Recidivism Part 1: The Power of Ethics

We will be reprinting some of Ginny Messina’s conclusions from her research on veg recidivism, starting with “The Power of Ethics.” Thanks to Ginny for all her research and permission to reprint.

Helping people go vegan is great. But it’s meaningless if we can’t help them stay vegan. [I have written] about how overhyping the benefits of a vegan diet can result in ex-vegans. One of the reasons people abandon vegan diets is that they lose faith in its benefits. That’s more likely to happen if the claims are far-fetched.

We also run the risk of losing vegans (and vegetarians) when we skip over discussions about ethics. While health may motivate many people to go vegan or vegetarian, ethics seems to be more “sticky.”

As I’ve been delving into this issue of preventing recidivism, I’ve looked at quite a bit of data including:

  • Surveys of ex-vegetarians (from Faunalytics, the Toronto Vegetarian Association, and psychologists Childers and Herzog)
  • Research on successful dietary behavior change in general
  • Research on dietary behavior of current and former vegans and vegetarians

The findings are relatively consistent regarding the power of ethics in helping people stay vegan or vegetarian.

For example, the Faunalytics Survey found that health was the only motivation for going vegetarian cited by a majority of ex-vegetarians. A study from Winthrop University in South Carolina also found that vegetarians who are motivated by ethics “demonstrated stronger feelings of conviction.” They ate fewer animal products, and were less likely to lapse (1).

Interestingly, a study from the Department of Psychology at the University of Surrey in the UK found that ethics was a stronger motivator than health for long term successful dietary change in general (2). The researchers said “…if an intervention could encourage individuals to be motivated by factors other than health (such as ethics)… such an approach would be more predictive of positive outcomes.”

So why is it that people who go vegan or vegetarian for the animals are more likely to stick with it? I can think of three possible reasons.

A vegan ethic is unique

The Toronto Vegetarian Society survey found that many ex-vegetarians believed that they could achieve the same benefits from a diet that included meat. And they are probably right

We can (and should) tell people that a vegan diet is a good choice for healthful eating; we just can’t tell them that it’s the only choice. Plant-based diets that include small amounts of animal foods are likely to be as good.

But the ethics of veganism? Once you embrace them, there is no alternative way of living and eating. This seems to be especially true for those who embrace an animal rights ethic (3). If you agree that animals are not here for us to use under any circumstances, veganism is really your only option.

Health motivated vegans may consume more restrictive/less optimal diets

Ethically-motivated vegans might enjoy a more relaxed approach to food choices that makes a vegan diet easier and makes it easier to meet nutrient needs. (4,5). Health-motivated vegans may also be less likely to take appropriate supplements (5). One group of researchers said that “It is possible that health vegans, in pursuit of better health from food sources may have eschewed supplement intake, believing that plant foods were a better source of essential nutrients.” If that’s true, it places health-motivated vegans at higher risk for nutrient deficiencies.

Ethics is a part of who we are

In a study titled “Moralization and Becoming a Vegetarian,” researchers noted that “Moral values are often referred to as internalized, that is, as a part of the self (6).”

That’s important because many ex-vegetarians say that they didn’t feel like their diet was a part of their “identity.” Maybe if they made the moral connection—the connection to their “internalized values” –more people would see that veganism is much more a part of their identity than they realize.

One theory is that those who go vegan for health will eventually embrace the ethical considerations, hopefully moving on to adopting other lifestyle changes that reflect a vegan ethic. Maybe. But—possibly because ethical reasons for vegetarianism become so deeply internalized—it seems that ethical vegetarians are the ones more likely to find new reasons to stay vegetarian (6).

Vegan Advocacy: Put Ethics First

The problem of ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians is a serious one. When people say “I used to be vegan, but…” it perpetuates the idea that vegan diets are difficult or unhealthy. Also, it’s possible that ex-vegetarians consume more chickens than people who were never vegetarian—which isn’t surprising if ex-vegetarians were motivated by health (7). This is something that can clearly cause more animal suffering.

I promote vegan diets for ethical reasons only because I have no choice. It’s not possible to make the case that all animal foods are dangerous without resorting to cherry-picked data. And I can’t do that and then promote myself as “evidence-based.” Fortunately, it appears that ethics is a more powerful long-term motivator for vegan and vegetarian diets, anyway.

With limited resources, it seems better to focus on efforts that are more likely to create vegans who actually stay vegan. And so however you approach your own activism, consider including the ethics of animal use as at least part of your message.

Hoffman SR, Stallings SF, Bessinger RC, Brooks GT. Differences between health and ethical vegetarians. Strength of conviction, nutrition knowledge, dietary restriction, and duration of adherence. Appetite 2013;65:139-44.

Ogden J, Karim L, Choudry A, Brown K. Understanding successful behaviour change: the role of intentions, attitudes to the target and motivations and the example of diet. Health Educ Res 2007;22:397-405.

Menzies K, Sheeshka J. The process of exiting vegetarianism: an exploratory study. Can J Diet Pract Res 2012;73:163-8.

