ flesh. Of course, people aren’t going to substitute tofu for meat, but that is not the choice they’ll be making. Food science has advanced such that the best plant-based meats are able to satisfy even hardcore carnivores. Products including deli slices and strips from Tofurky, burgers from Beyond Meat, Gimme Lean sausage and ground beef, Gardein’s fish fillets, and many others clearly show that giving up meat is now not a deprivation.

The faster the growth in the number of people making compassionate choices, the faster plant-based meats will improve in taste, become cheaper, and be found in far more places. (Compare a 2016 Impossible Burger to a 2006 Boca Burger to a 1986 Nature Burger, and imagine how good a 2026 veggie burger will be!)

We are now challenged to expand the plant-based market by explaining to more meat eaters the reasons for choosing compassion, while exposing them to new – though similar – products. The more rapidly we do this, the sooner cruelty-free eating will be widespread.

After his first heart attack, Uncle Dick will shift over to plant-based meats that have no cholesterol or saturated or trans fats and are high in omega-3s. Cousin Jeb’s second wife – a vegetarian since seeing an online video in 2003 – will use that as an excuse to only cook meat-free meals, and Jeb will hardly notice the difference! Their daughter Barbara will grow up to oversee McDonald’s shift to non-animal chicken in their sandwiches.

Despite the current horror and continued suffering, if we take the long view and are willing to commit to the work that needs to be done, we should be deeply optimistic. Animal liberation can be the future. With our efforts, it could be achieved with a whimper, not a bang. Change will come not by revolution, but through person-by-person outreach progressing hand in hand with advances in technology, leading slowly but inexorably to a new norm that, to most people, hardly seems different. But an unfathomable amount of suffering will be prevented.

It is up to us to make this happen.

MattChicago2016-Matt Ball

Initial version published in 2006 as “A Roadmap to Animal Liberation,” also published in The Accidental Activist

 

Jo-Anne McArthur, Hero of Compassion

We are thrilled to continue our new program, 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.

Jo-Anne McArthur; Photo by Kyle Behrend

Photo by Kyle Behrend

Today, we honor Jo-Anne McArthur, who has been documenting the plight of animals on all seven continents for over a decade. Jo-Anne is the subject of Canadian filmmaker Liz Marshall’s acclaimed documentary The Ghosts In Our MachineJo-Anne’s first book, We Animals, was published by Lantern Books in 2013. Recent awards and accolades include the Institute for Critical Animal Studies Media Award; More Magazine’s Fierce List; 2013 Toronto Compassion for Animals Award; one of CBC’s Top 50 Champions of Change; HuffPost WOMEN’s “Top 10 Women trying to change the world,” and one of 20 activists featured in the book The Next Eco Warrior.

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

It means looking beyond our own needs and desires, and considering how our actions affect others. It means always trying our best to live in a way that doesn’t cause harm to people, animals, or the environment. That might seem like a tall order, or hard to achieve every day, but living compassionately is a joyous thing.

What inspired you to start down this path?

I was always someone who thought it was important to give instead of take. I realized in my 20s that I could combine my passions for photography and animal justice to do something unique, and contribute to creating change for animals. That was in the early 2000s. I often tell people to figure out what you love doing, and what you’re good at, and then find a way of using those skills for social justice and for making the world a better place. We can all do this, in small or big ways.

Carlos and Turpentine; Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Carlos and Turpentine; Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

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

I remember that it felt like a big deal to transition to a vegan diet. No animal products in my food or clothing whatsoever. Because those things are so normal in society, I thought it would be a big challenge. It does offer its set of challenges, but you learn to navigate them, and you can do it joyfully and in a positive way.

I used to think that veganism was extreme. I quickly learned, however, that living compassionately is not extreme – it’s the needless killing that is.

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

One learns that it’s a joy, not a hardship, to live compassionately. One of the challenges though is living in a world that is unlike your own. People who are vegan or animal advocates see the world through a different lens. Things that are invisible or commonplace to others, things that fit the status quo, are not invisible to us. All the ads for bacon and milk. Clothes that have fur trim on them. These are examples of things that don’t go unnoticed by us. It can be disheartening to live in a world where others seem to wear blinders. But this is a historical time for animals and animal rights. We compassionate folks are in a position to speak up and create change, and we’re doing that. We see change everywhere these days, be it with the number of vegan products, or more cosmetic companies eschewing animal testing, or chimps and other animals being retired from cruel research practices. As compassionate people, we might feel lonely, but there is community – and we can rally for each other and for the animals, and be part of the historical changes taking place.

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?

Do your best to focus on the good, and focus on one step at a time. A vegan utopia isn’t right around the corner and that can be depressing, so I choose to focus on one action at a time, one person at a time. Yes, billions of farm animals are suffering right now as I write this, but if I choose to focus on that pain or feel the emotions that come with that knowledge all the time, I would burn out. I’ve been through two depressions and post-traumatic stress as a result of all I’ve seen, and a lot of compassionate folk suffer because we’re empathetic. But existing in this suffering is an indulgence we can’t afford and neither can the animals. It makes us burn out. So many activists come into the movement, guns blazing, and leave after a few years because it’s exhausting – emotionally, intellectually, all of it. So we need to pace ourselves, and not exist in an emotionally unhappy state. I have had to work to choose to focus on joy, and now it’s my way of life. It’s a habit – positive thinking, and choosing to focus on good, and on change. So my advice is to work at staying positive, for yourself and for the animals, so that you have longevity in the work you are doing for animals. There are so few people speaking up for animals. They need every one of us to be doing it for as long as we possibly can.

What advice would you give to an aspiring activist?

Think about what your skills are, and what you enjoy doing, or what you’re good at, and employ those specific skills to make the world a better place. If you haven’t figured out what that is yet, help an organization or person who is doing great work for animals. Organizations need volunteers and all manner of support. Be that person. The world needs volunteers!

