Some brief thoughts on effective communication about veganism

Very often, people I meet at Effective Animal Altruism London events are keen to discuss how to make their communication with non-vegans effective. What should I say when somebody asks me why I have gone vegan? How can I discuss this issue with friends, family and strangers?

Before I share my “advice”, it’s important to put this question in context. Most researchers in the Effective Animal Advocacy community agree that focusing on individual vegan outreach probably isn’t the best use of our time and resources – see this summary of the points on either side of the debate. So I’d encourage you to make sure you’ve spent a little time planning how to maximise your overall impact. Additionally, make sure you aren’t burning out as an activist by forcing yourself to engage in individual outreach at every possible opportunity. Your long-term impact is more important than those individual conversations!

Nevertheless, every vegan will have this sort of conversation from time to time.

I’m not aware of any extremely strong evidence on the issue, but in general, there is a lot of evidence from outside the EAA community which has relevance to the topic:

  • An understanding of humans’ cognitive biases, and findings from psycholgy more generally, will inevitably help an understanding of what sorts of communication work well. The best practical summary of psychology for EAA purposes that I know of is this book by Nick Cooney.
  • Literature on negotiations and sales techniques will also be useful, as long as this is used cautiously, and you recognise the differences between the contexts that they were intended for, and an animal advocacy context. You might find my summary of Neil Rackham’s book, with (relevant) research-based sales advice, helpful.

Within animal advocacy, many people have written about the messages we should share, both from moral and effectiveness perspectives. A lot of this work is based on the intuitions of (experienced) activists; personally I would place less weight on any of this advice than on conclusions from external, specialised fields. Here are a few examples:

  • Tobias Leenaert’s book and blog; he argues vegans should be inclusive and empathetic in their approach.
  • Melanie Joy’s talks and books; she also argues for empathy, and has a few specific tips about language to support this.
  • Earthling Ed’s advice; like Joy and Leenaert, he advocates empathy. His socratic dialogue technique could be easily combined with the research-based sales advice of Neil Rackham.
  • Others (Gary Francione etc) would emphasise the need for expressing a consistent moral baseline of veganism, and taking an uncompromising position. I can see why consistency might be persuasive over time, but I’m not convinced this is the most important consideration. See here for a summary of the debate on this issue.
  • Plenty of other resources, I’m sure. Here are some other people’s suggestions, when I asked them about this question as I was brand new to the EAA community.

I certainly wouldn’t consider myself an expert on effective communication, but here’s a brief summary of the perspective I tend to take:

  • I’m wary of the backfire effect, so I tend to avoid challenging people without invitation, and only discuss veganism with people when they ask me, or seem interested.
  • I lead by example, rather than explicitly conducting outreach. So I try to present veganism as easy and enjoyable enough that becoming vegan doesn’t seem like a burden.
  • I try to be inclusive and empathetic (although I’m not necessarily great at this).
  •  I try to be sensitive to my context and to the person or people I am discussing the issue with: some people might be more or less receptive to logical arguments arguments; some people might be more persuaded by ethical arguments compared to environmental and health arguments (note, however, I think its important we emphasise an ethical argument where possible, and use other arguments as supplementary).

So if people ask me why I’m vegan, I usually say something like:

“Most of the animal products that we eat involve raising animals in terrible conditions and cause intense suffering. These days, there’s more and more vegan food available, so it’s relatively easy to avoid animal products entirely, and to prevent that suffering from happening.”

Then depending on how people react, I judge whether to a) stop talking about it (often this is the best response, to avoid the backfire effect), b) explain more in depth some of the negative consequences of eating animal products, or c) just focus on the positives of veganism.

I don’t have any evidence that this approach works better than any other beyond the anecdotal: out of people I have lived with in the past, 2 have gone vegan, 2 have become consciously reducetarian. So I don’t hold any of these views particularly strongly. At the CEVA training that I attended, Melanie Joy argued that it a productive approach is to lead by explaining your personal vegan journey, as a way to reduce defensiveness; I think I will try this out in future. I hope some of the links and reflections on this short post are useful for a few people, however.

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My areas of potential disagreement with other EAAs

Disclaimer: From 01/08/18, I will be working full-time for Sentience Institute. I was also considering a potential role at Veganuary and have been in regular contact with the co-founder. I hold both organisations in high regard; probably higher than average within the EAA community. Thanks to Connor Jackson, Vicky Bond and Matthew Glover for their feedback on the first draft. This post represents entirely my own views, rather than those of the commenters or of my new employers.

