Book Review: Jacy Reese (2018) The End of Animal Farming (Beacon Press: Boston, MA)

Price: ***
Ease of use: *****
Value for EAA beginners: *****
Value for EAA pros: ****

Disclaimer: I work full-time for Sentience Institute. This post represents entirely my own views, rather than those of  my employers. Given that I work with Jacy, I am not the best person to write a review of the book, but I thought it was worth including the book on But Can They Suffer, so that the site can continue to list reviews of books from members of the EAA community.

To some extent, The End of Animal Farming has a dual audience: 1) animal advocates seeking to integrate the perspectives and insights from the Effective Altruism community and its research into their advocacy; 2) those otherwise not deeply engaged in animal advocacy, who can benefit from understanding how animal advocacy interacts with the wider goal of moral circle expansion, with the effective altruism movement, and with current technological developments. I would guess it would be slightly more useful for the former than the latter.

The book uses research from Sentience Institute and the wider animal advocacy community. It covers much of the same ground as the foundational questions summaries and research posts, but the insights from previous work are integrated into a narrative form. In this sense, it is a comfortable and enjoyable read, which helps to familiarise the reader with some of the current research insights, but also with many of the key “scientists, entrepreneurs, and activists” involved in the predicted end of animal farming.

Due to the more narrative style than most of SI’s materials, the book tends to read slightly more like a statement of Jacy’s current beliefs in some key issues in animal advocacy than as a neutral list of all relevant arguments. Counterarguments are still included, however, and the book remains balanced and fair.

I would recommend TEOF as a fantastic introduction to effective animal advocacy, above Cooney’s book, Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach us About Spreading Social Change. Cooney’s book is very useful, but is quite narrow in its focus and is dense with psychological studies. TEOF has a broader focus and is more readable. Aside from the notes – which are often worth reading – there’s only 164 pages.

For many already involved in animal advocacy, the book will likely include some evidence from less familiar sources (from historical social movements to psychology studies) or broader perspectives on the farmed animal movement which incorporate wild animals and longer-term future considerations. If you are already very up-to-date with effective animal advocacy research and Sentience Institute’s work, there may not be many particularly surprising insights in the book, although you will likely enjoy reading it. You may also find some of the discussion and re-phrasing of familiar issues to be useful, or gain insight into less familiar issues (for me, a good example was a discussion of how to frame messages to appeal to more conservative audiences).

Overall, an excellent book for a variety of audiences.

If you’d like to see a more critical, external review, see here, although I’ll note that I don’t really agree with the criticisms.


Book Review: Erik Marcus (2005) Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, & Money (Bio Press: Boston, MA)

Price: *****
Ease of use: *****
Value for EAA beginners: ***
Value for EAA pros: **

This book is divided up into several different “parts” or sections, each of which fulfils quite a different function and would appeal to different readers.

  • The first part, “Animal Agriculture”, pages 1-60, covers the state of animal agriculture as it was in 2005, with some statistics in chapter 1, some descriptions of the suffering of various types of animal in chapter 2 and some suggestions for possible reforms in chapter 3. This will likely be a useful resource for newer advocates.
  • The second part of the book , “Dismantlement”, pages 61-126, analyses “the three existing movements for animal protection” – “the vegetarian movement”, “the animal rights movement” and “the animal welfare movement” – and suggests the creation of a fourth movement, to unite these various parts – “the dismantlement movement”. This is primarily a call for a shared proactive approach to helping farmed animals, including both institutional and individual outreach. The idea was proposed a while ago, and does not seem to have been taken up (a Google search revealed nothing obviously relevant, except a single reference back to the book itself), even if some elements of Marcus’ ideas are now fairly commonly held views in the EAA community. Nevertheless, some more experienced EAAs might be interested in the term as a potential driver of progress and unity within the movement. For instance, if we think that more consistent messaging is a priority for animal advocates, might this be the sort of term that they could unify behind?
  • The “Activist Essays”, pp. 136-178, summarise various intervention types, but some are outdated from an effectiveness perspective. For instance, the EAA community has shifted away from a focus on leafleting. They may, however, be useful for those seeking motivation – reading about the actions of others may inspire you to act too.
  • The appendices, pp. 179-232, focus on discussion of some issues related to the animal advocacy movement. These may be useful starting points for advocates, although there are a variety of free websites which address these issues equally well. Many animal advocacy non-profits cover such information in their “why” or “about” sections online. Additionally, some of the data may be a little dated now, though I only skim read these sections.