Dyett PA, Sabate J, Haddad E, Rajaram S, Shavlik D. Vegan lifestyle behaviors: an exploration of congruence with health-related beliefs and assessed health indices. Appetite 2013;67:119-24.

Radnitz C, Beezhold B, DiMatteo J. Investigation of lifestyle choices of individuals following a vegan diet for health and ethical reasons. Appetite 2015;90:31-6.

Rozin P MM, Stoess C. . Moralization and becoming a vegetarian: The transformation of preferences into values and the recruitment of disgust. Psychological Science 1997;8:67-73.

Barr SI, Chapman GE. Perceptions and practices of self-defined current vegetarian, former vegetarian, and nonvegetarian women. J Am Diet Assoc 2002;102:354-60.

Happy Holidays!

First, if you still haven’t figured out the perfect gift for the animal advocate on your list (maybe that’s you!), please check out our book suggestions here.

Second, if you haven’t already, please share our What Came Before video on your Facebook page and with your twitter and other social media followers.

Finally, please check out our December e-News, which introduces you to our new executive director and CEO!

A Global Movement for Farm Animals

November 19, 2013

If you’ve ever had the experience of meeting animal advocates from other cities and states, you know what a good feeling it is. It reminds us that we’re not alone. It reminds us that, while there are factory farms, slaughterhouses, and meat markets in cities all around the country, there are also compassionate people and organizations all over the map, working to improve the world for animals. Realizing that we are part of a larger movement for social change can be empowering, and we can find inspiration in the progress that others are making for animals.

This fall, I had the privilege of traveling around Europe and giving talks on effective vegan advocacy in 15 countries. All told, I was able to speak to more than 2,000 animal activists in 21 cities, sharing research on how to advocate more effectively for farm animals in their communities. From Rome to Vienna, Stockholm to Paris, and London to Basel, it was an incredible opportunity to meet and learn from activists throughout Western Europe. Although we may never hear their names on this side of the Atlantic, there are many incredibly talented and dedicated individuals in Europe who are creating substantial change for animals.

share_3Among the many lasting impressions this trip made on me, here are two well worth sharing.

First, progress for farm animals is occurring everywhere — and very rapidly in some places. In Austria for example, a whopping 17% of college students now say they don’t eat meat. In Finland, a pair of reality TV stars took on a “Meat-Free October” challenge, and more than 25,000 viewers joined them in cutting out meat for the month. In Germany, a vegan supermarket chain is opening up numerous new locations, a vegan celebrity chef pens best-selling cookbooks, and nearly one in 10 Germans say they’ve stopped eating meat. In Belgium, city governments are printing maps of vegetarian-friendly restaurants in their cities and encouraging residents to skip meat one day a week.

Organizations both large and small are conducting undercover investigations of factory farms and bringing mainstream media attention to the cruelty farm animals endure. Grassroots vegan advocacy efforts are also starting to expand, with college leafleting programs launching in several countries and a growing distribution of vegetarian starter guides. Grocery chains and restaurants are adding more options to accommodate the growing demand for vegetarian and vegan food.

Clementine of Farm SanctuarySecond, change is not uniform. The progress that’s been made for farm animals varies significantly from country to country. Certainly that is in part a reflection of the different cultures and culinary heritages of each country. But it’s also a reflection of the work that’s being done (or not done) in each country to protect farm animals and promote vegan eating. In some countries, well-run organizations are cranking out victory after victory for farm animals and veg eating. In other countries, the only organizations that exist are small grassroots groups, many of which do not emphasize farm animal issues. And the results for farm animals are quite clear.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated that, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But the arc does not bend on its own. It takes us — our dedication, our intelligence, and our energy — to bend it in the direction of justice for animals.

We are part of a global movement of compassion. But our success for farm animals here in the United States will depend on how intelligently and rigorously we approach our work. With so many lives on the line, we can’t afford to give anything less than our all.


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Compassionate Campus: The College Guide to Animal Advocacy

October 28, 2013

To view a PDF of this guide, click here. If you are a student, you can order one or more copies by emailing us at [email protected]


You Can End Her Misery

Over the course of your time at college, you have the power to save the lives and end the misery of literally thousands of individuals.

We’re talking, of course, about helping animals. Rosa (shown at right) spent her entire life packed into a crate so small that she couldn’t even turn around. Every time you choose a meat-free meal, you’re helping animals like her. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’re helping more than 31 farm animals (and many more fish) each year.

Want to know how you can have the biggest impact of all? By inspiring others to make the same change. Persuading just one of your classmates to stop eating meat will spare 31 individuals each year from a life of misery. Even convincing your peers to eat more meat-free meals will spare many animals. There are few other issues – even other animal issues – where we have the ability to do so much good.

And guess what: It’s easy! There are thousands of students around you. Some of them will decide to change their habits if they learn about the cruelties of factory farming and as vegetarian food becomes more available. All you need to do is put the information in front of them.

That’s what this guide is all about. We know you’re busy. And, we also know that you care. This guide can help you use your time, even if it’s limited, to do the greatest amount of good you can and to reduce the greatest amount of suffering.

