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.

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!

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.


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.

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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.”

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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.


Can Our Choices Make a Difference?


Talk, as prepared, for Madison, WI, and Chicago, IL, June 2016.
-Matt Ball

Let’s start with a pop quiz. How many vegans does it take to change a lightbulb?

LightbulbLightbulbs aren’t vegan!

For some of us, the question, “Can our choices make a difference?” seems silly. Of course our choices make a difference! A lot of people, though, think that in a world of seven billion people, what is actually silly is to think that one person’s choices can make a difference.

A good friend of mine, Jason Gaverick Matheny, wrote a scholarly analysis, Expected Utility, Contributory Causation, and Vegetarianism, that was published in a peer reviewed journal. In that paper, he lays out calculations that indicate our choices supposedly do make a difference. 

However, I don’t know many people who choose what food to buy based on a utilitarian calculation of weighted probabilities and Bayes’ Theorem. For example, I stopped eating animals thirty years ago because I realized I couldn’t consider myself a good person if I was paying others to raise and butcher animals simply so I could enjoy a taste of flesh. Actually making a difference in the real world wasn’t a consideration.

This is a good example of my early days: I was concerned with being “right.”


I wanted to “win an argument with a meat eater.” I wanted to ridicule meat eaters. I wasn’t focused on actually changing the world, actually reducing the number of animals suffering.

Contrary to my approach then, Peter Singer took this question seriously in his book Animal Liberation. He was sympathetic to the idea that one person, acting in isolation, may very well not make a difference.

I can see this now. Even if we are the strictest vegan, some of our economic activity eventually pays the salaries of non-vegetarians, allowing them to buy more meat. In the end, the only way our food choices could have absolutely minimal negative impact would be if we didn’t exist.

So let’s set non-existence as our baseline.


Can we do better than that, in terms of making the world a better place?

Let me try to answer that by starting with some history.

When I stopped eating animals, I was simply angry.


As I said, I wanted to fight with meat eaters – attack and mock them. I obsessed and worried about abstractions and words and principles. I argued about exploitation, oppression, liberation.

The single most important lesson I’ve learned since then is that the irreducible heart of what matters is suffering. Back then, although I was sure I knew everything, I really didn’t know anything about suffering. Since then, though, I’ve developed a chronic disease, and experienced times when I thought I was going to die, times when I wished I would die.

Back in the mid-1980s, I didn’t take suffering seriously. Now, however, knowing what suffering really is, and knowing how much there is in the world, all my previous concerns seem – well, to put it kindly, silly.


Today, I realize that our individual day-to-day food choices matter very little compared to the impact we can potentially have with our example, our advocacy, and our donations.


So let me summarize, really quickly, a few facts and statistics from the past 30 years that can help us make a real, meaningful difference in the real world.


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You’ve probably all seen this graph from Animal Charity Evaluators. I know you can’t see it clearly, but the take-away is that to a first approximation, every animal killed in the United States is a farm animal.


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Compare that to this second graph, which shows where animal-related charitable donations go. Now, farm animals are the tiny sliver in the bottom right. In short, when trying to make a difference for animals, we’re working with one hand tied behind our backs, because resources are in no way allocated proportionally.

Not surprisingly, we’ve not done the best job.


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Here we see the results of the Vegetarian Resource Group’s surveys of the last sixteen years (without error bars, which are huge). Although from within the vegan bubble, it can feel as though there are tons more vegans, the actual surveys of the actual population in the United States shows no clear growth in the percentage of the US population that is vegetarian. Or, to look at it on the appropriate scale:


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In terms of meat consumption, it is even worse.

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This graph shows per capita meat consumption in the US. While beef has declined, chicken consumption has more than doubled. Given how small birds are, this means many many more animals are dying every year, compared to when Peter Singer published Animal Liberation.

As an aside, I know we all have a much greater affinity for mammals than for birds.


But not only are chickens being killed in vastly greater numbers than cows or pigs, they are suffering absolute horrible cruelty.

Here is one more piece of bad news.


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According to a number of surveys, including the most recent one by Faunalytics, the vast majority of people who go vegetarian or vegan eventually go back to eating animals. More than four out of every five individuals who go veg eventually quit!

