Could a non-vegan achieve more than a vegan? An interview with Brian Kateman

People who follow this blog may have noticed how sometimes I take a somewhat unorthodox approach to veganism. Being a vegan myself, I don’t believe that veganism is the be all and end all of everything. I believe it is a means and not a goal. The goals and the principle underlying it are compassion and more happiness/less suffering. I think when we are consistent, we should be especially consistent with that goal or principle, rather than with the definition of veganism itself. If all this sounds “anti-vegan”, so be it.

If I take this idea further, it makes me wonder if sometimes… being vegan is not always the best thing one can do for the animals. More concretely, I wonder if there might be people even, who could do more as non-vegans than as vegans. And maybe I found an example of this in the figure of Brian Kateman, the prime mover behind the “reducetarian” idea. I decided to ask him a couple of questions…

Brian, why reducetarianism?
The problem with many present-day conversations around meat consumption is that they have been dominated by an all-or-nothing premise: you are either a meat eater or a vegetarian/vegan. As a result of this false dichotomy, many people feel immobilized to make any changes to their diet. This sense of hopelessness is unfortunate, because two people eating half as much meat spares as many animals from a lifetime of misery as one vegetarian. It’s great that we are seeing an increase in the number of vegans, but the majority of people in the world still consume meat. To be effective in saving animals, we cannot preach to the choir – we must find ways to engage meat eaters, even, and especially those who have no intentions of becoming a vegan or vegetarian at this point in time. Reducetarianism unites the growing community of individuals who are committed to eating less meat and ends what can sometimes feel like a tiresome battle among vegans, vegetarians, and all those reducing their consumption of meat. This new perspective provides everyone with a platform – not just vegans and vegetarians – to make small choices to eat less meat in their own lives and collectively make a significant difference in the world.

Brian Kateman
Brian Kateman

Another consideration is that, when it comes to meat consumption, gradual, incremental changes in behavior may be more sustainable over the long term. As summarized by Mercy for Animals: “Surveys have repeatedly found that those who reduce their meat consumption are much more likely to go vegetarian, and that those who go vegetarian are much more likely to go vegan. This is consistent with hundreds of studies from the field of social psychology that have found people are much more likely to be persuaded to make a moderate change than they are to make a major change, and that once people make the moderate change they become more open to the larger change.”  (Admittedly, though, the goal of reducetarianism is not to solely increase the number of vegans but to decrease the overall amount of meat that our society consumes.)

What motivations do you emphasize?
It’s important to note that reducetarianism is also inclusive of motivations: it doesn’t matter whether a person is eating less meat to save money or to lose weight or to combat climate change or to spare farm animals from cruelty. Motivations aren’t important, certainly not to our health or the planet. There are some legitimate concerns that people who encounter reducetariansim will switch from beef to chicken and ultimately harm more animals, but we take extra precautions by raising the ethical implications of eating meat, and emphasizing the added value in eating fewer chickens and pigs, those most commonly abused on factory farms.

Ultimately, my goal with reducetarianism, in the spirit of effective altruism, is to provide as many people as possible with an entry point into eating less meat. As a college student, I personally was motivated to eat less beef and more poultry due to environmental concerns, and likely killed more animals than I would have otherwise in that period as a result. Gradually, though, I learned more about meat production and its harmful effects, particularly the suffering of animals (thanks to a classmate who encouraged me to read The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter by my hero Peter Singer). I subsequently cut down on all forms of meat, and continue to spare farm animals from cruelty every day, usually three times per day, in fact.

What are your personal eating habits?
Today, my diet continues to evolve toward a more compassionate, healthy, and environmentally friendly one. I primarily eat fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. I eat poultry in one meal every three weeks and beef in one meal per month (usual small portions of both). Approximately half of my meals are vegan. I’ve completely cut out pork and seafood. One day, I’ll likely cut out all animal products. It’s a process, for me, and for many others – we have a long-term relationship with food.

Do you think you might be achieving more because you’re a non-vegan?
There’s no question that when it comes to meat consumption omnivores relate more easily to me, a meat-eater, than to a vegan. When a vegan with a “go-vegan” message approaches a hard-core meat eater, there is undoubtedly resistance. It reminds me of proposing marriage to someone on a first date – not the most effective strategy for entering into a relationship. Still, this likely isn’t true of children and teenagers who are generally more open minded than adults. I’ve often thought that the “go-vegan” message is probably most effective on young people, where as the “be a reducetarian and eat less meat” message is probably most effective on older people who have established habits and routines. In other words, admittingly in the spirit of Malcolm Gladwell, we have been looking for the perfect message, when we should be looking for the perfect messages. However, when a meat-eater approaches a meat-eater, even if the meat consumption is to varying degrees, there is mutual understanding and compatibility, even unconsciously. So, yes, I’m probably more credible and thus saving more animals than I would be if I were a vegan spokesperson for a reducetarian campaign. With that said, this is a highly unusual situation; in most cases, and certainly on a personal level in terms of impact, the less meat, the better. One day, I’ll likely be in position to save more animals by completely eliminating animal-products from my diet.

I think a more important take away is that animal advocates – vegans and non-vegans, can often be most effective by being compassionate to humans too, not only animals. In the words of Rob Greenfield, “We live in a messed up time and it’s very challenging to make ethical decisions. It’s not easy… to do the right thing. So much of mainstream society stacks the odds against us… So campaign hard and lead by example but remember that all people have feelings too and have their own challenging circumstances.”

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96 thoughts on “Could a non-vegan achieve more than a vegan? An interview with Brian Kateman

  1. Great post!

    As a philosophy graduate student at Colorado State University, I worked with Bernard Rollin who does a lot of practical work on behalf of animals (as well as teaching animal ethics, etc.)

    He himself is not a vegan (or even a vegetarian) but has done a lot to improve the situation for animals by working directly with the industry to eliminate various practices, etc.

    His claim is that since he goes to things like ‘cattlemen conventions’ and ranchers meetings and stands in front of them to tell them that they need to care more for their animals and how to do it, etc. that he would lose quite a bit of sway over them if he could not then sit down with them to dinner.

    I am not sure how much of this is totally accurate, etc. (it is just one man’s defense after all) and of course his situation is relatively unique (in working so closely with people in the animal industry) and so doesn’t necessarily apply to others.

    Nonetheless, I found the idea interesting and I do think it points more generally to a point similar to your’s here. If our goal is reducing suffering/reducing the number of animals raised and slaughtered each year, then we can work towards that goal by means other than just telling everyone they are moral monsters for consuming animal products at all – indeed, that approach seems empirically flawed.

    1. thanks marcus, the rollin example is good. he might be using it as an excuse, but the question is if that matters. the thing is, suppose he is right, would we still “demand” him to be vegan? i wouldn’t, if i knew he had more impact that way.

      1. Sorry to be posting so late, but… here’s the thing: assuming he’s right (I’m not fully convinced), wouldn’t a better position be for him to eat vegan but not tell others that’s what he’s doing?

    2. I ditto this point big time, Marcus:

      “If our goal is reducing suffering/reducing the number of animals raised and slaughtered each year, then we can work towards that goal by means other than just telling everyone they are moral monsters for consuming animal products at all – indeed, that approach seems empirically flawed.”

  2. I know you probably going to kill me for bringing up One Step for Animals again, Tobias, but this is the perfect post for it, so I couldn’t resist. 🙂

    “We are working to help animals, period. We aren’t trying to promote a particular philosophy, worldview, diet, or lifestyle. Our bottom line is not how many people we can convince to think exactly like we do, but how many fewer animals are suffering and dying. We would rather help three people start eating half as many animals than convince one person to be a strict and strident vegan.”

  3. Excellent point here:

    “To be effective in saving animals, we cannot preach to the choir – we must find ways to engage meat eaters, even, and especially those who have no intentions of becoming a vegan or vegetarian at this point in time.”

    We all wish in our hearts for that world where everybody would go vegan once they have been made aware of the cruelty involved in staying non-vegan…but we have to work within the parameters of the realities of the real world we live in if we ever wish to real and tangible changes.

    From One Step for Animals again:

    “If there were some magic argument that would persuade everyone to stop eating animals immediately, it would have been discovered by now.

    Given the number of animals suffering and the extent of their suffering, One Step for Animals believes we can’t focus only on those few people. It is time for us to realize everyone is a potential ally – and act accordingly.

    Nearly everyone opposes cruelty to animals and is sickened when they see animals being brutalized. If we can reach out to everyone where they are and get them to take just one meaningful step to help animals – instead of insisting or implying they must adopt our preferred worldview and lifestyle – we will be able to save many more animals from the horrors of factory farms and slaughterhouses.”

    1. If someone “opposes cruelty to animals and is sickened when they see animals being brutalized” then (1) CCTV live-streamed from slaughterhouses (and rearing conditions and transport) together with the (2) dietary evidence that meat/dairy/eggs are not necessary for our survival or health should lead to a “meaningful step” (or a re-thinking of what one means by being opposed to cruelty and sickened by animals being brutalized).

  4. Vegans (such as I) have lots of control over how well non-vegans relate to us. Simple things like being friendly, agreeing when we agree with something, finding and acknowledgeing commonalities, being honest, and admitting our own fallibilities help immensely, and it’s easy to see this working in dialogs. I would take “people relate to non-vegans better” as descriptive, not prescriptive.

  5. ‘I think a more important take away is that animal advocates – vegans and non-vegans, can often be most effective by being compassionate to humans too, not only animals.’

    I like that a lot. And it’s sad that it’s not a given: that we have to remind each other of the benefits of a compassionate approach. I also agree that we need to think of filters: the other things going on in someone’s life; money worries, problems with their job, concerns about their kids etc. Being vegan and/ or saving animals may be at the centre of our own lives but it’s not at the centre of the lives of most people. Recognising that isn’t always easy when you’re feeling all fired up and evangelical about animal liberation, but it’s necessary.

    This is a really interesting piece and I applaud Kateman for being so honest in the interview. I do wonder how he can enjoy eating meat, though, given how aware he seems to be of animal suffering within agriculture, and how active he is within reductionism. I’m not meaning that in a judgemental way but rather as a pragmatic question: how does he manage to disassociate the meal from his campaigning work so as he can actually get any enjoyment from it? For me, it would seem easier for him – in both a philosophical and pragmatic way – to simply avoid eating meat altogether.

    Does that make sense? Really trying hard not to come across as judgemental so sorry if it’s perceived as being so!

    1. What a lovely comment. Thank you for taking the time to provide your feedback.

      Your question, as I understand it, is about cognitive dissonance – the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. This is a common and well documented experience and seeps into nearly every aspect of our lives.

