Nearly four centuries years ago, philosopher and physicist Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) condensed the art of persuasion to its core. He argued that the best way to change someone’s mind is to be empathetic. “We must put ourselves in the place of those who are to hear us,” he wrote in his book Pensées (“Thoughts”). “When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false.”

In other words, being powerfully persuasive begins by saying, “You’re right.”

Pascal’s persuasion premise has two fundamental steps:

  1. To convince someone they are wrong, you must first clarify where they are correct.
  2. Then, you should guide them to conclude on their own that their original opinion was wrong.

In an interview with Quartz, University of Texas at Austin psychology professor Arthur Markham says Pascal was spot on. “One of the first things you have to do to give someone permission to change their mind is to lower their defenses and prevent them from digging their heels in to the position they already staked out,” he says. “If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to cooperate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to cooperate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows cooperation.”

Blaise Pascal

Naturally, I wondered how this principle could be applied to animal activism. My first stumbling block was how does an activist tell someone who eats or otherwise exploits animals they are right? After some contemplation, I realized I was thinking of it the wrong way. I could never tell someone they were right for eating meat, for instance, but I could find common ground with them—like most people, I grew up eating animals—and I could agree that eating plays a central role in our culture. So, instead of haranguing someone for eating animals, I might approach them from an empathetic viewpoint in which I admit that I, too, enjoyed eating meat, dairy, and eggs for many years. (Finding common ground with people is a time-honored approach in one-on-one activism, but you’d be surprised how often advocates opt for scolding instead of conversations.)

Because people are more apt to change their minds when we affirm the value and truth in at least some of what they have to say, not when we attack their opinions and habits, I might guide the conversation toward discussing the importance of sharing meals, which clearly plays a significant role in our society and is another area where we can find common ground. As I wrote in A Vegan Ethic, “One of the principal reasons we cling to that habit of meat-eating is that it’s a group ritual filled with emotional potency—transporting us back to a wonderful childhood memory in Grandma’s kitchen, for example, barbecues with Dad, or enjoying a holiday meal in which a dead animal has always been the centerpiece.” Thus establishing some commonality with this person (i.e., I used to eat animals, too, and I completely understand the cultural significance of dining with others), I might mention that in addition to the social aspects, the pleasure of eating is about the taste and texture—at least for most people—and these can now be replicated with plant-based meats and the proper seasoning. (In this case, I would assume that someone wants the experience of eating “meat” before turning them onto whole foods.)

Now I can move on to the second step of Pascal’s premise and try to guide them to conclude that their own opinion was incorrect. One way to do this is to illustrate how eating animals is likely inconsistent with their values concerning animal welfare. Most people consider themselves compassionate, and they frankly don’t understand how their habit is in dramatic contrast to their benign self-image. For meat-eaters, getting to this point—overcoming their morally tormented psyches so they can devour the flesh of animals guilt-free—takes a bit of clever psychological maneuvering, including no small amount of cognitive dissonance, that inner mechanism that is constantly searching for ways to justify harmful or unethical behavior. No one wants to look like a hypocrite.

One justification an omnivore typically makes is that animals are not thinking, feeling beings, so getting killed for food means nothing to them. Trouble is, we are learning more about animals every day, and it’s quickly becoming apparent that the animals with whom we share this planet not only think and feel pain but dream, plan for the future, grieve the loss of loved ones, and share with us a host of other attributes we used to believe applied only to humans. There is emerging evidence to suggest that some animals may even have a sense of humor.

If someone knows animals have rich inner lives, would they be less likely to eat them? Maybe. But perhaps a more direct way to encourage them to make the connection between their latent values and what they put on their plates is companion animals. In conversations with meat-eaters who seem open to sincere discussion, I often ask if they have or have ever had a companion animal; almost everyone answers “yes.” Then I ask them how they would feel if their dog, cat, rabbit, horse, etc., were subjected to the kind of cruelty animals raised for food suffer (and I might even remind them that animals one culture regards as “pets” can be considered “food” by another; it’s all a matter of perception).

Of course, we are only planting seeds here. Those major barriers to change—convenience, tradition, pleasure, and fear—affect everyone differently, and it can take someone years to “get it,” if ever. Moreover, vegan advocates are working against a massive, decades-old marketing machine supported by the deep pockets of animal agribusiness and subsidized by the government. This machine fills screens, airwaves, print media, and (perhaps most insidious of all) public schools with such deceptive messages as “beef: it’s what’s for dinner,” “milk: it does the body good,” and “the incredible, edible egg.” It is also responsible for such lies as the humane myth and the protein myth.

In the face of not only animal cruelty and human health but the ever-increasing climate crisis, there has never been a more critical time for vegan advocacy. Using empathy in persuasion can also be applied to other forms of activism, whether you’re agitating against animal captivity, fur, animal testing, or other forms of exploitation and abuse. I am not suggesting that Pascal’s approach should necessarily be adopted by all activists, but I believe we must be open to new tactics and strategies—even if they are centuries old.

 

 

 

There’s no question that social media has benefited animal advocacy in remarkable ways over the last decade. Activists are using platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to organize protests, promote veganism, distribute online petitions, announce campaign updates, post news about animals ready for adoption, share animal rights documentaries, and much more.

But social media has a dark side, and I’m not just referring to its insidious influence on the election process or the amplification of hate. Companies leverage the expertise of “attention engineers,” who use our psychological vulnerabilities to make social media apps and platforms as addictive as possible. Why? Because your attention—the hours you spend on your mobile device, for example—results in profits for these companies. Facebook, for instance, uses algorithms to track your preferences and present you with content your online history tells them will make you feel good. Then you’ll see an ad, followed by more fun content—and another ad. Meanwhile, companies such as YouTube and Netflix will automatically play a related video just as the one you’re watching ends. They put the burden on you to decide when to stop.

Did you know that Steve Jobs never intended the iPhone to have third-party apps like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook—or be anything more than an improved iPod that can make calls? True, even the original iPhone had Internet capabilities, but that was more of a bonus feature. If you look at the presentation Jobs gave in 2007 to introduce the iPhone (at about 36 minutes in), you’ll see that the “Internet” segment was all about email, Google maps, and weather widgets. Interesting.