It would be bad enough to realize that we’re throwing away more than 80% of advocacy efforts. But it is actually worse than that. Everyone who quits being veg becomes an antispokesperson against compassionate eating – a public (and often loud) example opposing taking any steps that help animals.

So with all that said, what do we know that might actually help us?

First is a graph from Ben Davidow.


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This shows the relative number of animals harmed by the standard American diet. And you can see that the vast, vast majority of those animals are birds.

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Looking at it a different way is this graph from Mark Middleton at AnimalVisuals, showing the number of deaths caused by producing a million calories of different food, including grains, vegetables, and fruits. Mark explicitly concludes, “Leaving chicken and eggs out of our diets will have the greatest effect on reducing the suffering and death caused by what we eat.”


Now I don’t want to just focus on death in and of itself. I would much rather be a field mouse living free until killed by a combine harvesting soybeans, compared to a chicken whose entire life is utter agony.

And I don’t mean that as hyperbole.


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Harish Sethu of Counting Animals did an analysis of how many chickens actually suffer to death before making it to the slaughterhouse. These birds die of disease, or are killed because they aren’t growing quickly enough, or have their hearts just give out, or their legs break such that they can’t make it to water. Harish’s calculations show that so many chickens suffer to death that their number dwarfs all the animals killed for fur, in shelters, and in labs, combined. Again – this isn’t the number of chickens killed overall, just the number who suffer to death before even getting to slaughter.

The numbers are incredibly stark.


Again, based on research by Harish, Joe Espinosa notes that the average American consumes about two dozen land animals a year. If one person decided to give up eating birds – just birds – they go from being responsible for the deaths of over two dozen land animals a year to fewer than one. Fewer than one!

However, the converse is also true. Anything that might possibly lead someone to start to replace red meat with chickens will lead to a lot more suffering and killing, as noted by Ginny Messina:

So with all that said, let’s get to some good news!


Previously, we saw a graph that showed the number of chickens being slaughtered going way up.


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But in recent years, this trend has reversed somewhat (upper right).

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The decline might not seem like a lot, but given the size of birds and the numbers we were starting with, a small decline translates to many fewer animals suffering – hundreds of millions fewer.

So how does this specifically inform our advocacy?

I would love to say that the decline in the number of land animals killed in the US has been driven by a rise in the number of vegetarians and vegans.

However, as various researchers have pointed out, the change has actually been driven by meat reducers – people who are eating more meat-free meals, but aren’t (yet) vegetarian.

Turning to Faunalytics’ study on recidivism, their data shows that people who went veg for health reasons are the ones who go back to eating meat.


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The single biggest difference in motivation between those who quit being vegetarian and those who stay vegetarian is: concern for animals (42% difference).

This is backed up by research by The Humane League Labs, which showed that concern for animals is what inspires lasting dietary change.


So clearly, we need to keep animals at the center of our efforts to help animals!

Research has also told us more about how we can refine our message in such a way as to get the most useful change for animals in the real world.


The Humane League Labs specifically pointed out that we should not focus on dairy when initially dealing with the general public. Not only because of the numbers, but because it is the last thing people think they can give up. Rather, we should focus on chickens, which people can give up and actually makes a significant difference in terms of the numbers of animals suffering. (Of course, this is absolutely not meant to dismiss or downplay the suffering of dairy cows and calves. Rather, this is simply a discussion of how best we can promote a message that will have the biggest possible impact in actually reducing suffering.)

This relates to research I was a part of in 2014 at the University of Arizona.


One of the many interesting take-aways from those four studies was that each one of them found that the general public thinks veganism is impossible, and vegans are, to put it kindly, annoying. This obviously doesn’t matter if we only want to promote veganism regardless of the consequences. But if we actually want to make a difference and reduce the amount of suffering in the world, we should take note of this.

Similarly, many people quit being vegetarian because they found it too hard to live up to the demand for purity.


Again, if we only care about the purity of those who call themselves vegan, then the fact that we’re driving people away is irrelevant. But if we actually want to reduce suffering, we should do everything possible to both embrace and encourage everyone…


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…instead of reinforcing people’s stereotypes and trying to build the smallest, angriest, most exclusive club in the world.

The upside is that there is a great deal opportunity out there.


