Vegans: not like other people

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One way to see the difference between ourselves (vegetarians, vegans, animal advocates…) and the rest of the population is in terms of the famous “diffusion of innovations” model, which tries to explain the rate at which new ideas and technology will spread throughout a population.[1]

diffusion of innovation

Take a smartphone as an example, and look at the innovation curve to guess where you are. If you bought a smartphone just this year, you probably belong somewhere in the “late majority” (or even “the laggards”) category: the people who (in this particular field) are slow to pick up something new and wait till enough others have done it. If you already bought a smartphone many years ago, you were among the innovators or early adopters.

As vegetarians, vegans or animal rights activists, we are all part of the “innovators” (you can be in the innovator category regarding smartphones but at the same time in the late majority category regarding new foods, for instance). These different categories of people have different motivations for and concerns about trying something out, and it would be a mistake to think that we can necessarily get the late majority on board with the same arguments that convinced the innovators or early adopters.

Many people, for instance, have a great desire to be seen as “normal”. In their food choices too, they don’t want to be perceived as deviating from the norm. According to the research by Faunalytics on former vegetarians and vegans, 63% of them said they disliked that their diet made them stick out from the crowd.[2] Some people will wait until it’s “safe” to switch to another diet (or whatever product). As a vegetarian or vegan, you may have some experiences where it’s really uncomfortable to be “the odd one out”. Some people just can’t deal with that, and it is important to be aware of these kinds of differences.

The famous marketer Seth Godin puts it like this: “The mistake merchants make is that they bring their fringe ideas to people who don’t like fringe ideas, instead of taking their time and working their way through the progression.” However, another way of tackling this, is to try to approach the majority of people with a much simpler message – for instance: asking them to participate in Meatless Monday.

We’re often prone to think that we will convince people with the arguments that meant something to us. Often, we believe an argument makes so much sense that others just can’t but buy it. But other people might not be very interested in rational arguments at all. Especially when it comes to food – and even more so: meat – people can behave incredibly irrationally. They will go out of their way, they will ignore all kinds of warnings, to keep eating the food they love to eat, that they have loved since their childhood, and that they associate with wonderful family moments.


70 thoughts on “Vegans: not like other people

  1. Bingo! As a former high tech journalist and consultant, I am very familiar with diffusion of innovations model. In the 90s there was a huge best seller and marketing “bible”, Crossing the Chasm, that postulated a “chasm” between the Innovators / Early Adopters and everyone else–this was the chasm into which many products fell (died) because the marketers were unable to do what you’re advising, Tobias, and adjust their marketing and promotional methods to reach the majority. see the book cover:

    We don’t want that to happen to veganism! (And it won’t.)

    This shoots another hole in what I’m starting to refer to as “vegan exceptionalism,” the idea that veganism is somehow special and requires different methods than those that have been proven to work for other social justice movements, and even ordinary marketing of products. It’s not, and naive/arrogant vegans who persist in thinking or acting like it is are more likely to hurt than harm our cause.

  2. I would suggest reading the book by Casey Taft – “Motivational Methods for Vegan Advocacy”. I know there is a very strong bias on this blog toward marketing as the basis for advocacy. Please allow yourself to be informed by a different perspective – human psychology. He makes a compelling argument against some of the underlying premises espoused here – such as the Faunalystics research so heavily cited.

    The desired to end or reduce animal suffering is, by definition, based upon a moral motivation (unless you might feel that a stressed animal produces less desirable food). I believe while it is important to meet people where they are, unless that basic, sometimes subconscious moral drive is brought into the picture, the new vegans created will have no anchor to keep them vegan.

    1. i bought it and read the first chapters. still need to complete it. (so far nothing compelling.)

      re your second paragraph, i’ve given my ideas on this blog and in this video why i believe that is not necessarily necessary 🙂

    2. Casey’s concerns about the Faunalytics study are largely ideologically motivated and are not rooted in a deep understanding of social science research (despite his credentials). A few of the concerns are substantive and we have addressed them thoroughly (see below). But if you have questions, please feel free to contact us:

      Che / Faunalytics

      [Rebuttal from Dec-2014, when Faunalytics was called HRC]

      We have been pleasantly surprised by the response to the initial findings from our study on current and former vegetarians and vegans. We’re excited to see such strong interest in the study coming from within the movement.

      The new research adds to our understanding of the prevalence of lapses in vegetarian/vegan diets and also sheds light on possible difficulties that individuals have when adhering to these diets. The vast majority of responses from advocates have been favorable and insightful, and we appreciate the feedback! There have been a few critical comments as well, which we also welcome and would like to address (and in some cases correct).

      Criticism (constructive or otherwise) follows all major research efforts, and we anticipated there may be some regarding this study. Indeed, our suggestion that there *may* be value in both working to improve vegetarian/vegan retention and to reduce animal product consumption has drawn criticism (which we address below). Nonetheless, we believe our findings have far-reaching implications for vegan and vegetarian outreach, and we’re grateful to know that many organizations are taking important steps based on the study’s early findings.

      To help explain our process, HRC provided a detailed description of our methodology along with the initial report. Many of the criticisms can be addressed with a close reading of that document. However, we felt some people in the community might appreciate more details on a few of the concerns that have been raised.

      The critiques we’re addressing fit generally within six topics:

      Some have suggested that our survey should have included broader lifestyle concerns related to veganism. We agree there is value in studying the other aspects of vegetarianism and veganism, but the scope of our study was already very ambitious. Adding other elements would have complicated the survey and analysis even further. Researching dietary aspects of vegetarianism/veganism is of particular value given that the overwhelming majority of animals used by humans are used for food. Much published research before us has also focused exclusively on dietary vegetarianism/veganism, so we’re in good company.

      Our primary concern was (and is) to be clear with the study’s participants and readers regarding how we defined our terms. This is something we took great effort to communicate. Our survey instrument referred only to dietary vegetarianism/veganism so there was little room for confusion among respondents. A flow chart in our tables and methodology document provides a detailed description of the multi-step process we used to define these terms. This was done to limit over-reporting, an issue that is well-established in the literature.

      Further, we were clear in our report that the terms “vegetarian” and “vegan” were being used only as a shorthand for “dietary vegetarianism” and “dietary veganism.”

      HRC has also been criticized for grouping vegetarians and vegans together in our report. The two groups were identified separately during the data collection process and grouped together for the purposes of this initial analysis to make the findings more digestible. However, we can analyze this information in the future.