      I too marvel at how cognitive dissonance plays out when it comes to meat consumption.

      Just the other day, while in a cafe, I watched a disturbing undercover investigation of a factory farm. I thought of all the terrible suffering in the world and nearly started to tear. Anyone who has seen one knows how emotionally upsetting these videos can be, especially to a sensitive person like me. And then, while witnessing a pig being brutally tortured, I caught a whiff of a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich and started to salivate. I wanted it, badly. And then I heard the poor pig crying again and snapped out of it.

      My thinking brain and primal brain, in this series of moments, were very much pitted against one another. I’m much more likely to cave and eat meat when I’m tired or over hungry or just had a bad day. Sometimes I regret it. Other times I create false justifications. For example, I had a blood test recently and I’m extremely low in B12. I started to take vitamins, but the next time I eat beef, I might convince myself (falsely) that I need it for my health. To be clear, lots of plant based food foods have B12 – I just need to eat more of them.

      Another great example emerges during Thanksgiving. My mom always wants me to try just a bite of her delicious meal. It makes her so happy.

      These are all examples of faulty brains.

      But I could imagine a handful of situations where I’d save more animals by eating meat.

      I recently attended a BBQ that made me feel like I may have made a bad decision to not eat meat.

      At a BBQ of 25 people, I was the only one to have a veggie burger. Every other person had burgers and hot dogs. I tried to make it clear that the veggie burger was awesome, but I probably came off like a judgmental person incapable of enjoying life when I explained that I was trying to eat less meat with respect to my own diet. I wonder if I had had one meat burger and one veggie burger if I would have somehow saved more animals, by encouraging everyone to split their choices. That would have been a cooler and more impactful outcome.

      I wrote this out quickly – hope it makes sense. Happy to talk more sometime!

      I hope the take away is that making good choices isn’t always easy. We have to help people make compassionate choices with compassionate support – otherwise we and the animals are doomed.

      1. I honestly can’t think of an instance where I thought I needed to have a meat burger at a barbecue or similar function in order to have people relate to me or to be more likely to regard any subsequent vegan outreach more seriously. Never say never, but it just hasn’t happened to me in eleven years. There are all kinds of ways we can form meaningful bonds and cultivate fruitful dialog: asking sincere questions about what someone does and/or thinks, sharing a joke, “Can I get you a beer?,” joining in the frisbee game, and so forth. The possibilities are endless. Yes, there is often a bit of baseline discomfort when “the one vegan” eats a veggie burger, but that can be overcome in minutes. Inevitably, people ask about the veggie burger or why I’m having one, and that presents outreach opportunities. FWIW, I typically bring foods such as Field Roast apple-sage sausage and a vegan potato salad that I know almost everyone will like, and that makes a huge difference. Sharing food is powerful and disarming, and helps build relationships and productive conversations.

      2. Hey Brian, thanks for taking the time to reply and for understanding my question in the spirit of which I had meant it.

        I guess at the root of the question was this: do you feel guilty eating meat or do you think you are doing enough for the animals to relieve you of that guilt and, again, you answered it with an openness and honesty that I wish more of us, including myself, would employ.

        For me, it brings the whole issue of ‘guilt’ as a driver to the forefront. Because vegans are not without fault, either (although, many would have you believe they were, given the language they use).

        There’ll always be the next step regardless of where you are at in your life: for the meat eater to reduce; for the reducer to cut out meat and become pescatarian and then vegetarian; for the vegetarian to adopt a vegan diet; for the vegan to adopt a more vegan lifestyle; to become more active on behalf of animals; to apply such thinking to the environment etc.

        So, yeah, is guilt effective as an outreach tool? Is it helpful? Should it be used within animal welfare/ rights outreach at all?

        If animal rights was a religion, there would be the fire and brimstone activists (absolutists?) for whom guilt would be a major tool and, I guess, there would be those who only talk of the benefits of veganism and being kind to animals etc. and never use guilt at all. But the reality is that even among those groups/ charities that would not be absolutists, that would employ positive campaigning and encourage meat-reducing etc., there are still some guilt-inducing methods employed.

        So here’s my question, I guess: how much guilt is enough? 🙂

        1. I often feel guilty during and after eating meat, but I try not to instill this feeling on others. But to be honest, from a being naturally neurotic person, and especially after learning about effective altruism, I feel guilty for going on vacation, and for eating out at overpriced restaurants, and for not calling my parents enough. I sometimes feel guilty that I recently adopted a dog (she brings me so much joy, BTW) when I could have used that money to spare more farm animals from cruelty. No matter how logical, I think this is a destructive thought process, and I work actively to resist it. I want to enjoy my life while improving the world. I don’t have the constitution to be a martyr. To be clear, this is not the goal of EA, but its a not so good side effect among some who subscribe to its philosophies.

          You’re so right that there will always be a next step regardless of where a person is in there life. That’s a major insight that reframes how we approach one another along the moral landscape. I often joke that a starvatarian (a vegan who only eats one meal per day) is more moral than a standard vegan. I’m not sure if this phrase has been used but I promised myself to only invent one word in my lifetime 😛

          I like this exchange. Keep in touch. E-mail me anytime.

          I’m going to dive into some of the primary literature on guilt as a motivator for behavioral change. I doubt it’s a good advocacy strategy. What do you think intuitively about it? My sense is that guilt and shaming raise defensive walls which reinforce bad behaviors. I like BJ Fogg’s research and strategy. Have you seen his TEDx Talk? For me, eating less meat for animal welfare reasons kicked in when I learned to celebrate each less cruel meal. Sometimes, when I notice my omnivore friends order a vegan or vegetarian meal, I’ll raise my glass and ask them to celebrate that we all saved a farm animal. That to me is a much better strategy than yelling like a maniac at meat eaters. And yes, maybe there is something useful in between – a hint of guilt for less than ideal choices – I’m not sure. I prefer positive reinforcement. Nothing turns people off like doom and gloom.

          Tobias, what are your thoughts on guilt? Have you read any of the primary literature on this topic? It’s an important question.

          1. Yes, important. I only know from veganomics that when people feel guilty about something, they are even MORE inclined to do it, generally

            I have the same proneness to feeling guilty as you, btw 🙂

        2. Zeno’s Paralysis

          Brian, I think the reason you feel guilt may be because you know it is wrong for you to keep eating meat, no matter what stance you are taking on reduction.

          I also think compassion is a much more powerful and focussed motivation than guilt. What matters is whether the victims are suffering, not whether I am a good enough person, or doing everything one possibly can about everything there is.

          I also think that some of the excesses you are attributing to guilt are actually rationalizations that are the byproducts of denial (the rationalizations we use to resolve cognitive dissonance).

          Apart from that, there are ineffectual obsessive-compulsive tendencies that need to be kept in check too. Otherwise one is headed for logical absurdity and superstition (“step on a crack, break your mother’s back”).

          One can also psych oneself a state of Zeno’s Paralysis that serves as an excuse for doing nothing: One of my students said recently (with a genuinely distressed facial expression) that he doesn’t stop eating meat even though he knows it’s wrong to hurt animals needlessly because he is distressed about continuing to use computers even though their manufacture abuses child labour. No connection. One does not depend on the other. Just ineffectual inaction.

      3. None of this sounds convincing at all. It sounds like making excuses to oneself about not doing the right thing. Compassion is as compassion does — sparing the victim, not shedding tears for it, and then taking another bite.

        1. stevan, to me this sounds like: if you’re a vegan, you can’t do anything right; if you’re a non-vegan, you can’t do anything wrong. i think what you put in your mouth is one thing, what you do to reach others is another. if you want to have a measure of one person’s doing good, or impact, count the two together. brian probably does more than most full time vegans and thus has more impact. yes, you can fault him for not being a vegan himself, but like i said elsewhere, is that really the most important focus here?

  6. I like the term Reducetarian. It’s the approach I take in my blog goodmotherdiet which promotes Meatless Monday as an approachable goal for regular people in reducing the amount of meat we eat. People are surprised when i tell them that this small step makes a difference. I do it for the animals but am always happy when people go meatless for any reason. Saving the planet and being healthy are worthy goals too. Glad to have a name for it now…

  7. To me this seems like the usual vegan narrative, just with an argument that it may be most effective for people to slowly become vegan. Vegan is still the end goal, same talking points (“saving animals”), etc……and as always all the complicated philosophic issues are skipped over.

    Also, his meat intake seems planned which seems strange to me.

      1. Brian,

        I’m not so sure this is the place to discuss philosophy but rather “vegan strategy”. But veganism hinges on a number of thorny philosophic issues which are from my experience rarely discussed. Since veganism is not rooted in any particular philosophic view the issues largely hinge on one’s particular motivation. But some of the issues I have in mind are, for example, what does it mean to grant animals rights and how does one deal with human and animal conflicts in such a framework? In what sense is non-existence, for the animals, preferable to a short but reasonable life on a farm? Why is membership in the animal kingdom, which is just a scientific classification, morally significant? If one grants animals rights, how do we interpret conflicts between them? If reducing suffering is the goal, how exactly does one justify the ownership of pets or even further human breeding? Assuming mass suicide is off the table, just want human desires are we allowed and what is the basis for the determination? Veganism brings up a storm of questions.

        1. Vital Interests

          “What does it mean to grant animals rights”

          To agree that it is wrong to hurt or kill a feeling organism unnecessarily (i.e., where there is no life-or-death conflict of vital interests).

          It is not necessary to eat meat, dairy, or eggs for human survival and health. Same for fur and leather, hunting, circuses, rodeos…

          “How does one deal with human and animal conflicts in such a framework?”

          Let’s settle the straightforward cases where there is no conflict of life-or-death interest first. We can leave the troubling question of life-saving biomedical research for later. (But most biomedical research is not life-saving; it is curiosity-, career- and funding-driven.)

          “In what sense is non-existence, for the animals, preferable to a short but reasonable life on a farm?”

          “Non-existence” is not “for” anyone or anything.

          The only one who can decide whether a short life followed by slaughter is “preferable” to anything else is the one whose life and suffering is in question. Not you or me. (And the short life of most animals raised for meat, dairy or eggs is miserable. Again, the only one who can judge whether it’s “reasonable” is the victim, not you are me.)

          “Why is membership in the animal kingdom, which is just a scientific classification, morally significant?”

          Being an organism that can feel and suffer is the only thing that is morally significant, regardless of species.

          “If one grants animals rights, how do we interpret conflicts between them?”

          The only “right” at issue is the right not to be bred, brutalized and slaughtered needlessly by humans. This is true of human and non-human animals. And humans have a choice about what they do and don’t do, and laws. Non-human animals don’t.