The book is therefore partially intended as a “go-to” introductory resource. It could still serve this function, but some content is outdated now. It is also partially intended as an argument in favour of specific suggestions for reforms to animal advocacy. This is primarily through the idea of the “dismantlement movement”, but contains some other core ideas, such as the note that individual outreach hasn’t been very successful to date, an emphasis on increasing the use of institutional outreach, and support for measures which might decrease trust in the animal agriculture industry, to pave the road for more radical reform at a later date. Some of the ideas are quite well-supported among more experienced EAAs, while others may prompt a little reflection.

As with the recently reviewed book by Ball and Friedrich, the book is notable for sharing some ideas which later became associated with the EA and EAA movements, despite being written before these movements were established. For example pp. 93-4 attempts some rough and ready charity evaluation (although it misses the EA focus on cause prioritisation), with quotes reminiscent of the story of the foundation of GiveWell: “donating is, after all, simply a form of investing – with the payback being social progress rather than money”. Pages 112-119 give some career advice similar to that of 80,000 Hours, including a focus on “dabbling” and career exploration.

At many points, the book touches on some of the key questions that face the EAA movement today. For instance, chapter 9 on “the militancy question” is similar to the confrontation vs nonconfrontation debate (and reflects a common EAA perspective), though it is more about use of illegal tactics compared to outreach.

The book starts by providing some useful statistics about the animal agriculture industry in the USA, but as a whole is based mostly off personal experiences and intuition. References to external research are few and far between after first two chapters. There is some reference to evidence from historical social movements on pages 81-82, though this is neither thorough nor well-explained, and as such is potentially more misleading than helpful.

The book is very easy to navigate, with a clear contents page, and is available very cheaply on Amazon. I think the title is misleading, as only a relatively small portion of the book focuses on the “meat market” or on the role of “money”. Discussion of “ethics” is also quite limited.

Book review: Melanie Joy (2008) Strategic Action For Animals (Lantern Books: New York)

Price: ****
Ease of use: *****
Value for EAA beginners: *
Value for EAA pros: *

This is a book which focuses on strategy for organisations advocating for animals, but which also considers many ideas about individual activism and effectiveness. By the end of the book, Melanie Joy summarises that the book has “examined how social movements evolve and win; the difference between animal liberation and human liberation movements and how this impacts animal advocacy; the divide-and-conquer counterstrategy that makes the movement kill itself; how to maintain a strategic organization and run strategic campaigns; why and how to start your own animal liberation organization; how to be a strategic advocate for animals; and how to make sure your activism is sustainable.”

The book, consisting of 147 small pages with large font, does indeed consider all of these topics, though without much depth. The book primarily consists of some common sense thinking and some checklists of ideas to consider for each of these respective issues. The checklists may be useful if you are having to consider any of these issues, for instance tips on pages 44-46 about holding valuable “strategic meetings”, or ideas for ensuring that your campaigns have a clear goal and focus on pages 56-68. The disadvantage is that these checklists seem to be based primarily off of common sense and past experience, with only occasional reference to external literature, and no explicit reference to any particular kind of research. As a result, the checklists act more as toolkits and lists of ideas that you might like to consider, rather than as a go-to guide for the most important research or factors for each particular area.

The book is clearly subtitled – if you are soon to face any of the issues described, and don’t have much experience in the area yet, then you might find the checklists useful. A Google search might provide similarly useful information, although at least with this book you can have faith that the reflections come from an experienced and intelligent animal advocate. As with the animal activists’ handbook, this book is old enough to pre-date the majority of effective altruism writings and EAA research; whilst I am sure it was an excellent resource for its time, I probably would not recommend this book to anyone who didn’t have a specific need that I thought the book was particularly focused on.

I have copied photos of the contents below, in case any parts of the book seem particularly relevant to your needs.

Joy contents

Book Review: Nick Cooney (2011) Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach us About Spreading Social Change (Lantern Books: New York)

Price: ****
Ease of use: ****
Value for EAA beginners: *****
Value for EAA pros: ****


This book by Nick Cooney is an excellent resource for understanding how psychology affects our work in social movements. It draws primarily on external psychological studies, combined with Cooney’s personal advocacy experience, primarily for the Humane League (he had worked for or helped to found many organisations by 2011, and done so for more since then) and some strategic thinking and common sense.

