Messaging for Maximum Change

kennyKenny Torrella (right), an exceptionally effective animal advocate, came across an essay regarding the importance of using the word “vegetarian” instead of “vegan.” This was his experience:

I read [the essay about “vegetarian” vs “vegan”] a few weeks ago and have been experimenting with it lately. I think it’s a small tip for activists that goes a long way. For 2.5 years I had been telling people I was vegan if the subject came up. Now if people ask, I say I’m vegetarian, and it makes a world of a difference. When I used to say I was vegan, people would immediately say some kind of variation of, “That’s awesome, but I could never do that myself.”

Now when I say I’m vegetarian, people become more open and tell me about other vegetarians they know, vegetarian foods they’ve tried, how they’ve considered going vegetarian, or they had been vegetarian in the past and want to get back into it. Whenever I met a vegetarian while leafleting, I used to say, “Have you considered veganism?” The situation would immediately turn a bit sour. For a split second they saw me as someone they had much in common with, and after asking if they’ve considered veganism, they see me as someone telling them to do more – that their vegetarianism is not enough. Out of the number of vegetarians I had met and responded to like this, not a single one responded positively – none said, “Why yes, I have been considering veganism lately!” All of them said a variation of, “Well, veganism seems like a good thing, but it’s just too much for me.” No matter how much cajoling, they wouldn’t budge.

The funny thing about this is that when I was a vegetarian I was the same way toward vegans. This is something important to remember. I didn’t go vegan because another vegan was telling me to, or even telling me about it… I did it on my own after thinking about it and researching it for several months. Now while leafleting, I give words of encouragement to vegetarians I meet. I tell them how awesome it is that they’re vegetarian, to keep it up, I say “Aw, you’re the best,” I give them literature that has recipes and nutritional information. This makes a huge difference! They feel encouraged to do more, rather than being told to. They may not feel as alone in their choice if they meet another “vegetarian” that is also an activist and is thanking them.

Although our initial reaction is to identify as a vegan or to convince vegetarians to go vegan, 9 times out of 10 it doesn’t turn anyone on to veganism— it only makes them feel like they’re being judged, as if their lifestyle choice to eschew all meat products was worth nothing. I’m not saying this is a fool-proof guide to live by and of course there are instances where it’s important to say you’re vegan, or if a vegetarian wants more information about going vegan, then by all means, hand out vegan literature and share your experiences as a vegan. Although I was first skeptical of this tip about language, I experimented with it and found it to be a much better approach toward turning more people on to a vegetarian lifestyle.

As always, kudos to Kenny for being concerned less with justifying his own choices and more with opening as many new hearts and minds as possible!

Originally published in The Accidental Activist.

Gene Baur: Going the Distance for Animals!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



The Psychology of Constructive Outreach

At Farm Sanctuary, we believe most people are compassionate individuals who don’t know what truly goes on at factory farms (for if they did, they might make different choices), and who don’t yet know how to start taking meaningful steps to help farm animals.

Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign is dedicated to helping all of our members be better examples of compassionate living, as well as more effective advocates for farm animals. The essays and books we recommend are based on the soundest psychological and sociological research relevant to bringing about personal and societal change.



Tobias Leenaert also explores the effective advocacy space, and is a regular guest blogger here. Recently, he interviewed Dr. Jared Piazza of Lancaster University, UK. Dr. Piazza’s research focuses on moral decision making, including how people think about the moral value of animals. Recently, Dr. Piazza and his colleagues published the papers “Rationalizing Meat Consumption: The 4Ns” in the journal Appetite, and “When Meat Gets Personal, Animals’ Minds Matter Less” in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The entire interview is worth reading; here is the conclusion:

To finish, I’d like to hear some recommendations you have for activists or the movement.

I guess my first recommendation would be to do your best to avoid the moral reactance and motivated reasoning when discussing the issue of eating meat with people. This is not always possible, but put yourself in their shoes. How would you react if someone suggested to you that something you really enjoy doing and have been doing most of your life was immoral? Perhaps this is something that you never considered to be a problem before and brings you daily pleasure. Do you think you would be receptive to their message at first? Or would you question their arguments? Would you immediately stop what you have been doing all your life, or would you immediately think of ways in which what you’re doing is perfectly acceptable and not problematic?

Perhaps this is something that you never considered to be a problem before and brings you daily pleasure. Do you think you would be receptive to their message at first? Or would you question their arguments? Would you immediately stop what you have been doing all your life, or would you immediately think of ways in which what you’re doing is perfectly acceptable and not problematic? Once you have made the conversion to not eat meat, it is easy to forget what it is like to see things from the other side – from the perspective of the meat-eating majority, who are wondering what all the fuss is about. I’d also recommend to advocates to be inclusive and welcoming, and not to give up. We need people to think they really can make a change. We need to empower people, not only with an awareness of how meat production is destroying our world and ruining lives (lives that truly matter), but also give them an opportunity to imagine other ways of viewing the world, particularly how they view themselves, so they can reason through the arguments in a less defensive, self-preserving manner. I think we may have greater success that way.