The overuse of social media is something I’ve been thinking about for years, and I explore it a bit in the new edition of Striking at the Roots. As I consider it more and more—and I probably use social media as much as anyone—what has me concerned is how its use can specifically affect the well-being of animal activists and, by extension, their activism.

In addition to the many consequences of spending too much time on social media—such as the impact it has on our self-esteem and creating a fear of missing out on fun others are experiencing—animal advocates may be particularly vulnerable to other side effects. Here are some examples.

Depression

Animal activism is hard. Although many people claim to “love animals,” for instance, the vast majority of these same people continue to eat, wear, and otherwise exploit them. Challenging these behaviors can leave activists feeling disheartened, to say the least.

Add to this the constant barrage of graphic photos of animal cruelty that stream on social media, the offensive comments from trolls under posts, and outright cyberbullying, and online platforms can prove dangerous to our mental health. A study of 1,787 young adults in the U.S. published in 2017, for instance, found that participants who used 7–11 social media platforms had substantially higher odds of having increased levels of both depression and anxiety symptoms.

During her 12 years working for one nonprofit, Marsha Rakestraw had to monitor social media, where she was constantly confronted by scenes of animal suffering. “Having to immerse myself in that quagmire of harm and pain day after day for more than a decade has taken its toll,” she says. “Especially in the last few years of being in that job, I’ve felt that I’ve lost all sense of joy.”

Another activist, Meg York, had a similar experience. “Social media has contributed to, or possibly created, my compassion fatigue,” says Meg. “On Facebook, I have unfollowed most of the nonprofit organizations that I have liked, as I cannot bear witness to unending cruelty. It undermines my ability to be an effective activist, as I find myself mired in despair, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem, and unable to change the reality for the specific animals who are suffering in the videos and pictures.”

I am not implying for a moment that animal advocates are the only people susceptible to depression. What I mean is that animal activism is already a depressing endeavor, and so activists may be especially exposed to the feeling of despair that social media can lead to.

Reduced attention span

Justin Rosenstein, the former Facebook engineer who created the “like” button, is among a growing number of high-tech experts who now warn against the lure of social media, which they believe severely limits a person’s ability to focus and possibly lowers IQs. “One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before,” Rosenstein says.

A reduced attention span could affect anyone’s life. For the activist, it could result in a gap in learning about the issues, for example, or impact their ability to share a meaningful conversation with someone, whether it’s at a conference table or a dinner table.

Diminished human interactions

Animal activism very often relies on making connections: mingling with new people, overcoming social anxieties, and inspiring others to see the link between animal exploitation and their consumer choices. While making connections on social media can be great, there’s nothing that equals the power of making such connections in person. Unfortunately, a growing body of evidence suggests that social media is undermining family relationships and harming people’s ability to interact competently in an offline setting. Former Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris, described by The Atlantic as “the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” warns in his TED talk that social media technology is “changing our ability to have the conversations and relationships we want with each other.” Consider this: In which form of communication would you gain more insight about someone—an online post or a face-to-face conversation? Clearly, there is a much higher quality of connection when we speak with someone directly.

As activist Sherry Morgado puts it, “I found that I was coming to rely too much on social media as a form of activism, and neglected one-on-one interaction, which I believe has much more power and authenticity. In personal interactions, there is an opportunity for a dialogue, to ask questions, and to read facial expressions and body language. I have come to feel that social media is just too removed from that energetic space between people where the possibility for real change can happen.”

Weakened decision-making

Spending too much time on social media affects your ability to think for yourself and form your own opinions. One study demonstrated how participants were more open to peer pressure within social networks. Of course, animal activists tend to be committed to their principles, but we should all treat with caution anything that impacts our capacity for informed decision-making.

Loss of social etiquette

Social media has no room for verbal nuance, tone, or body language, which are among the many important cues that help humans navigate the complex world of interpersonal communication. Because many posters of online comments can remain anonymous—or they believe they are calling out hypocritical behavior—they often give in to the temptation to be judgmental and rude.

“One of my biggest struggles with social media is dealing with all the negativity,” says Cathy O’Brien. “Many people seem to be very quick to judge and attack others, often with extreme hostility. As an activist and a human, my desire is to cultivate more compassion and respect for all beings. I want to put my voice out there and be an advocate for the issues I believe in, but I want to do it in a way that helps create more compassion and caring; I don’t want to be part of the negativity and hostility.”

Activists who participate in such online hostility may think they are doing the animals a service, but they are just helping depict activists as insensitive bullies.

Unhealthy sleep patterns

Interruption of regular sleep patterns is among the hallmarks of a social media addiction. Lack of sleep is not only damaging to our health, but it can affect our productivity and cognitive performance. Any animal advocate who wants to put quality time into their activism is going to need quality sleep. Along with eating well, it’s one of the fundamental steps we can take to avoid burning out.

*****

Am I saying animal activists should stop using social media? No. Social media is an important tool, and its influence in the movement will probably continue to grow as new, more powerful platforms are created. But social media should never be a substitute for on-the-street, grassroots campaigning. If you are able to address the public in person about how animals are exploited, please do so. I don’t mean you need to be confrontational; indeed, making a vegan meal for an omnivore or sitting down to share an animal rights documentary with them can often have a more positive impact than holding a protest sign in front of a slaughterhouse.

Moreover, I encourage activists to use social media and our devices with more intention. You might also consider a digital detox, including such steps as:

You might even reduce your use of social media by cutting out one or more platforms or going without them altogether for a week or a month. You may be amazed by how much more you get done, how it improves your sleep, and how it lifts your mood. It might even make you a more effective activist.

I will speaking more about the importance of self-care at the Animal Rights National Conference in July. I hope to see some of you there.

 

Because I have readers around the world, I generally try to make this blog appealing and useful to all. But there is an issue in my home state of California right now that concerns me a great deal, so I will make this post brief and to the point.