      2) CAUSALITY
      There have been a few claims that our research does not establish causality and we fully agree. Our study design is cross-sectional – that is, we are showing correlations – and for this reason we use cautious language in our report. But it is important to recognize that much valuable research is correlational. Exploring *causal* relationships of this sort would require a much larger and more complex study that was simply outside the scope of this effort. We see this study as a jumping off point in the bigger effort aimed at understanding the phenomenon of vegetarian/vegan recidivism and we welcome further research efforts aimed at establishing causality.

      3) PEER-REVIEW
      Some have expressed concern that we did not subject the study to the peer-review process. HRC has planned to submit our work for publication in a peer-reviewed journal since the beginning of this project. However, knowing this can take several years and given that HRC’s primary responsibility is to inform advocates, we opted to release early findings to the movement. HRC’s research team for this project includes those with a history of publishing peer-reviewed studies including an academic/PhD in psychology, a government advisor/PhD in economics, a policy researcher/PhD from the London School of Economics, a public health epidemiologist/statistician, and a sociology doctoral student. We appreciate the benefit of having our research reviewed, which is why we circulated our initial findings with a call to others (whether “peers” or not) to share their interpretations and insights and we will continue on the path of both informal and formal outside review.

      One person has taken issue with our lack of research hypotheses. However, ours is an exploratory study given that there is very little established literature on our topic to ground predictions. Our exploratory approach is not unlike many peer-reviewed works investigating largely uncharted territory. It is good to have predictions, but well-defined exploratory research is certainly not outside of acceptable science and is regularly published. We are at the hypothesis generating stage now, when the findings are going to be explored further in modeling and we hope in future research.

      One person has criticized the study for testing how various messages affect the success of vegetarian/vegan advocacy by only looking at people who were successfully converted, rather than all people exposed to a message. We believe this is a misunderstanding of our sampling procedure/study design, as we did not test the efficacy of any messaging. Our purpose, rather, was to explore potential difficulties with vegetarian/vegan diets. One of the areas we explored was the length of transition as it was something that is of interest to the movement and has been covered in previous peer-reviewed literature (notably Haverstock & Forgays, To Eat or Not to Eat. A Comparison of Current and Former Animal Product Limiters, Appetite, 53, 1030–1036). Like Haverstock and Forgays, we point to how former and current vegetarians/vegans differ when it comes to length of transition and like them we theorize on what this could mean in practice.

      Lastly, HRC has been criticized for our interpretation of the data. Specifically, some have taken issue with our suggestion that advocating reduction of animal products *may* be an effective approach. As many people know, this is a politically loaded question and there are strong opinions on both sides, though not always evidence-based.

      While we believe there is value in the initial suggestions in our report—which also points to the potential importance of retention—we also make it clear that these are early interpretations that are subject to various limitations. We acknowledge that the data could have different interpretations, and we outline where we think new research will be helpful to inform the reduction vs. elimination question.

      HRC was very careful in our report to limit the use of firm language and opted instead to discuss the findings in terms of what may be possible or what still remains unclear based on what we see in the data at this initial stage. We were also forthcoming with the study’s limitations and tried to be balanced in our recommendations. In the spirit of transparency, we plan to release our dataset (once we have completed our analysis) as a way of generating more dialogue, insights, and hopefully further research into this important topic.

      HRC welcomes thoughtful criticism and other interpretations derived from the data we collected. We hope the discussion will focus on the important insight that very many people who adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet abandon it, and that those who adhere to the diet remain a small minority. We acknowledge that there are a number of potential ways to begin to address this and that more research is needed to conclusively suggest how to do so. Our study serves as an important starting point to help advocates and other researchers better understand this phenomenon.

      1. I am not sure what was this rebuttal was intended to show. I don’t know anything about the psychologist you have engaged for the study and I could also say “despite his or her credentials”- but, like physics, psychology is a broad subject. I think Taft’s long experience as a clinical behavior psychologist in the area of domestic violence is an extremely compelling a priori credential and gives much weight to his comments.
        Regarding his “bias” – is the claim that only non-ethical vegans can have valid conclusions? Was all your research team non-vegan?

        1. The rebuttal shows that many of Casey’s comments are invalid or off-base or were never intended to be part of the study design. You can see the authors of the study by clicking on the link I just shared and seeing the original reports. Combined, we have much more experience conducting social science studies than does Casey.

          Of course the claim is not that only non-ethical vegans can have valid conclusions. I’m personally an ethical vegan of more than 20 years. Casey’s bias is for abolitionist approaches. He is ideologically opposed to incrementalism, reducetarianism, etc., without having the evidence to back up his position.

          You seem to be personally unfamiliar with our study. It’s unfortunate that you would propagate criticism of the work of a small nonprofit organization without first-hand experience.

          Che / Faunalytics

    3. The distinction between “marketing” and “psychology” is invalid. Marketing is applied psychology, no more, no less. Moreover, it’s the “best practice” applied psych we have – the accrued wisdom of highly motivated and intelligent people who have worked on refining the principles and practice of persuasion, influence, and sales for many hundreds of years.

      Even organizations with a (supposedly) overtly “moral” mission like religious organizations, also use marketing, and always have.

      The body of work pertaining to social justice conversion adds nuance to that work but doesn’t supplant it.

      I aim for a 100% vegan world, but in the meantime would be quite happy if veganism had as much reach as Coke, Subway, Honda, etc.–and so am happy to use the techniques that got them there.

      1. Your statement equating marketing and psychology sounded somewhat glib to me – maybe I misinterpreted the tone. Yes it is possible and often very successful to appeal to human baser psychological instincts to sell a product – including false and misleading claims. Veganism can become a fad if the Mad Men apply their wares. But fads fade and I was expect vegans who are vegans for shallow reasons have a much lower retention rate. Health diets are notoriously cheated on, for instance.

    4. “The desired to end or reduce animal suffering is, by definition, based upon a moral motivation.” ==== False presumption. Yes, it is based on moral motivation for the advocates and activists who are trying so hard to end animal suffering. Unfortunately, much of the rest of humanity couldn’t care less. However, IF they see that food alternatives are trending more and more toward vegan options, they might come on board for OTHER THAN moral reasons. You cannot instill morality into those who don’t care much about it. You can, however, get them to stop harming animals for other reasons. In the end, the animals don’t care WHY they are not being harmed and killed, only that they are not.

