What can we do to convince people to change their behavior? Strategy is always the hottest of topics amongst activists in the animal rights community. This week we are joined by Aidan Kankyoku of Pax Fauna to discuss just what it may be that is holding people back from behaving in a more pro-animal way.
ABOUT OUR GUEST
Aidan found their way into the animal freedom movement through Direct Action Everywhere. His years as a DxE organizer and glimpses of other mass protest events left him convinced of the power of mass-participatory social movements as a force for change. Now, as a researcher at Pax Fauna, Aidan is pulling together evidence to explain the power of these movement strategies and how they can be most effectively deployed for animals. in 2023, Pax Fauna launched Pro-Animal Future, an organization of volunteers, voters, and small donors merging the power of participatory movements with the unique political opportunity presented by citizen ballot initiatives.
- Pax Fauna Website
- Pro-Animal Future Website
- Unidos Por Callejerito on X
- Pro-Animal Future on Instagram
- Pro-Animal Future on Facebook
Mariann Sullivan: Welcome to Our Hen House, Aidan.
Aidan Kankyoku: Thank you, Mariann. I'm so glad to be here.
Mariann Sullivan: I am thrilled to have you here because I have been reading about Pax Fauna. I'm very excited about what you're doing, and I hope you're the ones who are going to find the answer of how we do this, how we like change the entire world.
Aidan Kankyoku: We actually already found it. It's all, yeah, all solved.
Mariann Sullivan: This interview is going to be very powerful. I can see. All right, we have the answer.
All right, so let's just start for people who aren't familiar with Pax Fauna, and I really encourage anybody who isn't to go on the web and like look at what you've been writing and look at what you're working on, because we're not going to be able to cover it all today.
But just the nutshell version, what is your mission?
Aidan Kankyoku: Well, let's see... our mission statement has even evolved. We're a young organization, which I think that's natural. It's something like Pax Fauna exists to build a more effective grassroots animal movement in the United States using research. So that initially came out of three of us who were organizers with Direct Action Everywhere and were really inclined towards that sort of style of activism, which both alludes to the sort of disruptive style, but also really a focus on community organizing and the number of people involved in the movement.
So what I call like mass participatory volunteer organizations. Just throw some words around. So that was really where we started and we had encountered some kind of consistent limitations in that space where we had a theory of change and it wasn't quite panning out and so we decided to step back and see if we could come up with some avenues of research that could help address those limitations and see if we could find ways to overcome those.
Over time, it's, you know, evolved, I think as we found answers to those questions, new questions have arisen and we are in a place that's a little different than we necessarily expected. But I think, more that we didn't know where we would end up and now as we've, you know, found exactly what we're going to be focusing on it's gotten more specific, which I'm sure we'll talk about.
Mariann Sullivan: Well, I, I mean, I think it's very exciting to find anybody in the world who actually learns stuff and changes their focus, because that doesn't happen very often. People usually get stuck in a way of doing things and stay there.
I definitely get the feeling that you are not the type of person who wants to spend all your time criticizing what others are doing. You seem to avoid that, but, but could we just start off maybe by identifying what aspects of what the current animal protection movement is doing that maybe are not as effective as they should be and you think there could be progress?
Aidan Kankyoku: Okay, so I can start with something that I think is, pretty concrete, and then we might move into things that take a little bit more effort to wrap our heads around. So one thing I feel like I can say pretty confidently now based on some of our research is that the focus on veganism, in terms of individual consumer change, was important to get us to where we are, but is maybe increasingly something that's holding us back from going to where we want to go. So, one big thing that we've been working on over the last few years is a lot of public opinion and messaging research, and that's involved bringing in lots of just ordinary mediators. We recruit off of Reddit and bring them in for interviews and focus groups.
And, we've seen definitely confirms what other research has found. Like there's, you know, surveys, I think some of our own research was inspired to begin with by these surveys where you can find if you ask people if they would... these are surveys of the American public, if they would support something like a ban on slaughterhouses, you'll get, you know, 48 percent of people saying that they support that, when, and you know...
Mariann Sullivan: It's so crazy, isn't it?