A number of surveys (including the University of Arizona study, quoted in the graphic above) have discovered a shocking willingness among the general population to reduce meat consumption.


And if we are really going to help animals, rather than just police our club, we can reach these members of the general public with an honest, realistic message that actually has a profound impact for animals – reducing and eliminating chickens from our diet.

How can we best do this?


I know this slide from the Humane League Labs is hard to read, but it shows that of the advocacy tools available to us, movies, conversations, websites, and online video have proven to be the most impactful.


Now I know this is a lot to take in in only a few minutes.


But I find it very encouraging to realize we have so much information available to us, such that we know what positive, constructive steps we can take to help change the world for animals.

Two last thoughts. The first is my absolute favorite quote from Gene Baur.


Even while building the world’s leading farm animal sanctuary, Gene was looking at what will be necessary to make sure that one day, as soon as possible, sanctuaries are no longer needed. We simply must go upstream and end the demand for animal products.

And finally a quick note as to why this matters.


For us here, we can debate and argue, philosophize and condemn. We’re all relatively safe and well off, enjoying our sparring and our agreements, our discussion about who’s attacking whom on Facebook, how angry we are about the latest tweet, how delicious the new vegan product is.

On the other hand, it is a cliche, of course, to say that this is a matter of gravest consequences for animals.

As much as I would love to think otherwise, we currently can’t do everything. We do not have infinite time, or infinite resources. But we have to realize that when we choose to do one thing, we are choosing not to do another. We need to choose wisely; we are the animals’ voice. We are their hope.

We can each strive to make choices that have the greatest possible impact, that reduce the most suffering, regardless of labels and definitions, regardless of how it makes us look or feel, regardless of popularity. We can make a real difference. We can change the world! Thank you.


The Reality of “Vegetarian”

From a study of people who self-identify as “vegetarian,” as noted by our friends at Faunalytics:

In their study, the researchers found that only 3% of respondents [all of whom self-identify as “vegetarian”] reported consuming no animal protein whatsoever, which is in the range of many current estimates of the number of veg*ns in the U.S. Not surprisingly, the majority of self-identified vegetarians reported consuming dairy (93%) and/or eggs (65%). What might be surprising is that the study also found that more than a quarter of respondents (27%) reported “consumption of some type of red meat.” When they grouped together “meat, poultry, and seafood” they found that “almost half (48%) of self-identified vegetarians reported consumption of some food from this combined grouping.” The fact that about half of self-identified vegetarians are not actually vegetarian is important for advocates to keep in mind as we weigh the value of different surveys and try to identify trends.

Campaign Update: Changing the Way People View and Treat Farm Animals

By Nick Cooney

April 10, 2013

One of the key pillars of Farm Sanctuary’s mission is to change the way people view and treat farm animals. Another key pillar is to promote a compassionate vegan lifestyle.

Compassionate Communities was created to do both of these as efficiently as possible. Occasionally in this blog we share updates about what our volunteers are doing around the country to change hearts and change diets. This week, we share a few examples of the feedback we get from those whose hearts and diets have changed as a result of the Compassionate Communities Campaign.

“I found [your
Something Better leaflet] on a cafeteria table and decided to become vegetarian after reading through it. I think that is a good way to raise awareness without being intrusive…I would like a stack of maybe 50 so I can pass it around our school campus.”
        – DongNi Zhang


“Its been almost 6 months since I first saw your video and I almost immediately became a vegetarian after that. It was the thing that really made me change my opinion on meat…It has been really easy for me to change into a meat-free diet and instead of missing eating meat, it kind of disgusts me now knowing whats behind a hamburger or a chicken cutlet.”
        – Anna Segarra



“I am taking meat out of my diet. Thank you so much again, I love animals and I would hate for them to be slaughtered for the sake of my taste buds! I cannot wait until I get my meat-free meal guide. God bless you!”
– Abby Baca


“Im a 15 year old girl who never imagined to go vegetarian; however after seeing how horribly these animals are being treated I could never see myself going back.”
        – Louella Dent



“Since I saw your video my life changed. I have been almost 4 months without meat and I have been feeling pretty good and confident about my decision. I thought it was going to be harder but so far it has been a lovely journey for me.”
        – Daniela De Los Rios