          “If reducing suffering is the goal, how exactly does one justify the ownership of pets or even further human breeding?”

          Eliminating needless suffering inflicted by humans on feeling organisms is the goal in this discussion. Pet breeding and ownership is unjustified and vegans only have rescued-animals as pets. Having rescue pets today helps sensitize people to animals’ needs, vulnerability and feelings. Once we stop eating them, we can stop breeding them, for any unnecessary purpose.

          (Of course humans should reduce their own over-population, but that’s a different problem.)

          “Assuming mass suicide is off the table, just what human desires are we allowed and what is the basis for the determination?”

          The desires that don’t hurt or kill feeling organisms unnecessarily.

        2. You ask great questions. My educational background is in conservation biology, so I too often think about the conflict between animal and human well being. My interest is in decreasing overall suffering. In the crudest of sense, I ask how many animals suffering are worth one human suffering. For me, as a result of the sheer number of farm animals abused every year, they win out in my calculation. But I agree – philosophical waters can be murky. The “repugnant conclusion” had me awake at night recently.

        3. Stevan,

          While I appreciate your response, I’m afraid that each question I asked would require far more than a couple of sentences to address. Also much of what you said just raises new questions, let’s look at one of your primary claims, you claimed “that it is wrong to hurt or kill a feeling organism unnecessarily (i.e., where there is no life-or-death conflict of vital interests)” . Firstly this statement doesn’t provide any insight on what it would mean, both legally and philosophically, to grant animals rights. Secondly if you followed the consequences of this claim, and didn’t just use it as an ad hoc justification for veganism, you’d be more or less denying modern life. Much of what we have in the modern world harms animals in some way and yet is not a matter of “life-or-death” so, by your claim, it would be wrong. What it means to be a “feeling organism” is not clear, all multi-cellular organisms can “feel” in some sense. Nor is suffering, when we talk about suffering we are are speaking from the human perspective. To what degree do other animals suffer? What are the sufficient conditions for suffering? Etc. These are all difficult questions that touch on the frontiers of both philosophy and science.

          In any case, bringing this back to the topic of the post, I think its far more sensible to focus on what is clear and not push the things that rely on a commitment to a particular ideology like veganism.

        4. On Reasonable and Unreasonable and Unreasonable Doubt

          Mr Toad: “‘that it is wrong to hurt or kill a feeling organism unnecessarily (i.e., where there is no life-or-death conflict of vital interests)’… doesn’t provide any insight on what it would mean, both legally and philosophically, to grant animals rights.”

          It means that it should be illegal to hurt or kill a feeling organism unnecessarily.

          Mr Toad: “if you followed the consequences of this claim, and didn’t just use it as an ad hoc justification for veganism, you’d be more or less denying modern life.”

          In the past (and present) we have done a lot of unnecessary hurting and killing of feeling organisms. What’s done can’t be undone. But having done wrong is not an excuse for continuing to do it.

          The principle that it is wrong to hurt or kill a feeling organism unnecessarily does not follow ad hoc from veganism. Veganism (among other things) follows from the principle.

          Mr Toad: “Much of what we have in the modern world harms animals in some way and yet is not a matter of “life-or-death” so, by your claim, it would be wrong.”

          That’s right.

          But sustaining modern life is a life-or-death matter too. People cannot stop using cars and planes altogether today because they cause accidents and pollution. But they can cut down and work to find alternatives.

          Mr Toad: “What it means to be a ‘feeling organism’ is not clear”

          It’s certainly clear enough to you if you’re the one being hurt. With anyone or anything else you can’t be sure. But you can be almost sure. Give other organisms that are like you the benefit of the doubt. The consequences of assuming that other organisms like you do not feel, and being wrong, are incomparably worse (for those organisms) than the consequences (for you) of assuming that they do feel, and being wrong. (It’s like opting for the risk of sparing a guilty person rather than executing an innocent one where there is reasonable doubt.)

          (Pascal’s Wager in its original form was a fallacy, because it was based on an imaginary afterlife for which there is zero evidence; but the evidence for sentience and suffering in other organisms is enormous.)

          Mr Toad: “all multi-cellular organisms can ‘feel’ in some sense.”

          No, the evidence is that neurons are needed to feel. Hence it is unlikely that plants, uni-cellular organisms, or multi-cellular organisms lacking neurons feel.

          Mr Toad: “Nor is suffering [clear], when we talk about suffering we are are speaking from the human perspective.”

          Suffering is suffering from the victim’s perspective. With mammals it’s obvious. With birds and the higher vertebrates, just about as obvious. Some people claim to have doubts about fish and invertebrates. How much this is because of reasonable doubt — as in the case of doubt about an accused person’s guilt — and how much it is because of reluctance to give up eating them, or reluctance to feel as if they ought to — is a matter between the doubters and their consciences, when they hear and see the scalding lobster thrashing in the kettle and they opt for philosophy instead of mercy.

          I’d say the potential victims of unnecessary hurting and killing deserve the benefit of the doubt.

          Mr Toad: “To what degree do other animals suffer?”

          To what degree would they have to be suffering, to justify not making them suffer?

          Mr Toad: “What are the sufficient conditions for suffering? Etc.”

          The behavioral and neural correlates of suffering.

          Mr Toad: “I think its far more sensible to focus on what is clear and not push the things that rely on a commitment to a particular ideology like veganism.”

          What’s at issue is whether it is wrong to hurt and kill unnecessarily. On clarity, see above, about mammals, birds, lower vertebrates and invertebrates, their behavior and their neurons. On reasonable doubt, listen to a conscientious judge’s charge to the jury in a capital trial.

          And none of this follows from veganism: rather, veganism follows from this.

  8. Guilt is something I’m sensitive to as well, Brian, and a lot of what you talk of in that regard rings very true for me too. For me, it’s a hangover from being brought up within a religious home. Interestingly, I’m now an atheist. While guilt was part and parcel of the fire and brimstone sermons I sweated through at church every Sunday, ultimately I rejected them. As do many others who find themselves in a similar situation.

    So, in the context of religion, I would say that guilt works for a while, at best, but ultimately will drive a person away from the message being relayed. But I guess there are other factors at play, there, such as the wider concept of belief/ disbelief in a deity etc. I think I would still have rejected religion even if I had been brought up in a happy clappy, God is awesome environment.

    Anyway, I digress.

    I haven’t looked into text around the effectiveness or otherwise of guilt as an outrerach tool but I do wonder if at least part of my drive in terms of becoming vegan was arrived at by guilt. I’ve been vegan for about a year now, a blissfully unaware pescatarian (Kurt Cobain said it was okay to eat fish cos they don’t have no feelings, and that was good enough for me) for many years prior, but it wasn’t until watching the Vegucated movie, with its perhaps perfect balance of humour and positive reinforcement, mixed in with a few moments of factory farming footage, that I cut out the fish and dairy.

    Would the facts on their own have sufficed or did I need to see that graphic footage?

    It’s definitely an interesting question.

  9. Reductio-ad-absurditarianism

    Brian Kateman rationalizes his own continuing to eat meat for no coherent reason whatsoever. Let’s try to combat serial killing gradually: If two serial killers kill half as many people, that saves as many people as one serial killer giving it up completely.

    Little logic, little compassion; lots of self-indulgence and special pleading. But good enough for Tedx…

        1. I’ve now read your link, which I see was meant to be the rebuttal. My objection was not to trying to get people to eat less meat. (I am of course an abolitionist, but also a pragmatic gradualist, where necessary. My first loyalty is to whatever will get animals hurt less.) But Brian Kateman takes his argument for encouraging gradualism to be a justification for his own meat-eating. That’s what I was referring to.

          1. ok, let’s say this is so. i don’t think this is the interesting thing to focus on here (though it’s an obvious focus of “abolitionists”). the truly interesting question to me is: suppose it is correct that he’s reaching more people by being a non vegan in his case (and actually saying that he is a non vegan), would you still “require” him to be vegan?

        2. Smoke-Enders

          Tobias leenaert: “Suppose it is correct that [Brian Kateman is] reaching more people by being a non vegan in his case (and actually saying that he is a non vegan), would you still “require” him to be vegan?”

          1. I assume that by “‘require’ him to be a vegan” you mean “fault him for not being vegan” (since I am not talking about requiring anything).

          2. I assume that by “reaching more people” you mean “getting more people to eat less meat” (not just “reaching people,” which is just audience-counting, not victim-saving).

          3. It is a logical truism (tautology) that if you suppose the truth of a premise, even if the premise is false or highly improbable, all sorts of things would indeed follow, though false or highly improbable (“Suppose Napoleon had won at Waterloo…” or “Suppose Creationism was true…”)

          4. So, first, let me say that I don’t know whether Brian Kateman’s “Reducitarianism” is in fact (a) getting people to eat less meat; (b) whether, if so, the reducing lasts, or dissipates after a while, like other fad-diets; (c) whether, if it does reduce meat consumption, it increases or decreases the likelihood that people will go on eating meat, just at a lower level; (d) whether the meat industry will use it as a selling point for continuing to eat meat, just “wisely”; (e) whether “Reducitarianism” will compete with (possibly) more effective or lasting approaches to sensitizing people to animal suffering, its non-necessity, and their own causal role in it, and getting them to realize that they should stop.

          5. I don’t know the answers to any of these (and more) questions, so “supposing” that the answers to them are positive is a big supposition.

          6. What I can safely say is that if I can suppose that any approach reduces the suffering of the victims — and not at the expense of making more victims suffer more, later, nor at the expense of not-taking another approach that would make more victims suffer less — then I, as a “pragmatic, gradualist abolitionist,” would support it.

          7. But that does not touch the criticism I actually made, which is that even taking such a hypothetical approach in one’s activism does not justify the activist’s continuing to eat meat. That, I think, is pure self-delusion and special pleading to justify one’s own secondary concern about needless animal suffering next to one’s desire to keep on eating one likes. And it also sets a very wrong example, in the long run.

          8. I also don’t believe for a minute that Brian Kateman has to keep eating meat for the sake of the effectiveness of his message. That’s rather like saying that a drug addict will be more effective in fighting drug addiction not only if (a) he preaches reduction instead of quitting, but if (b) he himself continues to take (reduced amounts of) the drugs along with them. That’s more likely to be a symptom that the preacher is still a drug-addict, and just fooling himself, and that his disciples will stay that way too. (If that’s too shrill, the same can be said for smokers “helping” smokers quit by themselves continuing to smoke and just preaching reduction.)