      “…unless that basic, sometimes subconscious moral drive is brought into the picture, the new vegans created will have no anchor to keep them vegan.” ==== Again, you’re basing your conclusion on false presumptive facts. Much of humanity does not, and will never, share our level of ethics. Thus, that cannot be the sole motivator for getting them to reduce animal consumption, and thus animal suffering and murder. Casey Taft relies far too much on assuming that most humans think and reason like he, you, and I do. Unfortunately, they do not.

      1. Jeff – I totally agree that many and maybe most vegans become vegan for health reasons. On the other hand, if I eat a steak once a month and are a healthy vegan the rest of the time, its not going to have any impact on my health. The plant-based diet will even counter the deleterious effects of the meat. So health is not a reason to stay vegan.
        Why do you think most people don’t give a damn about the suffering of animals – are the ethical vegans human freaks of nature with a twisted sense of morality? You are claiming most people have no sense of ethics or morality.

  3. This model is all fine when considered in a value-neutral perspective to describe the spread of ideas, etc…..but one typically attaches value to it…..and that is especially being done here. And that has nothing to do with the model. The spray of some idea, product, etc….doesn’t always have positive social value.

    To vegan ears this is all rather self-aggrandizing, to non-vegan ears….referring to vegans as “innovators” is rather glib.

  4. I read both the study and supporting analysis and I’m a little surprised you would use the Faunalytics study to bolster your incrementalist perspective. The number jumped off the page with current vegans placing ethics as the leading motivation for their adopting and maintaining a vegetarian/vegan diet.

    A vegan diet is just that, a diet. As with most health related diets, retention is very unlikely. It may be a dirty little secret, but an egg once in awhile or even a steak on top of an otherwise healthy plant-based diet will have little if any impact on health. So what’s the impetus to go and remain totally vegan for health reasons again?

    1. have you seen the first video on my video page before? in there i explain why i think it’s not just morality that will get us there.
      Also i suspect the faunalyticspeople would disagree with the conclusion you draw from their study.
      see also:

      I believe you are demonstrating what i see everywhere in the movement, and what i think is not productive: a desire and an instistence that the change HAS to be about moral motivations right from the start. I say: we will get to these moral motivations, but we don’t necessarily have to start with them.

  5. Either I am not clear or your own bias is getting in the way. I never said that ethics is the only reason to go vegan and maintain a vegan diet, but it is necessary to include the ethical justification from the very start. We seem to disagree fundamentally on the premise that most humans, other than the sociopaths, place a high value on morality. You seem to believe that the moral message will deter most people and take away from the more selfish health reasons. We disagree fundamentally on human nature itself.

    The Faunalytics group explicitly stated that their study was merely “exploratory” – they did not test any hypotheses. It was a fine survey but to draw any sweeping strategy conclusions is unsupportable by their own admission. Even your language in the blog you referenced above was tentative – as it should be.

    On the other hand, the staying power of a moral motivation for going and staying vegan literally jumps off the page of the study, even for this study with such an extremely low number of vegan respondents. Those that remained vegan for the longest did so for ethical reasons. You completely ignored my comment regarding health diets in general – recidivism is the norm. Very few diets are adhered too for more than a year – even those that appeal to vanity. People will always find a way to cheat – ‘just one little egg won’t hurt, I’ll do better tomorrow’. You know this is true.

    Why do you insist on leaving the moral component out from the start?

    1. i never “insisted on leaving the moral component out from the start”. what i AM saying is that we don’t necessarily need to include it (that, in my mind, is dogmatic and ideologically inspired, rather than based on evidence). It’s been awhile since i looked at the faunalytics study, but i seem to remember it is not clear at all (as opposed to how you interpret it) that there is such a huge difference between people who are ethically motivated and people who aren’t). Anway, I do believe that the ethical motivation makes it more sustainbable, and i agree with you that there is no reason to be a consistent vegan for any other reason than animal rights reasons (and even then one might argue).
      My question is why some people seem obsessed with the idea that the morality has to be in there from the start. Like i said, i’m just saying it doesn’t necessarily need to be, and the moral arguments can grow on people.

      1. I suggest to do take a look at the Faunalytics study. The majority of vegans or vegetarians who did not revert were motivated by ethics. Its the health-related people that dropped out in droves.

        The first reason is that people abhor illogic – they may come to erroneous conclusions based upon flawed logic, but the question, “why” is one of the first things out of a toddler’s mouth. The second is that “morality” is another inborn human trait. Even criminal behavior is often based upon some self-justification in the mind of the perpetrator. Why not provide an honest justification right from the start rather than fooling people into behavior change.

        If you ask someone to “reduce” eating animals for moral reasons – the logical disconnect is painful. As Taft explains, to ask an abusive spouse to hold a truce on Mondays would be absurd. The logical implication is that abuse on Tuesday through Sunday is acceptable as a “baby step”. I am “obsessed” with including morality from the start because I don’t want to have do logical back flips to reprogram people who were conned into feeling good about their cage free eggs and to have say to them in effect , just kidding, cage-free is unacceptable too.

        Do you have any evidence that merely asking the question as part of a larger initial strategy, “Do you believe it is OK to harm an animal unnecessarily and merely for the pleasure of it?” is an offensive turnoff? The burden is on us to demonstrate that eating and exploiting animals is not only unnecessary for human health but detrimental – but that’s part of a complete and consistent vegan strategy..

        1. Employing analogies that refer to direct violence or acts that aren’t systematic in nature… a false analogy and as such conclusions you’d draw from it are entirely fallacious.

          Animals are harmed by the act of an individual eating meat by a sequence of indirect acts…..and there is no one-to-one correspondence between the meat on ones plate and what happens on some farm. Being vegan, as an individual, does absolutely nothing to change what happens on farms.

          I do wonder, what does a focus on ethics look like? What is the ethical basis for veganism? Ask 100 vegans….and you’re likely to get 100 different answers.

          1. I had to read Mr. Toad’s comment several times – was I missing something? In my country anyway, it is illegal to hire a hit man to “indirectly” murder someone. A meat eater explicitly hires someone to kill or cause suffering and, unlike the murder for hire scenario, enjoys the disposal of the body.

            And systematic killing, as in genocide, is not really murder???

            Is your reluctance to apply an analogy involving humans to animals because animals are just objects in your view and don’t matter?

