Event Review: CEVA Training

Price: ****

Ease of use: ****

Value for EAA beginners: ****

Value for EAA pros: ***

As ever, this post reflects my own views, not those of my employer.

On the 1st and 2nd of September, I attended a two-day training session by the Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy, hosted by ProVeg UK. The training was led by Melanie Joy and Tobias Leenaert. You can see the agenda here. Many relevant resources – either similar to the talks themselves, or recommended as relevant to the content – can be found here.

The talks

Tobias kicked off the sessions with an excellent, concise summary of some of the key principles of Effective Altruism, and how these might apply to animal advocacy in broad terms. His talks on the second day were mostly either summarising some of the key ideas in his book, How to Create a Vegan World, or adding some supplementary ideas, which he shares at various points on his blog (and which mostly repeated the talk he had given in London last year, on the same title as his book). These talks were all excellent for those unfamiliar with EA and EAA (if this applies to you, then see this list of introductory materials), his book and blog, although for those who were already aware of these ideas, they had little to add.

Melanie Joy spoke about effective communication. This is a topic that I find people who are new to veganism or to EAA are often keen to talk about or find additional resources on (hence why I wrote this post). A lot of the talk focused on theories of ways to break down, understand and reflect upon communication in general. This was then supplemented with some more practical tips. For example, one idea which many attendees seemed keen to focus on putting into practice was the idea of whole messages. In discussions going forward (whether about veganism or not!) I plan to try and focus on consistently implementing a simplified version of this, where I lead with neutral, objective observations before explaining my interpretation or feelings arising from that observation, and before moving onto any relevant requests or suggestions for my audience. Indeed, some of these ideas are likely as useful for personal communication as they are for communication about veganism. Melanie’s talks did not drill down much into the evidence-base of her claims and suggestions. This made the talks more accessible for practical advice on communication, but made them less persuasive if any of her views about the foundational questions in EAA differed from your own; speaking to a few individuals in the breaks, they were unhappy with some of the suggestions to focus on tactics which fell short of an explicit, comprehensive “vegan” ask, and there was little evidence in the talks which might have changed their minds.

Melanie also gave a talk about sustainable activism. I did not take any notable lessons away from this talk; it felt as if the purpose was simply to reinforce the importance of not burning out as an activist. Melanie did recommend some resources for further use, however, such as the book Trauma Stewardship, and these could be useful for many individuals.

Other benefits

An additional benefit of the training is in building connections, community and communication between the attendees themselves. For those new to animal advocacy or interested in becoming active as advocates for the first time, the training offers the chance to meet other advocates, and perhaps to find out about opportunities for engagement. For those more heavily involved in animal advocacy, the event could provide great opportunities to meet others and to build up relationships which support more coordinated action. This might especially be the case if the training has not been run in your area before or if your country does not have a very established or well-connected animal advocacy community. CEVA could possibly have made more of these potential benefits: perhaps by formally hosting a meetup or discussion group around the main events, for those working in animal advocacy (although Tobias suggested to me that they do do this sort of thing for countries with a less well-established animal advocacy community); perhaps simply by providing a list of attendees before the event itself, so that attendees could see if there were particular individuals or organisations that they wanted to connect with at the event (this would have been very useful for me).

Summary of benefits for different types of attendees

Those new to animal advocacy will probably benefit most from the talks, especially Tobias Leenaert’s introductory content. The only potential negative of the training for newcomers, apart from the reasonable fee and the time commitment, is that by focusing on “communication”, it focused inevitably on individual discussions about veganism, which may reinforce the assumption (which I would argue is mistaken) that individual vegan outreach is an effective use of marginal resources (see here for a summary of that debate).

For those working in animal advocacy organisations but unfamiliar with the concepts of Effective Altruism and pragmatic approaches to animal advocacy, Tobias’ talks would be very useful. For those who work directly in communications about veganism (whether that be in designing materials, in marketing, or in corporate outreach), then Melanie’s talks may have been very useful. For those well acquainted with EA ideas and not involved in work requiring “effective communication”, then the talks of the training don’t offer much of direct value.

The training weekend probably offers decent value in terms of community-building and networking for all attendees, although to varying extents, depending on your personal and professional situation. For the reasonable price to attend, this probably makes attending worth it for many people.

