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Let's Read A Paper: How To Convince People To Be Vegan
Don't eat farmed fish, eggs, or chicken!
A 2019 report from the Vegan Society reviewed the evidence about what messages are most useful to convince people to take actions that improve the lives of animals. The report is mostly intended for professional animal advocacy organizations, but I think the information in it is useful even for nonprofessionals.
99% of animals used by humans are farmed animals. 95% of farmed land animals are chickens. When you include both land animals and sea animals, 69% of farmed land animals are shellfish, 16% are chickens, and 14% are fish. Fish and chickens are also the animals that suffer most. Robust estimates suggest that, adjusted for level of sentience, how many days an animal lives, how much the animals suffer, and how much meat they produce:
1 kilogram of farmed fish leads to about 250 equivalent days of suffering
1 kilogram of battery-cage eggs leads to about 100 equivalent days of suffering
1 kilogram of chicken leads to about 60 equivalent days of suffering
1 kilogram of turkey leads to about 30 equivalent days of suffering
Almost no one, outside of a small circle of effective animal advocates, knows these facts. Indeed, many people try to help animals by cutting out pork and beef and eating more fish and eggs! By far the most important message you can spread is “No farmed fish! No eggs! No chicken!”
People are most likely to be persuaded to go vegan or vegetarian by documentaries, books, and conversation with others. I suspect that depth is key here: a brief leaflet or online ad just isn’t very persuasive, because it can’t counter all of the arguments against caring about animals. Most of us can’t make documentaries or write books, and it’s a bit hard to convince people to consume media they don’t want to consume.45 But there’s one thing you can do. Talk to your friends about animal advocacy.
I realize this is a drum I beat a lot on this blog, but this is something everyone can do. It’s hard to get more persuasive than a friend who has particular moral beliefs, lives them out, and is willing to talk about them in a calm and well-informed manner. Read widely, make sure you’re informed, and when people you know seem curious, talk to them about why animals matter. Even if you eat meat, don’t be afraid to talk about your pro-animal beliefs. I think that pro-animal omnivores can be supportive and non-threatening in a way that pro-animal vegans and vegetarians can struggle wtih.
Animal advocacy websites don’t often persuade people to go vegan or vegetarian, but they’re a crucial source of support and information for new vegans and vegetarians. If you write about animal advocacy, consider sharing more practical advice and motivation for people who might be feeling tempted. If you’re supporting a friend who’s a new vegan or vegetarian, remember that they also need advice and motivation; be willing to be a listening ear to talk through the cravings or help them plan meals for the week.
People tend to respond better to messages about animal cruelty than messages related to environmentalism, health, the abolition of the use of animals entirely, or the value of animals as individuals. Further, beef tends to be the worst for health and the environment, so health and environment messages might encourage people to eat more chicken.
Don’t shy away from using shocking images of animal cruelty, if they’re appropriate.6 Shocking images are the most likely to change people’s minds. The most persuasive images are sick or injured animals, followed by animals confined in small cages, followed by dead or dying animals. Happy animals are the least impactful. As you might expect, people tend to find shocking images of animal cruelty really really unpleasant to look at. You get lower engagement on media with shocking images of animal cruelty, but the people who do engage are more likely to be persuaded.
Messages which compare farmed animals to companion animals or to humans tend to be persuasive. Messages which compare humans to farmed animals tend not to be persuasive. While people object more to eating cute animals, attempting to persuade people that chickens are cute doesn’t make them less likely to eat them.7
Be sensitive. People don’t like comparisons of animal cruelty to rape, slavery, or the Holocaust, which they view as trivializing these atrocities. Sexualized images of women tend to put people off. Offending people is a bad way to persuade them.
Focus on how to go vegan. Most meat-eaters agree that a vegan diet is ethical and good for the environment, but they still eat meat. The problem is that meat tastes good and omnivorism is much more convenient than vegetarianism or veganism. About four-fifths of vegans and vegetarians go back to eating meat; teaching people how to go vegan or vegetarian probably also helps retention.
When discussing how to go vegan, use a frame of autonomy and new choices, not a controlling frame. “You MUST go vegan, it is a MORAL OBLIGATION” is less appealing to people than “I’m helping you expand your options, so you are empowered to decide for yourself how much meat is right for you.” Don’t literally say those words; do approach the conversation with that kind of attitude.
People tend to prefer familiar food (pasta, roast potatoes, salads) to less familiar food (bean soups, tofu, certain vegan meat alternatives). Unfortunately, pasta and roast potatoes is not a balanced diet, so it’s also important to introduce less familiar food.
Vegetarians and vegans fit a certain demographic profile: female, young, well-educated, intelligent, urban, liberal, middle-class or rich, queer, single, artistic, introverted, and neither Jewish nor Christian.8 Therefore, it might make sense to reach out to those demographics--for example, if they describe your friends or the readers of your blog. You might also want to reach out to former vegans and vegetarians, who are likely to already agree that eating meat is wrong.9 However, if we want to end factory farming, vegetarianism and veganism have to expand between twentysomething Buddhist lesbians with MFAs. Begin wherever you are, talking to the people you know.
I haven’t been able to find a robust estimate but my guess is that cage-free eggs lead to maybe 50-70 equivalent days of suffering.
“Shellfish” is a very diverse category. The sentience and welfare needs of shellfish are understudied. I personally expect crustaceans to have a very high level of suffering per kilogram. I recommend switching to bivalves, which are believed not to be sentient.
The entire subject of the welfare effects of eating wild-caught fish is very confusing. I don’t think we can conclusively state at this time whether eating wild-caught fish is net positive, is net negative, or has close to zero effect.
As every autistic has learned, to their great disappointment.
Put How To Cook Everything Vegetarian and Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility in Little Free Libraries in your town?
Don’t show pictures of animals getting tortured at a dinner party and then tell your horrified guests I said it was okay.
But they’re so cute!
As I write this, I realize that this list describes the people about 80% of my readers want to date. HOT SINGLES in YOUR AREA want you to STOP EATING CHICKEN, EGGS, AND FARMED FISH.
Do they know that it’s much easier to just give up chicken, eggs, and farmed fish?