How you can make a difference this World Environment Day (June 5)

The political response to climate change from a number of countries, in particular Australia and USA, has been lacklustre. In the last few days, there has even been discussion of President Donald Trump potentially pulling out of the Paris accord. We can obviously no longer rely on governments to guarantee a solution. Many people have taken the first steps in reducing their environmental impact by swapping their car time for a bike or bus, adding solar panels to their home, or being more conscious of their water use. There is one option for reducing personal environmental impact that is surprisingly effective, but very often overlooked.

Adopting a plant-based, or vegan, diet is one of the most effective individual acts you can make to reduce your impact on the environment and CO2 emissions (more effective than forgoing showers, having solar panels, or using bikes instead of cars). Using American figures, on average vegans use 1/18th as much land for food as a meat eater, while vegetarians use 1/6th as much. Vegans also use 50% as much carbon dioxide, 9% as much oil and 8% as much water.

In 2006, the Livestock’s Long Shadow report (by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) highlighted the environmental impact of animal agriculture. Of note, an estimated 14.5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are the result of the livestock industry.

Globally, farm animals produce around 130 times more waste than humans. This waste can be home to a range of diseases. If waterways become contaminated by this waste, it can be disastrous for human health. If the wastewater reaches the ocean, it can be a source of major environmental degradation, creating what are known as dead zones. The Australian livestock industry also uses a disproportionate amount of water resources.

The impact of climate change is increasing, and will continue to increase into the future, even with immediate action. Of particular note to Australians are the effects on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Over the last 100 years, sea temperatures on the GBR have risen by around 0.4°C. The combination of rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification will lead to more frequent and intense coral bleaching events and a reduced ability of corals and other sea organisms to calcify.

Rising land surface temperatures will also lead to more heatwaves, with the governments’ own estimates suggesting a quadrupling of heatwave related deaths in Australia by 2050. This will hit our ageing population the hardest. The World Health Organisation estimates that, from 2030 to 2050, an additional 250,000 deaths will result each year due to climate change.

In addition to the serious environmental impact of animal agriculture, there are a range of global health issues that can be simultaneously addressed.  A few weeks ago, an open letter was written to the next Director-General of the WHO (shortly after revealed to be Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus), calling on them to recognise factory farming as a major global health challenge, and signed by notable individuals such as Noam Chomsky and Mark Bittman.

By this time next year, 700,000 people will have died as the result of resistance to antibiotics. The bulk of antibiotic use is not in humans, but in the livestock industry, to increase productivity and keep animals alive. With a growing global population, these issues will only get more serious.

In 2015, the World Health Organisation announced that processed meats are a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans), and red meats are a Group 2A carcinogen (probably carcinogenic to humans). A diet rich in plant-based food is suggested to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and reduce the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.

Animal agriculture also creates unimaginable suffering for the animals themselves. Undercover investigations in Australia have revealed pain and suffering as standard, particularly in the industrial farming of pigs and chickens. Most people agree that needlessly causing animal suffering is wrong, and so by simply avoiding animal products, you can align your ethical values with your actions.

Living a compassionate and environmentally-minded lifestyle has never been easier. Increased demand for plant-based foods from vegans and non-vegans alike has lead to the creation of realistic animal product alternatives that are now readily available at supermarkets. With relatively little planning, a plant-based diet can be cheaper, healthier and delicious.

So while you consider your bike and solar panels this World Environment Day on June 5, why not give a plant-based diet a go as well? Bring the family together over a tasty meal and let your imagination run wild. Who knows, you might even decide that it was so easy you will want to keep going.

On whether to send back non-vegan food

If you order a vegan meal and it comes out with non-vegan food in it*, should you send it back or should you eat it? I see this question come up a lot on social media and it seems to have people pretty divided, so I just thought I’d formally write up my opinion. Hopefully it helps you decide what you would do if it happens to you.

In short, I would almost always** send the meal back. If I’m with non-vegans, it shows them I take this whole ethics thing seriously, and it makes a statement to restaurant. It might even stop it from happening to the next vegan. Some restaurants are pretty clueless. I once went to a place that served chicken stock in a little bowl as a side to an item listed as vegan on their menu. I asked if it was vegetable stock, and they said no, it was chicken. “Why, do you not eat chicken?”