The book is intended to be applicable to any social movement, with his examples frequently alternating between animal advocacy, environmentalism and other causes. This does not significantly detract from its value for animal advocates (even if some of the specific suggestions aren’t directly relevant), although I suspect that advocates for other causes might find that the book focuses on issues most pertinent to animal advocacy.

The structure of the book is simple. Chapters 1 to 3 lay out a variety of cognitive biases that affect how successful various types of advocacy efforts are likely to be. This section leaves you with the impression that successful advocacy is incredibly difficult, and that you shouldn’t rely on your intuitions.

After building up your sense of the gravity of the problems (in the manner of a successful salesman?), Cooney then moves on to demonstrating solutions for the issues. Chapters 4 to 7 all list a huge number of “Tools of Influence” to support our advocacy. The final three chapter then contain wider social scientific learnings and business strategy ideas which put the ideas from the rest of the book into context.

The book is therefore packed full of useful information. Here are some of those who might benefit, organised roughly in order of who I think would benefit most:

  • Advocates hoping to increase the effectiveness of their individual outreach, or increase their chances of success in discussions with corporate, institutional or governmental contacts, partners and targets
  • Those currently working for non-profit organisations who might want to read through to see if the ideas contained might help to streamline their work, and improve efficiencies.
  • Aspiring social scientists, EAA researchers, or those working in non-profits interested in measuring the impact of their own programmes, to read through the first few chapters to broaden their understanding of how cognitive biases might affect their research.
  • If you are already familiar with both psychology and the animal advocacy movement, you might not learn as much from this book, although I imagine that it might still piece some ideas together in ways that you had not already done yourself.

The wide appeal of the book necessarily means that it won’t be consistently 100% useful, word for word, for any one reader. It contains an overwhelmingly large number of useful new ideas for those new to the field of psychology, which makes the book almost intimidating to use.

For those under time pressure, I’d encourage you to follow one of these two strategies to get the most out of the book:

  • Read this list I have created of 23 of the different cognitive biases and 42 of the tools referred to in the book. This list cuts out much of the useful explanation and examples given in the book, but condenses the key concepts. You could copy and paste the information into a separate Excel/Google sheet and add an additional column for the relevance of the concepts to your work. I would advise also buying the book, so that you can look up the specific examples and relevant studies, as and when appropriate.
  • Flick through the book, looking at the clearly labelled subtitles, and stopping to read those strategies which seem most useful for you.

As usual for such books, the Kindle edition is relatively cheap, but the paperback is more expensive than most paperbacks. It gets 4*s anyway, because the book is so packed full of information, most readers would easily get their money’s worth!

For those looking for easier (i.e. less research-heavy) introductions to effective animal advocacy outreach, I’d recommend starting with Friedrich and Ball’s Handbook or Leenaert’s book.

Note, that whilst I am fairly unreservedly endorsing the helpful information and advice contained within Cooney’s book, I am not endorsing his personal conduct. Although I know very little about the issue beyond hearsay, this article addresses some of the concerns. It is a complicated issue, so if you are engaging with it, I encourage you to read to the bottom of the article, which includes some replies. The accusations are grave, but we should not stop benefiting from Cooney’s (otherwise unrelated) productive work – to do so would be to prioritise personal purity over effectiveness in reducing animal suffering.

An additional criticism might be that some of Cooney’s suggestions essentially accept (and therefore, implicitly endorse?) certain assumptions and prejudices. To reject these strategies in favour of challenging privilege might lead to reduced effectiveness in the short term, but might be considered important for the long-term health of the movement, or for its intrinsic value. I don’t have strong views on this issue, but if your views are stronger than mine then you might reject some of the advice in the book, although only a relatively small proportion of the book would be affected. Those interested in the topic might find Melanie Joy’s new essays on privilege useful.

There are some other reviews of Cooney’s book. This one has some interesting rough and ready estimates about the (meta level) impact that this book might have on the effectiveness of animal advocates.