          (By the way, if Brian were in reality just telling a white lie about the fact that he was still eating meat, and wasn’t, that would meet my objection about self-delusion, but I think there would still be uncertainty about whether and how much “Reducitarianism” really works, and how long.)

          1. stevan, i’m not interested in saying what brian should do and if he is an excusetarian or not. my question was not as simplistic or tautological as you presume, i think. many people (esp. abolitionists) would say that even a better result would not warrant what they call a “rights violation”. that was my question to you, but from your point six i believe i can derive that you r answer would not be like that.

        3. Tobias leenaert: “many people (esp. abolitionists) would say that even a better result would not warrant what they call a ‘rights violation'”

          I don’t live in an abstract or ideological world. The only thing that matters is real feeling organisms and minimizing (one hopes eliminating) their real suffering. There is no “better result,” and it’s not “rights” that have feelings and that are violated, it’s organisms.

          Unfortunately (and perhaps more because of frustration at the monstrous volume of suffering and the heart-breakingly slow rate of progress in trying to prevent it), some animal rights advocates have made it into a cult, with abstract and ideological “values” that sometimes trump or are orthogonal to real animal suffering.

          Not for me. Never.

        4. Yes, of course. (It was the fr cult I had in mind.) Their hearts are in the right place, but unreflective dogma has co-opted their attention. (I hope some of them, at least, will come to their senses and return to heeding their hearts. We are still so few and carnivores so many: the last thing the victims need is to have us bickering with one another instead of opening the eyes and minds and winning the hearts of carnivores.) But I have much less sympathy for vegans who have gone back to meat-eating for some bogus reason — or never quite went the distance. That’s why — although all vegans are welcome — I don’t have much confidence in the ones who do it for reasons (e.g., health, religion, new-age, “environment,” utilitarianism, abstract principles) other than a heart-felt empathy for the horrible plight of the victims.

  10. Though I find some points rather interesting, e.g. like the wedding proposal on first date and the focus is achieving less global meat consumption is good. I think there is nothing new in this approach, it is just a new term being thrown, There is already the term flexitarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, meatless omnivore, etc. The word vegan here should be replaced by plant based or plant powered. I think it creates more confusion. Thank you for what you are trying to make people go plant based.

  11. By dropping consumption of chickens and turkeys the typical consumer in the US, even if they replaced that spot on their plate with equal amounts of pig and cow flesh (no actual reduction in meat consumption) would move from eating 24.4 farmed land animals a year to less than 1. Most potent harm reduction.

    1. Yeah, that’s a very strong argument for meat-reducing. Informally, if I’m asked about veganism and the person I’m chatting with says something like ‘I could never give up meat’, I would without a doubt suggest cutting out poultry as a possible step they could take. I mean, which of us wouldn’t suggest something like that?

      It’s already been said that most of us on this thread would much prefer that everyone go vegan – that’s a given.

      I guess the question is, then, whether we would encourage and praise someone for taking a first step, such as cutting out poultry, or whether we would withhold that encouragement and praise until they reach a level of reduction that we deem worthy – in many cases, one that’s equivalent to our own ie. veganism.

      In my view, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to become vegan overnight. I didn’t become vegan overnight. The only alternative to immediate conversion to veganism, then, is a meat-reducing strategy like what Brian’s offering.

      However, I do accept and understand why some people cannot get onboard with a strategy that may not have the end goal of veganism.

      Not sure what point I’m making here other that just summarising the main debate as I see it 🙂

    2. A great point. Focused advocacy vs “eat less” can have a much bigger impact when the difficulty of the ask is similar.

    3. The Calculs of Carnage

      Any way you do the arithmetic, needlessly hurting or killing any feeling organism at all is wrong. As wrong as any wrong can ever be. The proof is that only sadists and psychopaths can endorse the contrary without feeling the need (sic) to rationalize and invent justifications for it: “It is just fine to needless hurt and kill feeling organisms.”

      1. Well, how do you rationalize it? How do you rationalize your modern life which so clearly harms animals so you can please yourself with travel, packaged foods, fossil fuel dependent transportation, etc? The only difference here may be that arithmetic you want to discount.

        1. “How do you rationalize your modern life which so clearly harms animals so you can please yourself with travel, packaged foods, fossil fuel dependent transportation, etc?”

          Fair question. In my experience, most (not all) vegans make attempts to lower their overall impact, beyond not killing animals to eat and wear. When asked about this when doing outreach, I sometimes point out that changing what we eat – specifically moving away from animal products – is a good place to start, because it has such a profound impact. The analogy isn’t perfect, but let’s say someone drives to work each day and intentionally runs over birds. Where to start to lessen his impact? By not running over the birds. Also, he can work on tuning the engine, driving less and slower, etc. Again, this is not a perfect summation (there are exceptions and edge cases), but a good place to start is with the most deliberate harm rather than side-effect harm.

        2. The Limitless Resources of Self-Deception

          (1) The formula that “killing 1 pig is less bad than killing 10 chickens” is numerology, just like the formula that “killing one child is less bad than killing ten” — when there is no necessity to kill any of them at all. It is just another rationalization for continuing to eat meat.

          (2) The fact that no individual can fix everything is not a justification for not fixing as much as one can. It is just another rationalization. “I can’t get to work without taking public transport, which pollutes and kills animals — so I would be a hypocrite if I stopped eating meat.”

        3. Gary,

          My experience is a bit different, but what I’m pointing out here is that there is nothing morally significant about becoming vegan and that arguing in terms of “vital interests” is problematic because it has far reaching consequences. I find that the arguments for veganism are, logically speaking, disingenuous because people are more or less working from conclusion to premises.

          But I do agree that some animal products are the biggest problem and as such would be a “good place to start”, where I disagree is with the broad classification of “animal products” as something to be avoided and with the need to completely abstain from the cases that are clearly problematic.

          1. Mr Toad,

            My premise is that we should strive to refrain from inflicting early avoidable harm to others. Where to start? Look at the harm that’s easiest to avoid and is most severe. Walking over two steps to buy almond or coconut milk instead of cow’s milk is an example.

        4. Stevan,

          I think you are citing talking points instead of responding to my rebuttal, again, how do you rationalize it? I know that if we look at your lifestyle we will find numerous activities that harm animals and do so “unnecessarily” in the sense that the activities aren’t “vital interests”.

          And I would agree that just because someone can’t fix everything doesn’t when shouldn’t try….but suggesting that people are morally obligated to fix the things they *can* is problematic. What does that mean exactly? Most harm to animals is something people can, in principle, avoid… why does the obligation seem to start and end with veganism? I’d suggest because you’re reasoning backwards and aren’t even living up to your stated principle.

          In any case, your “excuse” for the harm you inflict on animals is no different than the “excuse” of someone that eats meat here and there.

        5. Gary,

          I think your example is problematic, both coconut milk and almond milk are more or less flavored water and are by no means, nutritionally speaking, a substitute for dairy milk. Though, with an eye on nutrition, I do agree that one try to avoid “the harm that’s easiest to avoid and most severe” but doing such hasn’t lead me to veganism. For example while I do purchase soy milk at home instead of dairy milk (it, unlike the others, is a reasonable substitute) I’ve found other forms of dairy to be much more difficult to avoid and I think dairy is one of the least severe cases. On the other hand, the last time I ate some poultry was a few years ago when I ordered a “lentil soup” that ended up being “chicken and lentil soup”. No point in returning it, it would have went in the trash.


          Your question assumes a model where if one avoids animal products then they have prevented some number of animals from being bred and slaughtered for food, I think that model is overtly simplistic so I wouldn’t necessarily agree with what you said. I would instead focus on the flip-side, namely, that being vegan creates a market for plant-based foods and can help promote a cultural shift that can, in the future, reduce the amount of animals bred for food. But assuming that one has a significant preference for purchasing plant-based foods, so does “reducetarianism” and as such the two are equivalent to me…..except that reducetarianism is much easier to follow and isn’t laced with dogma.

          1. I would consider any of the plant-based milks to be nutritionally superior to dairy. They have fiber and antioxidants, and are missing the inherent (not just added) hormones in dairy that are foreign to the human body, as well as – these days – high degrees of estrogens due to cows lactating while pregnant. But I think you get my point – an easy change to avoid cruelty. And dairy is certainly cruel – forcing the mothers to be lactating and pregnant most of their lives, stealing their babies from them, sentencing many of the males to short horrid lives in veal pens, confinement in factory dairy farms, killing all the animals young, etc.

            Soy milk is a great choice. Data from the Adventist Health Study shows that men who regularly consumed soy milk instead of cow milk had a 70 percent lower risk of prostate cancer.

            Most large supermarkets have non-dairy ice cream, which has some great-tasting flavors. Non-dairy yogurt, such as Silk, is becoming more popular in mainstream grocery stores, too; nearly everyone seems to like that brand.

            Nearly everyone agrees with the “dogma” that we shouldn’t deliberately harm animals if we can avoid it. And, in my outreach experience, the vast majority of people are shocked and sickened by the cruelty in factory farms, slaughterhouses, hatcheries, etc. But many forms of animal exploitation, e.g., eating the flesh and female secretions of a handful of species, are deeply entrenched in our culture to the point where it’s socially rewarded, and it’s marketed as necessary, normal, and enjoyable; hence we have to settle for stepwise divestiture and have to acknowledge the formidable psychological factors that prevent people from leaving a comfort zone, going against the norm, risking offending their friends, etc. Each year, these barriers are slightly lower.

        6. Gary,

          You seem to be side-stepping the issue, the amount of anti-oxidants or the presence of hormones in milk has nothing to do with the nutritional value (i.e., essential macro and micro nutrients) of the respective products.. But the amount of anti-oxidants and fiber in most plant-based milks is minimal because they are more or less flavored water, for example, almond milk is only around 2% almonds (2~3 almonds per cup).

          Ice cream is a junk food so I don’t think it matters, nutritionally speaking, whether people are eating dairy, soy, coconut, etc based ice cream. Personally I seldom eat ice cream so its not something I worry about.

          I imagine many people would agree with the statement that “we shouldn’t deliberately harm animals if we can avoid it”…….but that is because its vague and each person will have a different notion of “if we can avoid it” and “deliberately”. It should be obvious that nearly everyone doesn’t agree with the vegan interpretation of it.

          1. The bottom line is that dairy is not a very healthy food in today’s first world. All of its nutrients are easily found in other foods that do not have the problems of dairy – estrogens, two dozen hormones foreign to the human body, casein, etc. Meta-analyses show no link between dairy consumption and bone health, it’s strongly tied to prostate cancer, and recent studies by Harvard show dairy milk consumption specifically to be linked to all-cause mortality. In fact, over half the world’s adults get sick from consuming dairy. Plant-based milks have similar calcium and vitamin D levels, and in our current society, we get an over-abundance of protein. One need not find a substitute for a substance for which we have no need in the first place.