Last December, Assemblymember Laura Friedman introduced AB 44, which would prohibit the sale and manufacture of new fur products throughout the state. This is encouraging, but there is a wrinkle: another assemblymember, Marc Levine, has North Bay constituents who make a living killing rabbits for food, and they’ve asked Levine to create an exemption for rabbits, so the fur of these animals can be sold after slaughter. Sadly, it seems Assemblymember Friedman is considering an amendment that would exclude rabbits, as this article explains. (Note: The article is accompanied by an image of rabbits in cages.)

The bill has been working its way through the legislative process and is currently with the Appropriations Committee. If your assemblymember is on this committee, please call them and ask them to support AB 44—and to support it without any amendment that exempts rabbits. As you may know, rabbits are used in countless fur products—from pet toys and glove trimmings to hats and coats—and to exclude them from a ban would be heartbreaking. Please join me in advocating for them.

The fur industry is lobbying hard against this bill, so every voice of support helps. Calling legislators is very simple and nothing to be nervous about. Your call will be answered by an aide, and you just say, “I am calling to ask the assemblymember to support AB 44 and to not support any amendment that would exempt rabbits from the bill.” The aide will ask where you live and possibly your name, and that’s it.

Step 1: Find your representative here: http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/

Step 2: See if they are on the Appropriations Committee here: https://apro.assembly.ca.gov/membersstaff

Step 3: If they are on the committee, please call them today!

(If your representative is not on the committee, you can call them later in the legislative process, when every assemblymember’s support will be important!)

And if you do not live in California but know someone who does, please forward this post to them.

Thank you!

 

Earlier this month, Procter & Gamble Co., the corporate conglomerate responsible for the manufacture of everything from toothpaste to face moisturizer, announced it had joined with the Humane Society International’s (HSI) #BeCrueltyFree campaign, which seeks to ban animal testing for cosmetics in all major global beauty markets by 2023. This is certainly good news, as P&G has been notorious for blinding, burning, maiming, and killing thousands of animals such as rabbits, dogs, hamsters, and guinea pigs every year, all while testing the toxicity of product ingredients.

The media announced the news with headlines such as “P&G joins the campaign against animal testing as Humane Society International’s new partner” (Cosmetics Business), “Procter & Gamble backs the eradication of animal testing” (Yahoo News), and “P&G joins effort to ban animal testing for cosmetics” (Cincinnati Business Courier). So far so good.

Then, a headline on the vegan-friendly site One Green Planet declared, “Procter & Gamble’s brand Herbal Essences is officially cruelty-free!” Actually, no, it’s not. A look at the Herbal Essences website shows their hair care products contain ingredients that definitely come from animals, including protein from silk and honey from bees, as well as some ingredients that sometimes come from animals, such as glycol distearate, stearyl alcohol, and glycerin.

We saw something similar occur last November, after the cosmetics brand CoverGirl (which P&G owned from 1989 to 2016) stopped testing its products on animals. “Cosmetics Giant COVERGIRL Certified As Cruelty-Free And Given Leaping Bunny,” proclaimed Plant Based News. Yet CoverGirl continues to use animal-derived ingredients, including collagen, beeswax, and lanolin.

In addition to those ingredients, a beauty or personal care product could contain, for example, allantoin (cow urine), ambergris (whale vomit), carmine (crushed-up beetles), civet (anal gland of civet cats), fish scales, gelatin (cow or pig bones, tendons, or ligaments), lard (fat from pig abdomens), mink oil, pearl powder (from oysters), placenta (sheep organs), squalene (shark liver oil), or tallow (cow fat) and still earn “cruelty-free” certification from HSI or Cruelty Free International, the latter of which issues its Leaping Bunny symbol to companies that do not test on animals.

And hence the problem. When we in the animal rights/vegan movement use a term like “cruelty-free” to describe a product, others reasonably expect it to mean it is free from any cruelty—including animal ingredients.

Or human exploitation. For years, Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) has been raising awareness about the use of the worst forms of child labor, including slavery, in the chocolate industry, and calling companies—especially “vegan” companies—to task for sourcing their cacao from areas where slavery is known to be used. As F.E.P.’s founder and executive director lauren Ornelas has said many times, “Just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s cruelty-free.”

She extends this principle to exploited farm workers, as well, noting that the people who grow and harvest the fruits and vegetables adored by vegans and omnis alike are among the most abused laborers in the food system, imperiled by extreme weather, agricultural chemicals, and sexual abuse.

Let me be clear. I applaud the efforts of HSI and Cruelty Free International—neither of which implies that their certification means a product is vegan—and other organizations working to eliminate animal testing around the world; vivisection has long been a blight on humanity. But when groups, companies, or individuals use “cruelty-free” to only indicate products not tested on animals, or they ignore the human suffering that goes into “vegan” products, we dilute the meaning of the term and confuse those whose hearts and minds we are trying to win through our advocacy.*

This may sound like a trivial issue, but words matter. And as we try to help people make truly kind choices, we owe it to everyone—the animals, workers, consumers, and ourselves—to be accurate.

 

*Note: The Vegan Society’s trademark—a sunflower growing from the V in “vegan”—is used by brands internationally to signify a product contains no animal ingredients and has not been tested on animals.

 

As I reflect on 2018, I am struck by what a landmark year it was for animals. Of course, we celebrate any victory, however small, but this year we were able to applaud some truly significant wins. Fur bans immediately come to mind, as do bans on circuses using animals. And let’s not forget the stories on animal testing. Will 2019 be the year that the United States finally takes note of societal changes and decides to ban animals in captivity, animal testing, and fur? As animal advocates, we have big hurdles to overcome in reaching those goals, but they are achievable. In the meantime, let’s look a deeper look at a dozen of the year’s biggest stories that activists worldwide had a hand in. After all, we deserve some good news.

1. Switzerland bans boiling lobsters alive (January)

Animal advocates have long argued that crustaceans feel pain and therefore tossing a conscious lobster into a pot of boiling water is extremely cruel. This year Switzerland became the first nation in the world to ban the practice, citing that pain lobsters feel. The new legislation was driven by research, including a study by Queen’s University in Belfast that found crustaceans are sentient creatures. “These studies show that lobsters, like other animals, experience pain and distress,” said Stefan Kunfermann, a spokesperson for the Federal Office of Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs.