Book review: Neil Rackham (1995) SPIN Selling (Gower Publishing Limited: Aldershot)

Price: ***
Ease of use: ****
Value for EAA beginners: *
Value for EAA pros: ***

SPIN selling is a book on sales techniques in major sales written for “practising salespeople and their managers” which I think is nevertheless useful (to varying extents) for those involved in Effective Altruism movement building, as well as for vegan outreach, be it in a personal, corporate or institutional setting.

Summary of the book’s advice

The main finding of the research is that the most common forms of sales advice and training that was current at the time of research led to some increases in success in selling smaller, inexpensive or impulse-buy goods and services, but actually held back success in larger sales, where the costs to adopting a new product, technique etc were higher.

The author divides the process of a sales “call” up into the following stages:

  • Preliminaries (“the warming up events at the start of the call”)
  • Investigating (“finding out facts, information and needs”)
  • Demonstrating capability (“showing that you’ve got something worthwhile to offer”)
  • Obtaining Commitment (“gaining an agreement to proceed to a further stage of the sale”)

The book suggests that preliminaries don’t matter a huge amount and that successful major salespeople are flexible, rather than relying on strategies which speed up transactions in low-value sales, such as the “opening benefit statement”.

The book’s main advice focuses on the “investigating” stage. Here, the researchers (the author, Rackham and his company, called Huthwaite) created the acronym “SPIN” to show the stages of a successful sales call:

  • Situation questions (“finding facts about the customer’s existing situation”)
  • Problem questions (“about customer’s problems, difficulties or dissatisfactions”)
  • Implication questions (“about the effects, consequences or implications of the customer’s problems”)
  • Needs-payoff questions (“about the value or usefulness of a proposed solution”)

Their research showed that situation questions were used more in calls which failed and were over-used by inexperienced people. They are necessary to some extent, but are not a main driver of successful sales.

Problem questions are more closely correlated to successful calls, especially in smaller sales. These questions uncover “implicit needs” of a customer, i.e. issues that they are facing. However, the author argues that in sales pitches where the potential costs of implementing a solution (financial or otherwise) are large, a salesperson should not jump in at this point by demonstrating capability. Instead, they need to devote effort to developing the customer’s sense of need.

This is done partially through implication questions, which uncover “explicit needs” and get the customer talking to explain to you the magnitude of their problems, which therefore makes the cost of the solution seem more worth it to them. These questions are strongly linked to success in larger sales. They can be as simple as “and what effect is that having on [desired output]?”

Needs-payoff questions are those which help customers to focus on the usefulness and desirability of a proposed solution, and are also strongly linked to success in larger sales. They can be as simple as “what benefits do you see of [the solution]” or “can you think of any other benefits that [the solution] would bring you?”

When advising on how best to “demonstrate capability”, the author then redefines what constitutes a “benefit”, which is a word that other sales training programmes refer to a lot. Rackham distinguishes “features” about the product (anything it offers) from “advantages” (features which meet an implicit need of the customer) from “benefits” (how the product meets the explicit needs of the customer). Whilst “features” have no correlation with success in major sales, “advantages” correlate with success in early calls within a sales process, but less so later on, whereas “benefits” strongly correlate with success at all stages of a sales process.

The book argues that “obtaining commitment” is crucial. It distinguishes different outcomes from sales calls: 1) an order; 2) an advance – “where an event takes place, either in the call or after it, which moves the sale forwards towards a decision”, such as setting a time for a follow up meeting or demonstration; 3) a continuation, where “no specific action has been agreed with the customer to move it forward”; 4) no sale or rejection. The researchers classified an “advance” as a successful sales call, but a “continuation” as having failed. In this way, they emphasise the importance of obtaining specific commitments from the customers. Nevertheless, Rackham advises against “closing techniques” which essentially pressure the customer into making a decision, and are not correlated with success in major sales. He advises the following three steps as a way to obtain commitment: 1) check you’ve covered key concerns; 2) summarise the benefits; 3) propose an appropriate level of commitment.

The layout of the book is very easy to use. Each chapter is clearly labelled, even if it is not in chronological order within a sales call. Reading chapters 3-6 in the investigating stage would give you the main advice of the book (the SPIN technique), whereas the rest of the book can be summarised as noting that each of these stages doesn’t matter as much as the investigating stage itself, and you shouldn’t worry too much about memorising lots of different techniques for these stages. Each chapter ends with a summary and a useful practical guide on “techniques to help your selling”.