Personally, as someone who works full time in EAA research, I found it a vaguely productive use of a weekend where I otherwise wouldn’t have done much work relating to EA. I also thoroughly enjoyed the events and socialising in the evening. That said, I wouldn’t have attended if I had had to sacrifice working days to attend.

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Effective Animal Advocacy in China: Perspectives from a Chinese student activist

Post author: Ouyang Huiyu. Huiyu is President of Student Vegetarian Association of Tsinghua University and Co-convener of China University Vegetarian Association Network.

Jamie, I broadly agree with your three focuses in your post. The method of legislation to restrict factory farming is often overlooked, but I will point out some possibilities. And hopefully I will briefly introduce the efforts and challenges in advancing such legislation in China in my report at International Animal Rights Conference next month.

For Max’s post, let me first point out some mistakes of little matter. Chinese people don’t use HappyCow, so you simply can’t find many places with veg options on HappyCow. In fact there are as many veg restaurants in Shanghai as in Tokyo.

The situation in Japan is also not necessarily better than China. Society there does not respect personal choices. Many young people follow the western trend, but the trend might be unpredictable. I learnt from one Chinese report that not hiring vegetarians is a hidden rule for many Japanese companies. When I traveled to Tokyo in the winter of 2017, which was an exchange program with Meikai University, the teachers just didn’t know much about vegetarianism or veganism and they would not ask me questions to learn about it. In China, when a teacher knows that I am vegan, he or she would often be very open minded to talk with me about this topic.

We probably don’t have many dog farms in China. The dogs seem to be mostly stolen, mainly from rural areas. We’re unsure what portion of Chinese dog meat comes from farms. But there are many dog/cat shelters, estimated several thousand across the country. I went to a typical one in Chengdu earlier this month; they spent 9 thousand yuan (including the salary of 18 or 19 staff) per day to take care of 4 or 5 thousand dogs and cats. And they feed the dogs and cats meat (mainly animal organs) and expired milk.

I don’t think it’s fair to say that “the level of respect the general public holds for animals like pets seems barely present in China”, using the Yulin dog meat festival as evidence. Many people are mobilized to fight against the dog meat trade (Yulin is a typical case). People are organized to stop the vans on highways to save the dogs, demonstrate or give speeches at the dog festival, which can be seen as a beginning of the animal rights movement, or even the forming of a civil society, considering such assemblies are not allowed in China. I think such direct actions have the potential to be connected to the worldwide network the Save Movement (I talked with Anita Krajnc about this). And hopefully people will start to care about not only companion animals but also farm animals. I heard a lecture from an activist with years of experience challenging the dog meat trade, which suggested that a considerable number of people who have participated in dog rescue have turned into vegetarians or vegans within a year.

Lawyers play a vital important role in dog rescue actions. Since we don’t have laws against animal abuse, legal mobilization strategy transforms into real opportunity space, together with other activists’ work. In the case of dog rescues, lawyers help to defend the legitimacy of the actions. Collaboration between animal rescue organizations, volunteers, lawyers and animal hospitals constitutes the movement foundation, during which the courage of citizen is essential. In this process, animal activists learn to cooperate with lawyers to protect animals by law, which is why I say that there could be possibilities on your second suggestion, that “animal advocates should start explicitly paving the way for wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming”. But I’m not sure how the overall process of promoting legislation would go, as the rule of law in China is getting worse these years.

A short update what the Student Vegetarian Association of Tsinghua University (SVATHU) and the China University Vegetarian Association Network (CUVAN) have been up to.

Here is a post of what SVATHU did in the Spring Semester. I will update the post next month to add our progress after June. You will see that SVATHU avoided the environment and health causes being emphasised too much in the past. But we will try to advocate from the environmental perspective (on our vegan starter kit) whilst not to increase the suffering of small animals.

CUVAN more widely has been busy. We’ve been working hard to reach out to veg associations of several universities in major cities in China to expand our network. We participated in the Good Food Hero Summit organized by Good Food Fund (China), where we had roundtable conference with catering directors from two of China’s top universities. Last week we hosted a lecture by Peter Singer in Tsinghua University where he talked about Effective Altruism.