How did you learn about Farm Sanctuary, and why (and/or how) did you get involved?

When I was getting interested in animal rights, over 15 years ago now, I started doing research into animal industries, and the organizations who were working to change those industries. I found and fell in love with Farm Sanctuary. The Farm has really shaped and changed my life; I really would not be who I am today if it hadn’t been for Farm Sanctuary. In 2003 I applied to do an internship. I’d only been there 24 hours and my life was already irrevocably changed. I had been vegetarian until that internship, but became vegan at the Farm and never looked back. The Farm is a place of refuge not just for animals but for compassionate people and activists, and there’s also a lot to learn from the Farm and its staff and its inhabitants. It’s my favourite place on the planet.

Zoop; Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Zoop; Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

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

Due to the nature of my work as a photojournalist who focuses on animal issues, I’ve met animals in heartbreaking, harrowing situations, as well as rescued animals who are cared for and loved. I’ve met hundreds of thousands of animals now, and sadly, I have had to leave most of them behind, after I photograph them during investigations and then leave. I keep these animals tucked deep in my heart. They are never far from my mind, and the knowledge that they continue to suffer propels me to continue working on their behalf. There have been a lot of special individuals and relationships, and yet I know that all the animals I’ve met…the mink crammed into cages, the layer hens too, and the pigs in farrowing crates…they are all special, they are all individuals trapped in a terrible system; individuals who would love to express their will and their individuality if they could. When organizations like Farm Sanctuary rescue animals, and these animals are then able to live in conditions which allow them to thrive and be happy, you really get to know just how sweet cows are, and how funny chickens are, and that turkeys love affection.

The rescued animals become ambassadors for those locked away in terrifying confinement. We get to know them, and then we can understand that they all deserve our help, our care, and our respect. Some of the Farm Sanctuary residents who have been most special to me are Mayfly the rooster, Arbuckle and Thunder the steers, Zoop the three-legged goat, and Fanny and Sonny, whose rescues happened on the same day (and I was fortunate enough to be there to document those rescues, captured in the documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine).

Fanny; Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Fanny; Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

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?

Some of the Farm Sanctuary residents, like Sonny and Fanny, are extra special to me because I was there to document their rescues. Others, however, like Mayfly the rooster who lived at the Farm long ago, will always be in my heart because he was just so charming. He LOVED being with people and did that “attack dance” around your feet, but he wouldn’t attack – he just wanted cuddles. I’d pick him up all the time and stroke his perfect, handsome plumage. He made me laugh, and so do the chickens and turkeys. They have such big personalities, which is why I spend hours and hours under the willow tree in the turkey enclosure when I’m visiting.

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

Things are getting better and they are getting worse at the same time. In growing economies like China and India, they are eating more meat and setting up more industrial farms. In other countries though, veganism and consumer demand for vegan products is very much on the rise. There’s much more of an awareness about animal cruelty, ethics, environmentalism, and climate change than there was even just a few years ago. More compassionate decisions are being made by a growing number of the population, and collectively we need to do everything in our power to encourage that. I choose to be hopeful and to focus on the good, and work every day to do something that makes the world a better place. Frankly, this is an emergency and we all need to take part.

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

Pick just one? Really? That’s cruel. But if you must know, I’m actually a popcorn aficionado.

Here are a few recipes for amazing popcorn:

Fancy pants popcorn

  • A buncha popcorn kernels
  • Olive oil
  • A buncha dried rosemary (1 tbsp?)
  • Salt
  • Cracked pepper
  • Omega Oil (I like the Udo’s 3-6-9 DHA omega oil)

Let the rosemary simmer in the olive oil a bit before adding the kernels to the pot. Then pop it on the stove. Put it all in a bowl and drizzle omega oil on it. Healthy! Add salt and cracked pepper, to taste.

Zingy spicy popcorn

  • A buncha popcorn kernels
  • Cayenne
  • Lemon
  • Nutritional yeast

So easy: make popcorn, then squeeze a bit of lemon on it, then sprinkle whatever amount of cayenne you like, then top with nooch [nutritional yeast]. I like this recipe nice and spicy. NOM.

Is there anything else you would like the Farm Sanctuary family to know? / Do you have a favorite website you would like to share?

I do have one more important thing to say. Animal rights advocates are very much looking at metrics on how to best spend our time and dollars to help animals. There are several books and blogs on this topic, and they are great. What some of them point out though is that keeping rescued animals is expensive, and that money might be better spent elsewhere. There is a lot of sense to this, but it overlooks some important things. Individuals matter. When we save their lives, this means the world to them, and this has intrinsic worth. Additionally, places like Farm Sanctuary are where people can see and experience that. How can we put a dollar amount on one life, when we don’t know just how many lives that rescued individual will influence? Getting to know individual animals at Farm Sanctuary changed my life’s path irrevocably, and I’ve since done a lot to help animals around the world. You can put a price tag on that. You can’t put a price tag on Mayfly the rooster or Sonny the calf’s lives, because they have influenced untold numbers of people to go out and be better people in the world. And rescued animals get photographed and filmed by people like me, who share their stories, and these stories warm hearts and change people. We can’t put a dollar figure on that. It’s really important to help reputable sanctuaries like Farm Sanctuary to thrive and maximize their outreach, so that they can look after the animals and all that that entails. And so that the animals and the staff can keep having a huge, huge effect on anyone who meets them or hears their stories.

Jo-Anne and calf0

I’m so happy about the direction of the animal rights movement. It’s way more organized and strategic than it was just a few years ago. It’s way more intersectional too. We have such a broad spectrum of activism and advocates, and we know that a diversity of forms of activism will reach different demographics, so it’s important to support the grassroots efforts, the outreach and humane education, the protests, the sanctuaries, and the large organizations alike.