            The point with ice cream is not whether it’s healthy, but that good-tasting plant-based ice cream is a fairly widely available alternative to dairy-based ice cream.

            One of the strengths of veganism is that it does allow some leeway: “as far as practical and possible.” Whether society adopts a view or not has almost nothing to do with its merit, and in fact it’s very common for people to act in ways that violate their moral principles due to marketing and societal pressure. For instance, the vast majority of people are opposed to battery cage eggs yet most eggs are from battery cage operations. The egg industry is very tenacious about saying people’s decisions. (They’re also very corrupt, as the recent collusion with the USDA in trying to prevent eggless Just Mayo from using the word “Mayo” shows.)

            The merit of reducitarianism is that it realizes cultural and psychological barriers, and human limitations, not that it’s ok to inflict some degree of easily avoidable harm.

        7. Gary,

          I think you’re trying to demonize milk, moderate consumption of dairy products (especially reduced fat ones) hasn’t been consistently linked to health problems and populations that are lactose intolerant obviously need to avoid most dairy products. But I’m talking about western cultures where dairy is both ubiquitous and an important part of the diet in most cases, so in this case one does need to find a reasoned substitute or make variety of adjustments to the diet. In any case, my point wasn’t that dairy is an essential part of the human diet but that it is an important part of most western diets and removing it involves more than simply picking a neighboring product at a grocery store. When vegans tell me that its “easy” to avoid animal products and I ask them questions, it becomes clear that its only “easy” because they are disregarding nutrition. For example, generally speaking if you remove the animal products from a dish at a restaurant what you end up with is an unbalanced meal. When being vegan means you can’t do normal things, like going out to eat and getting a balanced meal, I think that is when it becomes impractical. At home its mostly a matter of learning a new way of cooking and thinking about food, but that can take time and many don’t know how to cook to begin with so even here its a big obstacle.

          Veganism specifies a set of rules that one is supposes to follow, in what sense is there leeway? If there is leeway, wouldn’t it be the same as reducetarianism?

          1. I’m not trying to demonize the health aspects of dairy; I’m reporting the results of recent peer-reviewed studies. Dairy is strongly linked to prostate cancer, and two recent studies have linked even moderate dairy milk consumption (though not cheese or yogurt consumption ) to early mortality. It is a non-essential part of any diet, and people only think it’s healthy because of massive (sometimes fraudulent) marketing by the dairy industry. Over half the world doesn’t drink dairy.

            You mentioned that almond milk is basically water with a few almonds at the bottom. Definitely healthier.

            Ethically, dairy is a disgrace.

            If you remove animal products from a meal, you only have an incomplete meal if whoever made the meal doesn’t know how to make a balanced plant-based meal, which is easy. Otherwise you have a meal that can be far more balanced and healthy than one with animal products. On average, it will be more nutritionally dense, have lower fat, more antioxidants, more fiber, no prions, no trans fats, fewer environmental toxins, lower chance of food poisoning, etc.

            If you disregard nutrition, any diet is unhealthy. On average, meat-eaters have more deficiencies than vegans. (This is from a 2010 study, the latest I’ve seen; I can send you the link.) Almost everyone is deficient in fiber. In our high meat-eating, dairy-eating society, we have high rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and obesity. Our baseline is disgraceful, and, on average replacing, say, dairy milk with non-dairy milk, chicken with seitan, egg mayo with eggless mayo, steak with portabellos, and burgers with veggie burgers will be a health upgrade (and save animals and habitat, and cause less pollution). This is miles away from an optimum vegan diet, just first steps.

            “As far as practical and possible” is the most non-problematic way to describe veganism. Without that clause, people would complain that it doesn’t allow for hardship exceptions, etc. If it tried to judge every instance where it was morally acceptable to eat animal products (living on a submarine, on a dorm meal plan, etc.) it would be impossible and the arguing would be non-stop. Basically, do the best you can.

        8. Gary,

          Yes, you are mentioning some studies (without citation) that put dairy in a negative light but are not mentioning the studies that found no relationship or positive relationships. For example, dairy consumption is associated with reduced rates of colon cancer. The research on dairy is conflicting and when you only mention studies that put it in a negative light, well, it looks like fear-mongering rather than a serious interest in the relationship between dairy and human health. Unfortunately this is a common theme in the vegan community and is re-forced by a handful of vegan health gurus.

          Whether milk or almond milk was “healthier” wasn’t my point, I never suggested that almond milk was unhealthy or should be avoided (unsweetened almond, for example, is a perfectly healthy beverage). Instead my point was that almond milk, and many others, don’t replace the nutritional role of dairy milk in western cultures. I’ve also never suggested that the standard western diet is healthful, but only some of the issues are related to animal foods and the others to the consumption of refined and highly processed foods. In any case, food isn’t arbitrary, each culture has their own eating pattern that guides them in obtaining the nutrition they need to thrive. As such the fact that many cultures don’t consume dairy or that dairy isn’t an essential food (no single food is essential) doesn’t address my point, my point is about western cultures. So, as I claimed, removing animal products out of the western diet is more complicated than simply picking up a neighboring product at the grocery store and many of the “alternatives” don’t provide a nutritional replacement…..instead they are about taste, texture and function.

          How to create a balanced plant-based meal isn’t obvious and it takes time to learn both a new eating pattern and new cooking techniques. From my experience even vegans, more often than not, don’t really understand plant-based nutrition well. But that isn’t surprising when you look at how much misinformation is promoted in the vegan community, its stocking really and I often wonder if its by design (i.e.., creating nutritional misinformation is a great way to disrupt a shift to plant oriented diets). This is one of my issues with “vegan advocates”, they are out at telling people to be vegan but nobody seems to be making a serious attempt at helping people learn how to plan a reasonably healthy plant-based diet that will work long-term. The focus, instead, is often on getting people to purchase expensive animal product “alternatives”…….I wonder why? This is another area where I think reducetarianism is superior, it allows people to slowly learn about plant-based foods and cooking techniques. And people do vary, in part by age, in their willingness to try new things….so many are only going to go so far.

          Reducetarian is, I think, based on the idea that you should do the “best you can”. If veganism was truly based on such a principle, there wouldn’t be a strict set of rules one is suppose to follow.

          1. – I can give you links to everything. Let me know. I’m just trying to save time and space.

            – The studies showing a link between dairy and prostate cancer are quite consistent. Dairy is the leading source of estrogenic compounds (which are linked to all kinds of problems) because we now force dairy cows to be lactating while pregnant. When you take out the dairy-sponsored research – of which there is a lot – dairy comes out as neutral at best. If I wanted to exaggerate, I would repeat the false claim that dairy leeches calcium from bones and I would not mention that the recent Harvard studies incriminated dairy milk but not cheese and yogurt. Bottom line: There’s nothing essential in dairy, there is nothing that needs to be replaced when you give up dairy. More than half the world’s adults cannot even drink dairy; those who can have a genetic alteration that overcomes lactose intolerance, not a need for breast milk as adults. Even calves stop drinking cow’s milk once they’re weaned – and it’s made especially for them!

            Eating patterns in different cultures have more to do with preference and practicality than nutritional needs. The average Western-born meat-eater is repulsed by chicken feet and dog meat but it is eaten in some parts of the world due to custom, not different nutritional needs. My point abut the unhealthy US diet is that replacing animal with plant foods will probably be a nutritional upgrade since the baseline is so low. And with not much effort, e.g., buying a TastyBite lentil dish that you nuke for one minute and serve over rice, you’re way better off from a health standpoint – not to mention you’re not killing seven-week old chickens whose vital organs are squeezed by the huge breasts forced upon them by demand for “white meat.”

            Yes, of course products like Gardein go for taste, that’s how you get customers. But even that is better than chicken, with its lack of fiber and phytonutrients, and its disturbing levels of arsenic, fecal contamination, saturated fat, trans fats, IGF-1, and so forth. But there are tons of websites promoting healthy plant-based eating. Almost any google search will give you healthy plant-based recipes and advice to last a lifetime.

            Honestly, I didn’t have to learn one new cooking technique when I switched to an all-plant diet. I cook a lot, but I’m no expert. I’m your typical cook. Sautéing, seasoning, roasting – it’s the same techniques. There’s a very small learning curve if you want to bake – you look up “egg substitution” or a vegan recipe for chocolate chip cookies, and that’s it. You use non-dairy milk instead of cow’s milk. Typical case: Our neighbor tried vegan baking. First time – success. This is typical.

            Yes, there are some instances where there are practical barriers to going plant-based. If you live in a food desert with a paltry selection of vegetables, that’s a barrier. If you live in the far reaches of Alaska, if you’re a student who lives with your parents, etc. I get this. If you live in an urban area, it’s easy to buy Field Roast sausage (which is delicious) instead of Jimmy Dean sausage. You just walk a few steps over in the grocery store. It’s easy to find literally millions of plant-based recipes online – every style and difficulty level. Most libraries have at least some vegetarian cookbooks with plant-based recipes. Refusing the birthday cake at the office party, having to bring your own food at the block party barbecue, having family members tell you you need more protein, not knowing any vegans in real life…that and fears of an unsatisfying diet or malnutrition – even though vegans outlive meat-eaters by years in the large Adventist 2 Study – are what hold people back.

            That’s where reducitarianism comes in – accommodating people’s fears. But the goal is a world in which we strive not exploit others or cause easily-avoidable suffering and death, and which is sustainable, and we can each make the best effort we can at that. Replacing animal products makes a big difference; it’s huge bang for the buck. If the will is there, nearly anyone in our society can do that.

        9. Gary,

          You’re trying to make a case against dairy based on cherry picking research that puts it in a negative light, that to me is fear-mongering. As far as dairy goes, the only consistent message from the scientific community is that one should limit fatty dairy products. But, as mentioned, my point had nothing to do with which product was “healthier” but rather the nutritional role the product plays in western culture. Regardless of the relationships dairy may or may not have to various diseases, it still plays an nutritional role in western culture.

          You keep pointing out that dairy isn’t “essential” and that many cultures don’t consume it but that has nothing to do with what I’m talking about which is the role dairy plays in western culture. Eating patterns are rooted in a lot more than mere “preferences and practicality” but nutrition is a critical factor because, obviously, if a cultures food traditions don’t result in a complete diet the culture will suffer. If you look at each custom there is usually a good historic, environmental or nutritional reason for it. Though, especially today, you do have some cultural lag so some customs may no longer be relevant.

