The Daily Show recently did a segment – R.I.P. Facts – lamenting the fact [sic] that what is actually true no longer matters.
The problem, however, is actually significantly worse. If someone believes something false that conforms to their preconceived beliefs, fact checking them can actually strengthen their false belief. This is called the “boomerang effect.”
This is important to recognize, because it is very likely that most people believe that eating meat is necessary; chicken is healthy; free-range means cruelty-free; etc. Just telling them otherwise, even with supporting facts, is likely to just reinforce their current belief.
Instead, it is good to start by seeking out common ground. While most people have a negative view of veganism and vegans, most people also have a visceral repulsion to factory farms. So it is often good to ask what they know about factory farms as the beginning of a Socratic-style discussion.
Also, most people are willing to speculate on the motivations of others (rather than defending their own beliefs). It might seem strange, but asking people if they know anyone who is vegetarian and why they think those vegetarians don’t eat meat can be a good hook.
Unfortunately, there is no set script we can follow in every situation. But it is important to recognize that we can’t actually win an argument with a meat eater. The best we can do is to start a conversation. This is the way we can potentially find common ground, and allow the other individual to open their heart and mind to uncomfortable ideas.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As research firms churned out New Year’s forecasts this year, one theme became apparent: Plant protein is in. Forget the war between vegetarians and meat eaters; today’s battle is for the omnivore’s plate and, increasingly, those who eat meat are looking to diversify their protein sources.
Plant-based meat alternatives (e.g. veggie burgers and meatless chicken strips) have been around for a long time, most of which started as boutique businesses that catered to vegetarians. Increasingly, however, mainstream large packaged food companies including Kellogg, Kraft, Pinnacle Foods and General Mills have bought into the market or developed their own brands and investors like Bill Gates have thrown big money at start-ups seeking to better mimic meat’s taste and mouth feel.
These products are not there yet: meat still tastes better. Even those promoting them admit that.
Still, all this money isn’t just going after the 5 percent of the population that identify as vegetarians. The Protein and the Plate research project, conducted last year by NPD Group, Midan Marketing and Meatingplace and sponsored by Yerecis Label, showed 70 percent of meat eaters substituting a non-meat protein in a meal at least once a week and 22 percent saying they are doing it more often than a year ago.
It will be up to meat processors to determine whether they can address with their own products the reasons consumers are looking for alternatives or choose to enter the market for these products themselves. Either way, it’s time to understand more about these protein players.
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’sinvite people to eat vegan, have vegan meals, try vegan products, rather than to become a vegan or adhere to veganism.
An often heard crede – especially among so called “abolitionist” vegans – is that “veganism is the moral baseline”. It seems to mean that being vegan is the minimum we can do for the animals if we want to be moral creatures. Conversely, anything less than vegan is immoral behaviour. I don’t agree with that, and the way many activists use the sentence often seems quite ineffective and often condescending to me.
From idea that veganism is the moral baseline, it seems to follow (at least for those who adhere to the moral baseline motto) that our outreach towards omnivores can never be anything less than suggesting them to go vegan. Asking people to be reducetarians, for instance, would be an immoral demand, just like, believers hold, asking or demanding that a childbeater become a parttime childbeater rather than doing it every day (I have written about that before, here and here).
Let us assume for a minute that asking anything less than veganism is immoral (and that veganism is the moral baseline). Let us, however, at the same time assume – for the sake of the argument – that asking “things less than veganism” leads to a higher reduction of animal suffering and killing.What, in that case, should weprioritize: themorality of our outreach, or its impact? In other words, should we – again assuming for a minute that we know for sure – use a less effective message because we believe it to be a more moral one?
Those who would answer that the morality aspect is the most important, will often claim that the impact is actually on their side too, and that what is painted above is some kind of false dichotomy. I want to briefly examine here if that is true. In other words: is it possible that asking other things than “go vegan” is more effective in reducing animal suffering and killing?