            1. to answer your question, pslebow: in my twenty years of experience i have seen it over and over again that people shut down when the ethical argument comes up, especially when you’re talking not just to people in the street, but to decision makers in local governments, restaurants, businesses, education etc.

              i have the same concern as you: i want people to care about the animals. i want the moral argument to work. i have no ulterior motive. but what i see again and again is 1. people like you we HAVE to use and it 2. other people being closed to it.
              i’m not saying to always avoid it, i’m saying to be adaptive and not dogmatic.

              i partially (and unusually) agree with some of Toad’s points here. The comparison “abolitionist” love to make are so often fallacious and unproductive.

              1. Interacting with institutions who represent people is very different than motivating individuals. If incorporating a moral message in your interactions with individuals causes them to “shut down” it may be worth taking a look at your techniques. This is why I suggested Taft’s book where he specifically addresses the modes of human response to being challenged ethically.

                I just had a long conversation with a person who agreed with the ethical aspect of veganism but questioned the lack of protein Anyone who knows anything about a plant-baeed diet can respond to that concern in their sleep.He left the conversation considering going vegan.

                I also suggest watching some of the man-on-the-street interviews that are on youtube for instance. The reporter asks some very pointed ethical questions and you can see that people actually engage rather than dismiss. People inherently want to be ethical. It does take some skill to present ethics in a non-threatening and respectful way.

                As far as Mr. Toad’s points are concerned, which point are you referring to? His defense of “indirect” killing?

                1. i think i said what i wanted to say here. and i’m saying it more elaboratedly in my two presentations. if you want to stick to ethical arguments in all circumstances because you think that is some kind of obligation, that’s all fine for me. i suggest we are adaptive and see, case by case, what works, without saying that we should throw overboard the ethical arguments. I’m trying to watch what people are open to, and i’ll talk about that. that’s it.

                  1. Well it sounds like you are espousing pretty much what Taft is saying – one has to reach out to people based upon where they are in there level of awareness. You apparently feel though that mentioning ethics may not be appropriate in some circumstances while I believe it is always appropriate if tailored to the context of the interaction. I find environmental and health arguments often meet with overwhelming skepticism and result in “fact wars” that go nowhere. You automatically introduce ethics when you merely mention the word “suffering” which begs the question, ‘why care about animal suffering?’ – ethics, morality.

            2. “Being a vegan as an individual does absolutely nothing to change what happens on farms”

              If this is true, then being a vegan may mean you aren’t hiring a hit man. But you are doing nothing to end the murder. Unless you can come up with something better than philosophical and psychological musings that universal adoption of veganism is possible socially culturally, and *politically*.

              Except that actually you are hiring a hitman. Animals will be shot and poisoned to protect crops. This isn’t *incidental* field mice getting minced during harvesting, this is deliberate pest control. Vegans (like omnivores) hire hit men to kill animals to protect crops. Want to be vegan and limit your Iinvolvement in this?Then practice some form of freeganism and calorie restriction (eating only enough to keep you alive). If you aren’t employing these options, you’re saying “my enjoyment of these crops is more important than the lives of those animals”.

                1. Not really a valid response to anything I said, pslebow. I could be sticking pins into a doll named “vegan” every night, but my argument stands alone on its own merits and must be countered with regard to its faults and weaknesses alone.

                  If you want to say something, how about the following –
                  1) how does the philosophical and psychological stuff actually pan out socially, culturally and politically?
                  2) are animals deliberately killed to protect crops or not? If they are, how is that not hiring a hitman, while the process that gets meat on to the plate is?
                  3) if vegans care about these animals too, why not take up some sort of vegan freeganism and calorie restriction to limit your impact? What is the problem with that idea or those particular options?

                  1. 1) You made the statement dismissing the entire field of clinical psychology,not me. AA seems to work pretty well for alcoholics.

                    2) Animals are deliberately killed to protect crops grown for humans and animal feed. If there are ways to minimize that, they should be pursued. For animal agriculture the goal is to maximize the killing of animals.

                    3)The calories per acre available for human consumption of animals is an order of magnitude less than those available from plants.

                    4) What’s behind you hostility to veganism?

                    1. 1) didn’t exactly dismiss clinical psychology, but did ask how that pans out socially, culturally and politically in terms of advancing universal veganism. Did indicate that I think universal veganism isn’t going to happen. Show me that I am wrong and that the phil and psych “musings” are bang on.

                      Thank you for using the term *clinical* psychology. Clinical psychology is a therapeutic method for helping individuals. How does it extrapolate to the social, cultural and political level? If Taft is extrapolating from clinical psychology to achievements at these levels his opinion is no more valid than yours, mine or the guy in the red jumper on the train.

                      2) you’re evading. My question is how animals getting killed to protect crops isn’t hiring a hitman, but the process of getting meat on the plate is.. Minimize this or maximise that is irrelevant. But if minimize “should” happen, then tell me if you are going to adopt vegan freeganism and calorie restriction as a way to minimise your need for animals to be killed to protect crops, and will you be advocating these options to other vegans?

                      3) You’re evading again – calories per acre is irrelevant. The question is YOUR hitman analogy.

                      Also irrelevant to calorie restriction. Calorie restriction is about vegans reducing the number of animal killed by reducing their consumption of crops.

                      Tell me what you think of vegan freeganism and calorie restriction as a way of vegans reducing their consumption of crops and thus reducing their need to have someone kill animals to protect those crops.

                      4) This hostility thing is a distraction. I’m not playing that game.

              1. Your hostility to veganism is very much to the point, as much as you seem to want to deflect it. This is a vegan strategy site after all.

                Your false equivalence comparing unavoidable killing of animals as opposed to intentional killing is baffling to me. It is theoretically possible to grow vegetables without killing anything but theoretically impossible to eat animals without hiring a hit man to do the honors.

                Most vegans draw the line between justified killing for survival and self-defense versus killing unnecessarily and for pleasure.

                You were the one to bring up calorie counting as a direct numerical relationship to the killing of animals. As an animal eater, your calorie intake must include the externalities and life-cycle “costs”. Your 400 calorie piece of meat involves throwing away 4000 calories just to grow it. Calories per acre is right on point.

                (I try to eat just enough to stay healthy, by the way)

                “If Taft is extrapolating from clinical psychology to achievements at these levels…” Maybe you should read his book before reaching a verdict. The despised Gary Yourofsky seems to be able extrapolate a moral and ethical message with great impact on the masses in Israel.