Aidan Kankyoku: Right. And it's hard to puzzle out what's going on there. And you know, we don't know what's going on there when we ask just in a survey, we can't ask follow up questions. So that was really the point of our research is to say what's going on when, you know, in the same sample of people, of course, 98 percent of people agree with the statement whether to be vegetarian is a personal choice and no one can tell me what to do. And as animal advocates, obviously, we see like that it seems like there's this huge contradiction there, and it's very frustrating for us. So we wanted to ask people, actually, can you explain to us why you can say yes to both of those things? And it turns out there's actually, you know, a pretty logical explanation, at least it's intelligent and logical from the perspective of the people that we're asking, which is that they don't feel that they have any power. They don't feel that their individual consumer choices matter very much.
And beyond that, when they're thinking of themselves as an individual consumer, certain values are attached to that identity. So one identity that pretty much everyone has. in modern society is as a consumer. And that comes along with certain values of personal choice and freedom and autonomy.
And when we activate that consumer lens, those values that come out are really antithetical to our goals as animal advocates. In the same moment, those values create a sense of futility for people that they feel ultimately powerless as consumers to have any influence over what corporations are doing.
So what we think was really the difference between those two questions, would you support a ban on slaughter houses versus, you know, is it a personal choice whether to be vegetarian or not, is what we call the shift from this consumer lens to a civic lens. Where we're asking people to think of themselves not as consumers, but as voters, which is another identity that everyone holds that comes along with a different set of values. And as voters, people are much more willing to think about collective good, how policy is affecting other people, not just themselves. People feel a lot more powerful. They feel like there's more of a sense that what they do as voters can impact the world, because they're coming together. And they feel, you know, it's through collective action rather than individual action. We think that if we can, as animal advocates, can shift to engaging the public in that civic lens, and convince the public to see our cause as a political movement rather than as a sort of weird, dietary preference that some people have, that alone can sort of unlock a huge amount of public support that's out there waiting, you know, latent in people's hearts and minds, that we're currently not tapping into.
Mariann Sullivan: That's so interesting. Jasmin and I have been giving a talk for probably 10 years at VegFests. And, one of the things that we always said was just kind of keys into this. And it really resonates for me, like talking about would it make a difference if you go vegan? Uh, you know, cause arguably, it wouldn't. It's very hard to make the argument that you have actually any impact at all on how many animals are killed, but we always likened it to voting. You know, people vote, doesn't mean that their individual vote is going to make the difference, but we all know that collective action can matter.
That really resonates with me a lot. How does this intersect with the traditional framing within the movement, which I think you think has caused a lot of harm for some people, the rights versus welfare. Because obviously, if you're advocating for animals to people and you're not suggesting that they go vegan, there's a disconnect for me there.
It's like, you know, I can't tell them it's okay to eat them, but you should, you know, care about them. That doesn't make any sense to me. And we have to come up with things that make sense for the advocate as well as for the person who's being approached. And I think the rights versus welfare really resonates with animal activists.
Like, you just don't get to do any of it, and you can't fix it, and that really resonates with us. So how do we come up with something that resonates with us enough for us to do it? But also manages to get past this resistance that people have.
Aidan Kankyoku: Well, first of all, I just, there's so many things about the way that you stated the question that are exciting for me and point to, I think, some really exciting, maybe overlap in how we see some of these problems.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, I have to say, I was super excited about this interview, because when I read what you've written, I was really like, Oh, God, I wish I'd said that.
Aidan Kankyoku: Cool. So to name some of what those synchronicities are maybe for the listeners is like just acknowledging, you know, animal activists, we need to excite our own base.
Mariann Sullivan: Totally, I need to excite myself.
Aidan Kankyoku: But like we need, people need to, I'm me you know, don't really get paid very much at all to do this.
And it's not, you know, there's there's one reason. All right, surprise, surprise! Despite appearances, um, you know, I absolutely need to motivate myself. So I think that's one question that I think sometimes strategic thinkers in the movement underestimate how important it is that the grassroots, that the mass volunteer wing of the movement, can stay motivated.
And I'll just say like, that's probably our biggest asset as the animal movement. We probably don't realize there may be no other cause area, at least in the United States that has as deeply committed of an activist base, like when I talk to environmental organizers, or certainly organizers in other sectors, you know, they have more money, they're more mainstream, more acceptance among the public, but they have a much harder time getting, meaningful numbers of people to like actually make sacrifices for the movement.