“Well, I ordered the vegan option.” They seemed pretty confused about the whole thing, so hopefully making a point about it stops it from being served with chicken stock in the future.

Also, especially in a non-restaurant setting, if non-vegan friends or colleagues see you accepting animal products, they may be more likely to serve you them in the future.

I guess there is the counter-point of people seeing you as ‘not flexible’ which might make people see veganism more negatively, or might slightly nudge someone away from trying it. My intuition is that this effect would be small, but I’m happy for someone to try and change my mind. There is the issue of ‘wasting food’, but again, one meal would make pretty little difference to global food waste.

I’ve also had many vegan pizzas come with dairy cheese instead of no cheese or vegan cheese, which I send back. I used to work at a pizza restaurant, and I know first hand that food sent back as a mistake tends to get eaten by the staff. This definitely mitigates the food waste argument.

I have been told second hand about one individual who has risen fairly high in the US public servant sphere (I have been asked not to share their name – let’s call them Casey).

Casey wields a lot of influence, and their job affects the wellbeing of a lot of sentient beings both now and in the future. They often have meals with very important and powerful people. Casey is a vegan for ethical reasons, but they are not very public about it, and when it comes to eating with said important people, rumour has it that they have taken up eating meat again. This is my guesswork, but I’m assuming this is because Casey is worried about how they might be perceived after revealing that they are vegan, and that they believe their job is so important that the possibility of harming their effectiveness is too great to risk.

A couple of comments on this. I can’t share with you what Casey actually does for work, so you’ll have to take my word on this, but I really believe that their job is so important that this is a valid concern. What’s important to maximise is your impact on suffering and wellbeing, not ones’ personal purity (which should just be a tool for the former).

However, with the knowledge I have on the situation (granted, not as much as Casey has), I disagree with their (assumed) conclusion. I don’t know how much being publicly but quietly vegan would harm ones’ reputation and effectiveness in certain circles. I also think that there could be some benefit in being a super important person that also happens to be vegan.

Having said that, I am open to that being the best course of action. In extreme cases, I might even do the same, as hard as it would be to bring myself to do. However, I want to stress that I don’t think I’ve come across a situation yet in my life where I would have been better off pretending to not be vegan (and I’ve had dinner with the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company), and I don’t think that most people ever will.

One thing I haven’t discussed yet is that some vegans might just be totally disgusted by the prospect of eating animal products. This seems like a fairly valid reason to send the food back. Your personal wellbeing should be equally weighted with that of others. I personally enjoy the unami taste (meaty taste) of food, which is why I can eat realistic meat alternatives while some other vegans can’t. But I would still be disgusted by the knowledge that I am eating an actual animal or their excretion.

In short, I’d advocate for sending back the meal.

* For clarity, I’m talking about something like any of the following; your vegan pizza comes out with dairy cheese or meat on it, your veggie burger is actually a beef burger, your laksa has fish stock in it instead of vegetable stock, or your meal comes out with a non-vegan side.

** Just meaning that I would require extenuating circumstances to not send it back.

Evidence-based voting

I enjoyed Michael Plant’s article in The Conversation today, ‘Which party’s manifesto promises would make Britain happiest?‘ Plant attempts an evidence-based approach to choosing which party to vote for by reading their manifestos. Despite it being basic and limited, I’m very glad it exists, and I think there should be more attempts to select an objectively best party to vote for.

Call me a radical, but I think people should vote for the party that will do the most to increase happiness. If a party’s policies won’t reduce misery and help people have more pleasant, fulfilling lives, what are they good for?

You may recall that myself and Hugo Burgin attempted a similar analysis in 2016 for the Australian Federal election. As we said then, “We say ‘attempted’ because such analyses are incredibly complex (which is possibly why none exist), although we believe that some attempt at picking the best party is better than no attempt.

Voting correctly is a lot more important than people often think it is. Again, in 2016 Burgin and I said:

People often say that you’re unlikely to have any impact when voting, or that the impact of your vote is so small that it’s not worth thinking about, but this is only true if you only care about yourself. In Doing Good Better, Will MacAskill simplistically estimates that the expected value of voting for a US citizen, when spread out across all citizens in USA, is around $5,200 USD (~$7,000 AUD at the time of writing). That is to say, on average, $5,200 of the budget will be spent differently as a result of your vote (see the appendix for a more detailed explanation of why this is so). This means it’s very important to vote for the party that will spend the budget in the best way possible.

