Monday, February 25, 2013

Bowling Without Blindfolds: How We Can Knock Down the Most Animal Suffering

By Nick Cooney and Ben Davidow


Imagine you’re standing in a dining room before a massive table set with 100 plates. Spread among the plates is all the beef, chicken, and pork an average American consumes in one year. Since Americans eat so much meat, the plates are piled high with animal flesh.

If you tally up the plates, you'll find that 44 plates contain chicken, 30 contain beef, and 26 contain pork, since Americans eat slightly more chicken than beef or pork.[i] Given this table, it makes sense that our movement places roughly equal focus on cows, pigs, and chickens. Right?

Wrong. That 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 who were farmed and slaughtered to produce the meat you visualized on the plates. Looking upon this crowd of animals, you notice something strange: there’s a sea of chickens and . . . that’s it.

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 get an equivalent amount of meat. To produce the same amount of meat that can be obtained from a single cow (or four pigs), over 200 chickens must be killed.[ii]

That’s why, despite the fact that people eat almost as much pork and beef as they do chicken, they eat many more chickens than they do cows or pigs. Each year, the average American eats 28 chickens but only one half of a pig and one eighth of a cow.[iii] This explains the absence of cows and pigs in the thought experiment above: all the pork and beef a typical American eats in a year doesn’t add up to a single cow or pig.

For farm animal activists, what truly matters is not the amount of meat that people consume but the number of animals that are harmed and the amount of suffering that is caused. Our movement's outreach efforts, however, are based largely on the illusory dining table: we tend to direct our resources based on how often animals are consumed, not how many are consumed.

A Question of Focus

Farm animal advocates sometimes point out how problematic it is that the majority of resources devoted to helping animals go toward cats and dogs. Farm animals, we argue, deserve the focus, since they make up nearly 99% of the animals exploited and mistreated by humans.

Yet we farm animal advocates seem to have a similarly problematic bias. We tend to give no more focus to chickens than we do to cows and pigs, despite the fact that cows make up less than one third of 1% and pigs make up just over 1% of the land animals farmed for food. Chickens make up a whopping 95%.[iv]

And it’s not just that a higher number of chickens are farmed and slaughtered. The same trend holds true when we look at the number of days of animal suffering caused by an average meat-eater. We get this amount by multiplying the number of animals consumed by how long each one lives and suffers on a factory farm.

Chickens (both meat and egg-laying) endure roughly 86% of the total number of days of suffering that all farm animals endure (we’re excluding farmed fish here; please see the postscript for an explanation why). Pigs represent just 5% of the number of days of suffering, and cows (dairy and beef combined) represent only 3%.[v] And to top it all off, veterinary evidence suggests that factory farmed meat and egg-laying chickens suffer at least as acutely as — and probably much more so than — beef cows, dairy cows, and pigs.[vi]

When we carry out farm animal 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.[vii] 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 our focus needs to be on getting the public to give up chicken (and eggs). Having that focus will enable us to save more lives and prevent more suffering.

Consider, for example, that getting someone to give up red meat helps less than one animal per year. On the other hand, getting someone to simply cut their chicken consumption in half — even if they continue to eat all other types of meat — spares 14 animals per year a lifetime of misery. If someone were to give up chicken and replace all the chicken they used to eat with beef and pork, they would still be sparing a net of about 27 animals per year from a lifetime of misery. That is almost the same number of animals who would have been spared had the person become vegetarian.

At the very least, our outreach efforts should place greater focus on chicken and eggs. 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 chicken.

An Intriguing Possibility

But there’s a much larger implication for animal advocates: we may be able to spare more animals by encouraging the public to ‘avoid chicken’ (or possibly ‘avoid chicken and eggs’) than by doing what we do now, which is encouraging them to adopt vegetarian or vegan diets. Why might this be the case?

Try this scenario on for size. Imagine it’s 10 years in the future. Climate change is still a major issue, and the time has come for you to buy a new car. An environmentalist friend of yours encourages you to just stop driving entirely. Another friend encourages you to buy a solar-powered car, which generates 90% lower greenhouse gas emissions and is equally convenient and almost as cheap as conventional cars. What would you do?

While a few people may quit driving, chances are you’d go for the solar car, right? And in making the switch, you’d be doing 90% as much good for the environment as if you had stopped driving entirely.