          Your comments about chicken vs Gardein are, I think, just more fear-mongering. You’re not talking about the nutritional value of the respective foods at all…instead trying to demonize chicken. Meat is an important source of a variety of nutrients and the nutrients have high bio-availability. Now, I’m not suggesting that meat is essential but replacing meat in the human diet has to be done carefully, one simply can’t replace it with willy-nilly with whatever you’d like to eat. Similarly for dairy in the western diet.

          Your argument for the ease of purchasing plant-based alternatives seems to be rooted in a junk-food oriented diet, for example, I would never buy the Field Roast sausage instead of the Jimmy Dean sausage because I wouldn’t buy either of them. I’m not going to buy daiya and other common cheese alternatives because they are created from refined starch/oil and have no nutritional value. I’m not going to buy almond milk for my cereal because my breakfast would no longer have enough protein (I do, as I noted, buy soy milk which has the same amount of protein). And so on. So, as I said before, if one is thinking about nutrition and trying to eat reasonably healthy alternatives aren’t nearly as straightforward and eliminating meat, dairy, etc involves a overall shift in how you prepare and think about food.

          And sure, you can find all sorts of recipes online but the vast majority have been created for taste and not their nutritional value. This is my point, we are talking about a grand shift in the dietary lifestyle of a culture… can’t base that shift on mere taste and the profits of some vegan food companies. Fortunately we do have a number of traditional cultures, some of which have very rich culinary histories, that we can draw from…..if only that was the focus instead of creating processed alternatives.

          1. I have absolutely no interest in cherry-picking. Again, dairy is not only non-essential but strongly linked to some serious conditions. Everything in milk can be obtained quite easily through healthier means. One doesn’t have to “demonize” milk to make this true. Frank Oski, former head of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins university, was anti-milk, as was the famous pediatrician Dr. Spock. The high estrogen level is a simple, measurable fact. Dairy is also a leading allergen and associated with dozens of non-deadly conditions, from ear infections to various GI problems to acne (the latter may be cases by a specific hormone found in dairy that is foreign to the human body).

            It’s interesting you mention fat. The dairy industry funded a meta-analysis in 2010 showing that saturated fat has no effect on heart disease. This was a biased junk study that eliminated people with high cholesterol, who would be most affected by the fat. An independent meta-analysis this year showed that indeed saturated fat is linked to heart disease. Here’s the thing: The dairy industry managed to get their study – which they knew was dishonest – on popular magazines, spreading disinformation. They did the same thing with a $200 million ad campaign saying that dairy helps you lose weight. This was based on one small study financed by the dairy industry, and goes against the prevailing research which shows no link between dairy and weight. But by the time the government made them stop the fraudulent ad campaign, the propaganda damage was done. Not only is the dairy industry cruel; they are thoroughly corrupt. There are so many problems with dairy; one need not spin or invent anything for this to be true.

            If everyone in the country switched from dairy milk to their choice of plant milk, I would bet you a vegan dinner at a 5-star restaurant that the nation’s health would measurably improve in one year. People consume dairy because they think it’s healthy – especially for bones, which is untrue – and that’s mostly due to marketing and dairy influence of the media and government food policy. I could go on at length about that last topic; it’s ugly.

            The tradition of eating meat in the West has very little basis in nutrition. I recommend “An Unnatural Order” by Jim Mason, or even “Guns, Germs, and Steel” to see how animal agriculture is about control more than anything else. In this country, animal ag garners a hugely disproportionate share of food subsidies, making the price artificially low. After the bipartisan McGovern Report in the 70s showed that the nations’ health could be improved by people eating less meat, the meat industry effectively squashed the report and made sure that only the USDA – chartered with promoting agriculture, and disproportionately populated by ex-meat industry execs and lobbyists – could make policy on meat. The egg industry recently colluded with the government to try and shut down Hampton Creek’s eggless Just Mayo product (which is delicious and sold at Walmart). The industry is corrupt and has a frightening influence on food policy and the public’s ideas on food and nutrition. I’ve barely scratched the surface. I don’t see why anyone would want to give a dime to these industries.

            Chicken is a horror. The truth is worse than anything I could imagine. These birds – killed just past babyhood – aren’t even protected by the meager Humane Slaughter Act. Undercover videos – one after another – show horrid cruelty, including at so-called humane companies such as Foster Farms. Their breeding alone is terribly cruel. It’s not a health food. it can be replaced with almost anything within reason and people’s health would likely improve. Note that on average Americans get twice as much protein as they need – which is not a good thing – but are lacking in fiber, vitamin c, and phytonutrients. Meat is a calorically dense food, plants are nutritionally dense. The healthiest populations in the world, such as the Okinawan Elders and the Hunzas of Ecuador, get almost all their calories from plants.

            Yes, if you want an optimum diet that requires some planning. That’s true whether or not you eat animals. We’ve been over this many times. Especially in this country, where we’re bombarded with advertising and offerings of unhealthy food.

            It doesn’t matter if you personally want to buy Field Roast. I was responding to your general point that switching from meat to plant-based requires new cooking techniques or is inherently difficult. It’s not, in most cases in this country, assuming you’re in charge of your food choices and are not living in food deserts or the outback. Moving over a few steps to buy Field Roast instead of Jimmy Dean is an example. You can also leave out the Field Roast. Your chili, stew, pasta sauce, or tacos can have beans. Or seitan. Or bulgur. Or lentils. Or tofu.

            There are literally millions of plant-based recipes online. It’s beyond simple to find extremely healthy ones. Put one or two more words in your search term. You can find whole foods-based, raw, low-cal, gluten-free, no oil…whatever you want. That’s the beauty of google. You can find delicious healthy plant based recipes drawing on virtually every food culture in the world. Ditto for food blogs and cookbooks. The processed alternatives (some of which are actually not too processed) exist because it’s simple for people to swap out chicken for Gardein for their “protein source” on top of their Caesar salad. The taste and texture are virtually identical, and people tend to like what they’re used to. It doesn’t matter to me whether someone wants that or wants to go completely whole foods.

        10. Gary,

          I don’t think there is much more to discuss, I’ve made my argument and you seem to be largely responding with fear-mongering and anti-meat rhetoric. Discussing the strategies of the meat and dairy industry and whether this or that animal product is associated with disease are perfectly fine discussion points…..they just have nothing to do with what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is food culture and nutrition, whether dairy or other animal products are associated with some diseases has little to do with the nutritional role the respective foods play in western culture.

          My “general point” has been about people that are thinking about nutrition and eat reasonably healthy, this is representative of myself and most people I know. If you tell such people that they should eat some processed meat alternative instead of the fish, low-fat dairy, lean poultry, etc they typically eat they aren’t going to take you seriously. You are bringing up modifications of dishes, but doing so and maintaining a well-balanced dish requires a certain degree of nutritional sophistication and will often involve ingredients that are new to you. For example, replacing the lean beef in a pasta dish with seitain will result in a dish with poor quality protein and lacking in essential minerals compared to the original. To maintain the nutritional value, you’d have to make more substantial changes. So I maintain my point, if one is thinking about nutrition removing the meat or dairy in traditional foods is typically more difficult than a simple replacement. Another complexity is that the dish needs to taste good. I think much more effort needs to be done to promote tasty and healthy plant-based foods rather than fear-mongering and telling people they should be vegan. In fact, over the years, I’m starting to conclude that talking about ethics, health, the environmental have minimum value because there just doesn’t exist a good replacement food culture for people in western cultures.

          In any case, I think the evidence speaks to my point. The failure rate for vegans is very high (70~80%) and the most common reason people return to eating meat is feeling poorly. Also, ask a non-vegan about vegan food and see how many people report positively about it. Right now we seem to have a failure to create a tasty, balanced and healthy alternative to the traditional western diet.

          1. I agree we are going in circles. From my perspective, I’ve made my points as clearly as possible, sometimes explaining the same thing over and over, and your responses seem to be creative negative spins, non sequiters, and imagined motivations on my part. The false charges of demonizing and fear-mongering are really getting old, and impair meaningful, respectful discussion; please stop that.

            Of course, the nutritional problems with animal products have to do with what you’re talking about. You contend that animal products are nutritionally important. First of all, I’ve pointed out that not only do non-meat-eaters live longer according to comparative population studies here, but that the healthiest societies worldwide are almost completely plant-based. That alone refutes the premise that animal products have important nutritional value in a diet. Furthermore, those products are associated with lots of diseases, not to mention pollution, habitat loss, and extreme cruelty. The reasons to get these products out of one’s diet snowball – they’re from every direction. Do you get what I’m saying?

            I also explained that people’s ideas about the supposed healthiness of animal products is heavily influenced by marketing. Ask someone how they get healthy bones and they’ll almost always say dairy, even though the science shows that *at best* there’s no link between dairy and bone health. Marketing.

            Your example of seitan almost proves my point. Just about the last thing anyone in this country needs to worry about is getting enough protein, or even enough of each amino acid. There’s a fairly strong case that our overconsumption of protein is a contributor to our high chronic disease rates. It’s a myth that we have to rely on any one food for complete protein. Protein combining is just as good, and if you eat a variety of healthy foods, especially with some legumes, you’ll not only get enough protein but a better amino acid profile and healthier delivery mechanism. The high levels of methionine in meat are linked in studies (more than can be considered cherry-picking) with a number of problems including cancer and early mortality. It’s not an open-and-shut case, but there is abundant evidence. By switching the “lean beef” (which is definitely not lean compared to nearly all plant products) to seitan, you’re also decreasing or eliminating oxidizing heme iron, trans fats, possible prions, and other unhealthy substances. The chance of e coli poisoning and fecal contamination (recently found in every ground beef sample tested by Consumer Reports) also goes down.

            I’ve fed so many vegan meals to meat-eaters that I can tell you first-hand taste is not an issue. Here’s another great example: Last year, at a mid-Atlantic Whole Foods, the vegan chicken salad and meat chicken salad by mistake had switched labels for three days. Not one complaint. I’ve sampled vegan yogurt to hundreds of people and vegan sausage and mayo to thousands. If anything they liked it better. I’ve served samples of vegan General Tso’s chicken to thousands also. Overwhelmingly they liked it. I’m talking meat-eaters here. If I had a nickel for every time someone said “it tastes just like chicken,” I’d be rich. I explain that almost no one eats chicken plain, because it’s lacking flavor. Most of the taste from dishes with chicken come from spices, marinades, sauces, breading, etc. Swapping the chicken for Gardein, sautéed tofu, or seitan has almost zero effect on the flavor. From the chicken you get chewiness and caloric density. That is easy to get from plant sources.