Recently, Jacy Reese of Sentience Institute posted a blog post on “3 Big Changes We Need in the Farmed Animal Movement”. It seemed like a useful post for members of the Effective Animal Advocacy movement, in that it clearly outlines three suggestions for major reforms. I would encourage all readers of this blog to read that post. It has also inspired me to create a similar list of areas where I suspect I disagree with others in the EAA community, broadly defined. This is less of a confident, well-informed plea to those involved in EAA organisations (which is broadly how I see Reese’s post) and more of an attempt to draw attention to some potentially important issues. These issues might potentially meet Reese’s criteria of being “important” and “under-discussed”, although I am not yet particularly confident about any of my own thoughts about the long-term implications of animal advocacy strategies, and I can’t claim that my reflections here have as extensive a research basis as those in Reese’s post.

This post may generate useful feedback for myself, so that I can update my own views, but may also encourage others to change their own views and behaviours.

For simplicity’s sake, I have focused on three issues. For those interested in wider debates within EAA, some of the best resources are Sentience Institute’s list of foundational questions, and Animal Charity Evaluators’ intervention reports, plus materials on cause prioritisation.

The three focus areas are:                     

    1. High profile vegan pledge campaigns have been relatively under-utilised as a method of taking some of the low-hanging fruit of individual transitions towards veganism, but also as a method of generating momentum for corporate outreach. This view comes with some important caveats, however.
    2. Animal advocates should start explicitly paving the way for wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming. This is more tractable than we might assume, and potentially more desirable, although there are risks involved.
    3. Some EAA efforts are close to saturation in developed, Western countries, and greater effort should be placed on expanding into countries with less of an EAA presence. This must be done in a very careful manner, which is considerate to varying cultures and conditions.

 

 

High profile vegan pledge campaigns have been relatively under-utilised

Description

Supporting individuals to reduce their consumption of animal products has short-term benefits by reducing the demand for animal products, and therefore reducing the number of animals suffering in factory farms. Reduced use of a particular behaviour can correlate to (and may directly lead to) reduced support for a wider practice; reducing animal product consumption might therefore help to challenge speciesism and encourage wider moral circle expansion. Where it is cost-effective to do so, this is therefore a useful intervention.

Proactive, individual vegan outreach is difficult, for a number of reasons. Vegan pledges are more “reactive” in the sense that they support individuals who are already close to making the switch to veganism to do so. They essentially pick the low-hanging fruit of potential vegans. I suspect that the main benefit of widespread publicity of pledges is in redirecting people towards the pledge itself and its supporting resources, rather than in independently changing people’s attitudes. Even if the EAA movement de-emphasises a vegan ask, there will likely be those who wish to personally abstain from cruelty, as discussion of animal issues becomes more widespread and pledge campaigns support those individuals to do so.

Perhaps most importantly, high-profile pledge campaigns have the potential to have a large indirect impact by provoking businesses to perceive there to be an increase in demand for vegan products. Rather than simply encouraging veganism among the low-hanging fruit, high-profile pledge campaigns may therefore also drive corporate and institutional change which makes consumption of plant-based foods instead of animal products easier and more widespread.

An important caveat, however, is that there are a number of ways in which pledge programmes could fail to be effective, thereby wasting resources, or could even be counter-productive. Although far from failing completely, other charities in the UK (see here and here as examples) have run vegan pledges which have never achieved the same publicity or success as Veganuary has. This suggests that the specific planning and marketing of the campaigns could be crucial, although the differences in success may partially reflect differing levels of resource input. For an example of a potentially counterproductive pledge, see this one, which encourages reductions in red meat consumption, which could potentially lead to increased consumption of chicken meat and therefore an increase in total animal suffering (for an estimate of the suffering caused by different animal products, see here). Furthermore, there may be some dangers of encouraging veganism, and it may be better for the EAA movement to focus primarily on institutional messaging. See a summary of that debate here.

The potential for more widespread change arising from vegan pledge programmes is untested at this point. This seems like a promising avenue to explore, however. I would encourage those looking to found new charities outside of the UK to consider focusing on a pledge programme, and those who are happier to donate to riskier intervention types to consider funding pledge programmes.  

Evidence

In support of the claim that reducing animal product consumption will possibly challenge speciesism more widely, this study, though with a small sample size, suggests that those who consume animal products extend compassion to a smaller “moral circle” than those who do not. Psychological understanding of cognitive dissonance more widely makes this seem plausible, although I am not aware of more conclusive evidence that this process is inevitable.  