The same situation holds true when it comes to what meat Americans eat. Simply by leaving chicken off the plate — even if they replace it with beef and pork — Americans can reduce the number of animals they harm by about 90%. And, in all likelihood, the public would be much more willing to give up one type of meat (chicken) than they would be to give up all meat. In fact, polls show that there are far more chicken-avoiders than vegetarians. One national poll found that while only 2.3% of Americans were vegetarian, 6.3% never ate chicken.[viii]

So, what impact could focusing on chicken have for farm animal advocates? Let’s say that 4% of Americans would be willing to give up eating chicken alone if you encouraged them to do so, but only 3% would be willing to give up all meat. At least in the short term, encouraging people to just give up chicken would help many more animals. If you encouraged 100 Americans to ditch meat, you’d spare 90 animals per year. If you encouraged 100 other Americans to just ditch chicken, you’d spare 112 farm animals per year. And if, say, 8% of the public were willing to give up chicken alone, the number of farm animals spared would skyrocket to 224 per year.

Focusing on chicken could prove more beneficial in the long run as well. People who eliminate one food become more open to other changes down the line, and they’ve already taken the most important step by ditching chicken. To the extent they spread this dietary change to friends and family members, they’ll be spreading the change that spares the most animals.

Only research will tell us whether a broad message like “go veg” or a focused message like “cut out chicken” helps the most animals. In the meantime, though, you might try focusing your personal outreach efforts on chicken and see how it goes. There’s a good chance that by doing so you will spare the lives of many more individuals – individuals like Wendy who are suffering right now on factory farms.

Wendy is a resident of Farm Sanctuary’s animal refuge in Orland, California


But What About…

Before we wrap up, let’s take a minute to look at some possible concerns about this approach.

1. Current Outreach is Effective

Absolutely. Many outreach efforts get strong results. We are simply encouraging the exploration of an alternative approach that may get even better — perhaps far better — results.

2. People Empathize More with Pigs and Cows

It’s true that mammals like pigs and cows generate more empathy than chickens. Studies suggest, though, that the empathy gap between pigs, cows, and chickens is not as big as we may expect. So it’s quite possible that, even though people do care about chickens less, the difference is not large enough to offset the benefits of focused outreach. And there are ways to generate more affinity for chickens: for example, showing cute, baby chicks or displaying chickens interacting with cats and dogs.

Also, empathy does not function in a vacuum. People tend to shut down their empathy when asked to make difficult lifestyle changes. Since giving up chicken is easier than going vegetarian, people asked to do so are more able to put their empathy into action.

3. We Won’t Be Able to Use Health and Environmental Arguments

Health and environmental arguments can still be used. Farm Sanctuary’s “Something Better” leaflet, for instance, focuses specifically on chicken and fish when discussing health, mentioning that chicken and fish contain high levels of carcinogenic chemicals like arsenic and mercury, and that chicken is a major source of saturated fat intake.[ix]

4. Focused Outreach Would Result in Fewer Vegans and Vegetarians

What matters for animals is not the number of vegans and vegetarians. What matters is how many animals are being raised and killed for food. Focusing on chicken may lead to fewer animals being raised and killed than focusing on vegetarianism.

That said, focusing on chicken wouldn’t necessarily result in fewer vegetarians and vegans in the long run; it might actually result in more. The well-documented psychological phenomenon called foot-in-the-door shows that people who make a small change become even more likely to make a similar, larger change down the line if later encouraged to do so.[x] And research suggests that people who make a gradual transition to vegetarianism are more likely to stick with it.[xi]

5. Veg Diets Are More Contagious

It’s possible that, because being vegetarian or vegan shapes one’s self-identity, vegetarians will be more motivated to convert others than those who simply cut out chicken. That is certainly possible, though the reverse could also be true. It may be the case that giving up chicken spreads faster because it’s an easier change to make.

In Closing…

Just as the moon and the sun may appear to be the same size from our vantage point, from a distance, chicken, beef, and pork seem to be equally large and relevant targets. But when we take a closer look, this illusion falls apart. Chicken consumption and egg consumption are responsible for the vast majority of farm animal suffering. Focusing on chicken and eggs could mean the difference between helping hundreds of animals and helping tens of thousands of animals in our individual lifetimes.


Farmed fish consumption accounts for fewer animals harmed but even more hours of suffering than chicken consumption. We focus on land animals though, since fish draw significantly less empathy[xii] to an extent that we suspect a dietary change message including fish would be less effective than a message focused purely on chicken and eggs. We do think it's a good idea to test a message that includes fish, but we think the priority should be testing a message focused on chicken and possibly eggs as well since it has the most promise. In Appendix B, we discuss how to formally test the efficacy of a focused message.