2. Norway to shut down all mink and fox fur factories by 2025 (January)

This news came as a big surprise to the Norwegian Fur Breeders Association, with one spokesperson saying, “We’re shocked, shaken to the core.” Of course they were. The country has nearly 300 fur farms, which kill some 700,000 minks and 110,000 foxes a year. But times are changing, and the country’s leadership recognizes that fur is falling out of fashion.

3. Wild animals to be banned from circuses in England by 2020 (February)

When England said this year that it plans to join the growing list of nations that have banned circuses that use animals—including Austria, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Romania, and Singapore—some of us might have been confused. After all, the government had pledged to do this way back in 2014. The use of animals in circuses is as cruel as it is archaic: animals are “trained” using physical punishment and deprivation, and studies show they spend up to 99 percent of their time confined in cages, carriers, and other enclosures that are typically one-quarter the size recommended for the same animals in zoos. This ban is long overdue, and it’s shameful it might not go into effect until 2020—but let’s hope they follow through this time.

4. Mexico City bans dolphinariums (May)

Mexico’s capital is an inspiration. They banned circuses with animals in 2014 (the country quickly followed the city’s lead), and last year they banned dolphin performances and swim-with-dolphins programs. This year they decreed that businesses could not even keep dolphins (or sea lions), and for good measure they banned so-called “dolphin therapy,” since, according to Mexico’s Ecological Green Party, “there is no scientific evidence that these animals help as effective treatment to people.”

5. South Korea rules killing dogs for meat is illegal (June)

Although some media sources reported this as an outright ban on eating dog meat, the South Korean court simply declared that meat consumption was not a legal reason to kill dogs. The ruling came in a case brought by the animal rights group CARE against a dog farm operator. Animal advocates are hopeful that the decision will indeed lead to a ban on dog meat in the country, where 1 to 2 million canines a year are killed for human consumption. “It is very significant in that it is the first court decision that killing dogs for dog meat is illegal itself,” said Kim Kyung-eun, a lawyer for CARE. Dog meat is something of a gray area in South Korea. There is no specific ban (yet), but officials have invoked hygiene regulations or animal protection laws that ban certain slaughter methods to crack down on dog farms and restaurants. In November, authorities shut down the country’s largest slaughterhouse (see link under “Other stories of the year worth noting” below).

6. Luxembourg becomes 10th European country to ban fur farming (June)

When Luxembourg updated its animal welfare statue after 30 years in June, it not only strengthened protections for animals, it included a nationwide ban on fur farming. The new law, which was proposed in 2016, is based on the assumption that animals are “living non-human sentient beings with a nervous system scientifically capable of feeling pain and experiencing other emotions” including “suffering and anguish.” The Luxembourg Government Council added: “Animals are no longer considered as a thing, but as gifted non-human living beings with sensitivity and holders of certain rights.” Can you even imagine a government making such a statement five years ago?

7. New packaging for Barnum’s animal crackers frees animals from their cages (August)

This may seem silly to some—I mean, it’s a little box of cookies, and in a world filled with suffering and injustice, surely there are larger issues to focus on. But optics matter. When we see animal captivity on something as innocuous as a cookie box, it normalizes oppression. Changing this packaging, which for more than a century featured animals locked in cages, illustrates how the status quo won’t be tolerated. Another example of how times change: the cookies’ namesake circus, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, went out of business last year.

8. London Fashion Week goes fur-free for the first time in its 35-year history (September)

The news that London Fashion Week was ditching animal fur for the first time in its history came on the heels of fur-free announcements from a number of high-profile fashion houses, and it was a major victory. (It’s probably no coincidence that there had been an increase of anti-fur protesters at London Fashion week—from 25 in 2016 to more than 250 at the shows in September 2017.) The results of a survey by the British Fashion Council (BFC) found that none of the designers on the official schedule had plans to use fur in the collections they planned to show this year. “The BFC survey results reflect a cultural change based on ideals and choices made by designer businesses, international brands as well as consumer sentiment but also encouraged by the stance of multi-brand stores who are moving away from selling fur,” said the BFC in a statement. The survey is part of the BFC’s Positive Fashion initiative, which is a platform designed to support industry best practices and encourage positive changes.

9. New Zealand bans the cruel practice of mulesing (September)

I knew almost nothing about mulesing until I was researching Bleating Hearts, so I don’t expect most people to be aware of this procedure, which is common in the wool industry. As I wrote in that book, because of how sheep have been bred to grow wool, feces and urine are prone to collect on their backsides, creating an ideal environment for the blowfly to deposit eggs. (This is called myiasis, but sheep ranchers have another name for it: flystrike.) The eggs hatch into swarming maggots, which eat into flesh and can kill the animal within days. As a way to prevent flystrike, ranchers use shears to cut two large swaths of wrinkled, wool-bearing skin from beneath the sheep’s tail. To save the industry money, anesthesia and painkillers are almost never used. The open wound eventually scars, becomes smoother, and is less susceptible to flystrike. The mutilation takes about a month to heal; in the meantime, the wound itself is an inviting place for blowflies to lay their eggs. The animal advocates who have been working on this issue for years will tell you that the best step you can take for sheep is to avoid wool products altogether.

10. California becomes the first state to ban cosmetics testing on animals (September)

No, it’s not perfect, but California’s ban on using animals for cosmetics testing is still a significant victory. Going into effect January 1, 2020, the law will restrict manufacturers wishing to “import for profit, sell or offer for sale” all cosmetics produced with animal testing. Moreover, while 37 other countries have banned animal testing, the United States has remained neutral, with the FDA stating that although it doesn’t require animal testing, it “advises cosmetic manufacturers to employ whatever testing is appropriate and effective for substantiating the safety of their products.” The California ban could help bolster support for the federal Humane Cosmetics Act, which would eliminate the practice of animal testing for cosmetics nationwide.