                1. 1) “this is a vegan strategy site…” So? Does that mean blunt and vigorous views, points and questions aren’t appropriate?

                  Stop focussing on the messenger, focus on the message.

                  2) “it is theoretically possible to grow vegetables without killing anything”. OK, expand, what is the method?

                  But let us put the theoretical aside, and focus on what actually happens now. Animals are killed to protect crops NOW. To eat animals, your hitman has to kill them. The crops you eat are produced in a way that includes the deliberate killing of animals. You call one killer a hitman, but you won’t call the other killer a hitman. What is the difference between these two killers? You call one type of killing “unavoidable”, the other “intentional”. The crop pprotector IS intentionally killing; the crop eater’s intention is eating the crop but growing that crop involves killing. The meat producer is intentionally killing; the meat eater’s intention is just eating meat, but producing meat requires killing. You see the theoretical can be introduced here as well – it is theoretically possible to produce lab meat: a future meat eater could eat meat without the production of that meat involving killing. So the intention of the meat eater is simply to eat meat but at the moment killing is unavoidable, just as killing is unavoidable for the crop eater at the moment. If the meat eater is employing a hitman, so is the crop eater. Either accept you too employ hit men or withdraw that term.

                  3) Justified killing. Yes killing to protect crops is justified. Crop eaters are justified in accepting the killing that happens to produce the crop. However, vegans could reduce their load of crop killings by adopting vegan freeganism and calorie restriction. What is the justification for vegans not to do so if it doesn’t jeopardise their survival? Why aren’t you as a vegan morally obligated to reduce your load of crop killings?

                  4) Calorie restriction. You are willfully obfuscating by bringing in calories per acre and calories by meat. I have only used calorie restriction as a means by which vegans as iindividuals can reduce their load of animals being killed for crops. As a vegan you eat the bare number of calories needed for your survival, you thus reduce your consumption of crops, you thus reduce your load of crop killings. It’s quite simple. Would you endorse such a method of reducing the load of crop killing in the case of vegans?

                  And btw, you haven’t said anything about vegan freeganism. Would you endorse that as a way for vegans to reduce their load of crop killings?

                  Also, are you assuming I eat meat?

                  5) Touche! Yeah I haven’t read Taft (ain’t going too either). Still, it’s a reasonable point to wonder what expertise a clinical psychologist (a therapist helping individuals) has at the social, cultural, political level.

                  1. Oh, and what has Gary Yourofsky got to do with anything? So Gary Y has come up with things that connect in Israel, so why shouldn’t Taft do something similar? OK and why shouldn’t Sharon Osbourne? And why shouldn’t the little old man on the park bench? My point is Taft as a clinical psychologist is not an expert on the social, cultural, political level. But yeah he could get get lucky.

                    1. I believe Yourofsky’s approach works for some. Taft’s for others. But neither approach shies away from the core ethical aspect of veganism. There is evidence that our sense of morality is genetic in nature. Taft attempts to meet people where they are while taking advantage of the desire of most people to ‘do the right thing’ and not to inflict unnecessary pain or death. To reverse a lifetime of social brainwashing takes, in my opinion, a good understand of human nature and psychology.

                    2. I acknowledged that for survival I would have to allow animals to be killed. Did you miss that? I also gave my definition of “hit man” which is not a reflection on him but rather a statement about the person who hires him for his or her pleasure.

                      Why do you assume I consume more calories than required and that the calories I chose to consume cause animal deaths and environmental devastation on par with meat eaters?

                      What is the point of your argument – to take people who are already making huge changes in their impact on animals and squeezing the last bit of perfection out of them? No vegan is arguing against efficient use of food. I get your point but how does that in any way relate to the wanton destruction of animal life for pleasure – which was my original point?

                      Just because a truth needs to be repeated over and over to get through doesn’t make it a cliche.

                  2. I see, you are actually espousing a calorie-restricted diet.

                    So you believe that the number of small animals inadvertently killed in the process of growing plants is on par with those killed directly for food?

                    If the “theoretical” no-kill garden doesn’t exist, then, for my survival I would have to consent to applying pesticides. It is clearly possible to grow crops without them (At the moment I’m eating a tomato I grew without them) Just as the fishing industry is supposed to use nets that limit “by-catch” it is equally possible to reduce by-kill in croplands with better practices.

                    My definition of a hit-man is someone who commits a deliberate immoral act as a proxy. Killing for survival is not immoral. Killing animals for pleasure is. You may have a different definition.

                    I question the “messenger” because I find your logic so forced that it seems that there is an ulterior motive behind it.

                    A calorie is a unit of energy. If you want to reduce it by starving yourself, that’s your choice. I’d rather not eat extremely high calorie foods, most of which is thrown away through manure and respiration. You scoffed at the idea of a transformation to widespread veganism yet you feel freeganism will be the silver bullet, eagerly embraced by current meat eaters? If not, why even bring it up?

                    1. Read and comprehend.

                      1) Animals are not just being “inadvertently” killed, animals are deliberately and purposively killed in a completely planned way to protect crops. When you and I eat crops they got on our plate with killing. Comprehend?

                      2) So better practices can reduce by kill. Great. Until that happy day, what are you as a vegan going to do to reduce your crop killing load. I have suggested vegan freeganism and calorie restriction.

                      3) You see unless you reduce your crop killing load, you are getting someone (the crop protector) to kill for you, and some of that killing is immoral because you haven’t done everything possible to reduce your consumption of crops to a level that doesn’t impinge on your survival. You haven’t reduced your consumption of crops because you enjoy them too much, or it’s too inconvenient or whatever. I’ve suggested two ways you could reduce your consumption of crops. What is it you can’t understand?

                      4) I said nothing about starving. Why are you making things up? I said restricting to a level you can survive on. Got it?

                      These “high calorie foods” and the energy lost in manure, you seem to be saying that you as a vegan are already using less calories than a meat eater. That is irrelevant to my point – I am saying that calorie restriction is a way for a vegan to consume less crops and therefore have a lower crop kill load. Can’t you grasp that?

                      5) Where have I proposed freeganism as a “silver bullet” that’s going to be embraced by meat eaters? Why are you making things up? I suggested vegan freeganism as a way for vegans to reduce their crop consumption and thereby reduce their crop kill load. What is it you can’t understand?