The two following charts visualize the disparity of suffering caused by the consumption of different animal foods.


 Starting just short of 12 o’clock and moving clockwise, beef, duck, and dairy are barely perceptible slivers of the pie. “Harmed” is defined here as animals that are killed for food production or die from unnatural conditions on farms (e.g., animals who don’t make it to slaughter due to fatal complications from unnatural breeding). This chart includes male chicks in the egg industry who are killed upon hatching as part of the egg category and veal calves as part of the dairy category, since consuming dairy may support veal production. (If you’re reading this on a black and white device, chicken is the largest piece of the pie and then clockwise from around 10:30, follow eggs, turkey, pork, beef, duck, and finally dairy). 



The above chart looks at the number of hours of suffering caused by different animal foods rather than the number of animals harmed. Unlike the first chart, this one does not account for male chicks in the egg industry and veal calves.  


[i] Based on 2012 U.S. per capita meat consumption rates, as reported on the USDA website.
[ii] Marcus, Erik. Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money. Boston, MA, USA: Brio Press, 2005. [iii] Calculations based on: Sethu, Harish. "How Many Animals Does a Vegetarian Save?" Counting Animals. N.p., 6 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2013. [iv] Cattle and pig statistics from USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, “Livestock Slaughter 2010 Summary” and chicken statistics from USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, “Poultry Slaughter 2010 Summary.” [v] These calculations were made on the basis of figures on the lifespan and retail weight of farm animals collected by Brian Tomasik here, 2010 per capita beef, pork, and chicken consumption figures from Ibid.3, and 2010 per capita egg and dairy consumption figures deduced with the same method as used in Ibid. 3 based on data from: 
1) USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, “Livestock Slaughter 2010 Summary” 2) USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, “Poultry Slaughter 2010 Summary” 3) The United Egg Producers Website 4) USDA Foreign Agriculture Service import and export data These calculations account for the consumption of chicken, pork, beef, dairy, eggs, and turkey, but not other foods from land animals like duck. [vi] Unfortunately at the moment there isn’t any scientifically valid way to know the relative mental and physical suffering of each type of farm animal. For what it’s worth, agricultural economist and Compassion, By The Pound co-author F. Bailey Norwood perceives the welfare of each animal as follows, with -10 being the worst and 10 being the best: beef cows, 6; dairy cows, 4; broiler chickens, 3; pigs, -2; egg laying hens (in battery cages). See: Norwood, F. Bailey, and Jayson L. Lusk. "Compassion, by the Pound: The Economics of Farm Animal Welfare." OUP Catalogue (2011). [vii] This is not to suggest that blind people can’t bowl successfully, but simply that sighted people will have a difficult time doing so with blindfolds. [viii] Stahler, Charles. "How many adults are vegetarian? The Vegetarian Resource Group asked in a 2006 national poll." Vegetarian Journal 25.4 (2006): 42-4. [ix] See the booklet here. [x] Burger, Jerry M. "The foot-in-the-door compliance procedure: A multiple-process analysis and review." Personality and Social Psychology Review 3.4 (1999): 303-325.
[xi] Haverstock, Katie, and Deborah Kirby Forgays. "To eat or not to eat. A comparison of current and former animal product limiters." Appetite 58.3 (2012): 1030-1036.

[xii] See 1) Harrison, Marissa A., and A. E. Hall. "Anthropomorphism, empathy, and perceived communicative ability vary with phylogenetic relatedness to humans."Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology 4.1 (2010). 2) Rae Westbury, H., and David L. Neumann. "Empathy-related responses to moving film stimuli depicting human and non-human animal targets in negative circumstances." Biological psychology 78.1 (2008): 66-74.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Undercover Investigation Exposes The Live Skinning and Dismember of Fish at Texas Slaughter Facility

Mercy For Animals just released a new investigation into a Texas catfish slaughter facility. The video shows workers skinning and dismembering fish while still alive and fully conscious. Please watch and share this video far and wide. It only takes a few seconds to post it on your Facebook or email it to friends, but can result in people to stop eating fish, and hopefully all animals.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

2 Links: A Satirical Piece On Elephants in the Circus, and a Sermon Discussing Righteous Animals in Judaism

First off, The Onion, though highly satirical, has done an incredible job of portraying the torture inflicted on elephants in circuses in "Children of All Ages Delighted By Enslavement Of Topsy the Elephant."