So that's, a really special thing that we have but it's not automatic. It's like, yeah, you're absolutely right. There are some initiatives that animal people, vegan activists, just aren't interested in, aren't going to get on board with. And so it doesn't matter.
So that's totally a huge part of this is where's the overlap between what's actually gonna be inspiring enough for the people who are, you know, dedicating so much of their free time to this movement. And I also love how you said the rights versus welfare thing, it resonates so much with activists.
Like, that's this huge tension and I'll name it. You know, it's this big, it's been this big back and forth, especially within the U. S. movement and maybe within the sort of Anglophone world. What I hear from actually a lot of people like organizing in Eastern Europe, or in a lot of other countries, is that that distinction is totally not relevant in their context.
And there's a lot of places where one organization, pretty much one animal advocacy organization exists in the entire country, and they do the full spectrum of different tactics that in the U. S. groups have had so much conflict over like, oh, you know, this tactic versus that tactic, and in all these other places everyone's like, we contain all of that within, you know, our one organization with like five people.
So given that, this distinction does resonate so much with animal advocates, and I think it essentially doesn't resonate at all with the public, or it doesn't reflect how the public thinks about our issue at all. So, what we find when we, you know, ask the public about these kind of frames, like the sort of rights centered messaging versus like the welfare centered messaging, on the one hand, there's sort of clear evidence that for a lot of the public, at least, the current sort of welfare campaigns are pretty uninspiring.
Of course, there's a lot of, you know, deceptive marketing and there's a lot of confusion about what labels mean but when people, you know, get an explanation of, okay, what is, you know, the difference between a battery cage farm and a cage free farm and they like see those images for themselves. That's like totally uninspiring for them.
They're like really you're gonna ask me to...
Mariann Sullivan: Devote my life, every spare minute....
Aidan Kankyoku: Or even to show up to the polls to vote for a ballot measure that is gonna take chickens out of a battery cage, but put them into a cage, you know, so...
Mariann Sullivan: A different circle of hell...
Aidan Kankyoku: Right. So even, even the public finds these kind of incremental, some of these incremental welfare reforms not... and, it's really important to say that's not a reason not to do those campaigns.
If we think that that's something that's tractable, that can make a small improvement in animals' lives, and it's what's available, like, that's a whole different question. But it is a reason to say, you know, the welfare campaigns shouldn't really be our... it's not the best foot we can put forward when we're talking to the public.
But, on the other hand, neither is like, the rights centered messaging is really confusing for people. People literally picture an elephant in a courtroom. They're like, what do you mean? So animals are gonna have the right to vote? Again, I think there's one theme that I'd love to sort of drive home is like a lot of these things that people say, that sound so goofy to us, and we hear them over and over again, and that, you know, the hundredth time you've heard someone say, like, well, what, you, you mean animals should have the right to vote? Or the hundredth time you've heard someone say, you know, but what about lions? To us, it sounds like so banal and just idiotic, and like, have you even thought about this?
And it's like, the answer's gonna be, yeah, no, they haven't. And actually, a lot of those statements that we hear over and over from people are actually very genuine. So that's, we can maybe loop back to that, but actually that we need to engage with some of these things that seem so goofy to us. And it's just, we need to remember, we're not representative of the people, like we are not our audience.
We're not representative of the people that we're trying to communicate with. We're the weird ones. Like we got this information and, you know, made these decisions. So there's something all of these people who have given their lives to the movement share that makes us very different from the mass public, and that's just...
We just have to keep that in our minds all the time.
I think I lost track of the original question.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, I don't know what the original question was, but it doesn't matter cuz that's all interesting. I totally agree that... I don't, I mean, I say this all the time, like, why don't people go vegan when they hear this? And I'm not that great a person, you know, like, I know a lot of people who are much better than I am in a lot of ways, and they don't go vegan when they hear this.
And I just don't get it. And I think that's kind of the point. Whatever it is, I don't know what it is. And that's what we're going to talk about, maybe. But we're different, like in, you know, we're not necessarily better in that one way we're better, perhaps, but in many other ways we're not. So it's not a superiority thing, but it's not the best idea for us to come up with a strategy, because we don't think like other people think in this particular, area.