“This video is the reason I am now vegan! Thats all it takes to change minds and hearts to become vegan is to see truth of what’s on our plates … I have also joined some local animal rights and vegan groups here in Phoenix AZ. Every voice will help open eyes and save lives! Bless you and your work!”
    – Angel Cullen



“I’m happy to tell you that I no longer eat meat since the first day I saw your video! If you have a farm nearby that might need some help with the animals I can help any weekend, and I will be very happy to do so.”
– Diana Pais


“I had heard that this type of behavior was common throughout the industry. But I just couldn’t believe that our fellow human beings could be that cruel. Obviously I was wrong…God forgive them. And I am going to try to become meat-free in my diet.”
        – Mike Onofrietti



“This is going to change my life. I have been flirting with becoming a vegetarian for years but have hesitated … Thank you so much! PS, I am 82 years old but plan to live to be 102 because I am in excellent health.”
        – Eloise Peterson


“This is so sad, I am not eating meat anymore, because animals are just like humans, and if they’re suffering, then I’m not eating meat.”
        – Brandy-Latisha Lee



“Great work by the way … I have now been a full vegan for 2 months!”
        – Aly MacNeill-Weir



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2012: Compassion In Action

By Nick Cooney

January 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Summer Outreach Challenge is in full effect

By Nick Cooney

July 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Take the summer outreach challenge

by Nick Cooney

May 29, 2012

The weather is warm, the days are long, and there’s no better time to get active to help farm animals. That’s why we’re excited to announce the launch of the Compassionate Communities Summer Outreach Challenge!

Because you care about animals, we challenge you to educate 1,000 people about the cruelties of factory farming between June 1 and August 31. You can pass out leaflets, distribute vegetarian starter guides, show animal cruelty video, or mix and match!

In addition to sparing many animals a lifetime of misery, there are personal benefits to taking on this challenge. We’ll send you our “Proud Vegetarian” bumper sticker just for signing on, acknowledge your work on Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities website, and once you meet the goal you’ll be eligible to win free merchandise and other special prizes!

Email us now at to take the Challenge, then read on to see what other Compassionate Communities volunteers have been doing.

Local Vegan Eating Gets Easier

Finding vegan-friendly restaurants and grocery stores just got easier in a number of cities, thanks to Compassionate Communities volunteers who have created local veg dining guides using our print or online templates!

Christin Bummer notes, “And… we’re up! I was able to put the site together after work this afternoon. Your instructions were tremendous and made it super easy…Check it out!

Guides have also been created for Rochester, State College (print), and New Hampshire (great work Eric Koll, Denise Goodman, and Tom Derosa). Many more guides are on the way – why not add your city to the list!

Veg Outreach Rocks Earth Day

We were blown away with the number of volunteers who distributed vegetarian starter guides and leaflets at Earth Day events across the country. Pranav Merchant, who distributed leaflets at a large festival in Los Angeles, noted “Last week’s Earth Day went quite well. A good number of people came to the table and I got to explain what Farm Sanctuary does and to hand out a good deal of fliers.”

Thanks to all who used Earth Day opportunities to reach the public with information on veg eating! Many upcoming summer festivals would also be great places to distribute this information, including pride parades, environmental festivals, arts festivals, and large concerts, so we hope you’ll stay active!  Do you need help finding events nearby where you can conduct veg outreach?  Drop us a note at and we’ll make some recommendations.

Numbers Continue To Rise

Compassionate Communities volunteer animal activist distributes literatureGreat work! You’ve continued to reach more and more people with the cruel realities of factory farming and the benefits of eating vegan! In the past six weeks Compassionate Communities volunteers have distributed 20,000 leaflets and veg starter guides, creating dozens of new vegetarians, vegans and meat-reducers and sparing hundreds if not thousands of animals from a lifetime of suffering! New vegan social groups have also been created to support current vegetarians and vegans.

Barbara Thumann writes, “Several parents in Little Ferry waiting for their kids to get out of grammar school on Friday received [leaflets]…One guy was even reading a book by Kathy Freston (vegan) who said he was “thinking about it” – i guess which meant going vegan, perhaps your leaflet will seal the deal.”

Erika Hirsch, seen above, has been out distributing veg literature at a farmers market every other week.  Her dedication can inspire us all to adopt our own outreach routine that we can keep going all summer long!


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