Secondly, though it is less relevant (and the discussion of animals is pretty minimal), I figured that I would also post a link to this Devar Torah (sermon on Torah) I gave in my Junior year of college. The first half of it includes brief discussion of and references early and Medieval Rabbinic perception of the capacity of animals to perform righteous acts.

Those two links are all I've got for now; enjoy (especially the first one)!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

PETA: A Hurdle for Vegan Advocacy

This was a letter I had written to the PETA administration in my thoughts about there extremism and marketing tactics. As someone who has advocated for the vegan lifestyle, I have often been faced with people mocking the cause by mentioning PETA's campaigns such as "Sea Kittens" and their games such as "Cooking Momma: Momma Kills Animals The Unauthorized Addition". Unintentionally, I feel like some of PETA's more extremist campaigns have gone past a purpose and more of a shock factor, and these tactics have now become a hurtle to not only them, but all vegan activists alike. Either way, this is my letter to them, and I'd love if you'd share your thoughts also.

I would like to personally start off by saying that PETA gave me great information while I made the transition between going from a flexitarian, to vegetarian, to vegan while also hindering my cause when trying to share information with others.

The efficiency of Peta is absolutely amazing. I get vital information texted to my phone and email when ever the administration posts or sends anything, the amount of information and pamphlets is great, the efficiency in which I had received this information in my mail was amazing, the graphics and photographs are very professional, and their ability to attract attention to the cause of animal rights and welfare are better than any cause I have ever seen.

However, I feel that there are a few things that also make Peta the biggest threat to the cause in which it tries to fight for when it comes to marketing its ideas.

I think that the most bipartisan issue would be the Peta ads featuring women insinuating that they are naked. I, myself, see the human body as a beautiful thing and support the display of pornographic material, seeing that it is only natural and inevitable when sexual drive coexists with the digital age. I also realize that featuring such ads, undoubtably, creates a lot of attention and is great for marketing, after-all, the public wants to see a naked celebrity more than pretty much anything these day. But, I believe, that this is incredibly counter-productive. A majority of the time, it is very hard for minors to convince their parents to allow them to become vegan, or even vegetarian, with the amount of false dietary information mass-marketed to the public. With the naked women on billboards, tvs, magazines, and the internet also available to these parents, their opinion of a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle turns sour from the start. This crosses out a whole entire marketable group of clientele, and maybe the greatest. People probably most apt to turn to the aforementioned lifestyle are those not influenced by the culture and values of the Reagan Administration, seeing that the USDA underwent a huge turn in marketing and administration during the 1980's. By turning off their parents, Peta inherently erases a huge market.

Whenever I mention that I am vegetarian, especially that I am vegan, a lot of times I hear about absolutism and PETA, even people mockingly mentioning the "Sea Kittens" campaign. This has not only been a problem that I have been faced with, but one the whole vegetarian community, whether ovo-lacto or vegan alike. The treatment of animals is something we all care about undoubtably, and it is horrible that there is such a division in a minority. What we are faced with is the split between abolitionists and welfarists, and this will always exist; however, (as cliche the saying as it may be) with the amount of power Peta has, comes a great amount of responsibility, meaning the lives and welfare of animals, the planet, and the indirect meals able to be fed to the hungry due to this lifestyle, are resting in its hands. Bruce Friedrich, VP of Peta, also has stated in a recent post that being an absolutist is the worst way to attract people to this cause. The members of Peta should, of course, not give up their strong convictions of remaining not only meat free, but egg and dairy free, but being that Peta is so big, I believe that it is the organization's responsibility, with all of its money, resources, and recognition, to advocate in such a way that helps the most amount of animals being that this is its perceived cause.

I would also humbly recommend, as that the cause is the mentioned, that Peta interact and support the whole spectrum of organizations interested in animal welfare, a big one including Meat Free Mondays. This, again, is helping support animal welfare in the way appealing to the most amount of people possible, and also could be viewed as a gate way to vegetarianism and so forth if possible.

I can honestly say that Peta has done an amazing job at marketing, and like any project, there will always be debatable discussion, details, and mess ups. Like all people in this community, both Peta and I just want to, and are strongly convicted to, the cause of helping the well being of animals. Thank you so much for your time in reading this and helping facilitate action hoping to help a worthy purpose.

My regards,

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"I used to be veg*n, but..."

There's a question I've been asking myself lately:

Why do so many people go veg*n but don't stay veg*n?