 

It would be so amazing if everyone would stop engaging in internecine debates.

Tobias Leenaert, a frequent guest poster here and the brains at Vegan Strategist, recently did an extended interview with Matt Ball, which we’re reproducing here. Thanks to Tobias, and to Bruce, Ellen, and Anne for helping.

VS: How would you define a vegan? A vegan diet?

MB: Before considering this question, I think it is important to step back and consider what is happening in the real world. Hopefully, it could help put the focus on what really matters….

You could argue that Jane’s brothers had it better. Andy and Bruce and Gene and Martin were tossed into a bag, on top of hundreds of others. Over many agonizing minutes, they were crushed as more and more were added to the bag. With increasing panic, they struggled with all their might to move, to breathe, as their collective weight squeezed the air from their lungs. No matter how desperately they fought and gasped, they couldn’t get enough air, until finally, mercifully, they blacked out and eventually died.

Jane’s torments were just beginning, however. Her mouth was mutilated, leaving her in so much pain she couldn’t eat for several days. One of her sisters was never able to eat again, and slowly starved to death. Jane ended up stuffed into a tiny wire cage with Becky, Arlene, Megan, Tracy, and Lynn. To call it a “prison” would be a gross understatement. They were crammed into the cage so tightly that the wires rubbed their skin raw. Their excrement mixed with that of thousands of others, and the horrible ammonia stench of the piles of feces burned their nostrils and lungs.

Struggling for freedom, Megan was eventually able to reach her head through the wires. But then she was trapped, unable to get back in. Over the next few days, she slowly, painfully died of dehydration.

After over a year of this torture, Jane’s feet became tangled in the wire mesh of the floor. Unable to move, she was beginning to dehydrate. But before death could end her pain, she was torn from the cage, her entangled toes left behind, ripped from her body. The brutality of her handler crushed many of her bones, and she was thrown into a truck. For the next 14 hours, she and hundreds of others were driven through the Iowa winter, without protection, food, or water. The cold numbed the pain of Jane’s mutilated feet, but not the acute agony of her shattered bones. She was then shackled upside down, and had her throat cut. That’s how her torment ended.

An unfathomable number of individuals have suffered and are suffering just as Jane did.

Given that this is the current reality, we have a difficult choice to make:

matt ball choiceWe can spend our very limited time and resources worrying about, arguing about, and attacking each other over words and definitions.
Or we can focus all of our efforts on actually ending the system that brutalizes individuals like Tracy and Gene.

If we take Jane’s plight seriously, the best thing most of us can do at the moment is help persuade more people to buy cruelty-free foods. As tempting as it is, we can’t just remain in our bubble, liking and retweeting what our fellow advocates say. We can’t be distracted by online debates. We can’t endlessly reevaluate every question and debate.

Instead, we have to focus on realistic strategies that start to create significant and lasting change with new people in the real world. As hard as it is, we absolutely must stop paying attention to people who want to create the world’s smallest club, and start paying attention to what actually creates real change with people who currently don’t know about Jane’s plight.

Questions like the above – about our definitions and opinions – seem harmless. But not only do they waste valuable time and resources, they reinforce the idea that our work is an academic exercise. It isn’t – the lives of individuals like Tracy and Andy depend on us actually doing constructive work in the real world.

VS: Do you think it is useful for vegans to point it out when they see non-vegan behaviour of “vegans”?

Three things should guide our actions in any situation:

1. The behavior or practice we see has actual, real-world negative consequences for animals.

2. We have a realistic expectation that our response will lead to a net good; i.e., there is reason to believe positive change is likely, and it is unlikely there will be any offsetting negative or contrary consequences.

3. There is nothing better (i.e., more likely to reduce more suffering) we could be doing with our limited time and resources.

It is hard to imagine anything we could do that that would have fewer real-world positive consequences for animals than spending our limited time and resources policing the world’s smallest club.

I’ve actually found a pretty clear distinction between people whose primary concern is the purity and exclusivity of their club, vs those who are really working to change the world for animals. The former view everyone as the enemy. The latter view everyone as a (current or potential) ally.

Viewing everyone as an ally is not only necessary for truly helping individuals like Jane and Andy, but it is also much better for our mental health and the sustainability of our activism.

VS: What are some exceptions you would make? Is there non-vegan behaviour you indulge in?

In an interview many years ago, someone* was infuriated that I had once said I wouldn’t police what our daughter ate birthday parties. They justified their anger by saying it would send “mixed messages” if a four-year-old ate a piece of non-vetted cake. I replied that I never knew anyone who said, “Oh, I would have stopped eating animals, but then I saw this toddler having cake!”

You (Tobias) have wisely pointed out that what we personally consume is nowhere near as important as the influence we can have in the wider world. So I think our limited time is better spent figuring out how to be attractive examples and effective advocates, rather than trying to be ever more “pure.” And even if we don’t agree with that, the only way to be truly pure is to be dead. But really, is the best case scenario for the world one where I’m dead? Where you’re dead? It would be really sad if that were the case.

matt ball
The evidence doesn’t support that, though. By being a thoughtful, realistic, positive, bottom-line focused advocate, we can have a significant impact beyond what we accomplish with our personal purchases.

There is so much each one of us can do to lessen the amount of suffering in the world, to expand our circle of compassion, to bend the arc of history toward justice.

Making the world a better place has to be our fundamental goal. We can’t be motivated to follow some dogma or comply with some definition. To create the change necessary to make the world a better place, we have to deal with others where they are. We have to be realistic about what change can happen and how it can most likely be brought about.

We have to be pragmatic in evaluating our options and choosing the best course of action, given the variables and uncertainties inherent in the real world.

