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Flock Only: “A Meaningful Life: Making a Real Difference in Today’s World” by Matt Ball

By Visiting Animal — May 23, 2014

1590564545_cf200Dear Flock,

You are in for a real treat today. One of my absolute favorite writers, thinkers, and do-gooders — Matt Ball — has agreed to share with us his most famous essay of all time, and one that just so happens to be my personal favorite of his writings. And stay tuned for Matt’s forthcoming book, The Accidental Activist (Lantern Books, 2014 — coming next month). We will also be featuring an interview with Matt on an upcoming podcast episode, and you won’t want to miss that either.

xo jasmin


A Meaningful Life: Making a Real Difference in Today’s World

by Matt Ball

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(3) Readers Comments

  1. Midas_Skies
    May 24, 2014 at 8:35 am

    It’s an interesting piece, but I’ve recently started to question the effectiveness of leafleting. Having leafleted several times in the past, I’ve become acutely aware of the public’s perception of it. I think most passers by wonder something to the effect of: “why are these people relegated to handing out leaflets in the street ? Surely if their message was legit I'd be hearing about it on TV or in the newspapers or in school ?” I’m also not convinced that our ethical arguments should focus so heavily on factory farming. For me, the issue has always been the killing of the animals, and I feel that placing too much emphasis on factory farming could potentially push people towards so-called humane alternatives (grass-fed, free-range etc) rather than veganism. But even if we agreed that factory farming was the main issue, should we really focus so much energy on communicating that information to the public ? My experience is that most people already know what goes on at factory farms and slaughterhouses and that they’re already uncomfortable with it. For example I don’t know anyone (meat-eater or vegan) who doesn’t look away from the TV screen when slaughterhouse footage comes on. I think that factors like lack of community support, lack of doctor support, lack of options at fast food places, conflicts of interest and twisted government subsidies are the main barriers to our cause. And I don't think any campaign is complete unless it tries to tackle at least some of those latter issues. In the meantime I think it's important to use all (factually correct) information at our disposal to motivate people in that direction. We’re up against some very ingrained cultural habits, not to mention industries with very deep pockets, so I don’t think this is the time to start ditching perfectly solid health and environmental arguments. I doubt that anyone who learns about the effect of animal protein on hormone-related cancers is just gonna switch from red meat to chicken. And let’s face it, it’s not as if people just roll over and admit defeat when they hear the ethical argument. I think that ethical considerations are, to a large extent, subjective and fluid, and we’re competing with an ever increasing number of them. Some people go all out to make sure their food and clothes aren’t the result of forced labour. Other people make sure not to eat air-freighted foods because of the negative impacts of petroleum. Other people may have given up alcohol because it affects their judgement in ways that put other people in danger. Some people do all of the above. Different people draw the line at different places depending on the issue. Obviously most of us in this movement feel that animal suffering is the most important consideration, but can we tell other people or even imply that they should feel the same way ? I think before we can even begin to justify doing that, we need to ensure that our actions and our arguments tick as many boxes as possible.

  2. Joseph Espinosa
    May 24, 2014 at 10:55 am

    A Meaningful Life is the most thoughful analysis to guide advocacy that I have ever read. To Midas Skies point about the health argument, the chicken industry rose from the joke of animal agriculture in the 1940s to the dominant player of animal ag that it is today, responsible for the vast majority of human caused animal suffering and death on the planet. Health concerns about the dangers of red meat were a big factor in it's animal damaging rise. As for leafleting efficacy, even if it took 1000 booklets put out to create 1 new vegetarian (or 2 people cutting their meat consumption in half, 3 reducing by a third, or most potent of all, someone dropping consumption of bird flesh) animals are spared at a cost of just pennies per animal. How we might get modern media to tell the truth about animal suffering in animal agriculture has eluded me during my 22 years of work on behalf of animals.

  3. Midas_Skies
    May 25, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Joe, On the surface your point about leafleting (1 vegan convert for every 1000 leaflets) seems fair. But I think if you take into account the opportunity cost and the potential loss of goodwill, the whole idea becomes less attractive. The cost isn’t just a few cents per 1 vegan convert. It’s 1000 leaflets, plus, say, 40 hours of volunteer time that could have been spent doing other forms of activism (note: this could include doing overtime at work and donating the extra money to a vegan org), plus the number of people who might have been put off because they found it annoying, distressing, preachy or even seedy to be shown pictures of animal cruelty in the street. I think this goodwill impairment is precisely why it’s so hard to get the mainstream media to show footage of animal cruelty. It costs them viewers/readers and numerous complaints. I think there’s a lesson to be learned there. Of course the risk/reward calculation also depends on what the real rate of conversion per leaflet actually is. I have no idea how many Vegan Outreach leaflets it takes (on average) to convert 1 person to veganism, and I doubt Vegan Outreach has any idea either. Interestingly enough, I once contacted a humane-research campaign group to order some of their materials, and when I told them what the leaflets were for (ie. street leafleting) they were very reluctant to even send me the leaflets. They said they had never found street leafleting to be at all successful and considered it a waste of time and leaflets and potentially damaging. As for the health argument, I think you're confusing the issues. Mainstream medical advice encourages people to steer clear of red meat and choose white meat options instead. That’s probably why there’s been an increase in chicken consumption in the last few decades, and it’s got nothing to do with the health argument for veganism. If anyone interprets the advice of doctors like Goldhamer, Barnard, Campbell etc as encouraging people to switch from red meat to chicken then they obviously haven’t been paying attention. The link between animal protein and hormone-related cancers, for example, is not going to leave people thinking that they should switch from red meat to chicken, as chicken is also a rich source of animal protein ! This discussion highlights another issue that I feel passionate about, and one which I touched on in my earlier post. Namely: the lack of support, and in many instances, active discouragement, from mainstream medical doctors with regard to veganism. Not to mention their failure to inform patients about the ability of a wholefood vegan diet to prevent, control and in some cases reverse serious diseases. I personally think it would benefit the animals greatly if activists would spend more time campaigning against the anti-vegan views and hideous conflicts of interest within the mainstream medical community, and less time bashing the few doctors who actually promote veganism. Thanks for your time and consideration.

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