I do have some concerns around Plant’s analysis. I want to stress first that I’m not necessarily criticising Plant for this. He was (presumably) operating alone, with limited time and resources, and also had a limited number of words on the article to play with. I’m just outlining what I would want in an ideal analysis. Having said that, my concerns are as follows.

Plant doesn’t account for non-human animals (edit – he did mention them briefly, I just missed it), which is a major gap, though he does try to account for non-British citizens. He also doesn’t seem to look at the future or far future. Needless to say, far future effects (e.g. 1,000 years plus) are extremely difficult to predict, so again, this is not a criticism of Plant. He relies on manifestos and promises, which won’t necessarily be kept. An ideal analysis would look at history and likelihood of individual parties meeting their promises.

One reservation around these types of analyses in general is that people might use them to come out with the answer they want, whether consciously or subconsciously, although there are ways around this with sufficient oversight.

My ideal outcome looks something like this: A group of benevolent individuals grants an organisation funding say 1 year prior to an election. This organisation can’t be a non-profit in many countries (e.g. Australia), because they are not legally able to support any one political party. This organisation then produces and releases the report shortly before the election. The majority of the population, being motivated by maximising wellbeing of all sentience over the course of the universe (I wish), votes accordingly.

There is a very real question as to how many people would trust such an analysis. There will probably be some people who will never change the party they support out of sheer mistrust that it didn’t pick their party. The trust may have to be built up slowly over several elections and with strong, impartial oversight. I have no idea how to do this, but I do think it is important and worth dedicating time and money to. People have $5,200 worth of impact every time they vote, and we surely want to see that impact being positive.

The Reducetarian Summit – thoughts

As you may have been aware, the Reducetarian Summit was on in New York city last weekend. I went because I was on the fence about whether the ‘reducetarian approach’ to animal advocacy was a good idea (I’ve written about that here), and I wanted to learn more. It was also a pretty great networking opportunity, and it is always nice to meet in person people you have been engaging with online for years.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing Tobias Leenaert, the Vegan Strategist, for my podcast, which you can find here. We talked about the pros and cons of a reducetarian approach. Tobias advocates for an ‘adaptive’ approach, which I like. It involves being flexible and using whichever approach works best for a given situation*. You can also find criticism of this discussion here.

Overall, the talks were mostly on par with what you might expect to see at a conventional animal advocacy conference. There were talks on the impacts of animal agriculture on animals, global health and the environment, as well as on cellular agriculture/plant-based meat alternatives and political lobbying. The main difference with a conventional conference was there a relative lack of discussion about animal rights.

Interestingly, it seemed like most people at the conference were vegan, which surprised me. I had figured that the conference might mostly appeal to people wanting to reduce but not eliminate their animal product consumption, but it seems to have been mostly people with the same mindset as me. They either wanted to learn about the approach, or wanted to improve their advocacy and network.

There weren’t really talks on the pros and cons of a reducetarian approach as I was expecting, so I can’t say I changed my opinion much. I slightly updated towards thinking that reducetarian advocacy could be good in some situations, but as I mentioned previously, I still hold reservations about the way it is currently being done by some people.

The conference was protested by about half a dozen individuals, lead by Harrison Nathan, who has been a critic of various aspects of effective altruism in an animal advocacy context. They stood out the front on the first day with signs, and I went to speak with them. Nathan and I have engaged online about his disagreement with the reducetarian approach, and I share many of the same reservations. I am glad to see that Nathan’s objections come from believing that reducetarian advocacy is ineffective, rather than the more deontologist belief that advocating for anything less than total veganism is always wrong.

I had advised against a protest for fear of it harming the reputation of vegans and reinforcing stereotypes, but I stand pleasantly corrected (as far as I can tell). The protest was very calm and reasonable, and for getting across their views, it seemed successful**.

One recurring theme of the panel talks was a general positivity towards organic food, and a general disdain towards GMO food. This frustrates me. I won’t delve in to the science now, except to say that there is no evidence, health or environmental, saying that we should preference organic or non-GMO food. In fact, GMO food can be designed to have higher food yields, be more nutritious, and more disease resistant. As my friend Michael Selden eloquently put it, “I’m an environmentalist so I’m pro GMO. It’s that simple.” The same Michael Selden (who runs a cellular agriculture fish company) was in a panel on cellular agriculture and spoke positively of GMOs, to my joy. It was a much needed voice in the dark at the conference.

