This was originally posted on the Voices of CAA Blog, which got fatally dismembered in a CMS upgrade.

One of the reasons I wanted to start a CAA blog was because I was inspired by all the great essays that Jack Norris and Matt Ball of Vegan Outreach have written. Their most recent piece is entitled A New World, Piece by Piece, and is well worth reading.

By and large, I agree with this essay, and it fits in well with CAA’s mission. There’s more to doing activism than just “doing something”, you have to do something that makes an impact, and that often means finding a compromise between the perfect and the achievable.

But I think their essay leaves out one crucial point, though they allude to it when they mention “our limited time”. Yes, we should work to get people to go veg. Yes, we should work to reduce suffering right now. Yes, we should oppose animal ag, and yes, we should support that same industry when it proposes ways to reduce animal suffering.

I could go on and list another dozen things that are important for the AR movement to do as well, and that would probably be an incomplete list. But making a long list of stuff that must be done right away is paralyzing. Instead, we need to think very carefully about how we will deploy our limited resources. As a movement, we are constrained in terms of money, time, and person-power.

I think that efforts to improve welfare in the short term are worth pursuing when they don’t require a lot of resources, but ultimately we need to put most of our resources into our long-term goals.

Make no mistake, this is a real trade-off. There will be more suffering in the short term with this approach then if we worked all-out on improving industry practices. But I truly believe this is right way to go if we ever want to eliminate the abuse of animals for human ends.

Where does the right balance lie? That’s impossible to say. When we’ve discussed this amongst ourselves at CAA one of the sticking points has always been the complete absence of hard data. How many animals are saved when someone switches entirely to free-range meat? How much is suffering reduced? Does switching to free-range meat mean people are more or less resistant to further change? How many people go veg after first switching to free-range animal products? How many people would have gone veg if they hadn’t been told that it’s “okay” to eat free-range products?

That’s a long list of questions without answers, and I’m not even sure how to start answering them. Sometimes I think we need to form some sort of AR-focused polling organization. Anyone know of any research on these topics? Please let me know in the comments.

This was originally posted on the Voices of CAA Blog, which got fatally dismembered in a CMS upgrade.

A while ago, I read parts of The Lifelong Activist by Hillary Rettig. Rettig comes from a business background, and that strongly influences her take on how to be an effective activist.

One idea she brought up was that a lot of what we do as activists is basically marketing. We are trying to “sell” an idea to people, and get them to make a change based on that idea. Marketing is often thought of as a dirty word, and progressives may be especially turned off by this analogy, but for me it resonates quite strongly.

At CAA, we try to engage individual consumers and get them to make changes in their lifestyle, primarily in their purchasing. This really is marketing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course, when we do marketing, we abide by our core values, especially the value of Integrity. That means that we tell the truth, and we use facts, not misinformation. But that doesn’t rule out appeals to emotion either, and no doubt emotion (specifically, compassion and empathy) play a large role when people decide to go veg.

Getting back to Rettig, in her discussion of activism as marketing, she specifically addresses vegetarianism. She says that because we’re engaged in an effort to persuade, the best argument for vegetarianism is personal health. In short, go veg and you’ll be healthier. On the surface, this seems like a good tactic. People are self-interested, and appealing to that self-interest could be the most effective lever on which to exert pressure.

I think this argument is 100% wrong. Why does CAA focus on animal suffering, rather than health? There are several reasons. First and foremost, CAA is an animal advocacy organization, so we talk about animal suffering. We are not a human health advocacy group, and any claims to that effect would be disingenuous. Remember that Integrity value?

Second, while people are self-interested, the number of obese people in this country tells me that people are not terribly motivated by personal health, even if they claim that they are. People want to be healthy, but they don’t want to work really hard at it. Lest you accuse me of casting stones, I’m including myself in that generalization.

Finally, the health argument fails when one looks at the facts. Yes, a vegetarian diet is healthier than what many Americans eat, but that’s because lots of Americans eat really, really unhealthy food. It is possible to design a very healthy diet that’s not vegetarian. So we can’t say that vegetarian is the most healthy, just that is it a healthy diet. It’s hard to construct a good sales pitch from that.

But if vegetarianism doesn’t win on the health argument, it does win when it comes to animal suffering. If you care about animals, you should stop eating them. That’s a nice, simple argument, well backed up by facts about the animal ag industry, and our experience shows that it is an effective one.