The best thing I can do in one situation (e.g., a child’s birthday party) might not be the best I can do in another situation (e.g., meeting with a group of new activists). And neither of these might be the best thing you could do in the opportunities you encounter. I can’t know for sure what the best thing to do is in any situations, but I do know it isn’t simple.


*I am happy to say that this interrogator and I are now friends, and she now regrets asking that question years ago.

VS: To what extent should we use the word “vegan” in our outreach and to what extent other words? When? What words?

I stopped eating meat, eggs, and dairy over a quarter century ago. At the time, and for years after, I was mindlessly pro-“vegan.” Not pro-animal, or pro-compassion, or pro-change. Pro-“vegan.” The word. The identity. The philosophy and “lifestyle.”

matt ball2
But in the real world, “vegan” is a stereotype, a punchline, an excuse. People say, “I could never be vegan,” and that is the end of the conversation – the end of any opportunity for constructive engagement, for steps taken that could have a real-world benefit for animals.

“Vegan” is an ego-boost, a divider, a distraction. It is too easy to simply judge things as “vegan / not vegan,”
 instead of focusing on cruelty to animals, working to end factory farms, and having any real impact in the real world.

When I focused on “vegan,” instead of how to bring about real change for animals in the real world, I was being both self-centered and lazy. I understand the desire to only care about “vegan,” of course. But at best, the word distracts from doing our best to help new people make compassionate choices that have real consequences for animals.


VS: You have said that the greatest hindrance to the spread of veganism … is vegans themselves. Can you elaborate?

I’ve seen the dynamic of “I could never be vegan” play out for years. As discussed in The Accidental Activist, bottom-line-oriented activists experience a huge increase in the quantity and quality of conversations when they changed their shirts (stickers, etc.) from “Ask me why I’m vegan” to “Ask me why I’m vegetarian.”

University of Arizona research from early 2015 bears this out: non-vegetarians see “vegan” as impossible, and “vegans” as angry, fanatical, and judgmental. I have known several individuals who have given up lucrative careers to dedicate themselves to farm animals, and yet been so put off by the actions of “vegans,” that they want to disassociate themselves from the word. This is depressing, but it’s reality. I believe that instead of complaining, we need to face reality and adjust so we can really help animals in the real world.


VS: Do we need to guard a definition or some line? Is that important? Is there a danger of watering down the concept of “veganism”?

It can be utterly addictive to debate terms, argue philosophy, and defend positions. It can be next to impossible to turn away from a debate, given that we each think we are right, and should be able to convince someone if we get the next post just right.

In the end, though, we have limited time and resources. We can, of course, spend this limited time trying to convince someone who has wedded their sense of self-worth to a specific position. But this is no more constructive than spending our time arguing with our Uncle Bob. I think we should spend our limited time and resources reaching out, in a constructive way, to new people – people who actually could make a difference with better-informed choices.

As difficult as it is, it would be so amazing if everyone who reads your blog would stop engaging in internecine debates. Ignore the attacks. Ignore the name calling. Give up the fantasy of winning an argument. Give up any concern with words or dogma. It would be so incredible if we were to just focus on positive outreach to new people.

VS: For most of your career, you have mainly worked on person-to-person outreach, rather than institutional outreach. What is the reason behind that?

When I stopped eating animals back in the 1990s, there was really no consideration of doing institutional outreach regarding farm animals. Before I did a more utilitarian evaluation of my efforts, I did try to put pressure on Procter and Gamble to stop testing their products on animals, even going so far as to get arrested.

After that, though, I realized I needed to work where I could have the biggest impact in terms of reducing suffering. But I couldn’t just go to a restaurant or food service provider and ask them to add in more cruelty-free options. This is a capitalist society, and if the demand isn’t there, no company is going to create supply (this played out when some McDonald’s introduced a veggie burger years ago, and it failed). Similarly, I would have no impact as an individual in asking Smithfield or Tyson to stop using gestation crates or move to a less cruel slaughter method.

Things have changed significantly in the past three decades. The animal advocacy movement as a whole has gained significant political and market power, such that corporations are more likely to listen and cooperate. Demand for meat-free options has grown in breadth (if not depth) such that working with institutions can have a lasting impact and further drive the cruelty-free demand / supply cycle. There is so much potential – more than half of the people in the US are specifically concerned with the treatment of farm animals!

Some of the most important and consequential work being done right now is at the institutional level. e.g. banning the most barbaric practices from factory farms, increasing the availability of cruelty-free options, and building the companies that will create the products that will replace animal products.

But as long as people want to eat an actual animal’s flesh, animals will be treated like meat. Of course, this isn’t saying that all animal exploitation is equally bad, or that abolishing gestation crates or battery cages isn’t an important step forward.

What we do know, however, is that even in “humane” meat situations, there is suffering – often, egregious cruelty. We’ve seen this regularly, including PETA’s recent exposure of the horrors of Whole Foods “humane meat.”

The continuing necessity of work on the demand side, combined with my background and opportunities to date, leads me to conclude that at this moment, I can have the biggest impact on the advocacy side. I don’t know if this will continue to be the case, however. There is a ton of exciting work going on now that wasn’t the case even 10 years ago!

VS: What do you think of reducetarian outreach?

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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.” But of all the factory-farmed animals brutalized and killed for food, the vast majority are birds.

Yes, nearly everyone cares more about mammals than birds. But 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.

VS: Speaking of chickens, you often emphasize decreasing chicken consumption. It’s clear that that would help save a lot of lives and suffering (as chickens are both such small animals and so intensively raised). Do you think there’s any truth to the idea that this is speciesist, or that it encourages eating other animals?

Encouraging people to cut back on or not eat chickens is just that. It is in no way saying that people should eat cows, or pigs, or dogs, or chimpanzees.

VS: What is the number one piece of advice you would give to vegan activists?

