Beware the Boomerang

The Daily Show recently did a segment – R.I.P. Facts – lamenting the fact [sic] that what is actually true no longer matters.

The problem, however, is actually significantly worse. If someone believes something false that conforms to their preconceived beliefs, fact checking them can actually strengthen their false belief. This is called the “boomerang effect.”

This is important to recognize, because it is very likely that most people believe that eating meat is necessary; chicken is healthy; free-range means cruelty-free; etc. Just telling them otherwise, even with supporting facts, is likely to just reinforce their current belief.

Instead, it is good to start by seeking out common ground. While most people have a negative view of veganism and vegans, most people also have a visceral repulsion to factory farms. So it is often good to ask what they know about factory farms as the beginning of a Socratic-style discussion.

Also, most people are willing to speculate on the motivations of others (rather than defending their own beliefs). It might seem strange, but asking people if they know anyone who is vegetarian and why they think those vegetarians don’t eat meat can be a good hook.

Unfortunately, there is no set script we can follow in every situation. But it is important to recognize that we can’t actually win an argument with a meat eater. The best we can do is to start a conversation. This is the way we can potentially find common ground, and allow the other individual to open their heart and mind to uncomfortable ideas.

portland2016-Matt Ball

What is Real Courage?

Meat eaters love to change the subject and complain about vegans’ sense of smug superiority. But I can say it is very likely that I truly am superior to most everyone reading this: I have made more mistakes.

I stopped eating animals back in the 1980s. In the years after that, I made an absurd number of mistakes. Probably the main reason I wanted to publish The Animal Activist’s Handbook is to try to help others avoid at least some of the mistakes I made.

One of my biggest mistakes was lacking courage, but perhaps not in the way you think.

Over the years, people advised me to say I was vegan for my health. “That way,” I was told, “people won’t be threatened by you. Everyone cares about their health, so they won’t feel judged.”

Of course, I didn’t go along with that. I protested, “But I’m vegan for so many reasons! The Animals! The Earth! Human health!” Back then, our attitude was to “win an argument with a meat eater” (the title of a famous poster of the time). The approach was to try to overwhelm a meat eater with an endless list of what we believed were “facts,” which simplified to: all ills in the world, from impotence to hunger to ozone depletion to serial killings, were all because of meat.

Do you see the problem? It was all about me: Why I was vegan, how I was so right, how I needed to win an argument, because meat eaters were so very wrong, wrong, wrong!

Now, in sympathy with Young Matt and the rest of us back then, there really was no other example. We all spouted endless claims of water usage and declining fertility. No matter how absurd a claim, if something sounded even vaguely anti-meat or pro-vegetables, we parroted it like the indoctrinated missionaries we were.

On a basic human level, this is understandable. We were a tiny minority, surrounded by meat eaters – meat eaters who often mocked us. You can see why we were so eager, so desperate to justify ourselves, to strike back, to try to belittle those who belittled us, to win.

Of course, looking at it rationally today, each of us knows that any discomfort we experience is nothing compared to what farmed animals endure. But to be able to take the animals’ perspective would have required me to think beyond myself and my self-interest.

I regret my lack of courage, my inability to get past my need to justify myself, praise veganism, and blame meat eaters for every ill.

Of course, if you had pointed this out to me back then, I would have been outraged: “I am courageous! Do you know how hard it is to be vegan in the world? Look at this sheet of ‘facts’: meat eating is terrible!”

My interactions with meat eaters consisted of preaching an endless stream of horrors, pontificating: “You are causing all this! You need to be Just . . . Like . . . Me!” It was so important to chant, to insist, to promote and pursue purity – much more important than working constructively to bring about actual change.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying that being vegan isn’t good or important. But however important our personal, day-to-day choices are, choosing effective advocacy for the animals is far, far more important. However much good we accomplish by being vegan every day of the rest of our entire lives . . . well, we can do more good than that in just an hour of honest, psychologically-sound activism – or in just a minute, by donating to effective advocacy.

To really accomplish good in the world, we can’t be like Young Matt. We can’t focus on what sounds good to us. We can’t just rattle off facts that we find compelling, repeat anything that seems to justify our veganism, latch on to the latest “study” that “proves” what we want to believe.

And we can’t just “do something, do anything.” Instead, we have to look at the overall, real-world impact of our advocacy, and compare those consequences to other alternatives we could pursue with our limited time and resources.

This isn’t easy, in part because it is just so easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “People are selfish, I’ll appeal to self-interest!” Or taking anecdotes as data: “Marcie went vegan for reason X, so everyone must promote X!” Effective advocates look beyond what we think or what motivates us and those around us. We need to put aside what makes veganism sound good to us and focus on what will move non-vegetarians to take steps that actually end suffering.

For example, we can’t focus on something that seems non-controversial, something that seems to appeal to everyone, if doing so might encourage someone to stop eating big animals and instead eat more birds and fishes; anyone who just gives up red meat causes much, much more suffering.