On a practical level, the book suggests that to help make sales calls successful, you should plan for the specific call. This might involve working out some of the specific implication and needs-payoff questions that you will ask. It also suggests that when trying to learn and implement its advice, you should focus on developing one aspect of the advice at a time, such as spending several weeks perfecting your implication questions before moving your focus onto needs-payoff questions.

Lessons for Effective Altruism movement building

In Effective Altruism movement building, we often position ourselves more as expert advisors than as salespeople, redirecting people towards certain resources, research or ideas to meet the needs of people that they are already conscious of. In these cases, then sales techniques may not be especially applicable. Indeed, Rackham lists when “you’re the expert” as one of the times when “a style high in giving and low in seeking [i.e. questioning] can be legitimate and successful” (pp. 39-40). Furthermore, since the “capability” that we are demonstrating, or the solutions that we are providing are often completely free in financial terms and often require only a small amount of other costs (e.g. some time reading), then we don’t really need to bother trying to develop the individual’s sense of need. If sales techniques are applicable, then it is more likely to be the advice which correlates with success in low-value sales, than the advice on major sales that SPIN Selling focuses on. One element of Huthwaite’s research was that listing the features of a product tends to increase the price sensitivity of the audience (p. 138). Given that many of EA’s offerings are free, simply listing off features of research, ideas, a mailing list or whatever else you are trying to “sell” might be an effective way to make your audience want to engage with it. Indeed, I tried out using some of the SPIN techniques in the book in a casual conversation with somebody who was new to EA at a social, and it seemed slightly unnecessary (and demotivating) to make them feel that they needed research to support their advocacy even more than they already realised that they did.

Nevertheless, there are times when we enter into conversations about larger commitments (like taking the Giving What We Can pledge, or careers changes) with individuals; indeed it seems likely that encouraging deep engagement with EA provides greater opportunities for impact, given the talent gap that the EA community faces at the moment. Furthermore, there may be times when direct outreach or “sales” of (specific) EA ideas to particular (influential) individuals is needed. In such instances, the book’s advice is useful for making your arguments more persuasive.

I suspect that some people reading this will see such sales techniques as manipulative and would object to their use to share EA ideas. I’d agree that we certainly wouldn’t want to use any techniques that would damage trust in us or the EA movement. However, I see these techniques more as a way to help people realise the needs that they already have, to overcome status quo bias and people’s instinctive efforts to rationalise and justify their own current behaviour, than to manipulate people. In this sense, using such sales techniques would just be helping people to do more good.

Lessons for vegan outreach or sharing ideas about speciesism and animal suffering

It seems fairly rare that animal advocates will be able to have extended conversations in which they can employ these sale techniques. Usually, they will only have time for a very short pitch (e.g. an online ad) which is better conceptualised in terms of a marketing funnel than in terms of sales techniques, or will be reactively responding to individual questions and challenges.

If, however, interested individuals start to engage with ideas about animal suffering or veganism, there may be opportunities to direct the conversation in a way which uses the SPIN methods.

I have found that individuals often engage with the Effective Animal Advocacy movement armed with questions about how to make their individual outreach efforts more effective. Apart from encouraging people to consider whether individual outreach really is the most effective use of their time, I have also recommended SPIN Selling to some individuals for this reason.

Lessons for animal advocates’ corporate or institutional outreach efforts

It seems more likely that in discussion with a business or institution, professional animal advocates will have a longer slot in which to discuss the benefits of an expanded vegan offering, or for restructuring the “choice architecture” that they offer their customers (using a customer’s inertia to nudge them in a particular direction – a term borrowed from Thaler and Sunstein’s book Nudge). In such discussions, it seems likely that the SPIN model would provide useful methods for businesses or institutions to feel the need to do so more acutely, whether it is for moral, environmental, health, public relations or profitability reasons.