                      You know, I kinda dread you replying further because I suspect you are only capable of thinking in vegan cliches. But hey, you might surprise me!

                    2. I said nothing that contradicted your need to kill animals to survive. How comes you didn’t comprehend that?

                      You relate the hit man to a person who uses him to kill for the first person’s pleasure. If a vegan isn’t reducing their consumption of crops to a minimum, they are using a hit man, they are using someone to kill for that percentage of crops they can’t be bothered to forego or they enjoy too much to give up. You heap opprobrium on the head of the meat eater, but you excuse the killing for the percentage of crops the vegan just can’t be asked to forego. The problem is the can’t be asked vegan is doing the same thing as the meat eater, the only difference is degree. Just admit that.

                      What is the matter with you? Nowhere have I assumed that you actually consume more calories than necessary. Calorie restriction relates to a general point about vegans reducing their crop kill load. And I haven’t aasumed your calories cause the same level of deaths or environmental devastation as meat eaters.

                      Wringing the last drop of perfection? No, just pointing out the lack of perfection. That vegans are in the same boat as everyone else – while humans are on this planet they will cause animal deaths for needs AND for wants. You are in the shit with everyone else so stopping throwing about language like “hitman”.

                      I don’t believe vegans are making
                      HUGE changes – wake up, you’re within global capitalism.

                      And nowhere have I been talking about efficient use of food – what are
                      you talking about?

                      This conversation is at an end because it is really frustrating constantly correcting the other person’s incomprehension, miscomprehensions and sheer wilful fictions of what one has said before one can get on with the debate. So “bye.

                    3. To summarize, before you pickup your marbles and go home, I took your point that vegans should be espousing not overeating. I vehemently disagree with your other point that inadvertent killing is equivalent to premeditated killing for pleasure. By your reasoning, since car crashes are inevitable, every driver is a “hit man” no different than a terrorist who drives a truck into a crowd. Oh, excuse me, it is just a matter of “degree”, a driver is a fledgling junior hit man.

                      “And nowhere have I been talking about efficient use of food – what are
                      you talking about?” Efficient use of food means not eating more than needed or wasting food – are you such a literalist that you can’t tolerate synonyms?

                      Again, this is supposedly a vegan strategy site – your deliberate focus on the high and inaccessible as opposed to the low hanging fruit as a strategy is baffling to me.

                      Enjoyed the discussion as frustrating as it was 🙂

                    4. My God, you’re still doing it. I said nothing about vegans not espousing overeating – my use of calorie restriction was totally specific to what I called crop kill load, therefore if there was actually no crop kill load in eating crops vegans could overeat to their heart’s content!

                      I’m starting to think you are either a wind-up merchant or truly dense. Either way I am now emigratig to Australia with my marbles to live incommunicado in remotest part of the outback.

                    5. Oh don’t be silly – I know exactly what you were referring to and did understand it was to achieve a lesser degree of willful killing. I am just less cynical I suppose and do believe the vegan trend will have a major impact – capitalism or not. Capitalism has no soul and will feed on demand regardless of moral basis behind that demand. Enjoy Down Under 🙂

            3. pslebow,

              Your claim is just a bizarre, how in the world does someone eating meat *explicitly* hire something to kill or harm an animal? And this isn’t an analogy to meat eating, murdering people isn’t an act that is systematically employed throughout society. It is precisely due to the systematic nature of meat eating that people aren’t “explicitly hiring” anybody….given the amount of meat, etc produced an individuals acts have no measurable impact on anything. The amount of meat, etc that ends up in the trash (did the trash can hire someone?) is almost enough to fed the entire US population the level of meat they consumed 60+ years ago.

              The case of genocide does provide a somewhat reasonable analogy and its easy to talk about genocide when you’re not living in a society committing it. So, for example, what was the moral obligation for the average German citizen during the reign of the Nazi party? What of someone like Oskar Schindler? Was he an apologist for genocide for not actively rejecting Nazism?

              I have no issues with applying an analogy involving humans to animals if the conditions are actually analogous. When you say that animals are just “objects” I’m not sure what you mean, are you asking whether I think animals are akin to a rock? No….they aren’t.

              1. I am having trouble following your argument. Are you saying an individual behavior as a result of a systemic problem is justifiable or, at best, unchangeable? That people just can’t help their meat eating behavior because the alternatives are too severe?

                Once one agrees that killing animals is immoral, then hiring a company to slaughter them is an immoral act. What we have in this world is a mass “agreement” that killing animals is not immoral. Mass denial is not a justification. Look at what climate change denial has done.

                I also don’t understand your dismissal of individual behavior on the micro level. Are you denying the impact of movements in society? To just, by assertion claim that veganism, will never catch on, begs the question, why even have a vegan strategy site?

                You say, “.given the amount of meat, etc produced an individuals acts have no measurable impact on anything.”

                And then we have this recent headline:
                “Almond milk sales continue to surge, as dairy milk contracts, Nielsen data shows”

                1. Hahahaha…lmfao.

                  What difference does a “surge” in the sales of almond milk make? Is there an exact commensurate crash in the sales of animal milk?

                  Almond milk is the vanguard of the revolution, comrades!


                  1. (The histrionics don’t add anything) If you bothered to read Mr. Toad’s remark that:

                    “….given the amount of meat, etc produced an individuals acts have no measurable impact on anything.”

                    It doesn’t take much to disprove that prima facie. Do you deny the impacts of movements too?

                    I am aware of what you two scoff at, but what do you believe and why are you commenting on a vegan strategy site?

                    1. Yes, it just dawned on me that the comments are mainly reactionary with no alternative solutions presented. So far I’ve heard: knowledge of human behavior is worthless, individual acts are meaningless, there is no moral culpability in eating animals, movements don’t exist, vegans are hypocrites and killers for not reducing calorie intake to a bare minimum. I have nothing against trolling if it adds some enlightenment but I haven’t seen much offered.

                    2. pslebow – you’re wrong. I’ve just said a few things about “alternative solutions” on the vegan baby topic. And if you (and especially Tobias) had attended to Mr Toad’s comments on this site you would know he promotes cultural change as the key.

                      And here’s some enlightenment. Veganism bringing about change through consumerism (yes, even if it’s almond milk) won’t work. Read some Steve Best – he’s a vegan too.