In other words, we must consider all the actual consequences of our advocacy.

I don’t mean to preach. I wasted so many opportunities; turned off so many people. It took me years – and the help of truly courageous people – before I could set aside my insecurities and ego and personal needs, and focus instead on practical, realistic advocacy that actually helps animals.

Yet I don’t know what I could have said to Young Matt. Three decades ago, I was so angry, so filled with the odd combination of insecurity masked by self-righteousness.

It was an intoxicating siren song. It still is.

But let me leave you with a few decades of data: Since I came to the first March for the Animals in 1990, I have met hundreds of vegans who burned with an absolutist flame. Many of them loudly attacked other vegans as pathetic sell-outs, gutless compromisers, collaborating capitalists, and welfarists.

MattChicago2016Few of them are around today. There are, of course, new adherents, new screamers and chanters, new Young Matts. But if you look, you’ll actually see a number of truly courageous people, people who have put aside their ego and are focused on helping the animals as much as possible, every day.

I hope you have more courage than I did, and will join with those who go beyond self-interest. Instead, we can do the real, concrete work: day-to-day, person-to-person outreach that is actually helping animals, literally changing the world.

-Matt Ball

Originally published in The Accidental Activist

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.

A Quick Guide to Our Biases

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

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

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

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

 

The Lives of Modern Chickens

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

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

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

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

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

It Is Possible that Some Arguments Don’t Help Animals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Matt

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.

Clementine

Clementine

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.

To Reach New People and Help More Animals, Consider the Consequences of Your Words

Plant-Based Protein

Some activists seem to love internecine debates about language, and fights over the word “vegan” seem particularly addictive. Nearly every vegan has an opinion regarding the definition and use of the word, but their fundamental goals often differ. Given the disparity of underlying motivations, it’s not surprising that there is much disagreement.

For many, “vegan” is an end in and of itself. These activists feel very strongly about using that particular word – “vegan” – and glorifying veganism.

But other activists are more concerned with the real-world consequences of the words they use. They don’t want to use a specific word just because they like it, or because it captures their particular worldview. Rather, consequentialist activists choose language that influences the actions of those who currently eat animals. To them, words only matter insofar as they actually reduce suffering.

If you are in the latter camp, there are a number of studies on influencing optimal messaging that you may find very useful in your advocacy efforts. For example, there is much to learn from Faunalytics’ large study of former vegetarians and vegans – which showed that more than four out of every five people who go veg eventually revert back to eating animals. A key strategic takeaway from this survey is that people who change rapidly are less likely to maintain that change, and those who take incremental steps are more likely to maintain it.

Another key lesson: Some former vegetarians pointed to their inability to live up to demands for “purity” from certain portions of the veg community as a factor in their slide back to a non-veg diet. The angry, judgmental attitude that is unfortunately often associated with veganism has driven away even highly motivated, dedicated individuals, as we can see in this article.

Marketing research done in 2015 at the University of Arizona’s Eller Business School also provides a number of insights. Four investigative teams of MBA students were each tasked with studying a different facet of the issue. In their research, all four teams found that the general public views “veganism” as impossible, and “vegans” as annoying (not to put too fine a point on the findings). The group that focused on restaurant and grocery store research found that non-vegetarians are less likely to order a dish or buy a product if it is labeled “vegan,” compared to the same product labeled in a non-veg-specific way (e.g., “vegan burger” vs. “black bean burger”).

We also have a number of recent data points, as new companies enter the marketplace and existing companies move into this space. What these firms have in common is a desire to reach new non-veg individuals, rather than appealing to current vegans (a market so small that it is within the margin of error). For these companies, non-vegetarians are their path to profits and success – and the more they succeed in having new people buy their products, the fewer animals will suffer and die.

This article discusses the trend, and its lead graphic – a sign at Target – shows the conclusion reached by profit-motivated companies seeking to reach non-veg audiences. Their marketing research shows that “plant-based” is the phrase that will reach new people.

A new article in Forbes magazine explicitly addresses the debate about language. Of course, there are still those who are primarily and personally concerned with trying to alter the common perception of the word “vegan.” But the major up-and-coming companies, such as Hampton Creek Foods and Beyond Meat, which are seeking to reach new people right now – as well as the existing multinational corporations moving into this space – have all clearly chosen “plant-based” as the way forward.

I understand, and have written about, how inviting and even intoxicating it is to worry about words and defend definitions. It feels great to be part of an elite club, and ego is one of the most powerful drives, spawning the most amazing rationalizations. But if we care more about animals than ideology, and if we want to have the biggest real-world impact we possibly can, the first step is to set aside our egos and use the most inclusive and persuasive language possible.
bonding
-Matt

 

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

 

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.”

most-people-eat-meat-768x768

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.