            It’s easy to misinterpret statistics. First of all, the vegan failure rate varies widely in surveys, as do the reasons for the failure. In some surveys the number one reason is lack of support. In one widely cited survey that supposedly says health is the top reason, two of the questions about social factors are almost the same in my opinion, and when added up are a larger number than health. I’m not completely dismissing health or not feeling well concerns. From talking to a number of people who have this complaint, what I see most often is people trying to go on an extreme change diet, and dropping their calorie, fat, and/or protein intake too quickly. Absolutely, this will make you feel tired. I tell people to keep those numbers about the same at first and change them gradually. Much better luck.

            I have asked thousands of people about vegan food. Please note, I am not exaggerating this number. I’ve done a lot of street-level vegan outreach over the years. What I find is that the perception diverges widely from the reality. People will say they don’t like tofu, but if you give them a tofu dish and they don’t realize it’s tofu, they love it. The misperceptions stem from marketing, intentional disinformation, and fears. For example, tofu isn’t seen as manly, but somehow paying a poorly-paid worker to kill a baby bird is.

            If you must have the last word, go ahead. I only ask that you make it awesome. 🙂 Fare thee well. I’m not against reducing, I’m against easily avoidable harm. The discussion has been overall polite, and I appreciate that. Let’s quit while we’re ahead in that category. 🙂

        11. Gary,

          You are still repeating a lot of vegan talking points and talking past my argument. To say it again, what I’m discussing is the nutritional role foods play in western culture. Your argument seems to be that because some food isn’t essential to human nutrition that it can’t be an important part of some cultures diet, that makes no sense. Humans can thrive on a variety of diets and each culture has food traditions that dictate what people eat and how they prepare it. In the west, foods are largely centered around meat and dairy and both of these play important nutritional roles in the context of western culture. In any case, shifting the western dietary paradigm to a plant oriented one will require far more than the sort of simple replacements you’ve mentioned. And you still seem to be pulling from junk food examples when I’ve been explicitly discussing people that are eating reasonably healthy. After all, I’m speaking from my own experience and explaining why its difficult to “go vegan” in the present food environment.

          1. Just to clarify: When we sample food items such as Field Roast sausage, it’s because:

            a) It’s a product the general public may not know about.
            b) It’s a direct replacement for meat products people are currently eating. (In fact sometimes we’re right next to a vendor selling animal-based sausage)
            c) Grilled sausage at a public street event attracts crowds, and that kick-starts great conversations.

            But my general pitch about replacing meat hasn’t changed much in the past ten years. There are basically three options:

            1) Direct replacements, such as Beyond Meat – and even this is a health upgrade.
            2) Long-established “veggie meats”: tofu, tempeh, and seitan. Close to a whole foods product. Portobello can go in this group, too. And if you can find it, jackfruit.
            3) Thinking outside the “meat at the center, veggies on the side” model. Make or order dishes that are designed to be plant-based from the start, such as Indian lentil dishes or Asian tofu/veggie stir-fries. Or replace the sausage topping in your pizza with olives, pine nuts, artichoke hearts, and other plant-based items. Basically, don’t think of replacements, think of creating flavors and textures from plant-based foods – most of which people already eat – including seasonings. The more, and the more variety, the bigger the health benefit.

            Hey, it would be great if America decided to eat healthy. Health care costs would plummet and productivity would rise. But that’s not happening anytime soon – only about a third of Americans eat the measly five half-cup servings of daily vegetables recommended as a minimum by every mainstream health group in the country. So I “meet people where they are” and give them options.

        12. Gary,

          You’re still talking past my points, once again, I haven’t been discussing what food is “healthier” which is a vague notion. I’m talking about nutritional value, generally speaking the nutritional value of meat and dairy “alternatives” is noticeably less than meats, fish, etc and/or differs in significant ways. As I keep point out, foods play nutritional roles in cultures and people govern their food choices with a number of culturally dictated rules. Meat and dairy “alternatives” are only functional replacements, that is problematic because people are going to use them in the same cultural context yet they don’t have the same nutritional value. Its like replacing wood for metal and expecting to be able to build the same structure.

          And, yes, many people don’t eat healthy, yet…..many people do. Your talking points here have been generic despite me being very clear that I eat reasonably healthy and have an interest in nutrition. There are millions just like me. I’m disputing the ease of “going vegan” in today’s food environment and so far your argument has been that its easy to go vegan because I can buy highly processed “alternatives” for products I don’t eat in the first place. In fact, you went so far to say that my choices aren’t the issue. For the future, when you’re trying to convince someone about the ease of “going vegan”…..their dietary lifestyle most definitely matters.

          1. I have a much different perspective. I’ve been directly addressing your points – which seem to dance around like a badminton shuttle (e.g., sometimes it’s about specifically what you eat, sometimes it’s about what the general public or the world eats…) – but I’m beginning to feel like I’m in a Monty Python sketch.

            I’m sure this is futile, but…

            “Healthy” is not that vague. Fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds in moderate amounts are healthy for most people. Why? A million studies show they fight disease, and in many cases we know the specific mechanisms. Plant-eaters tend to live longer than meat-eaters according to data from demographic and comparative population studies. Exercise – healthy. Couch potato – unhealthy. Smoking – unhealthy. Processed meats – unhealthy. Saturated fat, estrogens, trans fats, prions – unhealthy. We have a good idea of what’s healthy. It’s only vague at the margins and details.

            – The nutritional value of plant-based replacements (a vague category) is typically higher than the meat. It’s more nutritionally dense, has fiber and antioxidants that are in short supply, and doesn’t have the battery of dangerous substances, fecal contamination, toxin buildup, and food poisoning potential that comes with animal products. Or the high levels of cruelty and habitat destruction. You can sub Field Roast for Jimmy Dean and you will get a health *boost*. And you’ll do even better if you substitute with tofu (healthy isoflavones) or chickpeas (nutritional powerhouses). The protein content sometimes is lower, and unless one is starving, that’s probably a good thing. OTOH, it’s easy to actually increase the protein intake with plants. Mr. Universe and the “world’s strongest man,” Patrick Baboumian, who are both vegan, do this. We’re going in circles here.

            – If you eat reasonably healthy, you’ll continue to eat reasonably healthy on a plant-based diet, like a million others do. If you eat crap, you’ll eat a higher level of crap (and contribute way less to cruelty) if you eat Beyond Meat chicken instead of actual chicken.

            – There is nothing special about cow milk or flesh. Or chicken’s eggs. Ranchers use those animals instead of zebras and swans because they’re easy to control. People eat what they’re used to and what the culture says is normal. If we all went plant-based, within two generations it’s the new normal. We’d be a much healthier and probably more peaceful and more sustainable society.

            I know this sounds obvious, but: Your choices are not the issue if we’re talking about the general public. Your choices are the issue if we’re talking about you.

            I’ve helped lots of people reduce their animal product intake as well as go vegan. I have to tell you, most often, they care about taste first. Not that we ignore nutrition. The mix is case by case. With most folks, I have great discussions. With a few, either the chemistry isn’t there, or they just want to argue. Best of luck. Enjoy the end of the Labor Day long weekend.

        13. Gary,

          I think I see what happened here, you’re taking this as an opportunity to advocate veganism. I wish I realized this sooner, its been awhile since I’ve discussed matters in a group of vegan advocates. In any case, I’ve heard all the rhetoric before…..I’m interested in the underlying anthropological and philosophic issues here.

          1. You may have it a little backwards. When providing answers to your assertions and questions, in good faith, using facts, logic, and experience, it just so happens that those answers line up with veganism. The philosophy of striving to avoid harm to others is compelling and universal, and the health and environmental data (e.g., Adventist 2 Health Study, Okinawan Centinarian Study, UN’s “Livestock’s Long Shadow”) strongly support plant-based living. I don’t start off with “I’m going to promote veganism,” but the common excuses for eating animals today in the first world are easily countered.

            From my perspective, you have a habit of dismissing counterarguments with dismissive spin terms; that makes it difficult to have a productive dialog. I am thankful that you didn’t use the dreaded term “agenda” though. 🙂

        14. Gary,

          You really didn’t respond to my arguments and, frankly, you’re still at it. My arguments in this post had nothing to do with the healthfulness or environmental impact of plant-based diets, yet you keep talking about it and I’ve tried to avoid a conversation on that topic because I find your commentary to be the usual vegan spin of the evidence. While I did start it with a brief remark on food, this whole conversation about food has been a tangent to my original comment on a philosophic matter that you are reasserting. The “philosophy of striving to avoid harm to others” is an entirely vague assertion, the fact that many people will agree to it is a testament to its ambiguity. Just what entities count as “others”, what does it mean to strive to avoid harm? Someone else mentioned “vital interests” but didn’t follow up on their bold claims.

          Referring to arguments against veganism as “excuses” is an attempt to poison the well. My primarily argument in this post has been that being vegan is just a matter of personal preference, following the dictates of a vegan lifestyle has no ethical significance. I would argue further that focusing on veganism is ineffective because the underlying issues are complex and agreement on some of the clearer issues, for example being against factory farming, doesn’t necessitate agreement with some of the more subtle issues.

          Veganism isn’t a philosophy, its a consumer boycott promoted by a handful of groups.

  12. Steven, a side point, but I read your interview with Huffington Post/ Psychology Today and enjoyed it very much. I hope your new job with Human Society US is going well.

    It’s not necessarily relevant to this thread, but I’d like to hear/ read more about your thoughts on animal research in laboratories and the big ethical vs pragmatic questions around such. I also wonder if you’ve encountered a gent by the name of Professor Andrew Knight, who wrote a book around such:

    In relation to this thread, in the interview you admitted to feeling guilt over your job at the previous journal you worked at re: publishing research containing animal studies. And how that guilt went on for a good part of your 23 years working there. You talked of how you tried to use your position as editor to limit the amount of animal research you would publish, using strict guidelines in terms of what you deemed at the time necessary and unnecessary, but that now you feel that such was not defensible.

    In sharing that link, are you making a comparison between Brian’s work today, and his position, and what you tried to do in that role?

    1. The principle that it is wrong — in fact the wrongest of all wrongs — to needlessly hurt or kill a feeling organism (including, of course, homo sapiens) is enough to rule out a huge portion of our hurting and killing of animals.

      Life-saving research (where the probability of saving lives is genuine) is a much more difficult moral problem because it not be truly said of all of it that it is not vitally necessary for saving lives.