If you’re associated with a student group that you can work with, great! If not, no problem — all of the tried-and-true programs on the following pages are things you can do by yourself. As Anne Frank said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”


Being The Best You Can Be

In order to present your message effectively, you should pay attention to how you present yourself. Here are some tips on being the best advocate for animals you can be:

1. ABK (Always Be Kind). Be warm, friendly, and considerate. You’re not trying to prove other people wrong; you’re trying to inspire them to join you. You’ll be most successful if they like you — and, if they know that you like them.

2. Hearing about the concrete benefits of a change makes people more likely to adopt it, so let your peers know that each of them can spare 31 animals every year by ditching meat. At the same time, validate gradual changes. Most people change their diets incrementally. Cutting out chicken and fish is the best place to start because doing so will spare the largest number of animals from misery.

3. Try to dress and speak like the majority of your peers on campus. Research covered in the book Change Of Heart indicates that the more similar we are to our audience, the more likely we are to persuade them to change. That means more lives saved. Wearing a school T-shirt or sweatshirt may be one way to do this.

4. Tell stories about individual farm animals and what life is like for them every day on factory farms. (Visit for story ideas.) Emotional appeals are more persuasive than statistics or philosophy.

5. Remember to show people how to find or make delicious vegan food. Many people are willing to make changes if they know how easy it can be.

6. When you’re deciding how to spend your limited amount of time, money, and energy, always think about what will help the greatest number of animals.


Vegetarian Starter Guide Stands

On every campus, there are many students who have considered becoming vegetarian but don’t really know how to do it. Want to make it easier for them and give them the push they need to get started? Consider setting up stands that offer free vegetarian starter guides to anyone who wants them.

Most Student Union or Campus Center buildings already have stands like these that offer newspapers and magazines. Get permission from your school administration to put up a stand of your own. Just tell them that you’d like to set up a guide about healthy vegetarian eating so that students who become vegetarian are well-informed.

In addition to the Student Union, other good spots for these stands are dining halls, libraries, and gyms. Be sure to pick spots that will catch people’s attention. It’s not only the students who pick up guides who will think about choosing more meat-free meals but also people who simply see the information as they pass by it every day.

Once you have permission, all you need to do is to set up the stands and re-stock them with guides about once a month. The stands are cheap; you can get them on sites such as for $30. If you’re not part of a group with a budget, VegFund might be willing to help buy the stands for you. Apply at The vegetarian starter guides are free; just email us at [email protected]

It takes only an hour or two to get permission and order the stands and about 10 minutes to set them up — then you’re all set! Over the course of the semester, everyone on campus will see the stands and hundreds will pick up a guide and move closer to a cruelty-free diet!

Chris Guinn, Emerson College

“We put a vegetarian starter guide stand up in the Student Center, and it works great! It’s right in the front lobby, so people will see it every time they’re leaving; it’s constantly reminding people about the idea of eating vegetarian. We give out probably 300 vegetarian starter guides every semester, and it’s no work for us at all — all we have to do is re-stock it once or twice.”  


Campus Veg Dining Guide

In addition to the vegetarian starter guide stands, there’s another simple way to show students on your campus how easy it is to eat meat-free meals: create a campus veg dining guide.

Research covered in Change Of Heart indicates that the biggest predictor of whether or not people will make a change is whether they think it’s easy and convenient for them to do so. A campus veg dining guide shows how easy veg eating can be by listing all the options available in the dining halls, campus stores, area restaurants, and grocery stores. Be sure to include all the “regular” vegan options — things like pasta, fries, salads, rice and beans, vegetable stir-fry, and granola bars that typically are already part of people’s diets.

A simple, photocopied booklet will do the trick, and we even have a spiffy Photoshop template we’re happy to send you — just email [email protected] Many schools will give student groups free photocopies. If you want to make your booklet extra nice, you can get several thousand full-color, glossy copies for a few hundred bucks at sites like

Once you’ve printed the campus veg dining guides, the key is getting them into people’s hands. If you’ve set up vegetarian starter kit stands, you can simply put the guides next to the kits. You can also insert them into any leaflets or vegetarian starter guides you distribute, pass them out to freshmen, leave them in mailboxes at the dorms, and offer them at outreach tables. If your school has a weekly email blast, post them online and include a weekly link.

Just like that, you’ve made becoming or staying vegetarian much easier — and more delicious.

Emily Glassman, Drexel University 

“When I was a freshman, I was worried about finding good vegan and vegetarian options on campus. I know a lot of my meat-eating classmates have the same concerns; they don’t know that there are so many delicious vegan things to eat here. That’s why vegetarian dining guides are really popular — and not just among vegetarians!”


Vegan Options in the Dining Halls

The more delicious vegan options are available, the easier it’ll be for people to cut out meat. Some campus dining halls do a great job of providing vegan options. Others still have room to grow.