Many people are pro-organic food because they are worried about pesticides, and think that organic food doesn’t have pesticides. This is false – organic food uses organic pesticides, which are not necessarily better and can be worse than synthetic pesticides. For example, copper counts as an organic pesticide. Also, while some pesticides can be harmful, they are probably on average less harmful than you think, and they do provide benefits to food yield etc. Without pesticides, we would need a lot more land and resources to produce the same amount of food. If anything, people should advocate for better and safer use of pesticides than for no use of pesticides.

I also just want to share an exchange I had at the conference which I found quite interesting. I was with a few friends who were all involved with the effective altruism movement, and we were chatting with one woman who had never heard of it before. After explaining the basic concepts, she said, ‘Oh that sounds great, but I’m not earning a lot of money, and I can’t donate much to charity, is there still a place in effective altruism for people like me.

The idea that effective altruism is all about money and donations is an old criticism, but it still comes up from time to time (not that it was necessarily a criticism in this case). But the point is just that taking a high paying job and donating a lot of money to effective charities is just one effective way to do a lot of good that people often overlook, not that it’s the only way. Depending on your situation (interests, skills, network and experience), it might be more or less effective than other things you could do. For example, you could do effective advocacy or research work.

I just found this exchange a good reminder to make sure the message is clear, because I really believe in effective altruism and don’t want people to get the wrong impression of it.

Below are some photos from the conference, including some of my favourite graphs and figures from presentations.

* A valid point was raised to me about saying that ‘it depends’. This could be harmful because it stymies discussion. We can say that it depends and is probably different for different situations, but when it comes down to something like actually putting a message on a leaflet, we need to know what to do.

** Again, a valid point was brought to my attention after writing this. I spoke with the protesters, but most people attending the conference didn’t. Their perception of vegans in general may still have been harmed by the existence/presence of the protest, as they didn’t have the chance to speak with them and hear their arguments or motivation.

Why focus on poultry? From Darius Teter’s talk.
Great panel on ‘The rise of conscious capitalism’, with HRH Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, investor and prince of Saudi Arabia, Molly Breiner of Aloha, Monica Klausner of Veestro, and Adam Chandler of The Atlantic (left to right).
Myself and Tobias Leenaert, after recording our discussion for my podcast.

It was great to see the three milk choices for coffee at the conference were all vegan (as was all the delicious food!), but even more amusing to see everyone excitedly taking this photo, myself included.

 

On animal lovers celebrating the death of animal abusers

Over the past few years, especially on Facebook and other social media, I’ve noticed a number of animal rights advocates celebrating the death and suffering of humans involved in the direct abuse of animals. By direct, I mean actively involved in the animal agriculture, hunting or animals as entertainment industries, as opposed to paying people to do these things like most humans in the world. Some examples:

School of killer whales attacks and kills 16 crew members of a Japanese whaling boat (note that this story was eventually proved to be fake, but the reaction of animal advocates was still real).

Matador is gored in the rectum by a bull.

And most recently, a man was crushed and killed by an elephant after it was shot.

Here’s the thing. I think publicly celebrating the death of any of these humans was silly for two reasons.

1) It could backfire and harm the movement. Humans are very suspect to existing stereotypes and will take any opportunity to validate them. If someone sees a vegan celebrating the death of a human, they might think ‘I knew it, those vegans love animals but hate humans’.

2) Why celebrate the suffering of any living being? Yes, this individual caused suffering, and we should rightly be upset about that. But suffering is bad no matter whom it is experienced by. I think humans have probably less free will than they think they do. We don’t choose our genes, and we don’t choose our environment. Thus, people shouldn’t be held fully responsible for their good and bad choices. Can you be sure that you wouldn’t also have been a hunter if you were born into their exact situation?

But at the end of the day it just seems like a strategically bad thing to do.

After seeing much celebration and hate towards the hunter crushed by an elephant last week, I made the same warning. Unfortunately, my fears were confirmed after this opinion piece was published, titled ‘When animal rights extremism exposes the worst of humanity‘. It uses such language as:

As news began to emerge about the death of such a prominent hunter, animal rights activists around the world began a frenetic victory dance, joyously celebrating Botha’s demise at the hands of “his enemy” with a string of abusive postings on social media, some of them plastered across his Facebook site so his wife and children could view them.