We're up against powerful forces: generations of tradition, powerful lobbying and a hidden food system. But it's easy to reach out to people -- we have national organizations that give us free literature and videos, there's hours and hours of evidence of cruelty to animals on YouTube, the UN and the World Watch Institute have the most up-to-date research on the environmental aspect, and celebrities like Ellen and Oprah aren't afraid to talk about the issues.

While many people go veg*n as a result of documentaries, leaflets, books and conversations, many do not stick with it. When out tabling or leafleting, or when acquaintances/friends find out I'm vegan, I regularly hear "I used to be veg*n, but..." When I politely inquire about what they had trouble with I hear a range of answers:

"I just felt weak and tired all the time."
"I know it's bad but I just missed meat too much."
"I just don't care anymore."
"I don't know why... I should start doing it again."
"My parents wouldn't cook or buy veg*n food for me." (Haven't heard this much because I'm on a college campus but I know this is a problem for many teens).
"The cafeteria doesn't have enough veg*n options." (While our cafeteria has meager options for veg*ns, I know many veg*ns that have stuck with it despite this. So why does it affect others so much? Next school year this is going to be our top priority).

Some people quit because they say they felt weak and tired all the time, yet I meet some people that are so glad they made the switch because they feel better. If one is trying out veg*nism and they don't feel so healthy, a quick google search returns thousands of results, and I may be wrong, but I'd say most people have a friend/acquaintance that is veg*n to consult if they have questions. Most pro-veg literature has detailed information on eating a balanced veg*n diet or at least links to websites that focus on veg*n health.

Is it a real problem that maybe some people just can't feel healthy without meat? That notion seems so strange to me because I'm very active and rarely sick, but everyone is different and this may be a very real problem for some. I have a friend that used to eat mostly vegan with the occasional animal product. She knows her stuff about nutrition and how to eat a good, balanced vegan diet, but when she started eating more meat/dairy she said she actually started feeling better. It wasn't at the request of a doctor or parent, she just wanted to try it. She still eats lots of vegan food, but more meat/dairy than she used to and says she feels better.

Two years ago I would've said a big problem is that people don't stick with it because they're not involved in a veg*n community or don't have any other veg*n friends, but even though we have a large community at my school, a lot of friends/acquaintances haven't stuck with it or have been on and off despite there being a well-established veg*n community.

When people say they just missed meat too much, I think there's more to it. Every year being veg*n gets easier and more mainstream, so if someone became veg*n several years ago, why is it more difficult for them now?

When it comes to just not caring anymore maybe it's because as people get older they become less idealistic and focus more on their career and starting a family. They may even feel jaded that their idealism in their youth didn't "change the world" like they thought it would. I know this is a blanket statement and obviously there are thousands, if not millions, of exceptions, but I have met many people that say "I was veg*n when I was younger" or used to be involved in a social justice issue during high school or college but have stopped.

What have you found in your experiences and conversations? Has anyone out there reading this fell on and off the wagon in the past? If so, why? And what made you "get back on"? What do you think the problems are? Obviously we know how to expose people to the issues and how to interest them in going veg*n, but why do so many not stick with it?

Are there any articles out there similar to this one that I could read and get ideas from? is a website that addresses these issues but focuses more on raw diets and such (but does talk a great deal of veg*nism).

I'd love to hear what people think and get some discussion and ideas rolling, and figure out the best ways to approach these complex situations.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Clearing up the Confusion about Cows and Climate

*Sigh*. Where to begin? I have already gone into about as much depth as a blog allows one to, detailing the effects of animal agriculture on the environment. But misinformation seems to have no end, and this Earth Day it is again time to refute some of the newest “findings”.

Telegraph, UK: Cows Absolved of Causing Global Warming

AFP (Wire): Eating Less Meat Won't Reduce Global Warming: Study

UK Times: Tofu Can Harm Environment More Than Meat, Finds WWF Study

Telegraph, UK: UN Admits Flaw in Report on Meat and Climate Change

These headlines would be great news for meat-eaters and the environment if, well, they were true. It’s a minor detail, I know. But reality must rear its ugly face and inform us that eating animal products is just as destructive as it was on Earth Day last year. I could easily write a separate post for every one of the above articles, but I’ll try to stick to a paragraph each.