California has been a leader on this issue for years. In 2000 it outlawed animal testing when appropriate alternatives are available, and in 2014 it passed the Cruelty Free Cosmetics Resolution, which urged Congress to prohibit animal testing for cosmetics. While the ban has some loopholes—companies can continue to fund animal testing for products and ingredients sold in countries where such testing measures are required by law, for example, and there is an exception for products for which no alternative experimentation procedures exist—it is a major step forward in the campaign to end the use of animals as test subjects.

11. Los Angeles bans the sale of fur (September)

Just months after San Francisco became the biggest city in the United States to prohibit fur sales (see link below), LA passed its own ban. “Los Angeles is one of the fashion capitals of the world, and if we can do it here, we can do it anywhere and hopefully we will be an example for the rest of the country and the rest of the world,” said Los Angeles City Council Member Paul Koretz, a sponsor of the measure. “We hope that New York City and Chicago and Miami are all watching.” The city ordinance affects fur apparel and accessories ranging from mink coats to rabbit’s foot charms.

12. New Jersey becomes first state to ban circus animals (December)

In a year that saw a number of circus bans, what makes this story a bit more newsworthy is that New Jersey is the first state in the US to prohibit “wild” animals in circuses—significant because the United States has traditionally been reluctant to forbid circuses that use animals (or, frankly, to strictly enforce animal welfare laws). The ban is named “Nosey’s Law” after a 36-year-old African elephant with arthritis who was routinely abused with bullhooks and cattle prods while traveling the country with a circus; she is now being cared for at a sanctuary. The NJ ban also covers parades, carnivals, fairs, and petting zoos.

 

Other stories of the year worth noting

Dog shoots rabbit hunter (Jan)

Vancouver Aquarium will no longer keep whales, dolphins in captivity (January)

Animal rights ad not misleading, despite complaint it shows ‘extreme approach to dairying’ (January)

Cow escapes on way to slaughterhouse, smashes through metal fence, breaks arm of man trying to catch her, then swims to safety on island in lake (February)

Wales announces ban on circuses (February)

How Australian animal activists took on the cattle industry and won (February)

San Francisco bans sales of fur (March)

DKNY and Donna Karan ditch fur (March)

India bans import of seal fur, skin (April)

Costco sells 1 million vegan burgers in 60 days (April)

Researchers uncover plant-based vitamin B12 breakthrough (May)

Sales of cow’s milk decline as consumers switch to plant-based options (June)

Baby cow escapes slaughterhouse and is raised by deer family in snowy forest (June)

Lauren Ornelas becomes first woman of color inducted into the Animal Rights Hall of Fame (July)

Wales bans circuses (July)

Burberry goes fur-free (September)

Sri Lanka to ban animal sacrifices (September)

Canada’s Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphin Act clears the Senate (October)

Fashion leader Diane von Furstenberg announces fur-free policy (October)

Portugal bans wild animals in circuses (October)

Coach goes fur-free (October)

South Korea closes dog slaughterhouse amid activist pressure (November)

The end of animal-testing in China is in sight, says regulatory expert (December)

Ethical veganism could be considered a religion in landmark tribunal case (December)

Chanel bans fur and exotic animal skins (December)

Farm bill outlaws cat and dog meat in the US (December)

Virgin Trains is officially first UK rail operator to offer vegan-friendly menu (December)

Gradually, nervously, courts are granting rights to animals (December)

 

I didn’t know it at the time, but my journey as an animal advocate began more than two decades ago on the cobblestone streets of Pamplona, where I participated in the annual running of the bulls. As much as I’d like to say I immediately went vegan and dedicated my life to being active for animals after witnessing this cruel spectacle, the reality is more complicated. It took me years to connect the dots and recognize how my choices affected animals as well as humans. But that visit to Spain—and seeing how those bulls were treated—planted a seed. Many of us are like that, I think: we come to this movement in a variety of ways.

Of course, when I did go vegan, I was eager to spread the word about animal exploitation. But how? I found a few resources online, and a number of animal advocates were happy to answer my questions. Yet what I really could have used was a best-practices guidebook to show me the way. After years of trial and error and fits and starts, I found models of activism that made me feel fulfilled—and models that left me feeling depleted. I knew other people new to activism would have the same questions I did, so I wrote Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, which was published by Changemakers Books in 2008. I interviewed more than 100 activists from around the world, getting their advice on what tactics are effective and how anyone can get involved.

Much has changed since 2008, and the publisher agreed it was time for a new, expanded edition of the book. I am proud to say the 10th-anniversary edition of Striking at the Roots is now available (in print and digital formats), and that many vegan stores will be offering it, including Herbivore in Portland. I recently sat down with The Bearded Vegans to discuss the new book in an interview you can listen to here.

Oh, and if you have trouble finding Striking at the Roots at your local bookstore or vegan market, you can order it from Book Depository, which offers free shipping to 160 countries.

Check out the short video below for more information. Thank you!

 

Note: This book is printed in locations around the world. For copies in the United States, my publisher used a new book manufacturer, and the covers of some copies were improperly trimmed. These books were reprinted, but it might take another week or two for them to reach e-tailers like Amazon. If you are not happy with the quality of a book you ordered online, please exchange it for another one. (If you have any concerns, you can also order the book from Book Depository, which ships for free from the UK.)

 

It’s a question I hear a lot, especially from newer activists: What is the most effective model of animal activism? My response is that I wouldn’t want to characterize one form of activism as the most effective, because every social justice movement needs a variety of forms, and people generally need to hear a message in a variety of ways.

While some longtime activists might criticize so-called “hashtag activism,” for example, it has an undeniable place in our movement and is a gateway for new (and perhaps introverted) activists to ease into campaigns. As a recent article on the Psychology Today site observed, “Hashtag activism can be a powerful way to control a narrative regarding a common cause that has either been neglected or misrepresented by corporate media, and it offers the opportunity for communal participation across the globe.”

Moreover, although public disruptions may not be for everyone, it’s clear they have an impact. Last year, for instance, about 20 animal activists confronted fur-loving fashion designer Michael Kors during a speech; seven months later, he agreed to go fur-free. Was his ban on fur a direct result of the disruption? No, of course not. But it was yet another strong message—one he couldn’t ignore.