People who follow this blog will know that my answer will be that that is definitely possible. I give three reasons why I think a smaller ask may (often) be more effective than the bigger, go vegan ask. I am not implying that everyone should do “reducitarian” outreach – more about that below.
One: bigger total impact
It seems to be common sense that when we ask people to do something easy, more of them will do it than when we ask them to do something hard. The difference between the small number of people doing the hard thing, and the higher number of people doing the easy thing is big enough, the people doing the easy thing may all together have a higher total impact. Say we ask one thousand people to go vegan and say we get ten of them to actually do so (it definitely is possible to go vegan overnight, no one is denying that). On the other hand, say that we ask another thousand people (our control group) to participate in Meatless Mondays, and say that 300 do so. You can do the math. One might object that the few people that were convinced become fulltime vegans might also become active in reaching out to others, but actually the same can be said about the meat reducers, who can also advocate for Meatless Monday.
Two: meat reducers may more easily become vegan
I believe our main challenge today is to get as many people as possible totake the first steps, to cross a certain treshold.That is in many cases one of the most important things we can help them do, because it is a lot easier to move up the vegan scale when you have made a first step. Being a reducetarian is not an end, but a beginning.
Three: meat reducers make veganism easier and may tip the system faster
Meat reducers are the driving force behind demand, and companies producing vegan products, do so in the first place for *them* and not for vegans. In other words, meat reducers help to make it easier for everyone to eat more and more vegan, or even to go vegan overnight.
These are three reasons – and in my upcoming book they will be better referenced – that could indicate that asking people to reduce might have a bigger impact than asking them to go vegan. One could argue that if this would be so, this demand would actually be the more moral one. After all,what’s moral about using a message that is less effective than one we know to be more effective?
Let me explicitly state my purpose in writing all this. I am not saying that our movement should never use the “go vegan” message. I *am* saying, conversely, that we are under no moral obligation to *always* use the “go vegan” message. And I am suggesting that those who think they should criticize people who do “less than vegan” outreach (be they vegans themselves or not) stop doing that.
Red meat has a bad PR problem. Two recent meta-analyses—one published in 2009 and one in 2011—linked red meat consumption to increased colon cancer risk. In May, the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund reaffirmed conclusions from an earlier comprehensive report, saying that the evidence for a relationship between red meat and colon cancer is “convincing.”
And it’s not just cancer; a study published just last week found that adults who consume 4 ounces of red meat per day have a 20 percent increased risk for developing diabetes.
The evidence strongly suggests that it’s a good idea for everyone to reduce their intake of red and processed meats. But from the animals’ perspective, this is not necessarily great news. That’s because many of these studies find that other animal foods—which can easily replace red meat in the diet—don’t carry the same risks. There is no compelling body of evidence to suggest that eating white meat raises cancer risk and, some research suggests that replacing red meat with white meat lowers risk. (This is not to say that white meat is itself protective or has any particular health benefits. It’s probably neutral and therefore lowers risk when it replaces harmful red meat)
People are likely to react to news about the dangers of red and processed meats by replacing these foods with other meats—from fish and chickens—and in the process cause suffering to many, many more animals.
Assuming that one steer provides around 450 pounds of meat, a person eating a pound of beef per week would be responsible for the death of one steer every 8 ½ years or so. Replace that pound of beef a week with a pound of chicken (assuming that the average chicken yields 2 pounds of meat) and the number of animals killed would be about 220 chickens over the same time period. In fact, even if the health-conscious, meat-shunning consumer chose to reduce her meat intake by 75 percent—eating just 4 ounces of meat per week and getting all of it as chicken flesh—she would still be responsible for the death of more than 50 birds over that 8 ½ year period.
And not only do more animals die when people replace red meat with chicken in their diet, but chickens and other birds live and die under conditions that are horrible even by the usual horrible standards of modern farming.