Cows Absolved? If you live in China, and the only greenhouse gas you care about is nitrous oxide, then the headline is arguably technically true. They just bury some little details in the 9th and 10th paragraphs: But Dr. Butterbach-Bahl [the author of the study] pointed out that the study did not take into account the methane produced by the livestock or the carbon dioxide produced if soil erodes […] He said the study does not overturn the case for cutting down on red meat.” Oh sure, if you leave out the two most prevalent greenhouse gases, then cows don’t produce many greenhouse gases. Makes sense!

Pro-Meat Study? Dr. Frank Mitloehner, author of the report (it’s not a study) in question, is quoted touting animal agriculture industry talking points such as “Smarter animal farming, not less farming, will equal less heat”. But the article fails to actually cite a single fact from the report, nor do they provide a title of or link to the supposed study. Mitloehner is called a “leading air quality expert”, but his official biography shows that his credentials have nothing to do with global warming and that his main academic objective is to “help establish environmentally benign livestock systems”. Yet somehow he is qualified to undermine findings by the United Nations’ scientists without even citing a fact or source?

Devastating Tofu? Another article fails to actually provide a title or link to the supposed study, and cites no numbers or methodologies. All I can gather from this widely re-posted article is that if you look at the entire carbon footprint of processed soy foods shipped halfway across the globe and compare it only to the land use of local, grass-fed cow (and again ignore the methane from that cow), then you may find the soy product to be worse for the environment. They’re really grasping at straws…

Flawed Reporting? Kind of. The thing is, the UN misreported the TRANSPORTATION sector, not the animal sector. So animal agribusiness is responsible for just as much devastation as was originally reported- and cars may be even worse than we thought. Is this even worth reporting on?

Meanwhile, back in reality, a new UN report shows that it’s not just meat that we need to be concerned with- dairy alone is responsible for 4% of all global warming emissions. This news wasn’t reported nearly as widely as the non-science above, but I can’t say that anyone I know is surprised.

We need to be on top of these facts at all times to counter the nonsense that is spouted by agribusiness. To learn more about animal agriculture's effects on the environment and/or to request a free vegan starter guide, check out

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Are Oysters Vegan?

Christopher Cox, a self-labeled vegan, just wrote a trenchant and provocative article at, in which he defends his decision to eat oysters. Predictably, the article is drawing a firestorm of criticism from many vegans, who are branding Cox a heretic.

I think the article is a must-read for veg activists. Cox digs into into tough but vital questions of labeling, purity, and absolutism. He writes:

"When I became a vegan, I didn't draw an X through everything marked "Animalia" on the tree of life. And when I pick out my dinner, I don't ask myself: What do I have to do to remain a vegan? I ask myself: What is the right choice in this situation? Eating ethically is not a purity pissing contest, and the more vegans or vegetarians pretend that it is, the more their diets start to resemble mere fashion—and thus risk being dismissed as such."

So, whaddya think?

P.S. If you find Cox's commentary interesting, check out Michael Greger's classic article on honey.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Great Debate: To call yourself a vegetarian or vegan – PART II

As the co-moderator of this blog, nothing makes me happier than to see posts explode into lively, fiery debates. When I say fiery, however, I’m talking about igniting debate, not burning those who disagree with you. So I’m both thrilled to see that Kenny Torrella’s post yesterday set off a heated exchange and disappointed to see that some readers – on both sides of the issue – responded with bitter sarcasm.

Blog readers have every right to be pissed off by any view they disagree with, but there’s a big difference between being respectfully pissed and just plain out pissing on somebody else’s opinions. All I’m saying is be respectful, be civil, and most importantly, keep it real!

With that in mind, I’d like to extend an invitation to any interested readers to participate in this discussion. If you’re not a contributor on “Animal Writes,” but would like to weigh in by posting a guest entry, shoot me an email at

Now, moderator business aside, I’d like to take off my referee shirt and jump into the fighting ring with the understanding that everything I say is my personal opinion as an activist and not as the blog moderator. At the same time, I’d like to see if there’s any room for reconciliation between the sparring viewpoints.

To summarize, Kenny, a vegan farm animal activist (and a friend of mine, for full disclosure) argued from experience that labeling himself as vegetarian rather than vegan is more effective in outreach. He echoes the insights of Bruce Friedrich, who has found that talking about veganism right off the bat tends to overwhelm and turn away folks from engaging with the issue. Some readers retorted that a vegan who labels himself as vegetarian is dishonest and has sold out by neglecting animals that are exploited for dairy and eggs.