And I’ve heard some activists disparage bearing witness, participating in vigils, or giving water to animals being transported to slaughter as a waste of time, yet these activities (which are often very painful) can result in powerful images that may reach well beyond the vegan community they are shared to.

My point is that each of these models has a place in animal activism, because we need every tool in the toolbox to get our message heard. For every person whose first exposure to an animal rights message—a documentary, say, or a vegan leaflet—resulted in them going vegan, there are tens or even hundreds of thousands of people who need much more exposure to the message before it will sink in and have an effect. They need to hear about it from their family and friends, they need to see it online, they need to read op-eds and letters to editors. They might even need to listen to podcasts about it or watch a short TEDx talk. The sad truth is, people fear change, and they have been conditioned to believe that animal exploitation and consumption are socially acceptable, so activists have an enormous, culturally imposed hurdle to overcome.

(When various tactics are part of a broader campaign, it’s important that they are coordinated to reach a strategic objective. A campaign to get a local restaurant to stop serving foie gras, for instance, might rely on such tactics as communicating with the owner, outreach to the community, and demonstrations in front of the business, but they should be carefully planned to fit together and gradually escalate to achieve a more powerful impact.)

There’s an old-school marketing principle called the Rule of Seven, which states that a potential customer needs to hear your message at least seven times before they will buy your product or service. And marketing experts will tell you that to achieve those seven contacts, you must never rely on just one type of advertising—whether it’s print ads, radio, billboards, television, newsletters, digital ads, or whatever. Yes, we’re talking capitalism, but let’s not ignore how we as activists can benefit from this wisdom. People are slow to trust, so getting them to believe they need to change their behavior is a challenge. Of course, some people never “buy,” just as some people are harder to convince than others that going vegan is better for the animals, for the planet, and for themselves.

One of the models of activism I think is especially powerful—and one that is often overlooked—is telling stories … stories about animals and about our own transformations from omnivore to vegan. Animal ag apologists can argue with us about statistics and even health, but they cannot challenge our own experiences or the experiences of the animals we know.

The truth is, humans love stories. In fact, our brains light up when we hear or read a good story. A few years ago, neuroscientists at Emory University studied the neural patterns of volunteers who had each read a novel based on real events. The results showed that connectivity in participants’ left temporal cortexes—the part of the brain associated with receptivity for language—was heightened for several days afterward. Results like this suggest that narratives have much more meaning to people than facts and data. In other words, good stories can put you into someone else’s shoes.

We are drawn to stories of how people overcame adversity to become a better version of themselves, and I think that arc can be applied to the person who turns away from meat, eggs, and dairy foods to embrace veganism. Sincerity and candor are deeply moving, so don’t be afraid to admit your struggles and speak from the heart.

Emmeline can smile now.

The same goes for stories about animals who have been rescued from exploitation, whether it’s for meat, eggs, dairy, clothing, research, entertainment, or any other form of abuse. In the new edition of Striking at the Roots, I briefly tell the story of Emmeline, a rabbit who was rescued from a meat farm by my friends Tara and Heidi (with help from their friend Diana and her husband). “Because we had seen where she came from and were part of her actual rescue, we felt a special and immediate bond with her,” says Tara. “I was very protective of her experience. When she came to live with us, we spoke softly around her, moved carefully, gave her space to retreat to, and did all we could to earn her trust. We tell her every day what a good friend she is and how grateful we are that she’s with us. She’s a beloved family member, and now we can’t imagine life without her. We can only imagine what she’s seen in her short time before we rescued her, and we are in awe of her will to survive. The way to honor her is to give her the best life possible and to respect her as an individual.” To see more of Emmeline, check out the Tallulah Rabbit & Friends Facebook page.

When pressed on what my favorite model of activism is, I admit that it’s whatever form of activism you find to be the most fulfilling, because that is the activism that’s going to nourish you and keep you in the movement longer.

And I love the observation of activist and VINE Sanctuary cofounder pattrice jones. “Every successful social-change movement has involved a multiplicity of people using a multiplicity of tactics to approach a problem from a multiplicity of angles,” she says. “Some people push against the bad things that need to be changed while others pull for the good alternatives. Some people work to undermine destructive systems from within while others are knocking down the walls from without. We all need to recognize that and find our place within a multifaceted struggle, being sure to be generous and appreciative of those who are working toward the same goals using different tactics.”

 

You will find more information about the various models of activism—and staying in the movement long-term—in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

Buttons from Compassion Co.

When we embrace a vegan lifestyle, we like to imagine we are bettering ourselves. We are doing our best to avoid all products that come from animals, for instance, and we do not patronize businesses that use animals or keep them in captivity. But we fall short in our quest for personal improvement (or just common decency) if we use veganism as an opportunity to embarrass others, and among the most disgraceful practices some of us engage in is shaming those who—vegan or not—don’t fit into a certain body type.

Body shaming can be overt, or it can be a subtle comment, like “you’re so brave to go to the gym” or “you look so skinny in that.” A vegan might not even be aware they are body shaming when they respond to someone’s social media post of a meal with “I could never eat that.”

That this sort of behavior happens in our movement isn’t really that surprising; after all, not only does our society place value on people with slender physiques few can emulate, but there are prominent vegan “leaders” who claim that being a “fat vegan” hinders that person’s efforts to help animals, vegan documentaries perpetuate body shaming, and major organizations use extremely offensive body shaming ads as a misguided tactic to motivate people to go vegan (I am not going to share these potentially triggering images, but you can easily find them online).

In the vegan world—home planet of the myth that someone who avoids meat, eggs, and dairy foods is either thin or on their way to being thin—body shaming takes on an extra stain of ugliness as concern trolls offer unsolicited eating advice and humiliate their fellow vegans both online and in person. I have heard dedicated animal advocates who have been shamed say they would not attend a protest or do outreach because they fear their bodies would give the public the wrong impression about vegans. I have heard about compassionate vegans who were humiliated by other vegans who doubted their plant-based eating because they were not thin. And I have heard a vegan cookbook author tell of one review she received on Amazon in which the person wrote “don’t buy her book, she is fat” (Amazon removed the review).