There is a wide variety of evidence showing that individual outreach is difficult. Some of this will be considered in more depth in the second section, below, but a speculative cost-effectiveness comparison makes the basic point. Individual outreach can often be costly to lead to meaningful change for animals, when advocates are seeking to proactively reach out to potential vegans. One of the most promising interventions in this area has turned out to be disappointing. Recently, Peter Hurford and Marcus Davis’ reanalysis of the study by Faunalytics and Animal Equality into individual video outreach “points to an estimate of $310 per pig year saved (90% interval: $46 to $1100)”, which is incredibly expensive compared to other intervention types, such as corporate outreach or undercover investigations. Although their cost effectiveness estimates are speculative, and they don’t place much weight on them, Animal Charity Evaluators estimate that undercover investigations might spare between 0.15 and 820 animals from living through factory farming conditions per dollar spent (with their “realistic” estimate being 210 lives). By comparison, Hurford and Davis’ analysis suggests that, if applied to chickens and converted into a lives per dollar figure, video outreach might spare between 0.03 and 1.4 animal lives (with a manipulating of their main estimate suggesting 0.18 lives). Although we shouldn’t take such cost-effectiveness comparisons as particularly reliable, the figures here would suggest that undercover investigations were over 1000 times more cost-effective than individual (video) outreach at sparing animals from living through factory farming. 

In contrast to this expensive form of outreach, a relatively thorough evaluation by Veganuary suggests that their pledge programme is sufficiently cost-efficient to make their impact per dollar comparable to ACE top charities, and could spare between 5 and 20 animal lives per pound, which translates to between 3.8 an 15.2 animal lives per dollar, at current exchange rates. They are currently seeking fuller evidence and external review from ACE to corroborate this, but this could suggest that their pledge programme is well over an order of magnitude more impactful than individual video outreach, if we compare the figures to those from Hurford and Davis’ reanalysis of the Faunalytics study.

 Veganuary’s experience has shown that their pledge programme has led companies to provide more plant-based foods and sometimes to actively promote plant-based foods and diets. The pledge campaign has also led to opportunities for direct corporate outreach. Although Veganuary’s success in these areas has been mostly confined to the UK, it seems possible that success with highly-publicised pledge programmes could drive momentum for wider corporate and institutional change in other countries too, whether through Veganuary or other charities.

Animal advocates should start explicitly paving the way for wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming

Description

Although there are a variety of different forms of individual vegan outreach, as noted above, this does not seem to be a particularly tractable area for reducing animal suffering in many cases. This suggests that a shift towards institutional interventions and messaging would be more impactful. A shift from individual to institutional interventions is advocated by Jacy Reese, Tobias Leenaert and other EAA researchers, whilst the wider debate is summarised here.

Political and legislative efforts are a particular type of institutional intervention. There is evidence that wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming is more tractable than common sense would suggest (see below).

Efforts to implement such radical legislation to reduce animal suffering are high-risk, but potentially offer high-rewards.

They are high risk in the sense that they seem ambitious and difficult, and could fail. This would drain significant resources from the EAA movement, that could otherwise have made a huge amount of difference for animals. Perhaps worse than the resource cost, however, is the risk that failed efforts could set a dangerous precedent or perhaps lead to a backlash effect, either in terms of legislation or in terms of changed public perceptions of animal advocacy. This might make further victories for animals more difficult.

Radical legislative efforts would, however, probably have an extremely high impact for animals, if successful. Such legislation could not only make significant improvements in animal welfare in the short-term, but would cripple the profitability of the animal agriculture industry by forcing businesses to use less efficient practices and may therefore help to make widespread animal agriculture impractical.

The closest effort that I know of to the sort of far-reaching legislation that I am proposing here is being pushed by Sentience Politics in Switzerland; read more here.

Evidence

As noted in the first section of this post, efforts at proactive vegan outreach can be expensive. This study by Animal Welfare Action Lab seems to suggest that a reducetarian ask is not significantly more cost-effective than a vegan ask. The differences were not statistically significant between the treatment groups; compared to a control group, those exposed to an “eliminate” appeal reported to have reduced their meat consumption by around half a portion over 30 days on average, whilst those exposed to a “reduce” appeal reported an average reduction of around three-quarters.

More widely, there is a range of psychological biases and effects that reduce the tractability of efforts to systematically change individuals’ behaviour. Many of these are listed here and here. Efforts at vegan outreach have been ongoing for decades, and yet have had extremely limited success. Animal product consumption continues to rise, both globally and, in some cases, within developed countries, whilst the proportion of vegans has not risen substantially.

There is a range of evidence from social movements showing that efforts to change individual consumption habits have not played a significant role in wider successes for social movements, except where it has been used in a targeted way to facilitate wider political campaigns. As an example, one historian of the Free Produce Movement to boycott slave-made items in the USA has written that “there is little evidence that slaveholders or their political representatives paid much attention to [the free produce movement] and no evidence that it had a discernible economic impact on them” (I’ve cited them second-hand from here). In the British anti-slavery movement, there was a boycott of West Indian sugar, but this only reached 4-6% of the population, and yet slavery was abolished in 1833, after being severely damaged by legislation that ended the slave trade in Britain in 1807.