Very quickly, people in my network were sharing the opinion piece with comments such as “Did anyone else read this sad excuse for an opinion piece?” and “Haha what an idiot!!!!!!! Apparently it’s incomprehensible to him that hunters are killing an innocent being? Whole article can be summed up y ” I lack empathy towards animals and I don’t care about them dying.”“*

Yes, the opinion piece may have been exaggerated, and it sucks that people think that way, but they do, and that matters – we have to act accordingly. Even if you believe in 100% free will (which I think is hard to, given genes and upbringing as I mentioned) and think people are totally blameworthy for their actions, celebrating the death and suffering of animal abusers just seems like a terrible strategic choice. It might make you feel good in the short run, but in the long run it almost certainly hurts the animals we’re trying to protect.

* Original posters not credited to respect privacy, but if they wish I will edit the post.

Celebration of Yulin Festival ban is premature

The Yulin Dog Meat Festival is held annually in Yulin, Guangxi, China since 2010. The name often calls forth imagery of multiple dogs being held in cramped cages, or dogs being skinned and boiled alive. Some of the dogs are even reported to be stolen pets. The use of dogs for food is not limited to the festival, but takes place across China year-round. For Australians, there is little doubt that this is a cruel and needless practice, and many others agree. Celebrities such as Ricky Gervais and George Lopez have publicly spoken out against the event.

Last week, after many years of protests, activists were finally able to rejoice after hearing that Chinese authorities have banned the sale of dog meat at the Yulin Festival. This momentous announcement has been the fruit of labour of both international and brave local activists, some of whom risk their lives to rescue dogs.

However, don’t celebrate just yet. Many activists are skeptical of the ban, with some reports suggesting that cats will likely be served instead, and others that previous bans have not prevented the festival from occurring. Marc Ching, activist and founder of the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, believes that this latest ban is simply another attempt to deflect attention from the festival.

Supposing even that the ban goes ahead, we still have a long way to go. Amidst the protest against the Yulin Festival, the vast majority of people globally still consume animal products, many of whom undergo treatment as horrific as the dogs. Pigs show similar mental and social traits to dogs and chimpanzees, and display complex emotions. They can perceive the passage of time, anticipate the future, show signs of spatial learning and memory, and that’s just the beginning.

More people are keeping pigs as companion animals, and anyone who has seen them up close will know the affection they show to each other and to humans, and how inquisitive and playful they can be. Yet in Australian factory farms, they are kept in farrowing cages so small that they can’t turn around. This is where they will see out most of their lives.

The female pigs are forcibly impregnated until they are no longer productive, such they continue to give birth to young pigs, which are either used for breeding or raised for their flesh. The end to their life in slaughterhouses constitutes a final horrific experience to their miserable lives. This suffering is not exclusive to pigs, and it is not the case of a few bad producers that don’t follow regulations.

In 2016, 28 United States representatives of Congress signed a bipartisan resolution condemning the Yulin Festival, calling for the Chinese Government to take action. Today, there are still numerous subsidies supported by the US federal government that support factory farming practices, which arguably treat animals worse than dogs at Yulin. Seen through an objective lens, this is a strange hypocrisy.

If you have been upset by the Yulin Dog Meat Festival but still eat other animals, watch the footage of pigs in Australian slaughterhouses. Ask yourself if it is any better than the way the Yulin dogs are treated. You can help to eliminate the suffering of animals simply by making different purchasing choices, and even benefit the environment and your health at the same time.

Morality is Hard podcast – Episode 4 – Tobias Leenaert, the Vegan Strategist

Tobias Leenaert is one of the founders of Ethical Vegetarian Alternative, or EVA, which is a Belgian organisation that advocates the consumption of plant foods instead of animals.

Tobias founded the Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy, CEVA, with Melanie Joy, who you might know as the author of Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows. CEVA aims to increase the impact of vegan advocacy worldwide.

I first heard about Tobias through his work on the Vegan Strategist, a blog where he talks about effect animal advocacy. He is also working on a book on vegan strategy and communication, and gives talks around the world.

Tobias and I chatted about the effectiveness and role for different types of animal advocacy.

Don’t forget to subscribe to this website or our Facebook page to get reminded of new episodes. We’ll be on iTunes soon too!