And so that's why it's so confusing to us, I think. There was a... some of the things that you've been focusing on, and there's so much on your website that we won't be able to cover. I highly recommend it. But I love this quote from Garrett Broad, who has been on the podcast, and he said that the animal movement has too much behavioral psych and not enough anthropology.
Is that one way that we can kind of get into, like, what we should be moving away from? Not betraying, but moving away from as messaging and moving toward.
Aidan Kankyoku: Yeah, absolutely.
So let me try to get it to the point where that statement can make some sense to people. And it's funny cause as I just said, and when Pax Fauna started in March of 2021, we spent the first 18 months almost singularly focused on this messaging research that I've been talking about, you know, a lot of focus groups and private interviews.
And then eventually now we're doing sort of survey experiments and stuff. And this statement that Garrett made is actually like very much a critique of that kind of research that I totally agree with. So, it's a place that I've evolved, you know, and continue to evolve on. So what we mean with this idea that there's too much behavioral psych and not enough anthropology, basically a different way to say it is, we focus so much of our strategic thinking on how to convince individuals to get on board with what we're doing and to change their behavior to support us.
Mariann Sullivan: A lot of people focus all of their effort on their brother.
Aidan Kankyoku: Right.
Mariann Sullivan: Enormous amounts of effort on how to convince your family to go vegan. Like, don't do that. But even convincing anyone to go vegan, you're saying, eh.
Aidan Kankyoku: Well, okay, so let's explore it, because it might be still about how to get your family to go vegan, but the shift is... You know, we focus so much on their individual decision making calculus, or when we're thinking about how to change people's behavior, we're thinking of them as individuals.
And so we isolate them, we take them into a laboratory setting, which in this case is just a Zoom call in their living room, but you know. Where they're just there by themselves and we talk to them and we're essentially saying like, what would convince you? And you know, we're not exactly taking their word for it, but that's not how people work and live and move through the world, or make decisions.
The overwhelming consensus within the scientific community that isn't animal advocates is the major factors influencing people's decision making are not their personal beliefs, their personal conclusions about what is, not to mention ethical, but not even their personal decisions about what's in their own interests.
Far, far, far more influential in people's decision making calculus is external pressures, social norms, signals that they see from people around them about what is normal, about what's encouraged. Maybe in a few areas of each of our lives, we can kind of tolerate being antisocial, meaning going against the social norm.
A lot of people do it in no areas of their lives. So all of everyone listening to this podcast does it in one or a few significant ways in their lives, but that's exhausting. I mean, think about how it's emotionally and socially really taxing, let's just admit it. Being vegan, you know, in a lot of places, it's not hard to find food.
Mariann Sullivan: No, the food's fine.
Aidan Kankyoku: With a little bit of attention, you are going to be nutritionally, you know, great, but it's socially really taxing. It has huge consequences in your life. So anyway, the point is, most people base most of their decisions totally unconsciously.
We make most of our decisions about how to move through the world without even thinking about it based on social norms, because we're... herd, tribe, animals, whatever you want to call us. And we've just totally under invested in thinking about that. So to give a few examples of how the animal movement has ignored this, first, like going back a decade or more, when so much of the movement was focused on leafleting, and that was kind of the main way that we were asking volunteers to try to make change for animals, was to hand out literature about why you should be vegan.
You know, this is totally focused on randomly targeting individuals. Like, totally individual people that happen to be walking through this mall or going to this concert right now, giving them information and hoping that they're going to change their behavior because we changed something in their own heads about this information.
And again, it's just totally not how decision making works. And there's so, so, so much research that that's like, not how it works. And going back to what we were talking about in the very beginning about the sort of shift from the consumer lens to the civic lens. It is true that, okay, you know, one thing is not just thinking about individual people's behavior and thinking about how can society as a whole change policies and evolve together as a whole.
So, it's partly about, you know, thinking about not just how can we influence individuals, but how can society as a whole be evolving together, taking steps. But there's like this middle territory where it's, yeah, I do want to influence individuals.
Ultimately, I think that, you know, that's a huge part of it. Government can't ban all meat products.
Mariann Sullivan: Right,
Aidan Kankyoku: without a lot of public support. So we do also need to be thinking at the human level of society but even on that level, we're going about it wrong by totally focusing on like behavioral psychology.