Furthermore, the historical success of this movement suggests that a single piece of significant legislation, which fundamentally weakened the institution and industry of slavery helped to lead to its eventual full, formal abolition (at least in that country). Legislation banning factory farming, or perhaps even slaughterhouses, could have a similar effect on ending animal agriculture. Other historical social movements, such children’s rights, also suggest that legislation can be successfully implemented without full public support for an issue, but can subsequently shape both attitudes and behaviour.

The best evidence that wide-reaching legislation to restrict factory farming is surprisingly tractable is that in a recent survey (which has been replicated, and its findings confirmed), 49% of US adults said that they support a ban on factory farming, 47% said that they support a ban on slaughterhouses, and 33% said that they support a ban on animal farming. That said, some countries are probably more amenable to such legislation than others. In Canada, modest animal welfare measures (against practices which are unpopular and illegal in other countries) were rejected in 2016, for example, suggesting that more radical reforms are not tractable there, unless political circumstances change.

One benchmark for how much such a campaign might cost in a developed, Western country could be a comparison to the campaign costs for the Brexit referendum, which were limited to £7 million. Clearly costs could be far higher, or somewhat lower than this, however. Given that Open Philanthropy Project has recommended grants totalling over $48 million in the past few years towards animal welfare causes, such costs seem large but achievable, if the EAA movement prioritises legislative efforts enough.

Many examples could probably be found of times where failed legislation either has or hasn’t delayed progress of a social movement or popular goal. An intuitive political analogy is how in the UK, in 2011, the issue of electoral reform was shaped by the Liberal Democrat Party into a referendum on the issue of whether or not to changed the voting system from First Past The Post to Alternative Vote. AV was an unpopular system, and the public rejected the change; voting reform has not been discussed much in the UK since, and I suspect that the political campaign has delayed progress on the issue by many years. One example which serves as counter-evidence is that in the late 18th century, several abolition bills were suggested and rejected, and yet the slave trade was abolished in 1807.

Greater effort should be placed on expanding into countries with less of an EAA presence

Description

Many developed, Western countries have had animal advocacy movements for decades, and this has combined with Effective Altruism ideas to develop the EAA movement in recent years. There are, however, many countries in the world which have not had substantial animal advocacy movements and are comparatively disconnected from the developments in the EAA movement. Some of these countries are also countries with incredibly high use of animals for food (in total, if not per capita), or are currently on a trajectory towards increasing use of animals as food. This website is useful for easily visualising and comparing countries’ animal product use, and comes from UN FAO data. Note how China produced 18.19 million tonnes of poultry meat in 2014, second only to the USA. Brazil produced 13 million tonnes, while even India, known for relatively widespread vegetarianism, produced 2.76 million tonnes. See Lewis Bollard’s newsletters for excellent summaries of both the problems and opportunities in China and India.

These countries with high total animal product use have had various forms of animal advocacy; see PETA India as one example. Nevertheless, my impression is that the proportion of people working on animal advocacy in some of these countries is far smaller than in much of the developed, Western world and that this is even more the case for those connected to EAA research and ideas. Given the huge scale of (potential) animal suffering, and the relative neglectedness of advocacy in such countries, the EAA community should be focusing its resources, where possible on exploring opportunities for action there.

This will almost always involve trade-offs for organisations, and will often be a relatively “risky” opportunity. But the expected value of seeking to expand into countries with a lower track record of animal advocacy seems higher.

The leadership of multiple charities have expressed explicitly to me that fundraising reasons at least partially underpin their expansion into the UK or USA. But by entering such countries, charities are essentially trying to compete with other animal advocacy charities already in that country. This may still be beneficial overall, if the charity is more impactful than other animal charities. However, by entering countries with less of a track record of animal advocacy, I suspect that animal charities are more likely to locate and open up new sources of funding for the movement, which may be small at first but may grow over time.

I hold the views expressed in this section slightly less strongly than those in the previous sections, however. This is because there are still intervention types which have not come anywhere close to saturation in many developed, Western countries. I also suspect it is possible that the leadership of EAA organisations also share my priorities longer-term, but that they are simply being relatively cautious, and focusing on expanding their successful programmes into culturally similar countries before they attempt to expand them elsewhere.  

If you agree that more neglected areas should be a higher priority, even if the tractability of interventions there is unclear, then there is still a need for caution. We don’t want organisations to take action in a culturally insensitive manner, which could potentially reduce the tractability of future actions, by alienating the governments or wider populations of those countries. Some relevant concerns are listed here, such as the danger of creating bad first impressions, although I’d suggest that some of the concerns about Effective Altruism there apply less to EAA specifically; there is less of a requirement for specific, complex concepts, for example.

For further reflections on a related issue, see Max Harris’ recent post on But Can They Suffer: “Effective Animal Advocacy in China: Perspectives from a UK Activist and Tourist”.