The future of humanity

I’m on my way to the US east coast for the Reducetarian Summit and picked up the latest issue of New Philosopher, with the theme of the future. I often find New Philosopher a little weak, but this issue is good, especially the interview with Nick Bostrom on the future of humanity. Some of my favourite insights:

Bostrom said that naming their organisation the ‘Future of Humanity Institute’ turned out to be very useful because of how broad it is. It allows them to easily shift their priorities based on what they think is the best thing to work on to improve the world.

Too often I see organisations with some name that locks them in to a particular view, especially non-profits (e.g. the Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia – I’ve whinged about this before).

I also liked the concept of the ‘world vulnerability thesis’, which Bostrom stressed is not an idea in its final stage. The idea is that, as technology advances, we may reach a point where a small group is able to do something that destroys humanity or the world (or causes catastrophic damage, presumably).

We could, at some point, enter a ‘vulnerability window’ where it is easier to cause major damage than to protect against it, which might either be temporary or lasting. An example of this would be the use of biotechnology to spread an engineered pathogen around the world.

In response to Caleb Bond – on veganism and petting zoos

This essay is in response to the opinion piece by Caleb Bond, published by an Adelaide (Australia) newspaper, The Advertiser, on the 1st of May, 2017. The piece takes aim at vegans and animal protection groups who protested the presence of a petting zoo at the entrance of a local music festival. Caleb was light on facts, and heavy on verbose ad hominem attacks against vegans, such as “…some of the most judgmental prigs I’ve ever met have been vegans” and “So moralistic and oh-so-superior”.

Concerned that this piece would give people the wrong impression about animal advocates, thus leading to negative outcomes for animals, I urged The Advertiser to publish a piece covering some actual arguments that vegans make, and offered to write it myself. The head of Opinion at The Advertiser said that, due to being inundated with requests, they were getting PETA to write an opinion piece covering the other side (although a week later this has still not emerged). To me, this strongly suggests that they were not intending on covering the other side prior to the complaints – so much for unbiased journalism and covering all bases.

As an opinion piece, it might be tempting to say that the credit lies squarely with Caleb. However, by not issuing a response, The Advertiser does the animal protection community (and indeed animals) a great disservice. I hope that The Advertiser will make good on their promise and allow PETA to write an opinion piece, however as an insurance policy, this is my response. Because The Advertiser is apparently disinterested in covering the other side of the story, please share it widely.

While I was not involved with the petition to the music festival, started by Jaymie Hammond, from later conversations I gathered that the rationale seems to have been roughly this – the combination of loud music, large crowds and individuals under the influence is not an environment conducive to the wellbeing of animals. Interestingly, the music festival quickly accepted the growing concern over the petting zoo, and cancelled it. “While we had the best of intentions, we understand your concerns and so we have decided not to go ahead with it.” They, at least, seem to have understood the motive.

I’d also like to cover some of the actual reasons people have for being vegan, since Caleb seems unwilling to cover that. Apparently people are vegan because they want to be superior to non-vegans. Broadly speaking, there are three categories of why one might choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle.

Environmental damage – In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations wrote the Livestock’s Long Shadow report, discussing the environmental impact associated with animal agriculture. In particular, an estimated 14.5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are the result of the livestock industry. Adopting a vegan lifestyle is one of the most effective individual acts one can make to reduce their impact on the environment (more effective than forgoing showers, having solar panels, and riding a bike instead of a car).

Human wellbeing –The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced in 2015 that processed meats are a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogen to humans), and red meats are a Group 2A carcinogen (probable carcinogen to humans). A diet rich in plant-based food is suggested to lead to lower blood pressure, a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and a reduced risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease. As I have argued previously (volume 2, page 15 of the Australian Vegans Journal), a government public health campaign could reduce the public health burden in Australia, saving the taxpayer money and benefiting their health.

Animal suffering – This industry also creates unimaginable suffering for the animals used as food. Undercover investigations have revealed extreme cruelty and pain as standard in Australia, particularly in industrial farming of pigs and chickens.

Generally speaking, vegans do not believe that a small amount of pleasure outweigh the damage and suffering. Luckily for vegans, the food is delicious (try Vego n’ Loven It or Zenhouse in Adelaide, Caleb!), and the hardest part is having to put up with ridicule, and correct misinformation. However, it’s still worth it.