      Of course I support using non-animal alternatives wherever possible; and I’m completely opposed to curiosity-driven, career-driven and funder-driven research that involves hurting or killing animals (and that includes keeping them in cages and depriving of them of a full, normal, happy life).

      But just as factionalism among abolitionists harms the cause of the victims, I think so does conflating the clearcut case of hurting and killing when it is not vitally necessary with the much more troubling case of life-saving research, with its conflict of vital interest.

      And the reason is that although laboratory horrors are more widely known and shock people more, the horrors of the breeding, confinement, treatment, transport and slaughter of animals for the production of food is not only just as horrible, but it does not even have the pretext of being vitally necessary to save lives.

      So until we at least agree to abolish unnecessary hurting I don’t think there is much chance that we will agree to abolish life-saving hurting.

      In a world where we have realized and renounced needlessly hurting and killing animals for food (which already covers all animal consumption in the prosperous parts of the world, and even needless animal consumption in the needier parts of the world) it will be much more obvious that much if not all medical research on animals is needless too. And then we will all be in the moral position to face the profound problem of the conflict of vital interest in the remaining life-saving research.

      (I am, by the way, a researcher not an editor by profession, and my work for Animal Sentience for the Humane Society is pro bono. Not that anything hangs on that…)

      1. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on that, Steven. I look forward to checking out your work with Humane Society.

  13. Regardless of the end goal in mind, I find it strange that one would support “gradualism” but insist that the actors promoting it should be morally obligated to practice the end goal rather than gradualism itself. This seems to be the criticism of Brian Kateman.

  14. An interesting development in this thread: we have (as I understand it) an advocate for reducetarianism, Mr Toad, evangelising for reducetarianism as a *preferential* lifestyle to veganism in terms of animal rights activism.

    So, suggesting that veganism is ineffective, weighted down by dogma, off-putting to people and therefore (as I read it) advocating that vegans should give up their crusade and become reducetarians instead.

    As I understand it, Brian, while not suggesting that all reducetarians should become vegetarians or vegans, is certainly not saying that if they did become vegan or vegetarian that it would be a regressive move. In fact, it seems Brian intends reducetarians to be inclusive of vegans and vegetarians and would see a move from reducetarin to vegan to be progressive, not regressive.

    Is this a potential barrier, then, for vegans in terms of supporting reducetarianism? That it could actually de-veganise some people? And, if so, how do we feel about that as vegan strategists?

    1. I think the power is the numbers here, and we’ll get better numbers (consumers asking for veg options) of at least party of our efforts are directed toward building a big group of reducers. I see all backsliding as a temporary thing, that will no longer happen once it’s easy enough to avoid animal products

    2. falsealarmboy,

      Assuming they are happy being vegan and aren’t finding it difficulty, I wouldn’t argue that a vegan should become a reducetarian. My argument here has been, more or less, that veganism doesn’t achieve anything that reducetarianism doesn’t so there is no reason to commit to veganism and reducetarianism would be preferable because its easier to follow.

      I think the major difference in Brian’s and my view is that he seems to see reducetarianism as a road to veganism, where as I think veganism is a dogma with a number of inconsistencies. I think this is where I differ with Tobias as well, he is still dedicated to a “vegan world”. As such I don’t think veganism should be the goal or even discussed, it just becomes a distraction and the problems will always be pointed out as an excuse to do nothing. I don’t think we need a concrete doctrine to move away from the current system, cultures change slowly and the underlying issues will become more clear as we change and more energy is put into solving them.

        1. Well, for one, the statement is vague and its not clear how it connects with vegan practice. What does it mean to exploit an animal? What does it mean to avoid an act “as much as possible and practical”? And, just to note, the official definition by the vegan society is “as much as possible and practicable”. But both are problematic in that neither seems to align with vegan practice. In any case, I don’t think what I’m purposing is that much different, namely, exhibit a strong preference for plant-based foods in the market place but fall-back an animal based foods, ideally those that are the least problematic, when such isn’t practical.

  15. My main concern with your approach and reasoning, Mr Toad, is that it doesn’t take the motivation for most ethical vegans’ lifestyle choice into consideration: ie. the value of each individual sentient life. To suggest a vegan might be better placed eating the odd burger here and therein the hope that their reducetarian approach may appeal to more people is not only (in my view) erroneous, but it’s going to be repulsive to those for whom each individual cow or chicken slain is important, including the one killed to create that burger. For most vegans, it’s not just about statistics. Each individual life matters.

    1. falsealarmboy,

      I think it does take it into consideration, instead what it denies is the fairy tale that when you avoid an animal product that you have somehow saved an individual life. The relationship between our actions and their subsequent affect on society and the economy is indirect, as such the only meaningful way to analyze matters is in the aggregate. I do agree that there may be some repulsion, but again, I think that is rooted in an erroneous belief about the consequences of ones action in the market place and related emotions. But, as mentioned, I’m not suggesting that vegans have some sort of moral obligation to be reducetarian themselves but rather than it may be the best thing for them to promote since it achieves the same thing, doesn’t involve any dogma, and is more individualistic and is easier to follow. But if a vegan ever feels burnt out, then I think the switch should be made because the alternative is likely a reversion to past behaviors. Perhaps first easing up on insect products, animal byproducts and animal products in prepared foods that are largely plant-based (e.g., breads, muffins, etc). Unfortunately, at least from my experience, the biggest obstacle for this sort of thing is vegans….any deviation from vegan practice is deemed a weakness, one is just making excuses, one is a murderer, etc….I’ve heard it all. This, I think, psychologically primes people to reject everything and they return to past behaviors where they will be accepted once again. One has to remember, that in the eyes of the general public a serious reducetarian is really no different than a vegan or vegetarian so when they aren’t accepted by vegans, etc they are accepted by nobody.

      1. ‘One has to remember, that in the eyes of the general public a serious reducetarian is really no different than a vegan or vegetarian.’

        I disagree. The general public generally perceive veganism or vegetarianism to be about diet alone but they usually know what’s being avoided. Where they perhaps get confused is in terms of understanding the problem vegans have with dairy and eggs. I’ve read news articles that suggest that vegans avoid such because of a rights issue: the eggs and milk are the animals’ to keep and not ours to take and, of course, we know that’s not the full picture.

        If anything, I think reducetarianism is less clear and will cause the most confusion as in how much/ when/ what should be reduced and why.

        Again, I support reducetarianism in practice. Not all vegans are zealots and tarring us with the same brush is unfortunate. In my view, anything that involves less demand for meat produce is good and over time will affect changes in market forces in a variety of ways: providing demand for meat-free alternatives, growing a community of activists etc. all raising awareness of the animal rights and environmental concerns at the heart of lifestyle choices such as veganism, vegetarianism and even reducetarianism.

        For me, veganism is the best choice not only due to the widely reported health benefits of such but the satisfaction that, while it may be impossible to live a 100% cruelty-free life in western society, we are at the very least not ingesting or wearing animal products. I still feel that’s an incredibly important and powerful statement to make.

        1. What I meant is that, if someone is a “serious” reducetarian (e.g., doesn’t eat much meat) that the average person is likely to assume they are vegetarian or vegan. They aren’t going to think of them as “one of the guys”, but rather one of the others (vegetarians).

          The fact that reducetarians don’t need to follow a rigid set off rules is one of its assets, people can make the choices that work best for them. The only risk is that they don’t make meaningful actions and use it as an excuse.

          As for as veganism being the best, why is not ingesting animal products meaningful? Why is it an important statement to make? To me it makes an unfounded statement, namely, that there is something morally significant about being a member of the animal kingdom. Honestly, I’ve yet to hear a justification for why being a member of the animal kingdom would be morally significant.

  16. The thing is, I don’t think most of us vegans could operate like that. It would mess with our heads. I think most of us see each individual life as important and so eating the one to save the many, if that was a real choice (personally, I don’t think it is) would not be something very many of us could do.

    I know you’ve said that you would eat a steak, Tobias, to raise 100K to use for animal rights activism. I like and respect you a lot but, personally, I disagree with you on that 🙂

    The other problem, as Brian Kateman himself acknowledges in his Ted video, is that the human mind struggles with inconsistencies. In that case, set boundaries for the vegan (or vegetarian or pescatarian) work in that they clearly establish what is okay and what is not okay to eat/ consume. So, were a vegan or vegetarian to say to themselves, well, let’s have a burger at the barbecue in order to fit in and seem less extreme, in the hope the animal welfare/ rights message may prove more palatable (again, an approach I have problems with both pragmatically and ethically) then it’s very likely that that person will eventually allow themselves more excuses, stretching the boundaries out a little further, until they themselves lose sight of what it is they’re trying to do.

    I think meat-free Mondays and reducetarianism is part of the solution, not part of the problem, in introducing or re-introducing someone to the concept of not eating animal produce, or at the very least cutting back.

    But I see no mileage or common sense in a vegan or vegetarian reintroducing animal produce into their diet in order to evangelise meat-eaters.

    1. I actually think reducetarianism resolves a number of inconsistencies found in veganism and vegetarianism. Both of these have “rules” that, when analyzed, really make no sense and are inconsistent with other actions. Reducetarianism is, as I take it, simply the practice of trying to limit your use of animal products as much as you can without great inconvenience. In that sense I didn’t understand why Brian seemed to plan his intake of meat products, what would motivate such a thing?

      Personally I don’t think a vegan would need to eat meat to be a convincing advocate for reducetarianism.

  17. ‘Personally I don’t think a vegan would need to eat meat to be a convincing advocate for reducetarianism.’

    Agreed. In fact, as I’ve said several times throughout this thread, I think most vegans already do advocate for reducetarianism – albeit without actually using the specific terminology.

  18. I am so glad to see this post. Brian Kateman’s Ted X talk is probably my favorite.
    It is very refreshing to see a vegan have such an open mind.

    I am one of those people that when I hear vegan I immediately get defensive. Yes, I feel guilty. Yes, it makes me uncomfortable. Personally I have a bad relationship with food, so going vegan is in no way an option for me at this moment. Will I become vegan in the future, I don’t think so, but you never know, it might become the path that I end up on.

    However the fact that I get defensive and the fact that I am not planning on turning into a vegan does not mean that I don’t want to do anything at all. But most of the time after googling veganism the message is very clear “Vegan is the moral ground. If you are not vegan, then why do you even bother.”

    This makes me very sad, because I am trying to do something, which currently is the most that I can do. And yet all I see around are negative messages of “you are not trying hard enough”, but I am. And I really like the idea of reducetarianism because it aknowledges in a positive way that you are doing something, that you are not just disregarding the whole matter completely. And I am very glad to see a vegan agree with this.

    Thank you for this.

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