Cecil the lion and the steakholders

Every time there is general omnivore outrage over a case of animal abuse (we can call this “selective outrage”), a lot of vegans are angry. They’ll point the finger at these people who are horrified – for instance right now at what happened to Cecil the lion –  and sometimes seem actually very irritated with them.

My question is: would we prefer those people were not outraged at all over such horror? Given that mass outrage over what happens to pigs, chickens and cows is not exactly for today, would we prefer omnivores to be consistent and shut up about Cecil? I guess not.

Trust me, I’ve had my own (too long) phase in which I felt this “I’ll tell the hypocrites”-anger myself. But why would I tell people off like that? Because I thought it would be effective? I get it: we hope that 1. people will see the inconsistency when we point it out and 2. they will change their behavior to make it consistent with their most compassionate feelings. Sometimes it happens. More often it doesn’t. And anyway, I think when we do this, when we are angry and irritated and impatient, it has a lot to do with wanting to be right, with showing them, with all kinds of things which are very different from having impact.

I’m happy, personally, with the omnivore outrage against what happened to Cecil, inconsistent and absurd as it might be. It’s the beginning of something. It’s a seed of compassion that has taken root.

I’ve talked before about what I think is the main reason for people’s different reactions towards different cases of animal mistreatment. I’ll post this picture again (I did so before in this post), because I think it’s very important: the difference in reaction towards the matador vs. the butcher is mainly explained by the fact that people don’t have a stake in bullfighting (i.e. they are not participating), but they do have a stake in animal agriculture. With a pun, we can say it is the difference between being a steakholder or not.

butcher and toreador

I have just read the late Norm Phelps’ Changing the Game, a book on strategy for the animal rights and vegan movement which I highly recommend (I’ll refer again to it in later posts). Here, Norm basically says the same thing:

“People tend to be extremely resistant to moral criticism of things they are personally doing (…) The only way around this is usually to expand the bounds of their ethical awareness gradually, one step at a time. Thus, most people come to the animals’ cause by way of something that outrages their conscience that they are not doing themselves, like fur, vivisection, or dogfighting. As they become more committed, they make the move vegetarianism and veganism. The reason for this, of course, is that when people are not committing the offense themselves, they can follow their fundamental moral principles without triggering cognitive dissonance.”

So outrage over Cecil is a start. We would do good in watering the seeds of compassion we find in people. In the next post, I’ll show you how I tried to do that in a op-ed piece for a newspaper. I tried to appreciate people’s outrage, and make the connection by not alienating them. I welcome your thoughts. Let me know how you think I can make it better

Is Ben and Jerry’s vegan icecream “veganwashing”?

Ben & Jerry’s recent announcement that they would soon be offering a vegan ice cream flavor has been cheered by many. Inevitably, however, they were the few dissident voices claiming that this was not a victory for the animals at all.


Ben & Jerry’s, so these people claim, made this move purely for profit. It’s a commercial decision, not a moral one. It has nothing to do with the ethics of animal rights, but is pure consumerism. It is even veganwashing.

Well duh. Of course profit is what drove the decision to offer vegan ice cream. Does it matter? Not so much.

I’m all in favor of erasing all the injustices of capitalism and creating a much fairer and more equal society (with or without capitalism). Yet I’m happy that today, for the first time in history, commercial interests finally can drive vegan product innovation. It means not just that there is a sizeable market, but it is also the way to get these companies on our side. It is the only way businesses invested in animal (ab)use will stop being an enemy to our cause: when they find out they can make money with the alternatives, and, as demand grows, replace more and more of the old with the new.

Does it matter that all of this is not ethically motivated? Hardly. I’m repeating it ad nauseam on this blog, but behavior (selling or buying vegan icecream) can precede attitude change (believing in animal rights etc).* It is extremely important to have vegan options out there: it’s important for businesses to sell them, and for people to buy them.

Is a vegan Ben & Jerry icecream flavor a reason to celebrate? Given the sometimes abundant negativity in our movement, I would say that we’d better celebrate too much than too little. Is it a reason to congratulate Ben & Jerry’s? Why not? Sure, they are still using the milk of thousands of cows, but the more we let them hear from us, the more they know we value what they’ve done. Not that Ben & Jerry should become complacent, but congratulations encourage, and create more goodwill than criticism.

So I’d say, go get a vegan Ben & Jerry icecream (if you’re somewhere where you can find it), and have a little faith in people. A vegan portion of Ben & Jerry’s may be just what they need to open their hearts and minds for the plight of animals.

* if you want to find out more, read this chapter from Meyers’ Psychology

How Hampton Creek “fundamentally changes the world”

In this new and visually stunning “manifesto”, the people at Hampton Creek, the startup looking to replace eggs by something better, explain how they want to “fundamentally change the world”:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7vf3-sMnJo&w=560&h=315]

“The way we change it isn’t by convincing people to do the right thing. The way we change it is by creating an entirely different system (…). Hampton Creek is about a philosophy, that believes the only way the good thing wins, is when the good thing is so obscenely better than the not so good thing, you can not help but do it.”