Once you have made the conversion to not eat meat, it is easy to forget what it is like to see things from the other side – from the perspective of the meat-eating majority, who are wondering what all the fuss is about. I’d also recommend to advocates to be inclusive and welcoming, and not to give up. We need people to think they really can make a change. We need to empower people, not only with an awareness of how meat production is destroying our world and ruining lives (lives that truly matter), but also give them an opportunity to imagine other ways of viewing the world, particularly how they view themselves, so they can reason through the arguments in a less defensive, self-preserving manner. I think we may have greater success that way.

“Guest” Blogger, Gene Baur!

We’re thrilled to announce that the CCC blog will be running some earlier articles from Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary’s Co-founder and President and author of two best sellers, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food and Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer and Feeling Better Every Day. Gene’s experiences and insights can help us all be better examples of compassionate living.

gene_with_animalWe start this series with part 1 of “Going the Distance for Animals,” from 2011. In this post, Gene talks about stepping out of our comfort zone in order to help farm animals. Bonus: Gene also gives us an abbreviated list of some of the incredible athletes that serve as role models in the face of the idea that eating animal products is necessary (just Google vegan athlete for more examples). This is especially relevant in this just-completed Olympic season (e.g., the only male US weightlifter to make the Games is entirely plant-powered!).

Plant-powered Farris Kendrick sets a new American record.

Plant-powered Farris Kendrick sets a new American record.

I have always enjoyed sports and the exhilaration that accompanies the human drama of athletic competition. I grew up playing Little League baseball and Pop Warner football. In high school and college, I started running cross-country and playing Ultimate Frisbee. After founding Farm Sanctuary in 1986 and becoming a full-time activist, I spent less time pursuing athletics. But as my 50th birthday approaches, I’ve renewed my interest in sports, and I want to demonstrate that vegans can perform significant athletic feats. So I signed up to run in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Washington, DC, on March 17, 2011.

In the U.S., we are bombarded with advertising and “educational” campaigns promoting the notion that consuming meat, milk, and eggs is healthy, even necessary. Many people believe these myths and assume that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to be vegan, let alone to be a vegan athlete. But, in recent years, information about vegan living and athletic achievements fueled entirely by plant foods is better and more readily available.

Olympic Gold Medalist Carl Lewis reports performing his best as a vegan, and Dave Scott won the grueling Ironman Triathlon six times as a vegan (the Ironman is an endurance race where competitors swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and then run a full marathon). Scott Jurek, a vegan ultra-marathon runner, is the seven-time winner of the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run. Elite and professional athletes are increasingly recognizing how plant-based nutrition can support top performance.

So far, I’ve completed a couple of 20-mile runs to get ready. These long-distance outings have been challenging, but I’m feeling strong, and I’m looking forward to the marathon.


Stay tuned for part 2 with an update on Gene’s running since 2011, as well as future posts from Gene!


Activist Sweet Spot

Tobias looks at where we should each focus:

Sometimes people ask me for ideas or advice about how exactly they could or should help animals. They are trying to find out what kind of activism fits them best.

Basically, I think we need to find some kind of sweet spot that is on the junction of three different aspects. You can see them in the drawing below:


What you love, or are passionate about: don’t just say “animals”. That’s probably a bit too general. Find something more concrete than that. Maybe it’s vegan cooking to help animals. Or public speaking about animals. Or maybe you are very passionate about people and how they function.

What you are good at: you may have a certain skill set. Maybe, because of your education, talent, or experience, maybe you can do something many other people can’t do, or not as good. You might be a graphic designer, an IT-person, a teacher…

What has an impact: this is about what really helps animals. Everything has an impact, of course, but some things have more impact than others (some things may even have a negative impact).

The overlap between these different aspects can vary: it may be small, it may be bigger. You could be one of those human beings for whom effectiveness and feeling good entirely overlap. That is, you only feel good about your work when you know you’re having the most impact (don’t think you’re like that too quickly though, you might be overlooking things).

This is probably the exception, and more often the overlap is smaller, and there may be contradictions. You may love doing something, but that something is maybe not the most effective thing you can do. Or you may love doing something (like public speaking) but actually you suck at it (you may need other people to tell you that). Or you may be the most effective when you use that skillset of yours, but maybe you need some variation and you don’t feel like using it as a volunteer, outside of your dayjob (it would be a pity, obviously, if you have a degree in cellular biology and could make a contribution to cultured meat, but would choose to leaflet instead).

When there is little overlap or when there are conflicts, you can basicallychoose what you prioritize. Most people in general (I’m not talking about vegans or activists now) usually prioritize their own happiness. As activists or people concerned about the world, we can probably expect a little bit more from ourselves: we can at least give some weight to the impact that we have with our actions, and not just do what feels good. I would say it’s good to give the impact-factor a lot of consideration. Some people, however, may go very far in this, and will unequivocally prioritize impact, at the expense of their own well-being, which is probably not the best or most sustainable idea.

Of course you can make combinations: distributing leaflets about animals seems to be a pretty effective investment of your time, but imagine you don’t really like it. Then you can do that maybe one or a couple of hours a week, and devote the rest of your volunteer time to something you like better (but which may be less effective).