Evidence

In the past year or so, I have seen The Humane League and Open Cages expand into the UK. Veganuary are currently hiring to expand into the USA. I have also seen several new EAA groups spring up in the USA, such as Better Eating. I use these examples not to criticise the specific organisations or decisions, but merely to point out that EAA organisations are continuing to focus significant efforts and resouorces on expanding further through developed, Western countries. In some expansions of EAA organisations within Western, developed countries, a niche is being filled that other organisations have either neglected or lacked the resources to fill. Whilst Compassion In World Farming have been working on chicken welfare for decades, the rapid rate of success achieved by The Humane League in the UK proves that they have made a valuable contribution. Similarly, even if PETA have been working on banning fur in the UK for decades, Open Cages have brought an EAA perspective and a different campaigning style.

There have been some efforts to expand into areas where animal advocacy is neglected and potentially highly important; ProVeg have a team focusing on China, for example. The Humane League have staff in Mexico, and Animal Equality is active in South America more widely. Lewis Bollard has been keen to fund work in countries in Asia and South America, both with EA Grants and Open Philanthropy Project. Excluding money given to international meta groups (you might disagree with my categorisation here),  69% of the money from 2018 animal welfare EA Funds grants have been to “international grassroots groups” or groups in Asia and Latin America. For OPP, the figure is 32% (see my quick calculations here).

Nevertheless, the growing number of groups active in western, developed countries and the relatively small number of groups active in Asia, South America and Africa suggests to me that there is still an imbalance to be addressed. Whilst Lewis Bollard is funding groups outside of North America and Europe, the main focus of most of Animal Charity Evaluators’ top recommended charities and standout charities remains in those areas, and so I suspect that most money from smaller donors in the western, developed world is still focusing on causes closer to home.

Effective Animal Advocacy in China: Perspectives from a UK Activist and Tourist

Post author: Max Harris. Max is a UK volunteer for The Humane League who has travelled around East Asia.

In December 2016, Lewis Bollard of Open Philanthropy Project laid out his vision for improving animal welfare in China. This post is intended to complement the work of Bollard and others, by throwing out some ideas based on my personal experiences in China, and considering what the EA community knows about this issue currently. I shall begin by evaluating how successful attempts to reduce animal suffering have been in the west. Using this information I will look at the situation in China (mainly), and make suggestions about what may be the best methods of reducing suffering over there.

Animal activism has been going for a while in the western world, with varying degrees of success. Here is my take on some of the most successful things which have helped the cause in the West:

  • Vegan products now have a much larger share of the market than they used too, plant-based milk sales growing 61% in the US over the last 5 years for example, which makes reducing animal product consumption much smaller and easier to try out for those interested.
  • We aren’t solely reliant on the number of vegans/vegetarians to drive the consumption of non animal products, various market research (e.g. here) suggests that a large amount of consumers for non animal products are meat reducers. This means a percentage of people have been convinced that it’s worth leaving animals of their plates for at least some of their meals of the week, for whatever reason. Tobias Leenaert has written about the importance of this in his book.  
  • Groups like The Humane League and Mercy For Animals have successfully campaigned to get commitments from companies to improve the lives of livestock in the worst conditions (see here for a report from THL).
  • The clean meat industry is making significant progress, some sources saying it could be in stores by then end of 2018.
  • There are large amounts of material available to help those who want to transition to a vegan diet (youtube, documentaries, vegfests, veg societies at unis) that make it easier for people to transition and not be alone in their journey.

With all the above listed out it’s easy to see a light at the end of the tunnel where in a some number of years the number of animals forced to live in horrific conditions is significantly reduced. However it hasn’t all been perfect, there are some challenges which include the following:

  • The number of animals being slaughtered has increased in the US.
    • Consumption of pigs and cows has gone down, whilst consumption of fish and chickens has gone up. This is an issue because you have to kill more chickens to get the same amount of meat as when you kill one cow (see here for more).
    • This is likely due to the health benefits of avoiding eating cows and pigs are becoming more apparent, so people are avoiding them in terms of “healthier meats”.
  • Vegetarians and vegans have a hard time sticking to it.
    • I personally would say this is because sometimes we demand perfection from people. If a person is 80%+ vegan then they’re still doing a significantly more good than if they aren’t vegan at all so that should be encourage and not chastised. Five 80% vegans does us more good than 1 vegan and 4 non vegans. Basically we should be more accepting of people who aren’t completely vegan.

So there’s still some things to iron out, but with this all in mind let’s have a look at how things are going in the China (and a little in Japan).