I agree with some of the commenters that there is profound inconsistency in ethically motivated lacto-ovo vegetarianism, since, for example, more animals are slaughtered in the egg industry than in the beef industry. However, for anyone doing veg outreach, the vital and never-ceasing question must be: how can I have the greatest impact for farm animals? In Bruce and Kenny’s experience, explicitly advocating veganism turns a slight fraction of people vegan at best, while advocating vegetarianism leads many down a path that often leads to veganism.

As Kenny notes, Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals, has talked about the importance of asking people to take the first step rather than the last step. If Joe Shmoe takes the first step and sees how easy it is, he’s likely to take the next step. But if you ask Joe to leap to the finish line, he’s likely to walk away – probably in the opposite direction.

Imposing a moral baseline seems to me not only counterproductive, since it often turns people off from opening up to the issues, but also disingenuous, since nobody consumes a 100% cruelty-free diet. No vegan I know, myself included, eats in a way that causes zero harm to animals, farmers, laborers, or the environment. So holding up veganism as a moral ideal, even with the best of intentions, is misguided. The question is how to minimize our harm. Veganism is a huge step in that direction, but it is not the endpoint, and treating it as such tempts the language of self-righteousness and absolutism.

The comments on Kenny’s post reflect a broader rift in the animal rights community between so-called abolitionists and so-called welfarists. Abolitionists advocate an uncompromising pro-vegan stance and tend to oppose any incremental welfare reforms for farm animals, since they believe such reforms only reinforce the legitimacy of using animals for food. Welfarists, in contrast, believe that incremental steps forward for animal welfare are important and can be advanced in tandem with a non-exploitation ethic.

My sense is that these diverging viewpoints are rooted in deep convictions. To make a sweeping generalization, I think abolitionists place higher value on honesty, purity and idealism, while welfarists value efficacy, practicality, and nuance. Now, I bet that few welfarists or abolitionists would actually accept this categorization. A welfarist might believe that she is acting with more integrity, since in her view, renouncing efforts to improve welfare standards is doing a disservice to animals. An abolitionist might believe that he is acting with more efficacy, since welfare reforms, in his view, will turn away many potential vegetarians. My point is simply that where one falls on the abolitionist-welfarist spectrum is most often the product of underlying values (and formative experiences) and is unlikely to be swayed by means of debate.

Any conversation on effective outreach runs the risk of universalizing the matter and suggesting that some tactics are all-around superior to others. While some tactics will have greater success in some or most cases, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for outreach. So it’s conceivable that while some or most vegans may be more effective talking about vegetarianism, other vegans, given their temperament or their convictions or who they’re talking to, may have more success talking about veganism.

At the end of the day, you won’t find the answers on how to do effective outreach in a book or on a blog; you’ll find them on the street where you can put different tactics and styles to the test. So the best advice I can offer is this: get out and find what works for you!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

To call yourself vegetarian or vegan -- that is the question

(I took this from the Vegan Outreach blog -- The text in bold is from the blog, and below it is my own personal experience),

Bruce Friedrich, coauthor with Matt Ball on The Animal Activist’s Handbook and VP of PETA, has had personal interactions with literally thousands of individuals over the years (quite possibly, he has had more one-on-one conversations about animal issues than anyone else in the U.S.). He recently wrote:
I actually think that using the word “vegan” (other than perhaps with youth) may be counterproductive to helping animals, relative to using the word “vegetarian.” As a species, we are given to seeing things as “all or nothing," and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had discussions with people who write off making any changes because they believe they can’t go vegan.

That’s why I no longer wear my “Ask me why I’m vegan” shirts – I wear the vegetarian ones, and the conversations have gotten SO MUCH BETTER. Where people used to be all about what vegan means and how hard it is to give up dairy (which saves 1/10 of an animal/year), now we talk about fish and chickens (saving many dozens of animals/year). I used to hear stories about dour and angry vegans; now I hear stories about daughters and cousins who are vegetarian.

This is anecdotal, of course, but it’s not theoretical – this is real-world and OVERWHELMING. I have FAR more people respond to my shirt now and approach me to ask questions. Before, I generally talked about what vegan means and the evils of dairy (still good, of course, but not nearly as valuable in helping animals). Now, I often have people tell me on the basis of one conversation that they will go vegetarian.

My long experience shows the word vegan scares many people, but the word vegetarian interests them (we also see this overwhelmingly when leafleting – people want vegetarian information far more than vegan information). Ironically, I’ll bet we get far fewer vegans by using the word vegan, since many vegetarians do go vegan, once they see how easy it is and start down the path of compassionate eating.
This is from this interview; more on this later in the week.