Rather than considering how popular something is with your circle of friends, judge everything by the likely consequences your actions will have with non-vegetarians in the real world. To a first approximation, this will mean calculating how your actions will impact people’s consumption of chickens.

For more tips and suggestions, people can read my books and writings:

aa handboekIf you like a linear discussion, The Animal Activist’s Handbook is probably your best bet.

If you like collections of essays and short stories, The Accidental Activist.

If you don’t want to buy a book, A Meaningful Life is a good start. This video is a quick summary of what I’ve learned in the past 30 years.

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Jane Hoffman, Hero of Compassion

We are thrilled to introduce our new program, 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.

Jane HoffmanOur first honoree is Jane Hoffman, Farm Sanctuary’s Board Secretary and Audit Committee Chair. Jane has been president and chair of the board of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals since its inception in 2002. The Mayor’s Alliance is a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters working to reduce the euthanasia of cats and dogs in New York City shelters. Jane is also a founding and current member of the Animal Law Committee of the NYC Bar Association, one of the first animal law committees in the country. She received the Annual Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award from the American Bar Association’s Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section (TIPS) in 2007, the very first year it was awarded. Prior to creating the Alliance, Jane served as an associate at the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and vice president and senior consultant at Handy Associates. Jane holds a J.D. degree from Brooklyn Law School, an M.L.S. degree from Long Island University, and a B.A. degree from Boston College.

Here is my interview with Jane; you can also read her profile at Animals of Farm Sanctuary:

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

Jane Hoffman: Living compassionately means keeping your cruelty footprint as small as possible while living in the world as it is today.

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CCC: What inspired you to start down this path?

I was asked to become involved with an organization, now defunct, called Legal Action for Animals, which was run by a wonderful lawyer named Jolene Marion (who passed away several years ago). That propelled me to become a founding member of the Animal Law Committee at the NYC Bar Association, which then lead me to co-found the Alliance for NYC’s Animals.

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

JH: It is vastly easier now to eat cruelty-free and live compassionately than it was even 10 years ago. I think you need to take the path to living compassionately at the pace that works for you and which you can sustain. But it’s important to remember that the more you try, even if you falter, the closer you are to the lifestyle you aspire to be living.

CCC: What has been most challenging about living a compassionate life?

JH: The most challenging thing has been not giving in to anger over the cruelty to non-human animals all around us every day and everywhere.

CCC: What advice would you give to an aspiring activist?

JH: Meet people where they are on their own path. Different points of view and different arguments appeal to different people, so be informed and be prepared to make your case.

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

JH: I had known about Farm Sanctuary for years and did a very early Walk for  Farm Animals years ago. And I am proud to say that I was the top fundraiser. I also visited Watkins Glen with a friend and stayed in the white house (which is no longer with us, having made way for the Melrose Small Animal Hospital). I remember waking up one morning and looking out at the duck pond, and later that day meeting Kevin the calf (above). Later, I was approached by David Wolfson, a legal colleague and Farm Sanctuary adviser, about joining Farm Sanctuary’s  Board of  Directors to help build the Board and the organization.

CCC: Has there been a specific animal in your life that has been especially meaningful to you?

Ginny the GP in her habitat

JH: All of my many companion animals (cats and dogs) over the years have been special to me. But I have to say that a guinea pig named Ginny (above), who came into my life unexpectedly (don’t all rescue animals do that to some extent?) made a huge impression on me. What a big personality and intelligence in that tiny body…who knew?

CCC: Do you have a favorite resident at one of our sanctuaries, or a special affinity for a certain species of farm animal?

JH: I just love them all…cows and goats and chickens and turkeys and sheep and ducks and donkeys. They are all such individuals and make me so happy to see them safe and happy.

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

JH: My hope is that the governments of the world get their act together and take decisive and swift action to save the environment, and that we will have moved to a totally plant-based diet that is good for the earth and all animals…including the human race.

And that the need for farm sanctuaries ceases to exist.

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

JH: The Seitan Scallopini served at Blossom Restaurant on Ninth Avenue and 22nd Street in New York City. It is a dish made with white wine, lemon & caper sauce, truffle mashed potatoes, and sautéed kale. You can see more at their website: http://www.blossomnyc.com/chelsea/

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CCC: Is there anything else you would like the Farm Sanctuary family to know?  Do you have a favorite website you would like to share?

JH: Well, obviously, my favorite websites are the Farm Sanctuary website and the website of the not-for-profit organization I run — the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, at http://www.animalalliancenyc.org/

 

For Farm Animals Every Day

SeattlePresentation

Below is the full interview with Matt Ball, Farm Sanctuary’s Director of Engagment and Outreach, for Every Day is Animal Advocacy Day

1. What brought you to Farm Sanctuary?  When did you start?

Gosh, I’ve been a fan of Farm Sanctuary almost since it started. As soon as there were cabins, Anne and I took our belated honeymoon there (1993).

I didn’t become friends with Gene until April 1997, when he and I were at a Nalith-sponsored conference in the Finger Lakes region. I’ll never forget it. My project at the time was to distribute as many pro-veg booklets as possible. At one point, Gene held up a copy of the booklet and said, “We can all agree that we need to get more of these out there.” It really showed his generosity. Ever since, Gene has been one of the warmest, most supportive people I’ve known in the animal advocacy movement.

2. How long have you been vegan, and what inspired you to make that switch?

Freshman year of college (1986), my roommate was an older transfer student. He was also a vegetarian, and he made me his personal project. I would love to say I went vegan as soon as I learned about what happens on factory farms, but as I write about in one of my books, this wasn’t the case at all. Rather, I went vegetarian and then vegan in fits and starts. It is for this and other reasons that I’m very sympathetic to people who are (initially) resistant to the message; who make incremental change while rationalizing other actions. So although all psychological research supports it as well, Farm Sanctuary’s approach of meeting people where they are has a personal resonance with me.

It is nice to be able to say I first stopped eating animals the year Farm Sanctuary was founded!

3. Describe a typical day.

My day-to-day responsibilities include the Compassionate Communities Campaign and Farm Sanctuary’s online outreach. The former requires keeping up with news for the CCC Facebook page, the CCC blog, and alerts to our members, in order to make sure our activist members are engaged and able to make a difference day to day. As part of this, I represent Farm Sanctuary in a variety of coalitions, so I’m often on conference calls or reviewing email alerts. I also have been developing materials for the CCC.

Online outreach is a fun, multivariate problem. I can create multiple ads and choose different target audiences, and then monitor which perform best. I’m always iterating on this, to make sure we are “spending thousands to reach millions.” I also monitor the comment threads to try to make sure things don’t get out of hand, and to give encouragement, too.

One of the best parts of my job is to watch what Manager of Engagement Strategy Wendy Matthews comes up with for her various projects, like V-lish. I can always expect innovative, creative, and fresh ideas from her. Sometimes, I’m even able to contribute a useful bit of feedback here or there. Mostly, though, I just want to make sure I’m not hindering her.

My wife Anne (who works for Our Hen House, headed by former Farm Sanctuary National Advocacy Organizer Jasmin Singer) and I both work from home here in Tucson, and we’re very much early birds. A typical day starts around 6 with all the emails that came in overnight. I’ll try to exercise most days (although I’m no Marathon Man like Gene), in part because I can get in some of my best thinking while running. For example, a few weekends ago, I received an email about a Facebook post on welfare reforms. That led to a longer conversation, and then, over my next two runs, the idea for a blog post on the topic took shape.

bonding

4. Describe a day that was less typical and memorable.

I have Farm Sanctuary Media Relations Specialist Meredith Turner-Smith to thank for my most memorable days. She has arranged my various interviews, including a one hour radio interview with a station in rural Alabama. Such a fun time! She also got me all my television appearances last fall – an amazing job. She made sure the stations had all the information (I was promoting a Walk for Farm Animals each appearance) and B-roll (so the audience was able to look at cute animals instead of having to watch me).

The best week was probably last October at the Seattle Walk for Farm Animals. Walk Coordinator Christina Cuenca organized an absolutely incredible event! (And Meredith had, of course, previously had me on the radio to promote the Walk.) People were so fired up – I’ve never been interrupted by cheers and applause so often. Not ever! I was able to spend time with different activists in Seattle, too, separate from the Walk. Then I met with other members in Portland and gave a talk there. Next was up to Vancouver, where I had another hour on the radio (this one was in studio) leading up to the great Walk (which was the only time I saw the sun there!).

Of course, compared to Gene, I’m an absolute amateur when it comes to travelling and speaking. I truly have no idea how he does it. I spent at least 20 hours researching, writing, getting feedback on, and practicing just my “Understanding the Numbers” talk for AR2015. I don’t know how Gene could possibly do it, day in and day out.

But for me, the Seattle / Portland / Vancouver trip was an amazing week.

5. Was there a time when you reached someone whom you never expected to be receptive to your message?

I know I don’t have anywhere near the number of stories Gene has (I love listening to his stories), but I do have loads of experiences like this (including at the national Future Farmers of America conference).

One of my first unexpected encounters like this was speaking at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. A young man in the audience was clearly agitated and just itching to get up and say something. As soon as I opened it up for questions, he jumped up and gave a dissertation on the “values” of hunting.

It was obvious that debating hunting wouldn’t be a winning strategy. More importantly, I knew arguing with him wouldn’t do anything to change anyone else’s mind or choices. I was, of course, tempted to make the full, consistent “animal rights” case, but I decided it was more important to try to get some of the people to actually make constructive change that made a difference for farm animals.

So I said, “Well, I can tell you this: I would rather live my life free and be shot dead as an adult, than be crammed into a bathroom with a bunch of others such that I can hardly move, living in our own waste.” As soon as I said that, the young man visibly calmed, and sat down to listen. I then went on to reiterate how bad farm animals have it on factory farms. At this point, the whole audience was more attentive than they had been during my main talk. I concluded my “answer” to him by repeating that I didn’t think anyone in the room would condone the way these animals are treated, and that each of us can choose compassion every time we eat.

Not only did the rest of the Q & A go great, but after everything was done, the young man thanked me. He said he always thought factory farms were bad, but hadn’t known just how bad. He also hadn’t known how rough it was for chickens (which I had focused on in the main talk), and concluded that not eating meat from factory farms was the right thing to do.

To me, this shows the power of Gene’s idea of meeting people where they are. I have always found it to be much more constructive and impactful to focus on the first step, rather than presenting a fixed dogma.

6. What do you enjoy doing outside of Farm Sanctuary life (hobbies, interests, etc.)?

[Farm Sanctuary CEO ] Hank Lynch made the comment, “Matt, most people don’t have the opportunity we have, to be able to work for animals.” This is really insightful: we are really incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity, and I want to make the most of it. Since we work at home, Anne and I are able to work every day. But we do try to go for a hike together once every week or two (where, of course, we talk more about work). I try to log off of work by 8pm, so I can do a little reading and wind down some.

I try to cook a good dinner 3-4 times per week (making enough for leftovers).

Our (lifelong vegan) daughter is away at college, so I look forward to opportunities to chat with her on Google Hangouts whenever she has a few spare minutes (usually in lab, between experiments). When she’s home, I try to keep up with her on her daily runs!

EllenKGreenPassport7. You’ve raised Ellen vegan; what advice do you have for vegan parents?

Oh, the world is so incredibly different now than it was 22 years ago, especially in this respect!

Reannon Branchesi, who previously organized all our Walk for Farm Animals events, is one of the founders of Generation Veggie – an amazing website and community for anyone who is vegan in a family (raising vegan kids, kids who have chosen to go vegan in a non-veg family, etc.). If you have questions or concerns, GenVeg has an article or someone who can help. It is a great resource!

And chill out if your son or daughter doesn’t like veggies!

8. Gene mentioned mixing soy powder to make soymilk back in the day… how has vegan food changed for you? What can Ellen enjoy that you couldn’t when you were in college?

HA! Comparing my attempts to just eat vegetarian (dairy-a-palooza) to eating vegan today is crazy! When I first stopped eating animals, I lived on cheese sandwiches and Captain Crunch with cow’s milk. Now at college, Ellen has vegan options at every dining hall at every meal (that video’s star doesn’t appear until 51 seconds in). Other colleges (including in Texas!) have entirely vegetarian or even vegan dining halls! Vegan reubens, vegan pizza, vegan Tofurky feasts – not only around Thanksgiving but regularly? (Thanks, Seth!)

Of course, I know that most people think veganism is impossible from where they are now (all the more reason to focus on the first step). But I could literally write a book about how crazy-different it is today than 30 years ago.

9. Why should someone visit Farm Sanctuary?

Of course, you don’t need to visit one of our sanctuaries to make an absolutely huge difference in the world. Every time we choose what to eat, we can make a powerful statement against cruelty and for compassion. Every time someone asks us why we’re vegetarian, we have the chance to provide farm animals a voice.

bean

But there is something truly wonderful about getting to know individuals like Valentino, Emily, and Lucie. It makes our choices and our opportunity to advocate for these animals less abstract, more concrete. For me, at least, spending time with these individuals leaves me energized and even more motivated to change the world, to build a society where individuals like Frank and Bean are no longer our job, but simply our friends.

 

Abolition and Farm Animals

Clementine

Clementine

At Farm Sanctuary, we’re able to spend time with chickens, pigs, turkeys, and cows who had been bred for meat, eggs, or milk. Every day, our interactions with them show us, again and again, that each of these animals is an individual, with intelligence and a unique personality. They form relationships with one another, and many of us have developed friendships with our residents.

DianaPais_SFarm animals are no different from the dogs or cats with whom many of us live. Each and every one of them yearns to love and live free, if only given the chance. Our advocacy for them takes many forms, but at the very core, our message is simple: turkeys, goats, pigs, chickens, cows, sheep, and ducks are friends, not food.

bondingsmThirty years ago, almost no one in the country thought about – let alone cared about – farm animals or how meat arrived on their plate. Now, we regularly see exposé on the brutality of factory farms, and at least half the country is open to the idea of changing their diet.

But at this time, it is a huge step from the norm – eating animals without a second thought – to fully embracing and acting on the view of “friends, not food.” And despite our movement’s many successes over the past three decades at promoting farm animals’ interests, we haven’t been very successful at increasing the number of people who don’t eat animals (in part because >80% of people who stop eating animals revert back). And even if we were to double the number of people who fully live according to “friends, not food,” the change would be hardly noticeable.

This is all the more surprising, given that Gallup consistently finds that more than 95% of Americans oppose cruelty to animals, and over half are specifically concerned about the treatment of farm animals. Fully a third think animals deserve the same rights as people!

Thus most people oppose cruelty to farm animals, but currently find it too difficult to completely change their diet and maintain that change. Combine these facts with our bottom-line concern for the suffering of every farm animal, and we can leverage people’s concern to abolish the worst abuses on factory farms (e.g., gestation crates, battery cages, veal crates, slaughter without stunning, and genetically-manipulated rapid growth).

Of course, this doesn’t mean we should end (or even lessen) our efforts to have more people recognize that farm animals are friends, not food. But working to abolish the worst barbarism farm animals suffer is actually complementary to efforts to help people live a fully compassionate life. For one, getting people to think about cruelty to farm animals and take an action (e.g., sign a petition, contact their representative) is a relatively easy step away from the status quo. Getting people to take the first step makes the next step easier and more likely. Research shows that asking for a small step is more likely to create change, and have that change be sustained.

Second, abolishing the worst aspects of factory farming makes meat, eggs, and dairy more expensive. Anything we can do to bend the supply/demand curve in this direction will lead to fewer animals suffering on factory farms.

Finally, if we truly care about every chicken, pig, cow, and turkey, we have to do our best for them, right now, with the world as it actually is. No matter what we do, there will be animals on factory farms tomorrow. And next year. And the next year. We are morally obligated to support any step that could reduce their suffering.

This is not to say we shouldn’t spend our limited personal or organizational time and resources promoting universal compassion. But abolishing the worst abuses in no way endorses or excuses raising and killing animals in a “less cruel” fashion.

Rather, we support the abolition of the worst forms of torture because we care about every single farm animal. Of course we won’t stop until everyone internalizes and acts upon the simple fact that these individuals are friends, not food. But instead of only talking about how we want the world to be in the future, we will look at how the world is for farm animals right now, and do our absolute best for them.

-Matt 

Living in a Non-Veg World

Talk, as prepared for the AZ Veg Food Fest, January, 2016
Matt Ball

I assume that if you are here today, you have some issue with living in a non-vegetarian world, that being surrounded by meat eaters most days isn’t all unicorns and rainbows.

I should start by saying that I don’t have any brilliant insight or 12-step plan to make everything better. I can’t conjure up a unicorn for everyone. I stopped eating animals almost 30 years ago, and have yet to discover the magic incantation to make living in this world easy.

What I can tell you is that I’ve experienced a lot of what many of you have gone through and are going through. Anger, frustration, rage, despair, disappointment, depression – I’ve been through all these.

And I can tell you, every single one of these feelings is justified. I assume each of us here knows just how much suffering there is on factory farms, how much incredible cruelty farm animals face every moment of their lives. We could spend all day watching horrific footage of factory farms and slaughterhouses, and we wouldn’t begin to capture how bad things are.

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We each know this, and yet we live in a world of complete denial. If we look around, there is no sign that so many animals are being tortured and slaughtered right now. All the people around us – including many of our family members, our friends, and our co-workers – go about their daily lives as though factory farms don’t exist; as if there is no brutality lying hidden, just below the surface.

It is as though we are delusional, that we simply had a bad dream where we just imagined that animals suffered and died to become the meat being consumed all around us.

What often makes it even worse is that we love many of the people who continue to eat animals. It doesn’t matter as much that Ted Cruz or Donald Trump or Dick Cheney pay people to kill chickens and pigs. But when it is our Moms, our brothers, our cousins, our childhood pal, even our spouse – that adds an extra layer of heartbreak to having to live in a world where animals suffer and die to be eaten.

So the main thing I can offer you today is understanding. I get it, the anger, the hurt, the disappointment.

And others are going through this, too. I’ve given hundreds of talks in the past decades, and I can tell you that so many people have asked me, often almost pleadingly, “What can I do to convince my sister, my Dad, my husband?”

I would love so much to be able to give you the answer. But I can’t. And I know understanding isn’t enough.

But maybe I can help at the margins. Maybe I can show that there is hope.

The first thing I would suggest is to remember that few people change overnight from the standard American diet to a cruelty-free lifestyle. There are some, yes, but research actually shows that the quicker people change, the more likely they are to revert back to eating animals again. So to begin with, as much as we would love everyone to GO VEG RIGHT FREAKIN’ NOW, realistically, we should give people a break.

Even if you changed overnight and maintained that change forever, know that most people don’t. For example, once I learned the reality behind meat, I kept eating animals. When I first went veg, it didn’t last. Cutting out eggs and dairy took me a long time. And it is likely that if people had mocked my weakness, or treated me with disdain or hatred for my rationalizations, I would have used their anger as an excuse to maintain my meat-eating ways.

My story shows us several things. The first is that many people – probably most people, nearly all – don’t want to change. They don’t want to be different from their friends and family. They don’t want to be inconvenienced.

Like me, most people are capable of great cognitive dissonance. They want to consider themselves good people. At some level they know eating animals is wrong. And yet they don’t want to change. So they’re looking for an excuse.

And as justified as our anger is, we have to know that being “the angry vegan” gives people an excuse to maintain the status quo. I’ve seen this over and over again. I saw one example of this last year, when I participated in marketing research at the University of Arizona. One of the key findings was that the general public views vegans as angry, unhappy, and unfriendly. The general public also views veganism as extreme and impossible.

angryvegan

So we find ourselves in this catch-22 – we are understandably angry because the people around us create the demand that causes animals to suffer so horribly. But our understandable anger is a key reason people are able to avoid facing reality.

I’m in no position to judge. I acted from anger so much, and gave many people a lifetime excuse to not consider the animals’ plight. I consistently made it about winning an argument, or speaking my truth, rather than actually creating real change that would make a difference. It took me so long to finally stop expressing my anger and justifying my lifestyle. And it is something I still struggle with every day –truly dealing with people where they are, rather than chanting and arguing about what I want.

With the help of some very insightful friends, I finally realized that if we truly want to create fundamental, lasting change in the world, we must deal with our emotions in a constructive way. We need to ask ourselves:

  • Are we willing to direct our anger, rather than have it rule us?
  • Are we willing to put the animals’ interests before our personal desires?
  • Are we willing to focus seriously and systematically on being the animals’ voice?

 

It is not enough to be vegetarian, or vegan, or even a dedicated advocate. I believe we should focus on actually reducing suffering – and actively be the opposite of the vegan stereotype. Just as we need everyone to look beyond the short-term satisfaction of following habits and traditions, we need to move past our sorrow and our anger to optimal advocacy. We must learn “how to win friends and influence people,” so that we leave everyone we meet with the impression of a joyful individual leading a fulfilling and meaningful life.

Understand, though: I’m not saying we should put on an act of being happy. Rather, as thoughtful advocates, we can truly be happy!

Looking at the long arc of history, we see how much society has advanced in just the last few centuries. It was over two thousand years ago that the ideals of democracy were first proposed in ancient Greece. But only during the 18th century did humanity see even the beginnings of a truly democratic system. Not until late in the 19th century was slavery officially abolished in the developed world. In all of human history, only in the last hundred years was child labor abolished in the developed world, child abuse criminalized, women given the vote, and minorities given more rights.

Many people worked diligently to bring about those ethical advances for humanity. Now, because of the number of individuals suffering and the reason they suffer, I believe animal liberation is the moral imperative of our time. If we take suffering seriously and commit to optimal advocacy, we too can bring about fundamental change. We can already see progress in just the past decade – there has been a huge increase public concern for farm animals, as well as condemnations of factory farms. There are more vegetarians, near-vegetarians, and vegetarian products. Our focus, tools, and programs have also improved immensely during that time.

Animal liberation can be the future. As the magazine The Economist concluded, “Historically, man has expanded the reach of his ethical calculations, first beyond family and tribe, later beyond religion, race, and nation. To bring other species more fully into the range of these decisions may seem unthinkable to moderate opinion now. One day, it may seem no more than ‘civilized’ behavior requires.”

We can be the ones to bring about this next great ethical advance. We should revel in the opportunity we have to be part of something so profound, something fundamentally good. This is as meaningful and joyous a life as I can imagine!

We have no excuse for waiting – we have the knowledge, the tools, and the truth. Taking a stand against cruelty to animals requires only our choice.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.:

The arc of history is long
And ragged
And often unclear
But ultimately
It bends towards justice.

We can each help bend the arc of history toward justice!

Thank you.