This is going to be quite anecdotal, but one of the reasons I’m writing on this topic in particular is that I recently spent about a month travelling around Japan and China. I prepared myself for a drop in the variety of options of foods I could have, of course. However I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that Tokyo has over 50 vegan only restaurants on Happy Cow (which may not reflect the full local variety). Japan in general feels quite heavily influenced by western trends. This lends itself to relatively smooth expansion by Western groups;  the American charity The Humane League has expanded into Japan with some success.

After visiting Tokyo though I hopped over the pond to China to find a very different picture. The level of respect for animals seemed to be quite minimal. In other parts of the world I have been to, when I explain that I don’t eat meat, they generally understand, even if they assume that I’m “probably one of those hippies that cares about animals or something”. In China, though, outside of areas where there are temples that generally serve veggie food, when I explained that I didn’t want meat, it was generally a look of confusion that I got. Why on earth would I not want to eat meat? The level of respect the general public holds for animals like pets seems barely present in China (think of the Yulin dog festival). This translates horrifically into the scale of the farming and legal protection for the animals on said farms (although it is improving slightly). In one survey, a majority of Chinese respondents said they had never heard of animal welfare and/or approve of factory farming in general! Thankfully this does show some signs of improving thanks to a new government initiative to introduce basic animal welfare teachings into schools, but this is far from enough.

In my time in China, I travelled in sort of a line from Shanghai to X’ian, and I experienced quite a mix of city living and small towns where they were even shocked to see foreigners. In the larger cities like Shanghai, when I used Happy cow, I found  about 8 places with vegetarian options (as opposed to Tokyo’s 50+ vegan eateries). I didn’t come across any dedicated vegan/vegetarian places in my time in China. Luckily, Chinese restaurants and people in general are very friendly and flexible, so I was still able to eat out vegan all the time. I pretty much just had to insist on the phrase 不要肉 – Bùyào ròu, which translates to “I don’t want meat” – a fair amount. They’ll happily just invent something or edit a menu item to serve you some noodles and vegetables fried in oil! Also dairy is not commonly part of the diet in China so you don’t have to worry about that so much, just eggs and meat.

Moving on from my anecdotes about my travels, the reason I’m writing this blog post is that the level of respect for animals I observed in china is concerning. Given the size of China’s ever growing population and the fact that the country is responsible for the highest amount of amount of slaughter for any country in the world and that number is rising by the year. I think it would be an effective action to look into how to best reduce animal suffering in China.

China graph

The graph above (data sourced from here) demonstrates graphically that China controls the fate of nearly 20% of the world’s animals. Lewis Bollard mentions mentions in his post about China about the scale of the issues, and has some stats demonstrating how China confines as many pigs as the rest of the world combined, as well as other shocking things.

First off, let’s start with the negatives and what we should avoid: I think a hugely important approach to avoid in China is the environment and health being emphasised too much by animal charities as a reason to ditch meat (because it leads to an increase in consumption of smaller animals like fish and chicken). From my limited personal experience observing the haggling that goes on in some parts of China, and the openness that they seem to have to street food, I’d honestly expect price to be the main driving factor in food adoption. Granted I don’t have any evidence to back this up, but I hope a different angle like that could be tried out.  

There is some very interesting research however about how a large portion of Chinese like to import food from the west and the primary driving factor for this appears to be food safety. It’s quite easy to highlight the safety issues with fish (pollution in the sea making fish contain scary chemicals) and chicken. So perhaps another way to go would be market plantbased products as a safer option?

Another thing I think it would be prudent for the movement in China to avoid, would be being seen as the West trying to impose their views on China. The activities charities like Mercy For Animals and The Humane League do when campaigning against businesses probably wouldn’t fly in China either. An organisation from outside China campaigning against a Chinese business would likely get shut down by the government very quickly; China has a history of protecting chinese businesses over western ones, even when Chinese businesses are in the wrong, committing something like copyright fraud. From this, I think it would be a good idea to have seperate Chinese based charities which are set up in China which we can support (perhaps rather than extensions of American ones? ProVeg is setting up a branch in China currently, so hopefully I’m incorrect about this and their expansion goes smoothly.

I think my main issue with the animal charities in China is that, to my knowledge, none of them are anywhere near as effective as Animal Chariy Evaluators’ top recommended charities. My reason for saying this is there is no charity (that I can find) set up and going which is dedicated solely to reducing meat consumption, which is the leading cause of animal death and suffering. My favourite chinese charity is probably TACN (mentioned below), who spend time promoting a vegan diet but also spend a significant amount of effort rehoming dogs. While this is lovely, if they focussed solely on farm animals/vegan diet promotion, they’d save more animals overall. I do recognise though that there are fewer dog adoption charities in China than the West so it’s not as if another charity will do this if they don’t. This means it’d probably be a very difficult decision to stop doing this work for the dogs now that they’ve started, as it’d essentially be condemning them to live on the streets.