                    3. I only go by the current conversation. I am not able to research previous posts, especially in this WordPress format. There is no harm in restating a position (which I still am not aware of) So you are a Steve Best adherent?

                      Why the exclusion of consumerism fromI cultural change? I would see changing our consumer habits to be part of changing our culture. The drop in milk and meat sales is attributable in part to a drop in demand which is, in my mind, due to a cultural shift. There is nothing I said that implies anything but a cultural change as the key.

                    4. pslebow,

                      “What do you believe” is too general of a question…..but my comments here have been no means just reactionary……I have consistently promoted the idea of targeting culture as the the primary means to shift societal behaviors. I have provided numerous examples of this, etc.

                      Most of your claims about what has been said are little more than straw-man. Nobody has claimed that “knowledge of human behavior is worthless”, nobody has claimed that “there is no moral culpability in eating animals”, nobody has said “movements don’t exist”…..and you’re still distorting Leone’s point about caloric restriction despite him clarifying what he meant in some detail! Now perhaps you’re just legitimately misunderstanding what is being claimed…..but given the number of false claims, etc you’re making its hard to see you as someone that is committed to have a serious discussion.

                      I’m not asking you to agree with me…..but I would ask that you please accurately represent what I claim.

                2. (not really following the discussion, but just a small aside note: the surge in sales of non dairy milk have nothing to do with ethics, but only with health concerns. it’s a good example of an aspect of the strategy that i ephasize: focus on any reduction for whatever reason, and all these evolutions will make it easier for everyone to become vegan fulltime, and adopt ethical reasons)

                3. pslebow,

                  My argument is about moral wrongs and when and how individuals should be expected to act on them. You are trying to tie consuming meat to a non-systematic act of direct violence……but this is a false analogy. As I pointed out, meat consumption is systematic in nature and there is no direct link between an individual buying some piece of meat and what happens on some farm and/or slaughter house. In case of some systematic wrong…..I’m claiming individuals do not have a moral obligation to try to attempt to abolish the act in their life. But not only that, such an attempt will have no measurable impact in the first place….it will be a purely symbolic act.

                  Your example of almond milk by no means refutes my statement which was about the impact of *an individuals* actions. The issue here is that the market for meat (dairy, etc) is so vast that one persons acts, or even a small fraction, has no measurable impact. I mention the amount of meat being trashed as an example of the vastness of the market for meat, we produce so much of it that around 30% ends up trashed. In fact, because of this fact, a freegan eating meat would actually reduce harm greater than a strict vegan in today’s world. The market for meat is also flexible, a drop in domestic consumption in developed nations can easily be offset by increasing exports….to a world that is hungry for more meat. As such a boycott is overall pointless, the only way to prevent meat from being produced is to change cultural attitudes which would allow for laws to be created that would prevent or limit the practice.

                  And while the consumption of liquid milk is down in the US….the overall output of dairy is up (remember, liquid milk is just one dairy product of many)! In the US total dairy output in 2014 was 206 units and in 2015 it was 208 units (see below for USDA data)……so dairy consumption increased despite almond milk being a bit popular with some consumer segments.


                  I will add as well that almond milks popularity had nothing to do with vegans…..its popularity is largely due to marketing efforts by the California almond board. Which is, itself, interesting…..goes to show how much more effective a small group of goal directed, evidence-based business folks can be than a much larger ideological driven group.

                  1. Some systemic forces are much more difficult for the individual to impact. To withdraw from our corrupt capitalist society would require huge changes in lifestyle and priorities (automobile and home ownership or internet use, for instance). Veganism is not one of them. Opting out of the animal exploitation system is virtually painless for most societies and, in fact, beneficial to the individual.

                    I did not mean to imply that vegans were the only or even main input to the reduction in drinking cows milk. The one thing that ethical veganism does provide is a consistent and ever-present direction to the trend. I believe the ethical argument may not win over the health argument for conversion to veganism, but it is a much more powerful disincentive for recidivism. (if you believe the Faunalytics poll)

                    Regardless of the underlying motivations leading to the rise of almond milk consumption over cow’s milk (marketing efforts or not), the result is an aggregate of individual choices. Unless people actually commit the act of drinking almond milk, all of your irresistible systemic forces will have no impact. I think you will have to explain more clearly why you divorce individual behavior from society behavior.

                  2. pslebow,

                    My argument had nothing to do with how difficult it is to withdraw, but instead whether withdrawing had any tangible impact. In the case of systematic injustice….I argue that individual action has little to no impact.

                    Yes, almond milk sales are the result of the aggregate purchases of a variety of people. But what is the impact of any particular individual? Insignificant. But the presence of almond milk hasn’t reduced dairy output….it keeps increasing. So not only does this not refute my claim, its an example of exactly what I’m talking about. Increased almond milk consumption in the context of systematic dairy consumption has done little to impact dairy consumption……and that is because its done nothing to change how people think, how the markets work, what regulations are on the books, etc… aren’t just the aggregate of individuals actions….they have a particular foundation. Systematic injustice is rooted in a problem with the system itself….not just the individuals.

                    As such veganism targets the wrong thing and its no surprise that its been such a failure.

                    1. From my experience you have the analogy exactly backwards. Physics would be nowhere without mathematics, engineering would be nowhere without physics. There is a place for macro and a place for micro. Dr. Taft is not just any “random guy on the sidewalk”.

                      What is the “vegan community”? From my experience it is extremely diverse and to paint it with a broad brush is inaccurate.

                      I rarely see the word “carnism” used, not that it isn’t, but it sure doesn’t seem to be pervasive. Melanie Joy invented the term to describe the psychological phenomenon of denial and social indoctrination. It might be useful as a lead-in to a conversation with a meat-eater but I don’t see it as a vegan bludgeon. For me “speciesism” is useful as a thought-provoking concept – to what extent are animals objectified in our culture and why is that justified?

                      So if cultural change is barreling impacted by individual motivations, what is the force behind change?

                    2. pslebow,

                      Physics would be no where without mathematics…..but you’re ignoring my point. While physics, like biology, utilizes mathematics….being a mathematician doesn’t give you any particular insight into physics or biology. Same goes with Taft, he may be a great psychologists, I have no idea, but being a psychologists doesn’t give you any expertise in sociology or anthropology even-though the fields utilize some aspects of psychology.

                      The vegan community is, well, the class of all vegans…..and sure vegans have a variety of views. Some vegans may even largely agree with me…..but there are common themes in the vegan community and those are what I’m referring to.