Should you trust the advice? The research methodology

The book is based on research studies of 35,000 sales calls made by 10,000 sales people in 23 countries. Initially, the researchers attempted to work out which behaviours correlate with success in successful sales calls, which they then developed into a training programme. It contains an appendix which details the methodology of testing for the effectiveness of the training programme. Although Rackham and his team at Huthwaite found results which initially suggested the success of training in the SPIN model against control groups, such as a 76% increase in sales over a 6 month period in a trained group compared to a 19% increase in the control group, various complicating variables led them to test further. Although noting that “you can never entirely eliminate the effects of other organizational and market factors” (p. 225), some of the most conclusive proof that the training worked came from comparing a control group to those who had received the SPIN training but hadn’t put the behaviours that they were trained in into practice very much, and again to those who had received the training and put the behaviours into practice. Whereas the control group’s number of order per month fell from before training, to during (alternative, non-SPIN) training to after, the middle group’s performance improved during the training but fell back down afterwards (suggesting a “Hawthorne effect”). More successfully, however, the group which most adopted the behaviours taught by the SPIN model increased their total number of orders per month during the training, but improved on this again in the months after the training. Even if the detailed methodology is not given for each individual study, a large part of the book is devoted to bemoaning the lack of rigorous research into sales training programmes beforehand, so the research and advice in the book seems like a significant improvement. Additionally, it makes the book a lot more accessible – it is a useful “how to” of sales techniques, rather than a detailed report on a single study.

Book review: Marta Zaraska (2016) Meathooked (Basic Books: New York)

Price: ***
Ease of use: ****
Value for EAA beginners: **
Value for EAA pros: ***

Review author: Andrew Leeke

Meathooked tells the 1.5 billion year old story of our increasingly troubling relationship with meat. This entertaining narrative begins with bacteria engulfing one another and ends with an unsustainable addiction that threatens human health, the environment, and the well-being of billions of sentient animals. Predictions and potential solutions to the current crisis are sketched out towards the end.

As she follows our ancestors’ history of eating meat and the advantages it may have conferred, Zaraska discusses a number of ‘hooks’ which have kept us attached to meat to the present day. These hooks include biochemistry, the potential health and fitness benefits of eating meat, and the power of habit and tradition. The hooks present a considerable obstacle to overcoming our addiction to meat despite the growing evidence that our levels of consumption are not sustainable, and will continue to threaten us and our environment in the coming decades.

Most of the chapters analyse a particular hook in detail; others provide context to the struggling vegetarianism movement or the geopolitical factors that have defined our diets and will continue to do so in the future. The chapters are as follows:

  1. Enter Meat Eaters (emergence of multicellular life and predation);
  2. Big Brains, Small Guts, and the Politics of Meat (politics and sex as drivers of meat consumption);
  3. The Good, the Bad, and the Heme Iron (nutritional analysis of meat);
  4. The Chemistry of Love: Umami, Aromas, and Fat (why does meat taste so good?);
  5. Why Would Abramovich Taste Good? (how quality of meat is affected by treatment of the animal–’Abramovich’ is a pampered ‘Kobe-style’ cow);
  6. Wagging the Dog of Demand (influence of the meat industry and marketing);
  7. Eating Symbols (importance of symbolism e.g. power over nature);
  8. The Half-Crazed, Sour-Visaged Infidels, or Why Vegetarianism Failed in the Past (vegetarianism’s association with radicalism);
  9. Why Giving up Meat May Be Harder for Some of Us (individual genetic differences in meat addiction);
  10. Dog Skewers, Beef Burgers, and Other Weird Meats (economic and religious reasons why different cultures have avoided certain meats);
  11. The Pink Revolution, or How Asia Is Getting Hooked on Meat, Fast (growing appetite for meat in developing nations); and
  12. The Future of Our Meat-Based Diets (clean meat, plant-based meat, and insects).

The chapters are written in an accessible style and combine present-day investigative journalism with socio-historical commentary. Relevant concepts, like checkoffs and lobbying, are explained clearly whenever introduced.

Zaraska wrote Meathooked because she was unsatisfied with the reasons people provide for eating meat in the face of huge health, environmental, and ethical costs. Her investigation into why humans love eating meat begins with two questions: a) is it an addiction?, and b) are we ever going to cut down meat consumption? While Zaraska provides explicit and thorough dissections of each so-called ‘hook’, the questions above remain only implicitly answered: a) maybe, and b) probably. However, we are only in a position to accelerate the ‘nutrition transition’ ahead by acknowledging the power of tradition, taste, and symbolism.

The book does not attempt to shock readers with the health effects of meat or the suffering of farm animals, but instead provides insights into what keeps us hooked on meat that can be appreciated by a number of audiences. Meat-eaters can acknowledge what drives their appetites and the influence of meat on their behaviour. Meat-reducers will realise why reducing meat is difficult and what they can do about it (it’s hard to quit something if you don’t know why you crave it). Vegans will understand why most people don’t follow their behaviours. I suspect that meat-reducers or aspiring vegans will get the most out of this book–but all audiences will be encouraged to make conscious decisions about their meat intake, rather than adhere to cultural or genetic scripts and government guidelines.

The hooks discussed in this book provide vital background material to the current debate surrounding meat alternatives: namely, how much should animal welfare advocates pursue investment in, and promotion of, clean meat as an effective strategy to reduce animal suffering? Meathooked demonstrates that there are a) many barriers to a vegetarian/vegan world, of which b) many are difficult to overcome, and c) may be impossible to overcome in a desirable time-frame. Unfortunately, Zaraska provides no high-level overview of which hooks are likely to be the hardest to overcome, or whether removing one hook may have a cascade effect on the others. Clean meat sidesteps the issue of ‘unhooking’ almost entirely–provided that we can still enjoy the taste and texture of meat without harming billions of farm animals, the most effective solution may simply be to remain hooked. The environmental and ethical objections to the meat industry will dissolve. However, in the interests of human health, there is still work to be done on reducing the amount of meat eaten, clean or otherwise.

The book therefore provides strong evidence that veganism and vegetarianism are not plausible solutions to the problem of factory farmed animals. The alternatives on offer are clean meat, plant-based meat, and insects. However, Zaraska fails to explicitly differentiate the potential of each, and the reader is encouraged to consider the most promising strategy on the basis of minimal comparative insight. Personally, given all of the information that Zaraska discusses in the preceding chapters, I believe that clean meat must be the solution to this crisis. I found this book particularly useful for understanding why vegetarian movements of the past have had such little success and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the future of the human diet.

At £18 from Amazon (in the UK), the book is quite expensive, though is cheaper in Kindle and 2nd hand formats.


Book review: Paul Shapiro (2018) Clean Meat (Gallery Books: New York)

Price: ***
Ease of use: **
Value for EAA beginners: ****
Value for EAA pros: **

Shapiro explains the concept of clean meat (also known as in vitro meat, cultured meat or cellular agriculture, i.e. real meat which is grown in a fermenter, or brewery, rather than in an animal), its advantages, and the history of its development in this book. He explains these ideas from a personal perspective, leading with experience and anecdotes, and the stories of the key players in the development of clean meat. This is a book intended to engage the reader and convince them of the importance and worthiness of clean meat more than it is about trying to create a reference work for those whose work or advocacy requires a deep understanding of clean meat.

The book does explain some of the technological basics, and does refer to various studies relating to likely consumer acceptance of clean meat. Shapiro points out the contrasting results of these, and suggests that the phrasing of the less optimistic studies, such as the 2005 European Commission poll which saw that “more than half of the respondents said they’d “never” approve of it” renders them less informative than some of the more positive studies. A 2017 survey published in the PLoS One journal saw two-thirds of respondents probably or definitely willing to try clean meat, for example. (This is a sentiment echoed and developed by Bruce Friedrich of GFI in his 80,000 Hours podcast. Friedrich argues that similar surveys which tested for consumer acceptance of chickens raised in factory farmed conditions would likely be similarly negative, and yet consumption of such products is both high and rising.)

Combining the results of multiple surveys, studies and polls into one book is helpful, but they are dotted throughout the book. From an advocate’s perspective, the organisation of the book is slightly frustrating, with topics and issues abandoned and revisited later, as and when they relate to the various stories that Shapiro is telling. This does make the book engaging to read, as it has natural and flowing prose, rather than a dry, informative tone, but makes it harder to use as a reference for specific topics or issues. There are no footnotes or references, which makes the ideas and reports harder to follow up on. The chapter titles are also confusing; combined with the lack of an index, this does make it harder to look up or revisit useful information discovered. For those who do want to use the book as a reference, here is a rough explanation of the contents:

  1. “The Second Domestication” – introduction and overview
  2. “Science To The Rescue” – early scientific development; comparison to some previous scientific developments
  3. “(Google) Searching For A Solution” – more of the same as the previous chapter, but brings the science a bit more up-to-date
  4. “Leading With Leather” – development of leather through cellular agriculture
  5. “Clean Meat Coming To America” – overlaps with chapters 2 and 3, nut slightly more specific to US developments
  6. “Project Jake” – the story of Hampton Creek; consideration of how clean meat intersects with plant-based meat; comparison of clean meat chicken to clean meat beef
  7. “Brewing Food (And Controversy) – acellular agriculture, i.e. growing dairy products, egg products, and gelatine without (much) use of animals
  8. “Tasting The Future” – conclusion and epilogue

For me, the book’s main use was to help me to become more familiar with the various stakeholders in the field; what each company does, and the roles of various investors, incubators and supporting non-profits (especially learning about New Harvest, which I knew relatively little about before). This is picked up gradually; it would have been helpful if the book had a short table as an appendix summarising what each company does. Open Philanthropy Project did something along these lines here (see the section on “private companies”), but this is now relatively out of date, having been published in December 2015. Indeed, one of the book’s main advantages is that it is currently the most up to date, comprehensive survey of the field.

An additional advantage was the numerous historical comparisons to previous new technologies, to understand how consumers, businesses and regulators responded to them. These ideas will be addressed more fully in another blog post, with reference to Sentience Institute’s more detailed technology adoption study.

The book also convinced me that some products may be more immediately marketable to the public (and quicker to develop) than others, from gelatin, which is already on the market, to leather, to foie gras – this last one chiefly because it will become cost competitive with conventional foie gras more quickly, and its welfare advantages will be even more apparent.

One mild criticism of the book is that it seems to slightly downplay the barriers to development. Although Shapiro regularly poses the question of whether consumers will accept clean meat, he slightly brushes the scientific and developmental difficulties aside by noting the beliefs of those working in the field that progress is inevitable. Open Philanthropy Project’s 2015 report into clean meat concluded that “we currently see developing cost-competitive cultured muscle tissue products as extremely challenging, and we have been unable to find any concrete paths forward that seem likely to achieve that goal”. The report provides a clear list of the barriers going forwards.  A more recent talk from EA Global (especially 8:15 to 24:27) notes the same difficulties, but maps out some potentially solutions. For an analysis of the estimates of when clean meat will be available by – significantly less optimistic than those of some of the individuals considered in the book – see ACE’s report here. It seems odd that Geltor is largely excluded from ACE’s analysis, however, given that they already began selling their cultured gelatine to other businesses in mid-2017.  Indeed, Bruce Friedrich of GFI is also much more optimistic than ACE, as you can hear here.

The book also serves as a great advert for careers in technology start-ups, especially as a co-founder. The book certainly makes this seem glamorous and exciting, through its personal stories and anecdotes; at several point, you are hooked waiting for the verdict of a large investor or a taste test. This career path has high potential, but wouldn’t work for everyone. Those interested should read as a starting point 80,000 Hours’ review of that career path and their review of being an early employee in a start-up. Also relevant is Friedrich’s 80,000 Hours podcast, where he encourages ambitious people interested in this area to aim to become CEOs of such start-ups, or conduct the relevant scientific research and work as CTOs.

The book is a really enjoyable, easy-going read. It’s a great introduction to the topic if you’re looking for something quite casual. For those already somewhat knowledgeable on the topic, the book may help you to feel more familiar with the history and current landscape of the field (although I suspect that it may become slightly out of date quite quickly). Costing between £13 to £20 in the UK, it’s unlikely to break the bank, but isn’t too cheap either.

For those looking for a shorter (free) introduction to clean meat, I’d recommend New Harvest’s “about” page and Sentience Politics’ 2016 report (although note that there has already been progress in eliminating the use of foetal bovine serum).

For those interested in relevant research and surveys (either so far, or upcoming), I would advise that people read the blogs and research libraries of the following groups, and sign up to their newsletters:

  • New Harvest – original research and advocacy to support the development of clean meat / cellular agriculture
  • The Good Food Institute – some original research, otherwise supporting and coordinating the development of clean meat / cellular agriculture and plant-based meat
  • Faunalytics – summaries of relevant research on their research library, some original research. and a “bibliography for cultured meat research” here
  • Animal Charity Evaluators – reviews of the non-profits working in the space, and occasional research relating to the development of cellular agriculture
  • My own blog, – I will be publishing relevant reviews, reflections and updates over the next few weeks and months