If your school falls into the latter category, you can meet with your campus dining director and encourage him or her to add more (or better) vegan options. Sometimes, all it takes is a few friendly visits, emails, and suggestions to get them excited about trying something new. Be warm and cheerful, and pitch this as a positive change that a broad range of students, not just vegans and vegetarians, will appreciate.

Ask for crowd-pleasing vegan dishes like veggie burgers and bean burritos — things that everyone will enjoy, even people who don’t know the dishes are vegan. Dairy-free macaroni and cheese may be mouthwatering to vegans, but it could be a turn-off for others.

Does your school already have tons of great vegan options? Consider meeting with your dining director to encourage participation in the Meatless Monday campaign. Hundreds of college dining halls already take part in the program. These dining services don’t go entirely meatless on Mondays, but they do offer additional vegan options and put up signs touting the benefits of meat-free eating.

Ready to get started? You can download a free Meatless Monday toolkit and get help on your campus by visiting

Jamie Berger, University of North Carolina

“We worked with our Dining Services department to get them to start a Meatless Monday program on campus, where they offer additional vegetarian options every Monday and put up signs promoting meatless eating. Once we were able to show the dining director how many students are interested in having vegan food available, he was willing to make the switch!”



Passing out booklets about factory farming and vegan eating is an easy and powerful way to help animals. The findings of a 2012 study conducted at the University of Maryland and the University of Delaware, paired with additional statistics, indicate that, on average, every two booklets handed out on a college campus will lead to dietary changes that spare one animal from a life of misery. Talk about having an impact!

And it’s super easy. All you have to do is find a narrow walkway on campus with a lot of foot traffic, put a big smile on your face, and reach out your hand to everyone passing by to offer them “info to help animals!” In just an hour or two, you can reach hundreds of other students with this powerful information. On most campuses, you don’t even need to get permission first.

Keep in mind that not everyone will care about this issue. Nine out of 10 people will flip quickly through the booklet and then go on with their lives. That’s okay. As long as you’re friendly and don’t force leaflets on people, they won’t mind you offering them. What matters is that one out of 10 people will be inspired to make some sort of change, and that will spare a huge number of animals from misery.

Ready to get started? The website provides free leaflets. You can also get free leaflets from Farm Sanctuary by emailing [email protected] For more detailed tips and strategies on how to leaflet, visit

Gunita Singh, Boston University

“Leafleting is one of the most effective things our group does. We’re able to reach several thousand people every semester, and a number of other students have told me they went vegetarian because of getting a booklet from us. One of the things I like most about it is how easy it is — I can do it whenever I am free, even if it’s just for an hour around lunchtime.”


Dining Hall Tabling

Research covered in the book Change Of Heart indicates that the main reason people resist change is that they’ve settled into a routine. You can help your peers out of their meat-every-meal rut by setting up a table outside your dining hall every Monday during lunch and/or dinner to promote Meatless Monday.

The Meatless Monday campaign is sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. This nonprofit initiative provides excellent promotional materials that focus on health, environmental, and animal welfare reasons to cut out meat on Mondays.

Simply set up the table with Meatless Monday literature and posters (order a starter supply at, pass out vegetarian starter guides, and make sure you have a sheet that lists the meatless options that are available in the dining hall that day.

If you’re out there every Monday and your school has a weekly email blast, be sure to add a weekly blurb encouraging students to stop by your table. That will keep the idea of meatless eating in front of the entire campus every single week.

If you want to really do it right, work with your dining hall to supply you with free samples of a few of the items that they’re spotlighting on Meatless Mondays, so you can pass these out at your table to students who are about to enter the cafeteria.

Remember, every meatless meal is a victory for farm animals.

Constance Li, Rutgers University

“We table every Monday to let students know about the vegan options inside. We also stock the table with things like free vegetarian starter guides and that might help people change their diets. Of course, we talk to the people who come up to the table, but I also like to stand next to the table and leaflet to reach people who don’t stop by.”

Pay Per View

Why not add a video to your tabling outreach?

Footage of the cruelty inflicted on farm animals is one of the most powerful tools we have for persuading people to change their diets. At Farm Sanctuary, we hear from thousands of people each year who have become vegetarian or cut back on their meat consumption after seeing these videos.

How can you get students at your school to watch these high-impact videos?

Pay Per View is a program where you set up a table in your Student Center (or other high-traffic spot) and offer people $1 to watch a four-minute video. The viewings not only have a profound impact on their own but they also give you the opportunity to hand out vegetarian starter guides and other materials for viewers to take with them afterward. One of the other great aspects of Pay Per View is that it provokes questions about vegan eating and factory farming — and you’ll be right there to provide information and resources to anyone who wants to know more.

Setting up Pay Per View is as easy as having a table with a few laptops, headphones, a sign, and some vegetarian literature. And the organization VegFund is likely to give you grant money to provide the $1 to each viewer, as well as signs, literature, and funds for supplies.

To learn more and apply for a grant, visit

Kelly Kearney, Boston University

“I didn’t know how much of an impact Pay Per View would have until I started doing it, and I saw the looks on the faces of other students as they watched the video. Some of them were in tears. Pretty much all of them were shocked by how animals are treated, and many of them asked about how to go vegetarian or at least start eating less meat. Pay Per View is really powerful.”


