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.”

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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.

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The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Vegans

Another guest post from our good friend Tobias!

  1. Highly effective vegans can put themselves in the shoes of whomever they are talking to. They know that other people may be significantly different in many ways. They may have different interests and motivations, different ways to deal with changes and challenges. Therefore…
  2. Highly effective vegans are adaptive. They can adapt the way they talk and what they talk about, according to their audience. They are not dogmatic in their approach. They know they are under no moral obligation to present veganism as a moral obligation.
  3. Highly effective vegans encourage every step that people take. They know that change usually happens gradually. Therefore, highly effective vegans focus on the good things that people are already doing, rather than on the things they are not doing yet.
  4. Highly effective vegans don’t care about purity. They know that both regarding themselves and others, focussing on purity is unproductive. They want to make being vegan look as accessible, easy and attractive as possible. They know that eating more compassionately is not an either or, black or white, now or never thing. They want to help people to take the first step rather than the last.
  5. Highly effective vegans don’t need to be “right”. Rather, they focus on what works. That’s why they are rarely debating or arguing things. They know that in addition to providing arguments, they can also provide practical information, recipes, or a taste experience (i.e., they can cook for others).
  6. Highly effective vegans know how to listen. They know that listening is essential to real communication. Highly effective vegans therefore also know to ask questions, and when to be quiet. They are friendly, and have a sense of humor. They know that the process of their conversations is often more important than the content.
  7. Highly effective vegans do remember what it was like to be a non vegan – they don’t suffer from vegan amnesia. They know that at some point they ate animal products and may even have been deaf themselves for the animal rights arguments, even when they were articulated clearly to them. Therefore, they are patient and understanding.
  8. Highly effective vegans know that attitude change can come after behavior change. Therefore, they don’t mind when people start their vegan journey for health or for any reason.
  9. Highly effective vegans are humble. They know they are not perfect. They know other people may do other great things, even if they are not vegan. And they know they don’t have all the answers.
  10. Highly effective vegans have faith in people. They know most people want to do good, and don’t want animals to suffer. Highly effective vegans know that change is a matter of time. They realize that one important thing we have to do is to make it easier for people to act and eat compassionately, by providing more and better vegan options.
  11. Highly effective vegans understand the crucial importance of good food. They applaud the development of new products, they learn how to cook, and they can inspire other people by telling them about how great they can eat as vegans.
  12. Highly effective vegans don’t judge. They see veganism – like getting better at being human – as a journey rather than a destination, something that is never done, and can be started on many different roads.

Direct link.

On Vegans and Vegan Meals

More from our friend Tobias!

In the post “Don’t you dare call yourself a vegan“, I wrote that some day “I might get so disappointed with vegans and veganism, that I (a vegan for the animals), would refrain from using it altogether.” That was in a reaction to an article in which the author suggested “health” vegans don’t call themselves vegan. In the meantime, the Bearded Vegan podcast had an episode on the question if we should stop using the word vegan.

Now, I still think the word vegan is useful, particularly in the sense that it is a name for a concept. When you’re in restaurant, or anywhere food is served to you, it is easy if you can just explain with one word what you want. The more people who know and understand the word, the easier it gets.

The word is less useful, more controversial, and more prone to cause discussions, disagreements and even nastiness, is when it is applied to people. It is much harder for a person to be vegan than for a product or a dish to be vegan. When a product doesn’t have unvegan ingredients, it is vegan. You might say: when a person doesn’t eat unvegan ingredients, they are vegan. But it’s not that simple (no, really). There’s apparently discussion about intentions, which have to be right too (otherwise you’re plant based, according to said article); there’s the matter of the tiny bits and micro-ingredients, there’s even ideological and political issues, etc.

So here’s a subtle yet important note about grammar and how it relates to what I think is the most efficient use of the word vegan. I believe that in the case of the V-word, the nouns (“veganism”, “vegans”) are more problematic than the adjective (as in “a vegan meal”). The words “a vegan/vegans” and “veganism” are black and white or binary terms: you are it, or you’re not (even though there can be discussions about how pure you need to be to carry the label). You may have no interest in going vegan all the way, so the noun may not appeal to you. Also, if you are a vegetarian, or a part time vegan or whatever, you may feel excluded by the noun vegan. You don’t belong to that group, and “veganism” doesn’t apply to you. The nouns are very “exclusive”, they exclude you (if you’re not vegan).

This is completely different from the use of vegan as an adjective in the words “vegan meals” or “vegan products.” If you suggest a that a person have a vegan meal or buy a vegan product, you are not asking them to “become a vegan.” Everybody can eat a vegan meal or buy a vegan product. You don’t need to be a vegan for that. It works much more inclusively, it includes non-vegans. Asking people to become a vegan is asking them, or is asking for what sounds like, a change of identity.

Bottom line, in our communication, let’s invite people to eat vegan, have vegan meals, try vegan products, rather than to become a vegan or adhere to veganism.

Yes, we CAN ask for less than “go vegan”

Another guest post from Tobias Leenaert.

An often heard crede – especially among so called “abolitionist” vegans – is that “veganism is the moral baseline”. It seems to mean that being vegan is the minimum we can do for the animals if we want to be moral creatures. Conversely, anything less than vegan is immoral behaviour. I don’t agree with that, and the way many activists use the sentence often seems quite ineffective and often condescending to me.

From idea that veganism is the moral baseline, it seems to follow (at least for those who adhere to the moral baseline motto) that our outreach towards omnivores can never be anything less than suggesting them to go vegan. Asking people to be reducetarians, for instance, would be an immoral demand, just like, believers hold, asking or demanding that a childbeater become a parttime childbeater rather than doing it every day (I have written about that before, here and here).