Red and processed meat consumption is a serious public health concern, and people need to know about the importance of reducing these foods in their diets. But publicizing every new study about the hazards of red meat doesn’t promote veganism; it promotes animal suffering. A message about a vegan ethic, on the other hand, is a double win. It helps reduce animal suffering while also encouraging people to eliminate hazardous foods from their diets.
Edited on 3/13/12 : A study just published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that all types of red meat are associated with increased risk for cancer and heart disease. Just 3 ounces a day of red meat was associated with a 13% increased risk of dying during the course of the study. The researchers also found that replacing red meat with poultry or low-fat dairy foods decreased risk as much or more than replacing it with legumes. This is another example of how a focus on the health risks of red meat in particular doesn’t necessarily translate to a positive vegan message.
Imagine you’re standing in a dining room before a massive table set with 100 plates. Spread on the plates are all the chickens, cows, and pigs an average American consumes in one year. Americans eat a lot of meat, so the plates are piled high with animal flesh.
If you tally up the plates, you’ll find that 44 plates contain chickens, 30 contain cows, and 26 contain pigs. Given this table, it makes sense that our movement places roughly equal focus and resources on cows, chickens, and pigs. Right?
Wrong. This table represents the weight of the meat Americans eat, but it doesn’t reflect the number of animals they eat.
In place of the table, picture all the actual, live animals that were farmed and slaughtered to produce that meat. Looking at this collection of animals, you notice something strange: there’s a large mass of chickens and only the occasional cow or pig dotting the landscape. Where are all the pigs? Where are all the cows?
Because chickens are so much smaller than cows and pigs, many more of them must be slaughtered to produce the same amount of meat. To get the same amount of meat that can be obtained from a single cow (or four pigs), more than 200 chickens must be killed. That’s why, despite the fact that people eat almost as much pork and beef as they do chicken, they eat many, many more chickens than they do cows or pigs.
For farm animal activists, what truly matters is not the amount of meat that is consumed but the number of animals that are harmed and the amount of suffering caused. Our movement’s outreach efforts, however, are based largely on the illusory dinner table: we tend to direct our resources according to how often animals are consumed, not how many are consumed.
And it’s not only that a larger number of chickens are killed. Chickens also endure more days of suffering than any other farm animal, other than some farm-raised fish. We get this amount by multiplying the number of animals that are eaten by how long each one lives and suffers on a factory farm. Chickens also suffer particularly cruel treatment on factory farms.
When we carry out vegetarian outreach without considering the relative suffering caused by different animal foods, we are bowling with blindfolds: we can’t know where to aim, and our success will be limited. It’s time to remove the blindfolds and knock down as much animal cruelty as we can.
If we see farm animals as individuals, and we want as many individuals as possible to be protected from cruelty, then we should focus first on getting the public to give up eating chickens. Having that focus will enable us to save more lives and spare more suffering.
Consider, for example, that getting someone simply to cut their chicken consumption in half spares 14 animals per year a lifetime of misery. If someone were to give up eating chickens entirely they would spare about 28 animals per year from a lifetime of misery.
At the very least, our outreach efforts should place greater focus on chickens. We should tell people that the first and most important thing they can do to help farm animals is to cut out or cut back on eating chickens.
Ben Davidow is the author of the forthcoming e-book Thinking Outside the Cage: Leading Farm Animal Advocates on How to Have a Meaningful Impact, in which a modified version of this essay will appear.
Nick Cooney is the Compassionate Communities Campaign manager at Farm Sanctuary.
Regardless of your political affiliation, there’s a lot to learn from the 2012 presidential election – a lot to learn about effective vegan advocacy.
No, neither candidate uttered the word “vegan,” or even addressed the issue of factory farming on the campaign trail. But, as the Los Angeles Times and New York Times reported in the weeks following the election, the political game has shifted permanently as a result of the Obama campaign’s successful use of data analysis and social psychology to win over swing voters in battleground states.