Getting Campus Press

Studies covered in the book Change Of Heart show that the more popular or widespread a practice appears to an audience, the more likely that audience is to adopt the practice. Campus newspapers are a great way to reach students with a stream of articles, opinion pieces, and letters to the editor about vegetarian eating. As long as they’re written in an upbeat, welcoming way, published pieces can go a long way toward showing that veg eating is now mainstream.

Your college paper is almost certainly hungry for news stories, opinion pieces, and letters. Any article about the environment, food, health, or animals gives you the opportunity to draft a short, positive letter or opinion piece about why cutting out meat is a great thing to do.

It’s extremely easy to publish letters to the editor. Most college papers also welcome longer opinion pieces. Visit your paper’s website or reach out to the editor or opinion editor via email to find out the process for submitting opinion pieces or stories.

When possible, try to tie an opinion piece about veg eating to something going on in the world. This could be a social or political issue (such as the Farm Bill or climate change), or it could be an on-campus event (such as an Earth Day celebration). Consider trying to become a frequent contributor so that you can present information on veg issues regularly.

Also, be sure to let the paper know about any work for animals you’re doing on campus. Whether it’s putting up vegetarian starter guide stands, hosting a speaker, or pushing for more vegan options, keep the paper updated in case its staff is interested in writing a story about it.

Ben Sylvester, Drexel University

“Over the past year, we’ve been able to get several stories published in our campus paper about speakers and events we’ve hosted. We’ve also gotten a few good opinion pieces in there on the reasons to go vegetarian and the impact of factory farming. I spend so much time writing papers for class that it’s nice to be able to write something in an hour that the entire school will see!” 


Filming Screenings and Speakers

In our experience, most film screening and speaker events are high cost and have a fairly low return with regard to their impact on animals. First, they take a lot of time and energy. Second, with rare exceptions, attendance tends to be low and dominated by people who already agree with the message being presented.

If you’re going to sponsor speakers and films, try to: 1) find speakers and films that will appeal to a specific segment of the campus population (for example, bring in a feminist or faith-based speaker and ask the appropriate campus groups to co-sponsor); then 2) secure co-sponsorships from other interested groups and work with those groups to promote the event; and 3) have the event listed in the campus paper and on the campus “happening today” agenda of your college’s website.

Also, be absolutely sure to: 1) pass out literature to everyone who attends the event and 2) assign someone in your group to submit an article to your campus paper about the event afterward. The latter will ensure that the message of your event reaches the entire campus, not just the individuals who made time to attend.

Some campuses require attendance at six to 10 on-campus events annually. If you can work with the appropriate committee to get your speaker or film included as one of the approved events, you’ll increase both your numbers and the proportion of your attendees who don’t already agree with you.

Rachel Atcheson, Boston University

“We teamed up with the Philosophy Department at our school to bring in a well-known philosopher who talks about factory farming and vegan eating. It was a great way to get dozens of philosophy students — who didn’t necessarily care about animals before coming — to be exposed to this information and the ethical reasons to stop eating meat.”


We’re Here To Help

We’re always here to provide advice, support, and materials such as leaflets and vegetarian starter guides. Email us at [email protected] if we can be of help.

Want to continue learning online? Browse the Compassionate Communities website for the most important essays, books, and videos on how to be an effective advocate for animals.

On behalf of all of the residents here at Farm Sanctuary, thank you! You have the power to spare thousands of individuals from misery.



Photo Credits: piglet, © Mercy For Animals; meatless mondays dining, © Mark Makela / for the HSUS; pay per view, © Mercy For Animals; goat, © Jo-Anne McArthur.

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Bringing Compassion To Your Corner

July 31, 2013

If you live in a large or mid-sized city, no doubt you’ve seen the plastic newsstand racks that dot many corners, public transportation stations, and areas with high foot-traffic. While most of these stands offer things like weekly newspapers, auto trader guides, and apartment listings, they have the potential to spread something far more valuable: compassion for farm animals.

veg starter kit standIn cities across the United States, vegan advocacy organizations and volunteers are maintaining hundreds of newsstand racks offering free vegetarian starter guides to passersby. Some dedicated Farm Sanctuary volunteers have been maintaining stands in their communities for years. Each vegetarian starter guide gives the recipient everything they need to start a cruelty-free diet including: information about factory farming and farm animals, tips on making the switch to vegan eating, health advice, recipes, and more.

In busy areas — such as subway stations or bus terminals  — a stand can distribute as many as a couple thousand vegetarian starter guides each year. And the stands take only a small amount of work to maintain. You simply stop by to refill the stand every three to four weeks. Day and night, the stands work on their own, promoting a message of compassion for farm animals and steering countless people toward vegan eating.

VSKYou can also move the compassion indoors by setting up an indoor vegetarian starter guide stand at your local business, college, or other similar location. Indoor stands are inexpensive and are perfect for college students or college groups to put up in dining halls and other key buildings on campus.

Interested in purchasing and maintaining a vegetarian starter guide stand (or stands) in your town? If so, please email us at [email protected] for details on how you can do it! Please note that because Farm Sanctuary is unable to give stands away for free, there is a cost to you of about $50 to produce and ship an indoor stand and $160 to produce and ship an outdoor stand. If you’re placing them outside, we’ll work with you to find out the specific regulations on these stands in your town (such as where they can be placed, or if you need to get permission before placing them).


Interested in bringing compassion to your street corners? Just drop us an email at [email protected], and we’ll help you get started!


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Compassionate Communities: Bringing Sanctuary to the People

By Nick Cooney

June 6, 2013

Back in 2003, I interned at Farm Sanctuary’s shelter in Watkins Glen. Of all the animals I met during that time, my favorite was a piglet named Bella Maria.

Due to health problems, Bella Maria lived in an individual pen in the shelter’s hospital building. Because she didn’t have any pig friends, I’d make it a point to spend fifteen minutes with her every day, giving her belly rubs and scratching between her ears. It became such a routine that when I’d arrive and call out her name, she would immediately start grunting excitedly and running in circles in anticipation. Bella Maria was someone to me — someone funny, lovable, and fiercely alive.

2010_06-18_FSNY_Symphony_hen_005_by ErinAt Farm Sanctuary, we get to know farm animals as individuals. But most Americans don’t get that chance. Many are unaware of Farm Sanctuary or unable to visit one of our shelters. Few have even met a farm animal face-to-face. To the majority of Americans, a pig is a just a slab of bacon: not a someone but a something.

But we can change that. We can bring the sanctuary to the people. Since the 1980s, Farm Sanctuary has worked to shift the public toward a vegan diet by disseminating photos and videos of the cruelty of factory farming and by telling the stories of our sanctuary residents.

In 2011, I returned to Farm Sanctuary to manage the newly launched Compassionate Communities Campaign, created to expand on that tradition of outreach. This project and its volunteers have already brought the sanctuary to the people in a big way. In the past year and a half, nearly 1.4 million people have watched a well-packaged video or read a stylish booklet that shares the stories of Farm Sanctuary’s residents and exposes the cruelty of factory farming.

What Came Before screenshot

1.4 million people have seen or read the heartwarming stories of Nikki, Symphony, and Fanny, three charismatic Farm Sanctuary residents. 1.4 million people have learned about the cruelty these individuals endured on factory farms, and they’ve learned that they can prevent that cruelty by leaving animals off their plates.

What Came Before, our 10-minute video narrated by actor Steve-O, made waves after CNN aired a news segment on it. The Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, and dozens of other news outlets followed suit. Celebrities from Newark Mayor Cory Booker to NHL star Georges Laraque tweeted the video to millions of followers. In the past six months, nearly a million people have watched What Came Before online.

Meanwhile Something Better, our 16-page booklet, has been distributed across the country by hundreds of Farm Sanctuary volunteers. The results of a study conducted by Farm Sanctuary and The Humane League on two university campuses this past fall suggest that, for every two booklets distributed, one fewer animal will be subjected to a lifetime of misery on a factory farm (see our previous blog post for the details). Volunteers distributed more than over 400,000 booklets in the past year and a half.


A decade ago, I had the opportunity to know a special pig as the individual she was. Now millions of others are getting the chance to meet and understand individual farm animals as those of you involved with Compassionate Communities help to introduce the public to the delightful residents of Farm Sanctuary and to the importance of plant-based living. In the process, we’re sparing hundreds of thousands more Nikkis, Symphonys, and Fannys from lives of pain.

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The Powerful Impact of College Leafleting (Part 1)

By Nick Cooney

January 15, 2013

Leafleting — passing out information about factory farming and vegan eating — is one of the most common ways that animal advocates promote vegan eating in the United States.

The group Vegan Outreach, which pioneered and popularized vegan leafleting, passed out almost 3 million leaflets last year, and other groups chipped in millions more. Compassionate Communities volunteers have been distributing our Something Better leaflet, which shares the Farm Sanctuary experience, the realities of factory farming, and info on meat-free eating, to hundreds of thousands of people.

But just how effective is leafleting? How many readers actually change their diet, and how many animals are spared a lifetime of misery? Should volunteers prioritize leafleting over other forms of animal advocacy?

For the first time ever, we have answers to those questions! In the fall of 2012, Compassionate Communities teamed up with The Humane League to measure the true impact of leafleting on a college campus.

How It Was Done

Early in the fall semester, staffers from The Humane League visited the main campuses of two large state schools on the East Coast, the University of Delaware and the University of Maryland. They distributed thousands of leaflets outside the dining halls of each school. The leaflets distributed were an equal mixture of Farm Sanctuary’s Something Better leaflet and Vegan Outreach’s popular Compassionate Choices leaflet.

About two months later, they returned to campus with surveys to see how much students’ diets had changed. They stood outside the dining halls and asked students passing by if they would take a survey. Students did not know what the survey was about prior to stopping and agreeing to take the survey. After agreeing, only those who actually received a leaflet earlier that semester were allowed to take the survey. Nearly 500 surveys were completed.


Key Results

Quite simply, the results were phenomenal. About 1 out of every 50 students who received a leaflet indicated they became vegetarian or pescatarian as a result. Just as importantly, 7% of students (1 in 14) said they now eat “a lot less” chicken, a lot fewer eggs, and a lot less dairy as a result of getting the leaflet. 6% eat a lot less fish, and 12% eat a lot less red meat.

Furthermore, about 1 in 5 students said they shared the leaflet with someone else who then began to eat less meat.

What does all this mean for animals? After accounting for social desirability bias (people over reporting changes in their diet), the results suggest that for every 100 leaflets you distribute on a college campus, you’ll spare, by a conservative calculation, a minimum of 50 animals a year a lifetime of misery. That’s one animal spared for every two leaflets you distribute!

And that’s just in the first year. The number of farm animals spared grows much larger once you factor in the number of years that people maintain their diet. It also grows larger once you count the ripple effects of people persuading their friends and family to change. And we haven’t even begun to count the many hundreds of wild fish who will also be spared.

The bottom line is this: With each hour you spend leafleting on a college campus, you will truly spare hundreds of farm animals from a lifetime of daily misery. The data is in. The facts are there. College leafleting is an absurdly effective activity for individuals and for organizations who want to make their community a more compassionate one.

For more details on the study, including additional findings, charts, and how social desirability bias was calculated, scroll down to the supplementary blog post below or click here.

To order Something Better leaflets today and get started leafleting in your community, email us at [email protected].


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The Powerful Impact of College Leafleting: Additional Findings and Details (Part 2)

By Nick Cooney

January 15, 2013

This is Part 2 of a blog post on the impact of college leafleting. To read Part 1, scroll up to the blog post above or click here.

Additional Results

What else did the study tell us?

For one thing, those who were getting a leaflet for the first time ever reported almost twice as much diet change as those who had received one before. (“Diet change” here means number of animals spared by diet change, calculated as described below in the “How the Impact was Calculated” section). Once you account for social desirability bias, that difference becomes even larger. Those who received a leaflet for the first time were at least twice as likely to make a change in diet, and they could possibly have been as much as four times as likely. (There’s no way to know for sure where the number falls on that range since we don’t know the exact level of social desirability bias.)

College juniors reported more dietary change than other class levels, followed at a distance by sophomores, then seniors, with freshmen reporting the least amount. This was true despite the fact that freshmen were far more likely to be receiving a leaflet for the first time (which should have led them to report the most dietary change).

Most likely juniors reported more dietary change due simply to the margins of error in the chicken consumption category because that represents nearly all of the difference between juniors and other grades. However, sophomores and juniors were also more likely than freshmen and seniors to say they now ate “a lot less” animal products, which plays a part as well.

It’s possible therefore that sophomores and juniors may be the grades most likely to spare the greatest number of animals after getting a leaflet, even after accounting for the fact that many of them have received a leaflet before.

On that note, the survey also found that about 57% of those leafleted had already received a leaflet before. The likelihood of having received a leaflet generally increased with grade level.

10% said they looked at the leaflet less than 10 seconds; 30% viewed it for 10 seconds to a minute; 45% for 1 to 5 minutes; and 15% looked at it for more than 5 minutes.


How the Impact was Calculated

To view a copy of the actual survey that students filled out, click here.

To calculate the number of animals impacted (i.e., spared), we used rounded versions of these estimates of the number of animals impacted by the average American meat-eater each year plus this data to factor in dairy and egg consumption. We declared the average meat-eater to impact 28 chickens, 2 egg industry hens, 1/8 beef cow, 1/2 pig, 1 turkey, and 1/30 dairy cow each year. Others may prefer to translate the number of animals spared into days of suffering and level of suffering spared per year, but we translated the data into number of animals impacted per year.

We assigned values to each category in the survey as follows:  “I eat more” of a product was calculated as a 30% increase in consumption of that product; “I eat a little less” was calculated as a 10% decrease; “I eat a lot less” was calculated as a 40% decrease; “I stopped eating this product” was calculated as a 100% decrease; “I eat the same amount” and “I did not eat this product to begin with” were calculated as no change.

If you’re interested, you can check out the graphs of reported dietary change for each product category here: chickenred meatfisheggsdairy. Statistics lovers can download the raw data from the study here.


Accounting for Bias

This survey had no “non-response bias” because students were approached randomly on campus, and they did not know what the survey was about prior to agreeing to take it.

Non-response bias is when people who decide to respond to a survey are more likely to respond in a certain way. If the survey were emailed to potential respondents, we would have expected to see a large non-response bias. Those who had changed their diet would probably be more inclined to fill out the survey.

While this survey did not have non-response bias, we do need to watch out for people giving inaccurate answers. Numerous studies have found that people will often over report consumption of things they think they are supposed eat more of (such as fruits and vegetables) and under report how much they eat things they are supposed to eat less off (like red meat.) Researchers call this “social desirability bias.”