From this point onwards let’s take a look at some current animal charities in China and from that I’ll draw some observations based on what I think is lacking. Here are some animal charities of note in China:

  • ProVeg
    • Is working to set up in China (hopefully will fill the role I mentioned earlier when they are up and going!)
    • Hosted a vegfest in Shanghai which was quite popular
  • TACN (Towards a compassionate nation)
    • A Chinese charity
    • Primarily focuses of saving dogs and anti dog meat
      • I think this is still quite high priority work because dogs are really terrible to farm because you have to feed them meat which multiplies the amount of animals that die depending on the type of meat that is fed to the dogs
    • Works with Veganuary to promote veganism in China, especially around the time of January. They claim to be a big part of the 3000+ participants that signed up to Veganuary in China this year
  • GoalBlue
    • Promotes environmental living
    • Promotes eating chicken and fish over cows and pigs which is terrible if you’re concerned about animal suffering.
    • I personally would not recommend donating here due to the promoting of eating smaller animals which increases suffering.
  • No To Dog Meat
    • Lobbies to ban the dog meat trade in countries where lobbying is allowed and in countries where lobbying is not allowed they pressure other countries to put pressure on them.

I could go on but pretty much all of them are dog meat or dog rescue charities. Based on this, I think the core of what we need in China and possibly Asia more widely is:

  1. General farm animal charities
  2. General animal welfare promotion charities
  3. Charities which measure their effectiveness and are transparent
  4. Charities that promote a vegan lifestyle (there’s ProVeg and TACN but those were all I could find).
  5. I think we could potentially benefit largely from having a charity which tries to put out cheap plant based meat/vegan products in china, but this one is just a hunch based off anecdotal evidence from me.
  6. More effort just trying things out, there really haven’t been that many intervention types tried in China, so we need to see what works and gather evidence.

It’s fantastic to see that work has already begun towards several of these goals, funded by the Open Philanthropy Project – which has made 16 grants to charities operating in China, which has helped to fund, for example, advocate summits in China – and by EA Grants.

Also one thing to note is that if clean meat becomes cheaper to produce than normal meat then I think we can probably win China if it can be emphasised that clean meat is a safer (and cheaper) product than normal meat. However, this successful transition is not guaranteed, and there’s plenty of work to be done in making the lives of animals better before this point far in the future.

(The photo at the top is a picture of some vegan food from Max’s travels in China)

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.

Event review: 50by40 Corporate Outreach Summit

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

The 50by40 Corporate Outreach Summit in Berlin was a conference for those focused on corporate or institutional outreach to encourage greater provision of vegan food. It was organised jointly by ProVeg International and the Humane Society of the United States. “50by40” refers to the aim to reduce animal product consumption by 50% by 2040.

This review is intended to help animal advocates decide whether they’d like to attend the next conference, and reflect on the usefulness of such conferences in general. If you’re hoping for a concise summary of what was shared in the talks at the conference, you may find this article by Tobias Leenaert more helpful.

As Sebastian Joy explained in his speech, the conference was intended to provide “loose collaboration”, focusing on “shared goals”, rather than on “shared values”. This is an area that he believes there has been a gap for.

The talks

The weekend consisted of several days’ worth of talks. In comparison to EA Global, there was a greater emphasis on all attendees listening to each talk. There was no overlap, so I attended every talk. You can see the agenda here.

The talks were all filmed and so I am hoping that they will be put online soon. You can access the slides here.

All of the talks were extremely interesting, and some of them were extremely personally useful. Many of the talks on the first day overlapped in their content, since they mostly focused on institutional outreach, encouraging university caterers to increase their provision of vegan offerings. To this end, I think that slightly more specific briefs for the talks would have helped to make the day more productive for all. Nevertheless, the overlap was helpful in that it showed some clear consensus on some issues. For example, many of the speakers emphasised the importance of not only initial networking, but really building strong relationships with the clients (i.e. their advocacy targets). Whilst HSUS started by cold calling, they later built up strong relations with their clients, and emphasised the helpful offerings that they had. This was then followed up by offering to help their clients’ own connections. Several of the speakers emphasised the importance of clear planning and tailoring your research and message to the individual company’s needs. They also seemed to emphasise the importance of introducing vegan meals of high quality, to ensure that the change is liked and is lasting, with HSUS hiring chefs to advise their clients.