I read this a few weeks ago and have been experimenting with it lately, and 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 Friedrich's tip, I experimented with it and found it to be a much better approach toward turning more people on to a vegetarian lifestyle. I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this and if you try it out, let me know how it goes.

There are a lot of other great essays, articles and interviews here:

The next article I write for this blog will be a general why and how-to on leafleting for Vegan Outreach and what I've learned from it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pumpkin French Toast Casserole (or banana, apple, other fruit)

This is basically my lazy, casual rendition of French toast, with less work. This recipe is about using what you have on hand or things that you may have no other use for or are about to get up and leave you.

The original Recipe is from Vegan Brunch by Isa, amazing book and worth your hard earned money.

This recipe is great for when you have some stale or dry bread that is past it's prime. Because this recipe is the my lazy vegan version, you can use any old bread or an assortment of breads. No matter how old, dry, stale, hard, broken or decrepit it is, because instead of perfect slices our bread is going to be cubed, torn and shredded. I also made sure to save and add all the bread crumbs I had laying around, so dump out those bags and scrap your cutting boards! Waste not, want not.

This recipe is all about using what you already have, so experiment and substitute to suit your needs. If you don't have pumpkin try squash, banana, fruit compote, sweet potato, apple sauce. Anything!

What you will need:

Baking Dish
Cutting Board

1 cup canned pumpkin (alternative, depending on what you have could be apple sauce, compote, mashed bananas)
1 cup almond milk (or any other vegan milk)
2 T corn starch (again, it you like potato or other starches use them)
2 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
two shakes of all spice

optional: Earth balance for buttering the baking dish and dotting the top
Optional add ins: Anything you have laying around, nuts (whole, broken, ground), coconut, dried fruit, chocolate chips, oats, flax seeds, this is your dish and it is about using what you have.
More Options: If you don't want to serve the casserole with syrup or sugar, I would add brown sugar or maple syrup directly to the pumpkin mix to bake in the sweetness so no toppings will be needed.

Also, if you bread mixture looks a little dry once all the juices are absorb splash some more almond milk on top.

Add ins can either be mixed with pumpkin mixture, or tossed with the bread, or even sprinkled over top of the dish! Whatever you want.

a little liquid from jarred ginger or a little bit of grated fresh ginger (again, this is to taste so for stronger bite add more)
expired bread, I had a good 3/4 loaf but you could round this out with fresh bread, all bread crumbs or any bread like items you have around.

Dice your bread into bite sized cubes or tear into chunks if using soft bread save all end pieces, crumbs, fluffy bits and odds and ends. Set aside.

Mix everything else together in a bowl and preheat your oven to 350.

Place all your bread into a shallow rimmed baking dish (you can use a casserole dish or deep dish, this will result in a softer casserole. As the pumpkin mixture is pretty wet, and depending on how hard/dry your bread is you may want more layers to keep in moisture.) Since I like mine less moist and a little crispy, I'm using a shallow baking dish so my bread is effectively in a single layer.

Pour pumpkin mixture over bread and let sit until oven is ready, the longer it sits the more it absorbs and the softer it gets. So depending on the tough/dryness of your bread and your preference for soft/pudding style eats you may want to let it sit longer.

I added broken walnut pieces to mine and mixed them in last. Mine also looked a little dry so I added a splash of soymilk on top and dotted it with Earth Balance.

Alternatively you can prepare this and place it in your fridge to dish out smaller amounts to cook on an as needed bases. Or even fish out your bread cubes to fry, traditional French toast style throughout the week. MMM

But since I'm being lazy, I'm just gonna plop the whole mess in the oven and not let it sit very long. About 12 minutes, stir let it sit another 12, then bake.

Baking time was around 15-20 mins, again if you'd like a more pudding style dish you could stir/mix it as it cooks and reduce the cooking time.


Now because I didn't add any sugar to the casserole the end result isn't overtly sweet. I prefer to sweeten it to taste on the plate with icing sugar and maple syrup (I also lived with my dad, who hated sweets so I tend to let people add their own sugar). However, if you're looking for a sweetened dish ready scoop and eat, I would mix in some maple syrup or brown sugar right into the pumpkin puree.

Serve alone, dusted with sugar, spices, citrus zest, berry sauce, syrup, ice cream or w/e.

alternatively if you like pumpkin, you could make this a savory dish by adding sauted garlic, Rosemary, thyme and onions to the pumkin mixture and extra earth balance.