Andy Tabar

The bottom line is that body shaming is a form of bullying, it is hurtful and counterproductive, and it has no place in the animal rights movement. I am heartened by the efforts of vegans to speak out against body shaming, including Andy Tabar, the man behind the vegan messagewear brand Compassion Co and one-half of The Bearded Vegans podcast team. I think it was last year that he posted a photo of himself on Instagram wearing his latest shirt design, and the first comment posted about the image was “Fat vegan” and a sad face.

In a response that went viral, Andy posted, “I used to be embarrassed to tell people I was vegan because I had been shamed by the plant based dieters who say in order to represent veganism you need to fit into a specific mold. That if you’re a fat vegan you’re doing a disservice to the animals. Well, fuck that. I spent 13 months on the road educating college students about the inherent cruelty in animal agriculture with the 10 Billion Lives tour. During which I had over 10K individual conversations and I talked to so many fat people who said they never thought they could go vegan because they assumed everyone who was vegan had to be super athletic and look and eat a certain way. Then they saw me and realized that anyone can be vegan. Anyone can care about animals and take actions to prevent their exploitation. As I’ve said before, any body is capable of being a compassionate body.”

Andy has since participated in at least two vegfest panels with vegan cooking coach JL Fields and dietitian Ginny Messina in which they discuss body shaming for attendees, and the response has been tremendous. (You can hear a recording of one of their panel discussions here.)

(L to R) Ginny Messina, Andy Tabar, and JL Fields.

In addition to the panel discussion, I encourage you to visit Big Fat Vegan Zine, an online space created by Jenny Marie to explore vegan body positivity.

I also recommend you check out the work of activist Jaime Karpovich and listen to her in-depth interview on episode 170 of the Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack! podcast, on which she talks about how body positivity has become commercialized. The episode is also valuable to hear the insights of co-hosts Callie Coker and Nichole Dinato.

Body shaming is insidious, and as animal advocates, we can do better than this. We can acknowledge that whether it’s speciesism, homo aggression, racism, sexism, ableism, body shaming, or any other type of oppression, they are all connected. We can recognize that just like the animals we’re fighting to liberate, everyone has a right to their own body. And we can stop—just stop—judging others based on what they look like.

 

You will find more information about body shaming in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that the U.S. public is closely divided over the issue of animal testing: 47 percent favor the practice, while 52 percent oppose it. That’s actually a slight improvement over results from the previous study they did, in 2014, in which 50 percent of respondents opposed animal testing.

This new survey comes as the topic of using animals for testing products and for scientific research is being hotly debated. Researchers, activists, and politicians all have a vested interest in what happens with vivisection, and most—even those who profit from using animals—seem to agree that at minimum more can be done to reduce the use of animals in labs. Among the issues up for debate are specific bans being proposed, such as California’s SB 1249, as well as HR 2790, also known as the Humane Cosmetics Act, which would phase out animal-based testing for cosmetic products in the U.S. in favor of alternative testing methods (such as computer models and in-vitro testing) and eventually ban the sale in the United States of cosmetics tested on animals in other countries.

Activists have a lot of data on their side. For example, previous research has shown that 72 percent of consumers agree that testing cosmetics on animals is unethical. Moreover, using in-vitro models to predict skin irritation in humans has resulted in accuracy rates of 76 to 86 percent. Compare that to the accuracy of just 60 percent using rabbits. You’d get pretty much the same results by flipping a coin.

I asked Monica Engebretson, North America campaign manager for Cruelty Free International, about the efforts she and her colleagues are engaged in to end the practice of animal testing. Founded in 1898 by Irish writer and suffragette Frances Power Cobbe as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, Cruelty Free International has been agitating against vivisection since its inception.

“As an organization, Cruelty Free International has a big mission: to end animal experiments worldwide,” says Monica. “Our organization is headquartered in London, so we have campaigns that are focused in Europe as well as campaigns that reach around the world. This makes a lot of sense considering that European countries often lead the way on animal protection and then it becomes our task to get other countries to catch up. In fact, one of our big campaigns in the UK right now, called ‘Lead the Way,’ is working to end the use of dogs in toxicity testing. Another example is cosmetic testing on animals. The European Union started phasing out the use of animals for cosmetic tests in 2009 and the full ban came into effect in 2013. Following on this success, Cruelty Free International has been working in countries around the world to match this progress. Currently we are working to bring a petition of 8 million signatures to the United Nations.”

Stateside, Monica and her colleagues are working on what she calls “prioritizing alternatives” initiatives. “I think most people would be shocked to realize that even when modern non-animal tests are available there is no federal requirement that those alternatives be used in place of animal tests. As a result, hundreds of thousands of animals may be used each year in outdated tests that have scientifically valid, humane alternatives. [In contrast, the EU has mandated the use of available alternatives since 1986.] We were successful in passing such legislation in Virginia last year and came very close to passing a law in Hawaii. California, New York, and New Jersey already have similar laws in place. It’s all about moving the needle and keeping your eyes on the big picture.”

How You Can Help

Obviously, the first step is to not buy products tested on animals. Look for the Leaping Bunny logo and download the app on your smartphone.

Let the managers at stores where you shop know you appreciate them selling products not tested on animals.

Support legislation, such as HR 2790 and SB 1249.

Contact companies you like and ask if they test on animals or use animal ingredients. If they do, tell them you oppose any animal testing and the use of animal ingredients.

Sign and share the global Forever Against Animal Testing petition, which will be presented to the United Nations when 8 million signatures have been collected.

Share this information with your friends and family.

 

You will find more information about advocating for animals in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 

Kim Stallwood and Shelly

Kim Stallwood has been an activist for four decades, and his campaign experience includes working with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (which has since been renamed Cruelty Free International), Compassion in World Farming, PETA, and the RSPCA. He is also the author of Growl: Life Lessons, Hard Truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate, which is both a memoir on Kim’s work as an animal activist and his thoughts on how we can reshape animal advocacy. He has long advocated for making the moral and legal status of animals a mainstream political issue. I find his advice to be among the soundest in the movement, and I am very pleased to share this interview, in which Kim discusses such topics as the importance of lobbying elected officials on animal issues, building community within the movement, and the activist tactics he thinks are a big waste of time.