Let us assume for a minute that asking anything less than veganism is immoral (and that veganism is the moral baseline). Let us, however, at the same time assume – for the sake of the argument – that asking “things less than veganism” leads to a higher reduction of animal suffering and killing.What, in that case, should we prioritize: the morality of our outreach, or its impact? In other words, should we – again assuming for a minute that we know for sure – use a less effective message because we believe it to be a more moral one?

driving force

Those who would answer that the morality aspect is the most important, will often claim that the impact is actually on their side too, and that what is painted above is some kind of false dichotomy. I want to briefly examine here if that is true. In other words: is it possible that asking other things than “go vegan” is more effective in reducing animal suffering and killing?

People who follow this blog will know that my answer will be that that is definitely possible. I give three reasons why I think a smaller ask may (often) be more effective than the bigger, go vegan ask. I am not implying that everyone should do “reducitarian” outreach – more about that below.

One: bigger total impact
It seems to be common sense that when we ask people to do something easy, more of them will do it than when we ask them to do something hard. The difference between the small number of people doing the hard thing, and the higher number of people doing the easy thing is big enough, the people doing the easy thing may all together have a higher total impact. Say we ask one thousand people to go vegan and say we get ten of them to actually do so (it definitely is possible to go vegan overnight, no one is denying that). On the other hand, say that we ask another thousand people (our control group) to participate in Meatless Mondays, and say that 300 do so. You can do the math. One might object that the few people that were convinced become fulltime vegans might also become active in reaching out to others, but actually the same can be said about the meat reducers, who can also advocate for Meatless Monday.

Two: meat reducers may more easily become vegan
I believe our main challenge today is to get as many people as possible totake the first steps, to cross a certain treshold.That is in many cases one of the most important things we can help them do, because it is a lot easier to move up the vegan scale when you have made a first step. Being a reducetarian is not an end, but a beginning.

Three: meat reducers make veganism easier and may tip the system faster
Meat reducers are the driving force behind demand, and companies producing vegan products, do so in the first place for *them* and not for vegans. In other words, meat reducers help to make it easier for everyone to eat more and more vegan, or even to go vegan overnight.

These are three reasons – and in my upcoming book they will be better referenced – that could indicate that asking people to reduce might have a bigger impact than asking them to go vegan. One could argue that if this would be so, this demand would actually be the more moral one. After all,what’s moral about using a message that is less effective than one we know to be more effective?

Let me explicitly state my purpose in writing all this. I am not saying that our movement should never use the “go vegan” message. I *am* saying, conversely, that we are under no moral obligation to *always* use the “go vegan” message. And I am suggesting that those who think they should criticize people who do “less than vegan” outreach (be they vegans themselves or not) stop doing that.

Bad News for Red Meat Is Bad News for Chickens

Guest post by Ginny Messina, RD

Red meat has a bad PR problem. Two recent meta-analyses—one published in 2009 and one in 2011—linked red meat consumption to increased colon cancer risk. In May, the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund reaffirmed conclusions from an earlier comprehensive report, saying that the evidence for a relationship between red meat and colon cancer is “convincing.”

And it’s not just cancer; a study published just last week found that adults who consume 4 ounces of red meat per day have a 20 percent increased risk for developing diabetes.

The evidence strongly suggests that it’s a good idea for everyone to reduce their intake of red and processed meats. But from the animals’ perspective, this is not necessarily great news. That’s because many of these studies find that other animal foods—which can easily replace red meat in the diet—don’t carry the same risks. There is no compelling body of evidence to suggest that eating white meat raises cancer risk and, some research suggests that replacing red meat with white meat lowers risk. (This is not to say that white meat is itself protective or has any particular health benefits. It’s probably neutral and therefore lowers risk when it replaces harmful red meat)

People are likely to react to news about the dangers of red and processed meats by replacing these foods with other meats—from fish and chickens—and in the process cause suffering to many, many more animals.

badnewforchickens

Assuming that one steer provides around 450 pounds of meat, a person eating a pound of beef per week would be responsible for the death of one steer every 8 ½ years or so. Replace that pound of beef a week with a pound of chicken (assuming that the average chicken yields 2 pounds of meat) and the number of animals killed would be about 220 chickens over the same time period. In fact, even if the health-conscious, meat-shunning consumer chose to reduce her meat intake by 75 percent—eating just 4 ounces of meat per week and getting all of it as chicken flesh—she would still be responsible for the death of more than 50 birds over that 8 ½ year period.

Clementine of Farm Sanctuary

And not only do more animals die when people replace red meat with chicken in their diet, but chickens and other birds live and die under conditions that are horrible even by the usual horrible standards of modern farming.

Red and processed meat consumption is a serious public health concern, and people need to know about the importance of reducing these foods in their diets. But publicizing every new study about the hazards of red meat doesn’t promote veganism; it promotes animal suffering.  A message about a vegan ethic, on the other hand, is a double win. It helps reduce animal suffering while also encouraging people to eliminate hazardous foods from their diets.

Edited on 3/13/12 : A study just published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine  found that all types of red meat are associated with increased risk for cancer and heart disease. Just 3 ounces a day of red meat was associated with a 13% increased risk of dying during the course of the study. The researchers also found that replacing red meat with poultry or low-fat dairy foods decreased risk as much or more than replacing it with legumes. This is another example of how a focus on the health risks of red meat in particular doesn’t necessarily translate to a positive vegan message.