Basically you want to do good for animals, but you also want to feel good about what you’re doing. If you do something that doesn’t make you feel good, you will probably be able to keep that up only for a limited time. This may be worthwhile in itself, because it is, after all, time that you have given to the cause. However, there is always the risk that people seriously burn out from doing something that they don’t like – even if it is effective – and that makes them give up on activism altogether, which probably would be a loss.

So my message is: make a healthy mix. Don’t just do anything because it makes you feel good, but don’t go all out on effectiveness either, because that may burn you out.


Why Do Most People Eat Meat?

More from our good friend Tobias:

In the 1950’s, the American psychologist Solomon Asch recruited participants at Swarthmore College (United States) for a now famous experiment. He told them he was doing research on perception, but in reality this was a study about conformity and social pressure. Asch showed the participants a set of pictures like the one below.

asch_experimentEach time he showed such a picture, Asch asked which of the bars on the right was of the same length as the one bar on the left. Participants had to state their answer out loud in the group. However, Asch made sure that all but one of the group members were conspirators, whom he had all ordered to give the same wrong answer. The only real, unsuspecting participant had to give their answer after all the others. To his surprise, Asch found that a disturbingly large number of people in this situation gave a wrong answer themselves. It led Asch to conclude: “The tendency to conformity in our society is so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black.” In some cases, people’s reason to give a clearly incorrect answer was that they thought the group was right. In other cases respondents apparently were afraid of seeming different than the rest or didn’t want to cause any trouble.

It’s not difficult to transfer these findings to our own subject. I think it’s a safe bet to assume that many people feel deep down that there is something wrong with the food they eat. They might believe it’s okay to kill animals for food but also believe that those same animals should at least “have a good life.” Or they might believe it’s not worth killing an animal for food at all. But when all these people constantly see around them that eating meat (or animal products) is treated as normal, it is hard to even believe in that vague feeling of discomfort they may have, and it becomes a lot harder to think that something really wrong is going on. Even as a vegetarian or vegan, as someone who’s really internalized the principle that it is not ok to eat animal products, you may have these small moments of doubt, wondering if you are actually seeing things right. The South-African writer and Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee attributes the following thoughts to his vegetarian character Elisabeth Costello:

“It’s that I no longer know where I am. I seem to move around perfectly easily among people, to have perfectly normal relations with them. Is it possible, I ask myself, that all of them are participants in a crime of stupefying proportions? Am I fantasizing it all? I must be mad! Yet every day I see the evidences. The very people I suspect produce the evidence, exhibit it, offer it to me. Corpses. Fragments of corpses that they have bought for money. (…) Yet I’m not dreaming. I look into your eyes, into Norma’s, into the children’s, and I see only kindness, human kindness. Calm down, I tell myself, you are making a mountain out of a molehill. This is life. Everyone else comes to terms with it, why can’t you? Why can’t you?”

In part because there’s still only a tiny minority of the people making a problem of meat eating or acting differently, most people don’t often consciously stop to think about meat eating as a moral issue. According to psychologist Steven Pinker, it is one of the major conclusions of the golden age of social psychology that “people take their cues on how to behave from other people.” To the question why most people eat meat, this is one answer that we can give: most people eat meat because most people eat meat.”


Hence, the importance of critical mass. Change requires numbers. We need enough people to voice their doubts, to show their concern, to not participate, to eat differently, so that others do not longer get the idea that meat is natural, normal and necessary.

Give Animals a Voice in DC!

Gene_Baur_1Dear Friend of Farm Animals,

We have the opportunity, right now, to give farm animals a voice in Washington, DC!

As you are probably aware, the “organic” label fails to protect farm animals from horrendous cruelty, and consumers are being misled. The USDA is considering standards to address the welfare of animals in organic production and is now accepting public comments. These standards are too weak, but they are still a positive step.

Although the proposed organic standards are minimal, not surprisingly, Big Ag is pushing back, trying to prevent any consideration of farm animal interests. Please join the discussion! From today through July 13, you can add your comments by going here and clicking on the “Comment Now!” button.

Some sample language is below; you can also read my comments here. Thank you for giving our friends a voice!

-Gene Baur

I am writing today to express my concern about the inhumane treatment of farm animals in organic production, and to urge the USDA to strengthen the National Organic Program’s proposed rule giving consideration to farm animals raised for the USDA Organic label.

The growth in demand for products labeled as humane, sustainable, natural, free-range, cage-free, organic, etc., illustrates that consumers oppose the inhumane treatment of farm animals. They want meaningful alternatives.

For years, U.S. citizens have assumed that meat, milk, and eggs labeled as organic came from animals treated significantly better than in conventional systems, despite the lack of clear and consistent standards protecting farm animals. I am grateful that the USDA is proposing steps to address this problem, although more needs to be done to better align organic labels with consumers’ expectations.

Like all animals, cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys, and other farm animals deserve to be treated with respect and compassion, and their physical and emotional needs should be met. Farm animals are social creatures; their relationships with each other should be honored, and they should be afforded healthy environments that allow them not only to survive, but to flourish.

Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration.