For Sparrow’s Sake, Give People What They Want

One of the most common questions I’ve gotten over the past 30 years is how to convince a loved one – often, a spouse – to go vegan. It is a difficult question, and I’ve struggled to find a satisfactory answer.

Today, though, it is much easier to answer this question. The key is to change the issue from “How do I get my partner to believe what I do?” to “How can my partner’s diet cause less harm?”

One mistake I made early on was to think that exactly what I ate was the only thing worth promoting. Spicy Thai dishes, vegetable-stuffed peppers, quinoa and mung beans – making extended family eat meals like these led to upset stomachs, resentment, and an even worse opinion of vegans and veganism than they had already.

Contrast this with friends who didn’t care about pushing personal philosophy, but simply focused on having their family members eat fewer animals. For example, we have friends who make their family’s Taco Tuesday meals with Gimme Lean Ground Beef. No one has ever noticed the change – except, of course, the cows who haven’t been killed.

Currently, many people have a negative view of vegans and veganism. Sadly, this is partially because some of us are like I was – pushing vegan food that others might find “weird” and “unsatisfying,” convincing many people that veganism is a horrible deprivation.

Humans have been programmed by evolution to want fatty and high-protein foods. Instead of pontificating about the dangers of fat and the protein content of broccoli, we should recognize that basically no one eats meat because they want animals to suffer. They simply want familiar, tasty, satisfying foods.

We are extremely fortunate to live in a time when we have the ability to put aside our personal preferences and simply give people what they want! I have seen this work, over and over and over.

For example, I was once working with MBA students at the University of Arizona on marketing research into attitudes about vegetarianism / veganism. After preliminary research, they created categories for individuals; one category was “hard core meat eater, will never consider changing.” On the last day of the research project, the owner of the local veg restaurant brought in “chicken fingers.” One of the students who had listed himself as “hard core / never change” exclaimed, with genuine surprise, “Hey, I could eat this!”

100% Plant-Powered!

Ellen, our lifelong-vegan offspring, would take Boca chicken nuggets to events in high school. These nuggets – never labeled “vegetarian” – were always scarfed down immediately. Once, a Science Olympiad teammate saw Ellen eating a nugget and exclaimed in shock, “Ellen! You’re eating meat!!” They couldn’t believe the nuggets were entirely plant-based.

So if you live with a meat eater, don’t try to convince them to “go vegan.” Just feed them what they want! If they don’t like Gardein’s Ultimate Beefless Burger, try the Beyond Burger. If they don’t like Beyond’s chicken strips, grab Tofurky’s! Tofurky’s sausage not a hit? Try Field Roast’s next. And I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like Gimme Lean’s sausage or Tofurky’s deli slices. There are so many “roasts” out there that you’re sure to find one everyone loves! My homemade seitan and gravy has satisfied the holiday demands of hard-core meat eaters, leaving everyone happy – especially the animals!


In the end, it is easier to agree on food first, and worry about details like philosophy and purity later. Individuals like Sparrow and Frank and Emily only care about the bottom line – that people aren’t eating animals, regardless of their reasons.

-Matt Ball
Director of Engagement and Outreach

Michelle Cehn, Hero of Compassion

We are thrilled to have Michelle Cehn as our latest Hero of Compassion.

Michelle is a filmmaker on a mission to make vegan living easy, accessible, and fun through online media and visual storytelling. She is the founder of World of Vegan, co-author of The Friendly Vegan Cookbook, co-creator of The Dairy Detox, and a YouTube personality who has reached millions through her creative, relatable, and engaging vegan videos.

What does the term “living compassionately” mean to you?

In my eyes, living compassionately means being conscious of how my actions affect others, and using this awareness to make kind choices that are aligned with my values.

What inspired you to start down this path?

I have always had a strong sense of compassion for animals, which led me to where I’m at today.

When I was just 8 years old, I stopped eating meat because I realized animals had to die to produce it. Soon after, I learned about factory farming and became an activist. I founded animal rights groups at my high school and college, gave speeches about our treatment of animals, distributed literature, raised money for nonprofits, and more. And when I serendipitously stumbled upon the book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer while I was in college, I learned about the horrors of the dairy and egg industries and became vegan. That was 10 years ago.

What was the transition like for you, and what did you learn that might be useful to people currently trying to make changes?

I’ve always been committed to upholding my ethics, so when I learned that, even as a vegetarian, my food choices were harming animals, I committed to going vegan.

I assumed this would mean massive sacrifice, limited (and bland) food choices, and even more eye rolls from my family and friends. But after a brief adjustment period, I discovered that vegan food was both abundant and delicious. My palate began to expand, and I found myself enjoying a more varied (and healthy) diet than ever before. And as a longtime vegetarian, I was used to the eye rolls and snide comments at the dinner table, so those bounced right off me.

The biggest obstacle to going vegan for me was my own mind. I assumed it would be hard. I assumed it would be unhealthy. I assumed it would be a sacrifice. As it turned out, none of that was true! All of these thoughts were holding me back from living in alignment with my values.

My advice to others interested in going vegan is to just do it! Let go of any expectations of perfection, because we live in an imperfect world. Approach it with a sense of exploration. Try new foods, visit new grocery stores, read books and blogs, invest in vegan cookbooks, watch videos and documentaries, connect with other vegans online, attend events and VegFests, and visit farm animal sanctuaries like Farm Sanctuary. Attitude is everything, so approach it with enthusiasm and enjoy the journey!

What has been most challenging and/or surprising about living a compassionate life?

The most challenging part of living a compassionate life is being aware of the needless cruelty going on in our world. As I opened my eyes and my heart to the atrocities carried out by our species, little pieces of my heart began to break. Luckily, each one of us has the power to make an impact, prevent suffering, and better our world.

What advice / tips would you give to people who find it hard to cope with living in a world where the vast majority of people eat meat and so many farm animals are suffering and dying every day?

It’s not easy, but do your best to focus on the positive. Focus on what you can do (leaflet at your local college, bring vegan cupcakes to work, donate to Farm Sanctuary) rather than what you can’t do. Think about the incredible waves of change we’re seeing in our society, and remember that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. And when you’re feeling particularly down, plan a trip to Farm Sanctuary, where you can heal your heart by spending time with the individuals who you helped save.

What advice would you give to an aspiring activist?

When I first became an activist, I followed traditional paths of animal advocacy such as attending protests and demonstrations. But this wasn’t making the best use of my personal skills and talents. Today, my advocacy looks much different and more in line with my passions — filmmaking, photography, and social media.

Take what you already love to do and think about how you can apply those interests and professions to your advocacy. Whether you’re an artist, teacher, lawyer, scientist, or anything else, I’m sure your specific skill set is needed in the animal advocacy world. Plus, you’ll be much less likely to suffer from “activist burnout” if you’re choosing forms of activism that you love.

And finally, don’t underestimate your power and influence. With small everyday actions, we each have the power to save thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of lives.

How did you learn about Farm Sanctuary, and why (and/or how) did you get involved?

Soon after becoming vegan in college, my friend and activism mentor Jen Kaden told me about Farm Sanctuary and encouraged me to attend the 2008 Farm Sanctuary Hoe Down event. It was the first vegan event I ever attended and I had the most amazing time. It was also my first time coming face-to-face with a cow — now my favorite of all animals! Since that weekend, I’ve been a die-hard fan of Farm Sanctuary.

Do you have a favorite resident at one of the sanctuaries?

There will always be a special place in my heart for Emma, a baby cow who was hit by a car and left to die. Farm Sanctuary came to her rescue and brought her to a veterinary clinic, where she had to have her broken and infected leg amputated. She was at the vet for five long months before she was able to come home to Farm Sanctuary.

Farm Sanctuary invited me to come film Emma’s journey home, and watching her take her first steps out of the van and victoriously hop toward the cows and human friends waiting for her, remains one of my fondest memories. You can see that video here.

How do you think things will change over the next 50 years or so?

I am incredibly optimistic about the future, and here’s why. I believe a much kinder world is coming, and how soon we get there is all up to us.

What is your favorite “main dish” recipe or meal? Dessert?

My go-to recipe for a filling, delicious vegan meal is this homemade Pad Thai. I’ve always loved ordering Pad Thai at restaurants, but I assumed it would be too complex to make at home. This recipe makes it easy! And for dessert, I love making these simple no-bake cookies.

Is there anything else you would like the Farm Sanctuary family to know? / Do you have a favorite website you would like to share?

If you’re not yet vegan, I hope you’ll watch this video. And if you are vegan I hope you’ll share it!

 

Obligation vs. Opportunity: Options for the Holidays

Let’s be honest: if you really care about animals, the holidays can be hard.

Of course, the holidays have the potential to be filled with warmth, friendship, and love. But for many of us who choose to live compassionately, this time of year is filled with demands to be a part of gatherings with individuals who don’t necessarily share these same values. Sometimes we’re forced into situations because we share a common gene pool. This awkwardness (at best) is so inherent that survival guides for Thanksgiving dinner are more common than recipes. In Letters from Earth, Mark Twain marvels at what humans force upon themselves; the holidays are often a prime example of this.

For those of us who truly care about animals, the holidays present a significant level of stress. We know that many of our friends and family will be consuming the flesh of animals we consider to be individuals – individuals we could easily have been friends with. Hardest to bear, though, is the disconnect between the “joy” and “love” the season supposedly reflects and the actual horror behind the meal.

This is not to say that we should never eat with meat eaters. For many of us, our dietary choices aren’t about us, but about the individual animals we respect and want to spare from suffering and slaughter. Being present and sharing our perspective in a respectful and sensitive way can introduce an alternative way of thinking and spread this message of compassion.  Living in isolation denies animals our voice. Being an example of compassionate living to those currently following the standard American diet is potentially far more impactful than the consequences of our personal dietary choices.

Realizing this, it is vital to take advantage of opportunities like these holiday get-togethers to set an attractive, approachable example of compassionate living. Key to this is providing incredible, delicious food.  The food we like,  and dishes that the others will find irresistible. Familiar, savory, and satisfying recipes that have been prepared using plant-based ingredients and that mimic traditional dishes can satisfy even the most ardent carnivore. Mind-blowing mouthfuls can shatter stereotypes of what eating with compassion can be.

Yet not every social situation is a potential opportunity. We each have relatives or acquaintances who will never consider either our views or our offerings. They will seemingly revel in eating animals in front of us. They will take offense at any suggestion that we might not be comfortable and would prefer not to be around while they consume animals.  Under certain circumstances, the best decision may be to decline the invitation. While the standard wisdom is that everyone is an opportunity, we actually know that isn’t entirely true. Knowing that leads to a radical solution: Don’t go.

image001 This is obviously easier said than done. The ties that bind are often such that it is easier to go along to get along. Only you can make that decision.  If your presence is mandatory, the best advice is to bring your plant-based roast, review the Socratic section of The Animal Activist’s Handbook, and make the best of it. (Be sure to have a designated driver as that might be the best way to get through the meal!)

Distant relatives and acquaintances aside,  as we go forward, we can each pursue the creation of new traditions for ourselves and those closest to us. Traditions that ring true for the meaning of the season and the way we choose to live our lives. Travel to a special place for a hike, go out to a movie (or watch your own favorite), share pictures of what you’re eating on Facebook (#CompassionateMeals). Or turn the tables and instead invite family over to your place for a full feast of Tofurky, seitan, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and the fixings (not tempeh and arugula).

It is easy to say we should always go to everything and bring a smile and a tasty dish. Or that we should just cut off all contact with those who won’t change and believe eating animals is more important than recognizing and accommodating our compassion for one meal. Neither of these is universally applicable. But we can try, whenever possible, to find a balance between being an example of compassionate living and shirking obligation in favor of building truly joyful holiday traditions of our own.

-Matt Ballbonding

Messaging for Maximum Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published in The Accidental Activist.

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

Plant-Based Protein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

matt ball
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.”

matt ball2
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.

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For Farm Animals Every Day

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Below is the full interview with Matt Ball, Farm Sanctuary’s Director of Engagment and Outreach, for Every Day is Animal Advocacy Day

1. What brought you to Farm Sanctuary?  When did you start?

Gosh, I’ve been a fan of Farm Sanctuary almost since it started. As soon as there were cabins, Anne and I took our belated honeymoon there (1993).

I didn’t become friends with Gene until April 1997, when he and I were at a Nalith-sponsored conference in the Finger Lakes region. I’ll never forget it. My project at the time was to distribute as many pro-veg booklets as possible. At one point, Gene held up a copy of the booklet and said, “We can all agree that we need to get more of these out there.” It really showed his generosity. Ever since, Gene has been one of the warmest, most supportive people I’ve known in the animal advocacy movement.

2. How long have you been vegan, and what inspired you to make that switch?

Freshman year of college (1986), my roommate was an older transfer student. He was also a vegetarian, and he made me his personal project. I would love to say I went vegan as soon as I learned about what happens on factory farms, but as I write about in one of my books, this wasn’t the case at all. Rather, I went vegetarian and then vegan in fits and starts. It is for this and other reasons that I’m very sympathetic to people who are (initially) resistant to the message; who make incremental change while rationalizing other actions. So although all psychological research supports it as well, Farm Sanctuary’s approach of meeting people where they are has a personal resonance with me.

It is nice to be able to say I first stopped eating animals the year Farm Sanctuary was founded!

3. Describe a typical day.

My day-to-day responsibilities include the Compassionate Communities Campaign and Farm Sanctuary’s online outreach. The former requires keeping up with news for the CCC Facebook page, the CCC blog, and alerts to our members, in order to make sure our activist members are engaged and able to make a difference day to day. As part of this, I represent Farm Sanctuary in a variety of coalitions, so I’m often on conference calls or reviewing email alerts. I also have been developing materials for the CCC.

Online outreach is a fun, multivariate problem. I can create multiple ads and choose different target audiences, and then monitor which perform best. I’m always iterating on this, to make sure we are “spending thousands to reach millions.” I also monitor the comment threads to try to make sure things don’t get out of hand, and to give encouragement, too.

One of the best parts of my job is to watch what Manager of Engagement Strategy Wendy Matthews comes up with for her various projects, like V-lish. I can always expect innovative, creative, and fresh ideas from her. Sometimes, I’m even able to contribute a useful bit of feedback here or there. Mostly, though, I just want to make sure I’m not hindering her.

My wife Anne (who works for Our Hen House, headed by former Farm Sanctuary National Advocacy Organizer Jasmin Singer) and I both work from home here in Tucson, and we’re very much early birds. A typical day starts around 6 with all the emails that came in overnight. I’ll try to exercise most days (although I’m no Marathon Man like Gene), in part because I can get in some of my best thinking while running. For example, a few weekends ago, I received an email about a Facebook post on welfare reforms. That led to a longer conversation, and then, over my next two runs, the idea for a blog post on the topic took shape.

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4. Describe a day that was less typical and memorable.

I have Farm Sanctuary Media Relations Specialist Meredith Turner-Smith to thank for my most memorable days. She has arranged my various interviews, including a one hour radio interview with a station in rural Alabama. Such a fun time! She also got me all my television appearances last fall – an amazing job. She made sure the stations had all the information (I was promoting a Walk for Farm Animals each appearance) and B-roll (so the audience was able to look at cute animals instead of having to watch me).

The best week was probably last October at the Seattle Walk for Farm Animals. Walk Coordinator Christina Cuenca organized an absolutely incredible event! (And Meredith had, of course, previously had me on the radio to promote the Walk.) People were so fired up – I’ve never been interrupted by cheers and applause so often. Not ever! I was able to spend time with different activists in Seattle, too, separate from the Walk. Then I met with other members in Portland and gave a talk there. Next was up to Vancouver, where I had another hour on the radio (this one was in studio) leading up to the great Walk (which was the only time I saw the sun there!).

Of course, compared to Gene, I’m an absolute amateur when it comes to travelling and speaking. I truly have no idea how he does it. I spent at least 20 hours researching, writing, getting feedback on, and practicing just my “Understanding the Numbers” talk for AR2015. I don’t know how Gene could possibly do it, day in and day out.

But for me, the Seattle / Portland / Vancouver trip was an amazing week.

5. Was there a time when you reached someone whom you never expected to be receptive to your message?

I know I don’t have anywhere near the number of stories Gene has (I love listening to his stories), but I do have loads of experiences like this (including at the national Future Farmers of America conference).

One of my first unexpected encounters like this was speaking at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. A young man in the audience was clearly agitated and just itching to get up and say something. As soon as I opened it up for questions, he jumped up and gave a dissertation on the “values” of hunting.

It was obvious that debating hunting wouldn’t be a winning strategy. More importantly, I knew arguing with him wouldn’t do anything to change anyone else’s mind or choices. I was, of course, tempted to make the full, consistent “animal rights” case, but I decided it was more important to try to get some of the people to actually make constructive change that made a difference for farm animals.

So I said, “Well, I can tell you this: I would rather live my life free and be shot dead as an adult, than be crammed into a bathroom with a bunch of others such that I can hardly move, living in our own waste.” As soon as I said that, the young man visibly calmed, and sat down to listen. I then went on to reiterate how bad farm animals have it on factory farms. At this point, the whole audience was more attentive than they had been during my main talk. I concluded my “answer” to him by repeating that I didn’t think anyone in the room would condone the way these animals are treated, and that each of us can choose compassion every time we eat.

Not only did the rest of the Q & A go great, but after everything was done, the young man thanked me. He said he always thought factory farms were bad, but hadn’t known just how bad. He also hadn’t known how rough it was for chickens (which I had focused on in the main talk), and concluded that not eating meat from factory farms was the right thing to do.

To me, this shows the power of Gene’s idea of meeting people where they are. I have always found it to be much more constructive and impactful to focus on the first step, rather than presenting a fixed dogma.

6. What do you enjoy doing outside of Farm Sanctuary life (hobbies, interests, etc.)?

[Farm Sanctuary CEO ] Hank Lynch made the comment, “Matt, most people don’t have the opportunity we have, to be able to work for animals.” This is really insightful: we are really incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity, and I want to make the most of it. Since we work at home, Anne and I are able to work every day. But we do try to go for a hike together once every week or two (where, of course, we talk more about work). I try to log off of work by 8pm, so I can do a little reading and wind down some.

I try to cook a good dinner 3-4 times per week (making enough for leftovers).

Our (lifelong vegan) daughter is away at college, so I look forward to opportunities to chat with her on Google Hangouts whenever she has a few spare minutes (usually in lab, between experiments). When she’s home, I try to keep up with her on her daily runs!

EllenKGreenPassport7. You’ve raised Ellen vegan; what advice do you have for vegan parents?

Oh, the world is so incredibly different now than it was 22 years ago, especially in this respect!

Reannon Branchesi, who previously organized all our Walk for Farm Animals events, is one of the founders of Generation Veggie – an amazing website and community for anyone who is vegan in a family (raising vegan kids, kids who have chosen to go vegan in a non-veg family, etc.). If you have questions or concerns, GenVeg has an article or someone who can help. It is a great resource!

And chill out if your son or daughter doesn’t like veggies!

8. Gene mentioned mixing soy powder to make soymilk back in the day… how has vegan food changed for you? What can Ellen enjoy that you couldn’t when you were in college?

HA! Comparing my attempts to just eat vegetarian (dairy-a-palooza) to eating vegan today is crazy! When I first stopped eating animals, I lived on cheese sandwiches and Captain Crunch with cow’s milk. Now at college, Ellen has vegan options at every dining hall at every meal (that video’s star doesn’t appear until 51 seconds in). Other colleges (including in Texas!) have entirely vegetarian or even vegan dining halls! Vegan reubens, vegan pizza, vegan Tofurky feasts – not only around Thanksgiving but regularly? (Thanks, Seth!)

Of course, I know that most people think veganism is impossible from where they are now (all the more reason to focus on the first step). But I could literally write a book about how crazy-different it is today than 30 years ago.

9. Why should someone visit Farm Sanctuary?

Of course, you don’t need to visit one of our sanctuaries to make an absolutely huge difference in the world. Every time we choose what to eat, we can make a powerful statement against cruelty and for compassion. Every time someone asks us why we’re vegetarian, we have the chance to provide farm animals a voice.

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But there is something truly wonderful about getting to know individuals like Valentino, Emily, and Lucie. It makes our choices and our opportunity to advocate for these animals less abstract, more concrete. For me, at least, spending time with these individuals leaves me energized and even more motivated to change the world, to build a society where individuals like Frank and Bean are no longer our job, but simply our friends.

 

The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Vegans

Another guest post from our good friend Tobias!

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

Direct link.

On Vegans and Vegan Meals

More from our friend Tobias!

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

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

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

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

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

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