If someone were to come to you and say, “I’ve recently become vegan, and I’d like to know how I can do more for animals,” what advice would you give them on where to begin?

In your scenario, they’ve already begun. If they have become vegan, they have begun. In fact, they’ve more than begun; they have gone quite a ways down the road. Given the high rates of recidivism amongst vegans, I think maybe the best advice to give someone who is a new vegan is to think about being vegan in the long run and be aware that it’s a journey, not a destination, and that there are times when you’re going to fuck it up, and that when you do fuck it up, you should not beat yourself up over it. I used to think that guilt was a great motivator for being vegan, and I would quite happily project my guilt onto other people in order to make them, hopefully, become vegan. But I really don’t thing that’s advisable anymore.

If they’ve just become vegan, I would say that they should be mindful that being vegan is difficult, be prepared that mistakes will happen, and just do the best you can and don’t let others criticize your efforts to be vegan.

Thereafter, I would say that people need to find what they’re best at doing and where they can make a unique difference. It’s important to not feel isolated, to feel that you’ve got people with like minds, even though you may disagree on some detail, but to generally know that you’re with a like-minded group of people who are mutually supportive and can help you.

How can you best build that community? How do you not feel isolated?

The way to build a community is through trial and error. Find the people who you’re comfortable working with, collaborate, build relationships, be supportive, socialize with them—but keep some distance; don’t be intimate.

Why not be intimate?

I think you can take it too far, where you become too dependent upon other people. We all have relationships, but in the context of activists, I think you should always be mindful of not becoming too dependent, because people let other people down. People aren’t always there, though many are, thankfully. But not everyone is.

What advice do you have for activists who would like to lobby their elected officials?

Lobbying isn’t for everyone. Yes, by all means, people should lobby their elected representatives, whether it’s national, regional, or state. They should generally identify the political parties with the greatest commitments to helping animals, identify the candidates at the time of an election with the greatest commitment to animals. They should go to public meetings and other opportunities to quiz candidates at the time of an election. They should develop a platform of issues to lobby with and talk about at the time of an election. And whoever gets elected, we should hold them to account for whatever pledges they made to help ensure they implement them during the period of time they serve as a publicly elected representative. If they fail to do it, you come back to the next election and make the point that they promised to do XYZ, and they never did it.

There’s another layer of activity on top of that, which is if someone feels predisposed toward a political party, I would encourage them to join that party and work from within to raise the topic of animals as an issue of debate in order to inform other members of the party and develop positions and policies within the party. I think the ideal that we need to strive towards is when we have a national election, the political party with the greatest commitment to animals is elected to form the government so that when that party forms the government, they come ready-made, as it were, with the best pledges and promises to act in that elected cycle. The most effective way to do that is to work from within the political party. Quietly but firmly assert animal issues and build them into your general political ideology within that party. If you just go in and talk about animals and nothing else, you won’t be taken very seriously. But if you go in and talk about animal issues in relation to broader social justice and the environment and public health and so on, then the other people in the party will be more open to taking that position onboard. It’s a long process. It’s a process that other interest groups do, but the animal movement just doesn’t do it well, if at all.

How do you feel about advocates forming political parties?

I don’t speak against people forming political parties for animals, but I don’t agree with it as a strategy. There are several problems with it, in my mind. One is that it further frames the animal issue as a fringe, separate issue, whereas what I think we need to do is frame the animal issue within the democratic or republican ideologies—or labor or conservative or whatever—so that it’s seen as an integral part of that party’s belief system.

Are there any models of activism you consider to be a waste of time?

I think that actions which don’t directly focus on animal cruelty and use people-shaming in some way or make people feel guilty in some way are not the best forms of activism. I think those sorts of things are good examples of what activists feel, psychologically, they’ve got to do because no one else will do it. “Someone’s got to tell the people what’s going on and make them feel guilty.” They think guilt might change their behavior. You can identify 10, 20, 30 years ago the same types of people doing this. Where are they now?

I think one thing that’s important to tease out here is longevity—how are you [as an activist] going to stay with this? Because most people give it up. We know from animal rights conferences that there is an endless turnover of new, fresh faces who have to go through the drama and emotion of going to their first conference and the second, and then by the third they see the pattern of it and they don’t come back. How do you—how do I—keep doing it? Well, I keep doing it because I don’t want to do anything else. It gives purpose to my life. What would I be doing otherwise? I really don’t know. Which isn’t to say I don’t have interests outside of animal rights, because I do. But I think if I wasn’t doing this, I’d be doing some other form of social justice.

One of the nice things about Facebook is that you reconnect to people who you knew decades ago and you’ve lost touch with them, and they’re still doing it! [Laughs] I may think, “Oh, I didn’t like them because of such-and-such or we had a disagreement over so-and-so or I don’t like the point they are making now,” but I still feel a warmth towards them because I’m just so thrilled to see they are still doing it—they are still doing stuff to help animals.

Any final thoughts on animal activism or effective strategies?

What this movement needs more than just activist bodies doing protests—however important that is—is qualified, trained professionals who can use their education and their position in society to advance animal issues. We can all be activists, but we can’t all be doctors or lawyers or people who get elected to public office. Those specialties are really what the movement needs. I would never say to someone, “If you have the capacity to become a medical doctor, that’s what you should do, because you can use your medical degree to help animals,” if they don’t care about treating people. They’ve got to want to do it anyway, but also do it realizing that they can also help animals.

For more insights from Kim Stallwood, I highly recommend his book Growl: Life Lessons, Hard truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate, published by Lantern Books.

You will find more information about lobbying for animals and other activist strategies in the new, expanded edition of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, to be published in November.

 


Welcome to the official blog for Striking at the Roots by Mark Hawthorne, your source for interviews, profiles, and advice for more effective animal activism.

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