Students in this study may have guessed that the survey takers wanted them to answer that they had eaten less meat. As a result, some of those who said they changed their diet probably did not. Others may have over reported how much meat they cut out of their diet. This bias was probably highest among those who said they ate “a little less” of an animal product.

Thankfully, biased answers don’t account for all of the change reported in this study. How do we know? Because different groups reported very different rates of change. For example, people who were getting a leaflet for the first time reported almost 90% more change than those who had received leaflets in previous semesters. (Change here is indicated as number of animals spared by dietary change.)

Both groups should answer with about the same level of social desirability bias. So if all of the reported change was simply due to bias, then the dietary change reported should have been roughly the same whether or not people had received a leaflet before.

However, there were major differences in reported change between those who received leaflets before and those who hadn’t, between those who received one leaflet versus the other, and between students of different grade levels. Out of nine subgroups measured, the groups with the lowest amount of reported change spared 88 and 101 animals respectively. Even if we assume that 100% of that reported change is fraudulent and is merely the result of social desirability bias, it would suggest that for the other subgroups measured, the amount of actual change was the total number of animals helped minus approximately 90 animals (90 animals being the amount of animals not actually helped but reported due to social desirability bias). The remaining subgroups helped between approximately 115 and 250 animals per 100 leaflets (before accounting for social desirability bias).

The raw data, as a whole, once adjusted to be equally representative of all grade levels, suggests that 141 farm animals will be spared for every 100 leaflets distributed on a college campus. Considering that, and considering our estimation of a maximum social desirability bias of around 90 animals spared per 100 leaflets distributed, we can make a conservative estimate that, at a minimum, about 50 of those 141 animals reported to be spared were actually spared. In summary, for every 100 leaflets distributed, we can conservatively estimate that approximately 50 farm animals are spared each year from a lifetime of misery.

The actual number is almost surely higher. And the conservative estimate is significantly higher among certain subgroups. For example, the conservative estimate for students who never before received a leaflet and who now received a Something Better leaflet is roughly 150 animals spared for every 100 leaflets distributed after accounting for social desirability bias. And again, all of the numbers become dramatically higher once you include the multiple years a person maintains their change, the ripple effects as they spread their dietary change to others, and the number of wild fish spared.

One other area for possible inaccuracy in the results stems from the fact that the survey chose not to define what “more,” “a little less,” or “a lot less” meant. Rather than have respondents indicate a percentage change in consumption of each product, we simply assigned estimated values to each change. While we attempted to be conservative in our estimates of what each change meant, it’s possible that our estimates were out of line with what respondents meant.

If we discard all partial changes (a conservative step, since at least six times as many people report reducing each product as report increasing it), look only at those who stopped eating products entirely, and account for social desirability bias, we can still estimate that for every 100 leaflets distributed a conservative minimum of 20 farm animals are spared per year from a lifetime of misery by individuals who have completely removed a product from their diet. The actual number is surely higher than this, and it would be inaccurate to use this as a best estimate, but we can view this as a minimum bound for the amount of change produced just by those who have completely eliminated one or more products:  1 farm animal spared per year for every 5 leaflets distributed.

For more details, additional spreadsheets of results, questions about methodology, or anything else, feel free to email me at [email protected] .


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On the road with Compassionate Communities

By Nick Cooney

October 2, 2012

Two months. Eleven cities. Tens of thousands of people educated about the cruelties of factory farming and the benefits of vegan eating. Hundreds of volunteers taught how to become more effective advocates for animals.

That was the goal of the Compassionate Communities national tour as it kicked off on a sunny San Francisco afternoon last week. Compassionate Communities Manager Nick Cooney led a workshop on effective advocacy for farm animals. Touching on research covered in his book Change Of Heart, Nick explained how animal advocates can become more persuasive when speaking to family, friends and the public about farm animal issues. Volunteers shared their personal experiences and networked with one another to make plans for carrying out Compassionate Communities programs together.

Immediately after the workshop, volunteers headed to a festival to distribute vegan food samples and pass out hundreds of Farm Sanctuary’s new “Something Better” veg advocacy leaflet. Others headed downtown to leaflet hundreds of tourists and locals shopping in San Francisco’s bustling downtown area. The next day, the advocacy work continued at the University of California at Berkeley where we distributed information to 1,800 students on the reality of factory farms and the benefits of veg eating. One student even doubled back to mention that she changed her life and her diet two years ago as a result of receiving a similar booklet.

The tour then headed north to Portland, Oregon, and from there on to Seattle, for three more workshops and a half dozen additional outreach events. All told, over 150 Compassionate Communities volunteers joined us for workshops in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, and over 9,000 members of the public were reached with information about factory farming and vegan eating.

As the tour rolls on to other key cities –  Boston, New York, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington DC, Phoenix, and Los Angeles – the groundswell of local advocacy for farm animals will continue. We are building compassionate communities one city at a time – and we hope you’ll join us in our work!


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