                      I see the term “carnism” used by vegans all the time, I’ve been called “carnist” numerous times in discussions on facebook and other such places.

                      I’m not sure I understand the question in your last paragraph. But how cultures change overtime is complex and typically its hard to know why I particular cultural change occurred because cultures quickly created stories, myths, etc to enshrine cultural practices and so the descriptions of the practice quickly become detached from any reason the practice evolved in the first place.

                      In the case of meat consumption, you’d want to understand how got where we are today and then you’d want to promote change by promoting new stories, myths, practices, etc within the culture. Vegans, by focusing on the individual adherence to a ideological sub-culture……have little impact on general society and aren’t creating practices, ideas, etc that are readily absorbed in the general society.

                    3. I get your point but my point regarding the co-dependence of micro-macro is equally valid.The line between physics and math is permeable in both directions – math quite often predicts physical phenomena and inversely will provide insights in terms of what NOT to expect physically. In this regard, psychology can identify counterproductive approaches to social change.

                      I agree systemic injustice (e.g. capitalism) is the root of many evils but you didn’t answer the question, how does one change the system? Unless you are advocating violent overthrow, which usually just replaces one bad system with another, you can’t expect the system to just change itself. Movements do the changing and movements are made up of individual forces combining toward a single goal. The forces can have differing motivations (e.g. ethical or economic with regard to slavery) but there is a common goal.

                    4. pslebow,

                      Pure mathematics does not, in itself, predict anything about the physical world. The majority of mathematics is developed in its own right and not due to any particular application. But the precise details of the history of mathematics wasn’t my point instead that being a mathematician doesn’t give you any special insight into the sciences. Just as being a psychologist doesn’t give you any special insight into sociology even-though sociologists import some psychological theories into their work.

                      Cultures and social systems do change without any explicit advocacy all the time, after all, look around at all the worlds cultures. These cultures weren’t created by advocates or cultural-engineers instead they developed organically. I think its important to note just what advocates have done in the past and what they achieved. The civil rights movement was not, for example, based on some lofty ideology but instead was a protest against specific cases of legal discrimination and the movement succeed in ending this legal discrimination. But while the movement did succeed on the legal front….it didn’t succeed much on the cultural front. Cultural attitudes didn’t change, people still had the same notion of race and people were still racist. Only very slowly has the cultural aspects changed but today, decades later, racism is still very much a part of American life.

                      So how does one change culture? That is, I think, a difficult question and I’m not going to try to address it here. My primarily point here is about how you frame the issues…..what people eat, how they think about their food, etc are all inherently cultural and aren’t going to respond well to advocacy. You’re dealing with an entire system and you can’t isolate an individual from the system. On the other hand advocacy can be a useful tool to promote some specific legal change, for example, regulations that improve living conditions for egg laying hens.

                      So when I speak of the failure of veganism I’m speaking about its failure as a tool to change social systems. Some animal advocacy groups, like the Humane Society, have been successful at promoting specific legal changes and I do think these small victories will, indirectly, help move culture over time. But one can pursue these campaigns without ever talking about veganism.

  6. I know MANY people who are now vegan but initially began changing their diet and lifestyle for reasons other than ethics (I am one of them). It seems to me that most of the time, when someone becomes vegetarian or vegan for health reasons, environmental reasons, etc., through their learning curve, they will soon become introduced to the ethics behind veganism. If ethics are important to them, then they will have the opportunity at that point in their lives to remain vegan for ethical reasons. If they are not ethical people, then it doesn’t matter much when we introduce them to the ethical arguments for veganism, does it???

  7. Casey Taft. Psychologist. Yeah. Psychologists have made notable contributions to animal rights – Richard Ryder and the debatable concept of speciesism, and Melanie Joy and the highly dubious concept of carnism. Seems that there are always big question marks with the contributions of psychologists.

    1. To me the reason for this is a bit obvious……the study of societies is the job of sociology and anthropology so psychologists have no real expertise on the issues that are relevant here. Psychology can be relevant in terms of creating a marketing campaign, etc which can translate into strategies to promote vegan *products*…..but veganism isn’t a product. Its an ideology.

      What I find funny about “speciesism” and “carnism” is that, regardless of the original intent…..these terms have become little more than derogatory terms for non-vegans. Especially carnist…

      I have to dig up the quote but in the book “The animal rights debate” Carl Cohen cites quotes that indicate that the folks that brought us “speciesism” settled on this term in part due to the fact that they knew it would have negative connotations and would therefore, irrationally, demonize anybody that was deemed “speciesist”.

      1. To me it appears you’ve just contradicted yourself and made true statements that were not pertinent. Yes sociologists “study” societies, doesn’t at all make the case that psychologists can’t provide insights on how to change societies. You even go so far as to claim psychology is good for mass marketing campaigns – that is translating individual behavior to societal behavior. Make up your mind. You then appear to qualify your first statement by saying that mass marketing is only good for “products” – a non sequitur. As I said earlier, tell that to Thomas Paine – the case can be made that his reaching out to individuals in “Common Sense” enabled the American Revolution.

        Well, I’m not fond of “ism”words either, but why is “carnism” derogatory on its face? I think the label has not gained traction but I do understand Joy’s attempt to label a behavior to raise it in people’s consciousness. “Speciesism” in my mind it too abstract a term and it ignores the natural tendency in any species to favor itself over others. For an “enlightened” species like humans, it does raise the question, to what extent are other species of lesser importance than us and when are we justified in exploiting them, if ever?

        1. pslebow,

          A random guy on the sidewalk can also give insights into how societies change….my point wasn’t that psychologists cannot be insightful about societies but rather than their education in psychology doesn’t give them any more expertise on the matter as some random guy.
          Psychological is certainly relevant to sociology and anthropology but that doesn’t mean psychologists have in any particular insight into those fields. Just like mathematics is utilized throughout biology…..that doesn’t mean a mathematician has any particular insight into biology. As such there was nothing contradictory in my comment.

          “Carnism” isn’t derogatory “on its face”….instead its how the term has evolved in the vegan community. As I said, regardless of the original intent, its just become a derogatory term for people that aren’t vegan. And the vegan community has thoroughly distorted the original meaning of “speciesism”……its just a cheap catch phrase now. Notice the trend here? Anytime you have some quasi-serious attempt at intellectualism….the vegan community blows it up.

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