The following days were more varied. Hearing May Mei of Goal Blue (a Chinese environment NGO) speak made me more optimistic about the opportunities for international non-profits’ efforts in China, as long as good local partners were found. The talks that I was most excited by in the conference were Mahi Klosterhalfen’s talk on the work that he is doing for the Albert Schweizer Foundation, which includes creating a ranking of supermarkets on their vegan offerings, as well as Melanie Jaecques of Ethical Vegetarian Alternative talking about the research into veganism and supermarkets in Belgium. It was interesting to hear that the work of Albert Schweizer Foundation, GFI and Compassion In World Farming all involves various forms of rankings of their partners. This was seen as a useful way to encourage competition among companies to improve their vegan offerings, as well as to lead to useful conversations between the advocacy groups and the companies. One interesting avenue that I had never considered before was that raised by Pablo Moleman of ProVeg Netherlands, of working with the food industry to replace animal ingredients such as eggs or gelatine from their production. His estimate, from data received from one company, was that leaving out chicken eggs from a large vegetarian meat alternative company would save 260,000 animal lives per year, for example.

An additional benefit of the talks was hearing about the work going on in various countries. This included the huge success of Meatless Mondays in Brazil, and the passing of a law making caterers obliged to provide vegan meals for people upon request in Portugal, as well as the work of various organisations in Asia. Similarly it helped attendees to stay up to date with the current campaigns of more familiar organisations (I learned lots about ProVeg and HSUS that I didn’t previously know, for example), which will facilitate coordination and mutual support, as well as preventing overlap and duplication.

It would be good for future conferences to have greater opportunities for more focused talks (given the experienced audience), as well as for workshops, idea-sharing and discussion. Additionally, an input from researchers into the effectiveness of different intervention types would have been helpful to give a sense of overall strategy. The conference felt inclined more towards applause of all organisations’ previous efforts than to asking tough questions about how to prioritise different actions and time inputs, for example.

Networking and useful conversations

Due to the small size of the conference, it was incredibly easy to meet people with shared or similar experiences and role focus. This meant that it was easy to share ideas, reflections and tips. With 3 full days of talks (and their subsequent evenings), there was time to meet lots of individuals. There was no sense of pressure to make the conversations especially useful, although attendees mostly seemed quite determined to do this anyway, so there was a nice balance of both focused discussion and more informal, friendly conversation.

There was relatively little experimentation with methods of facilitating networking, beyond a task early in the conference where attendees were divided into small groups and played a game where they had to explain their values to each other. Although the values exercise felt a little forced, it was useful as an opportunity to meet some new people. Despite the relatively small size of the conference, I still only managed to speak to between one-third and one-half of the attendees, at a guess (although I might have been able to speak to more, had I been more determined).

It would have been helpful to have a list of attendees and their roles in advance, so that attendees could structure and plan their conversations and networking. I realised from my experience at EA Global that planning for such conversations can be helpful.

Value for money?

The conference was free to attend. Even if the price of accommodation and travel pushed the price of the conference into the hundreds, I personally think that the conference was better value for money than EA Global was for me, and certainly worth the cost (see my review of EAG for a discussion of why the price of conferences matters).

Monthly newsletter; April 2018

This is a new type of post, where every month, I send out an update with around 10 highlights of news articles and EAA posts that you might have missed. After today, I will only be sending these out by email, but since the mailing list is new, I am posting it here for the first time.

To sign up to future newsletters, and updates about new posts, sign up here.

But Can They Suffer posts:

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

Effective Altruism or Effective Animal Advocacy posts:

  • A new career path recommendation – becoming a China specialist (80,000 Hours)
  • A useful deep-dive into the cost effectiveness of The Humane League’s cost effectiveness (Avi Norowitz)

Other interesting news:

  • France has banned labelling which refers to meat alternatives as meat. This opinion piece suggests that the ban might force creative marketing in plant-based meat; is there something to be said for pushing plant-based products to innovate and move away from mimicry of meat, whilst pinning our hopes on direct replacements on clean meat? (Plant-based News)
  • Meanwhile, GFI continues to fight against similar efforts in the USA (GFI)
  • A survey suggests a much more favourable consumer response to the term “plant-based” than vegan (Food Navigator)
  • The UK has introduced an ivory ban. Although this might seem like a way to distract from the issue of factory farming (people focus on issues that affect a small number of animals, which are easier to empathise with), it suggests that total bans on animal products are possible. Perhaps the next step will be fur – this is certainly something that Open Cages, PETA and others are campaigning for. Who knows what would follow after that? (Plant-based News)
  • An amusing article which confuses correlation and causation, and therefore claims that Instagram is “THE SURPRISING REASON WHY VEGANISM IS NOW MAINSTREAM” (The Independent)
  • A new plant-based meat company, launched by GFI’s previous senior scientist, is experimenting with production technologies (GFI)
  • I continue to have discussions with people about impact investing, but I continue to feel pessimistic about the opportunities arising from it, since looking into the topic for my post in March. See this article which assumes that impact investing is positive. (Plant-based News)
  • Two examples of UK mainstream media coverage of EAA topics – BBC newsnight on clean meat and BBC’s Countryfile on Animal Equality undercover investigationsBBC’s Countryfile on Animal Equality undercover investigations