In spite of being a very young startup, Hampton Creek has already succeeded in closing huge deals with Compass Group (the biggest caterer in the world) and the 7-11 chain, who both will exclusively rely on Hampton Creek’s eggfree mayonaise for the prepared products. Thanks to the avian flu raging in the US, the company is now being inundated with calls from other businesses who, being short on eggs, want to try out their alternative product.

This is not just about the millions of eggs Hampton Creek is not using or the millions of layer hens saved. It’s about much more than that. The company is starting to wean an entire nation off a certain animal based product (mayonaise with eggs) and is showing them that the alternative is not just as good, but better. Hampton Creek is not talking about animal rights, and is not trying to convert people to veganism – at least not directly or explicitly. This is an example of a behavior-first approach. Behavior change (for whatever reason) can lead to a change in beliefs as soon as the existence of great alternatives helps open hearts and minds.

That is why the importance of the development of alternative products can not be overstated.

See also:
How what you eat determines what you think
Let Beyonce be. About the biggest oversight in our movement

How what you eat determines what you think

In my post Let Beyonce be I wrote about how we forget that not only may attitude influence behavior, but behavior may also influence attitude. What this means is that the way we behave regarding something, influences our beliefs about it. These beliefs can then be seen as rationalisations of the behavior.

Here is what I think is an example of that. I’d welcome your input if you think I’m mistaken. Look at the picture below: a toreador on the left, a slaughterhouse worker on the right. Basically, these people do the same thing: their profession is killing cows. If you present this picture to a general (omnivore) audience and ask: which of these people do you resent the most, then you know the answer is going to be the toreador. But why?

butcher and toreador

When I ask this question in presentations, I get different answers, maybe the main one being that while the toreador kills animals for entertainment, the butcher is at least concerned with something essential like food. This may very well be the way people look at it, although I’d venture to say that eating meat is obviously not less trivial than an age old “tradition”. Another reason people give is that bullfighting is more like torture, while the slaughterer’s task is to provide a killing that is as quick and painless as possible. These and other explanations are certainly valid, but I think there’s a more important reason for the fact that people judge these two cases very differently:

Most people are not participating in bullfights in any way, so it’s easy for them to disapprove of the bullfighter. Most people are eating meat, so disapproving of the butcher is a lot harder. So I think this is a case of people’s behavior influencing their beliefs.

What this means is that if we want people’s beliefs about eating animals to change, it is very important that we, as a society, become less dependent on animals for meat. The newest generation of meat substitutes (in the US: Gardein, Beyond Meat etc) are doing a great job at that, and also in vitro meat could obviously be of incredible significance.

By all means, keep informing people about the negative aspects of meat, as with some that will change their behavior. But consider also that the other way around is important too. Help make sure they have tasty vegan food experiences.

Let Beyonce be. About the biggest oversight in our movement

While many vegans applaud the fact that Beyonce is so outspoken about vegan eating, many others are critical of it. Among others, some folks from Direct Action Everywhere movement (which I’m still investigating but so far have been underwhelmed by) claims that “Beyonce going vegan is bad for the animals.” Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that Beyonce never said she was going vegan. We’ve heard it all before: Beyonce is not emphasising animal rights as the reason for her vegan efforts, but rather health. Many vegans demand that animals are always at the center of everything vegan. Health should have nothing to do with it. This is about morality, about ethics, about justice. Veganism can not be some fad or lifestyle thing. Right? Not really, I think. There is one thing that in my view is an enormous oversight in our movement, and its importance cannot be overstated. Here it comes: Behaviour change may precede attitude change. quote attitude behaviourRead it again, and try to let it sink in. We usually work like this: we give people all kinds of information, in the hope that attitude change (different beliefs about eating animals) will lead to behavior change (no longer eating animals). It surely can work like this, but we forget that it also works the other way round, and indeed, much research points to the fact that the other way round might be more effective. What does the other way round mean? It means that people may very well become open to animal rights arguments after changing their eating habbits. They might become “reducetarians” (or even vegans) for health reasons, for instance, or because it is a trendy thing to do. But the important thing is that once they are vegan, or partly vegan, it is much easier for them to listen to animal rights arguments. Why? Because they don’t need to be so defensive anymore. They already know they can eat tasty food, they know they don’t have so much to lose anymore, so their hearts and minds can be open. Attitude change follows behavior change, in this case. This means that in the end, we would all get in the same place, whether people start with animal rights, or not at all, like Beyonce does. It doesn’t matter all that much. A big part of the animal rights movement has  such an obsession with being vegan, and being vegan for the right reasons, that it blinds us to the fact that there are other ways to get where we want. Less direct ways perhaps, but therefore not less efficient ways. On the contrary, encouraging people to start out with whatever reasons they think are suitable, and encouraging them to moderate their consumption of animal products to whatever degree they think is doable, may be the fastest road forward. People might argue that those who become vegan for other than ethical reasons won’t stick to the diet. However, the reason why people don’t stick to the diet is mostly that it’s still not convenient enough (in several ways) to stick to it. As many more people eat more vegan meals (for whatever reason) sticking to it will become easier by the day. So bottom line: let Beyonce be. Let people have their own reasons for reducing or giving up animal products. They’ll be going along with animal rights arguments before you know it.

See also the follow post How what you eat determines what you think.

You might also be interested to check out Different approach, same results, with a sensible article, and also Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s videoblog on Beyonce.