Caleb says “Vegans make a lot of noise, but precious little sense.” You might indeed be forgiven for thinking this if this opinion piece was your first introduction to veganism. However, Caleb left out the above rationale, thereby misleading the public.

There was some mixed commentary on Caleb’s piece in the letters to the editor of The Advertiser the following day. In particular, I was struck by the comments by Eric Taylor of West Beach.

If they have their way and veganism becomes compulsory, I trust these moral dictators own some pretty large properties to house the animals. They will no longer be on the farms, as there will be no commercial benefit. What do these people suggest we do with the 74 million sheep and 26 million cattle in Australia? The choices are limited. They will either get moved to non-productive land owned by our vegan masters or sent to slaughter.

The question of ‘what will we do with all the animals’ is a common criticism of veganism, though it misses the point and is misleading. The transition from animal exploitation, whether through behaviour change (increase in proportion of vegans) or technology (increased availability of realistic animal product alternatives, e.g. plant-based or cellular agriculture), is almost certainly going to be gradual. There won’t be an overflow of food animals to deal with because there will be no demand for them. Less of them will be bred and therefore in existence, which is a good thing, as most food animals are argued to have lives not worth living (that is to say, with more pain than pleasure).

Caleb, I sincerely hope that I have left you feeling more informed about the reasons that I and many others have decided to avoid animal products. If you are willing to have a well-reasoned and informed discussion about this, I would be happy to do so. And to The Advertiser, I hope you will consider urgently sharing information about the case for veganism. As a journalistic publication, it is your duty.

Below are some of my favourite quotes from Caleb’s piece.

See, they profess to be such loving, careful, gentle souls. Friends of everyone and everything. But some of the most judgmental prigs I’ve ever met have been vegans.

So moralistic and oh-so-superior. They like to think of themselves as a higher echelon of human. They’re apparently more evolved than you and I.

All because they don’t enjoy a nice steak with a glass of red. Yes, wine is off the list, too, because it’s processed with animal products. No wonder they’re generally so uptight and sour.

Then they’ll start proselytising door-to-door. “Hi, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and saviour, tofu?”


Edit (09/05/17) – it has recently come to my attention that The Advertiser published a response by PETA, however it was a week after the original article, and it was just a letter to the editor, not a full opinion piece. After a search I was confident that nothing had been published – the Advertiser’s website makes it hard to double check these things.

However, I still believe The Advertiser could have and should have done more to counter the baseless attacks from Caleb Bond on an entire community.

Cube of Truth vegan outreach & Reducetarian Summit

On Friday I had the pleasure of joining some Los Angeles activists in a Cube of Truth at Hollywood, on the walk of fame. I’ve participated in similar outreach events in Sydney, Australia, and was somewhat surprised to note that the responses at each location were quite similar. If you’re not familiar with a Cube of Truth, the video below has some footage from one in Sydney. Essentially, we show people footage of animal farming, and talk to them about it.

I spoke to half a dozen vegetarians (a pretty high proportion of those I spoke to, maybe 30%?) who had no idea about the treatment of animals in the dairy and egg industries. Some people saw the footage and just couldn’t believe that it was happening in their own country.

Cube of Truth in Hollywood.

Of course, we capped off the night with some delicious vegan food at Doomies. Do check it out if you haven’t been yet!

A vegan leaf and twig burger.
Some of the local animal activists I met on Friday.

I’m travelling to DC, Philadelphia and New York from 12-22 May, so do hit me up if you’re around. From 20-21 May I’ll be attending the Reducetarian Summit in New York, where I’ll be interviewing my next podcast guest, Tobias Leenaert, also known as the Vegan Strategist. If you’re in New York and are interested in animal advocacy, I recommend you check it out.

In case you haven’t heard about the reducetarian approach, it’s the argument that encouraging people to reduce their meat or animal product consumption might be more effective at reducing animal suffering, at least in the short term, than encouraging people to go vegan.

I’m relatively on the fence about this. I’m a utilitarian so am totally open to altering the message to something not completely vegan if indeed (we believe) it will most reduce suffering over the course of the universe. However, I still have reservations about the reducetarian approach, and am not necessarily convinced that it is the best choice.

Despite that, I still do think that even people who don’t support the reducetarian approach should come to this conference and be a part of the conversation.

I wrote a book review on the Reducetarian Approach (also available in podcast format), in which I also cover some of my reservations.