Here’s what it looked like on the ground. First, a team of 50 “data nerds” spent months compiling more than 80 pieces of information about individual voters in swing states – everything from age to household income to voting history to magazines they subscribe to. Using that data, a mathematical model was created to predict how likely any individual voter was to vote for Obama. Special efforts were then made to target hundreds of thousands of voters who, according to the model, were on the fence but who could be persuaded to vote for Obama.
Meanwhile, a team of behavioral scientists was advising the campaign’s get-out-the-vote department on the finer points of persuasion. Canvassers used subtle tactics such as getting likely Democratic voters to sign a written commitment to vote or informing them that most of their neighbors vote – tactics that increased people’s likelihood of showing up at the polls on election day. The rest, as they say, is history. Swing state after swing state, as well as the general election, went to Obama.
Just what does this mean for the future of veg advocacy? We can ignore these results – or, we can steal a page from the Obama campaign’s playbook and begin making data-driven decisions in our veg advocacy work. To be more specific, we can look to data to figure out who we should focus our veg advocacy efforts on, and how we can best reach them.
With only limited time and money, it makes sense to target our veg advocacy towards those we are most likely to persuade. For example, because young people are more likely to go vegetarian than other age groups, it makes sense to target them. Vegan Outreach focuses most of their leafleting outreach on college campuses for that very reason. Passing out 1,000 leaflets on a college campus is likely to create far more vegetarians and meat-reducers than passing out the same number of leaflets on a city street.
Another benefit of focusing on young people is that when they go vegetarian, they really go vegetarian. A 2009 study from Europe – but likely applicable to the United States – revealed that young people who go vegetarian are much more likely to follow an actual vegetarian diet, free of chicken and fish, than older individuals who say they have become vegetarian.
Similarly, women are more likely to go vegetarian than men. In the United States and Europe, both female vegetarians and female meat-reducers outnumber their male counterparts by a ration of 2:1. Some recent testing by The Humane League found that online vegetarian advertisements shown only to women were about three times more effective than ads shown to men and women equally. Therefore, it makes sense to focus our veg advocacy on women (especially young women) as much as possible.
Apart from age and gender, there are, no doubt, other demographic groups who are more likely to go vegetarian. Art students, fans of punk and indie music, Mac users, and people with tattoos are a few examples. The more we target our veg outreach efforts towards those groups, the more animals we will save.
How do we become more effective in persuading individuals to make a change? Thankfully, the very research the Obama campaign relied on is available for anyone to read. Change Of Heart, available in the Farm Sanctuary store, discusses that research and how animal advocates can apply it to their work. Classics in the field of persuasion science, such as Robert Cialdini’s Influence, may also be of interest.
Even beyond the specifics of how and why, perhaps the most basic lessons veg advocates can take from the presidential election is that it pays to understand our audience. It pays big time. And understanding our audience does not mean making assumptions about what will motivate them. It doesn’t mean guessing which groups are most likely to care. Understanding our audience means looking at the data and then making data-based decisions. If it can shift the tide in a multibillion dollar election campaign, then it can certainly shift the tide towards a more compassionate world as well.
This week, a video blog post takes a data-based look at the impacts of farm animal welfare reforms. The powerpoint is excerpted from a plenary presentation given at the Animal Rights 2012 national conference.
Data Point 1: Welfare reforms reduce suffering and provide immediate good for animals
Note: the following white papers review the current research and cite dozens of peer-reviewed studies on the welfare of animals in different housing systems.
Sumner, D. A., et al. (2011, January). Economic and market issues on the sustainability of egg production in the United States: Analysis of alternative production systems. Poultry Science 90(1): 241-250. doi: 10.3382/ps.2010-00822. Retrieved from http://www.poultryscience.org/docs/PS_822.pdf
Note: while not mentioned in the video, the above study concludes that banning cages for egg-laying hens in the U.S. would reduce the number of hens raised (anywhere) for U.S. egg consumption by about 3%, meaning 8 million less hens would be raised and killed for egg consumption.
Data Point 4: Media coverage of animal welfare issues causes people to eat less meat