How do we psychologically change people's behavior through like persuasion or something, as opposed to how people are acting in groups. Because this is way harder question. How can we like change the signals that people are getting in their day to day life from their friends and family because that's what's actually determining their behavior.
So way harder question. Bad news. It's a way harder question.
Mariann Sullivan: But you have answers. I mean, you do have some answers. You've written a whole lot about social norms and social networks and strong ties. And these are all like buzzwords that I took out of these articles, but they seem really, really important. There are ways to approach social change other than just going person to person and doing some of the psychology you're talking about. I mean, really resonates with me about Melanie Joy's work and explaining why people make decisions. Like, we read that stuff and we try to focus our messaging on the way people think. But you're saying... No, if I understand, the way people think is governed by a much bigger issue than what can occur in a conversation.
It's a social issue. And the fact that we, for whatever reason, weren't like that as to this issue really screws with the way we think about it. So, what are all these ideas about social networks and social norms that we need to understand in order to think of ways to make change? Is that a fair question? I know it's a big question.
Aidan Kankyoku: Yeah. No, no, no. I, I think I can take it and I'm sure we'll find other little tangents off of that to explore. But I think that is the fundamental question. That we can come sort of back around to. And the funny thing, you know, to preview or foreshadow here is like, the answer is, you know, that... and for a long time I used to say, you know, your family is like the hardest to influence.
And to a large extent, that's true so we shouldn't necessarily focus our energy there, but I'm going to contradict myself and say at the same time, so we'll get to this point. You know, your what the research calls your strong ties. The people that you are really close to and see every day are the people that you have the most potential to influence because that's... okay.
So let's see how we can get there. So to get into this, essentially what we're trying to do is change people's behavior around what they eat or what they buy. And so the question is how do people decide how to act?
How do people decide what food to buy? And there's different answers to that question that have floated around. One is, you know, oh, if we can convince 'em to make an ethical decision about what food to buy. So that's, you know, leafletting saying, oh, you're hurting animals. You don't wanna hurt animals anymore, right? So you should go vegan.
And that pretty ineffective. I mean, it worked for us, not gonna work for the vast majority of people. I'll just sort of mention that, you know, we pull people in for these interviews, almost everyone we talk to... The structure of these interviews was very open ended, very, we were trying to draw people out on what they think, not, we weren't testing messages. So then, in this way, it was a little more on the anthropological side of things, where we weren't saying, Okay, what do you think if we say this? We were just asking, like, so we would get people into a Zoom, just like this, and we'd ask, so what comes to mind when you think about animals used for food?
We chose that exact sentence to try to be the most neutral possible, not suggestive. When we asked that, and maybe we got it wrong, because we would ask, what comes to mind when you think about animals used for food? People, the immediate response from almost everyone is like, Ugh, I don't like to think about it.
I mean, it's so... It's upsetting. I eat meat, but, oh, you know, if I really think about what's...
I mean, people are, like, the thing is there, but it's not working. It's not...
So, okay, what are some other explanations? Well, one that's bounced around a lot, which is the sort of dominant theory of change in the alternative protein space, is that the key thing that's stopping people, or that's informing people's current decision to keep buying and eating animals, is the price of food, the taste of the food, and the accessibility, the convenience.
So we can call this price, taste, convenience. This is another theory. Maybe if we can get the price and taste and convenience of alternatives to match, then that will get people to change. I'm also pretty skeptical of this one, so there's, now research available that, maybe to just go through this quickly, it's like taste.
What the thing in that formulation is the assumption that's there is that taste is a chemical problem. So if we can master the chemistry of these alternative meats, then we can get them to taste just as good as animal meat. But Taste is actually, if not at least as much a psychological thing, it's primarily a psychological phenomenon.
It's much, it's less about the chemical reactions between food and our tongue than it is about our brain. And some examples of this, you know, obviously different cultures have different ideas about what tastes good. I mean, that's just a really easy example, but even if you're just then saying, okay, well, we're trying to match, you know, the taste of this food to these existing foods.
There's a study in 2008 where they Blind Taste Tested gave people some meat sausage and some plant based sausage. And they asked people, you know, which one do you like more? And everyone said that they liked the meat sausage more. Except, the twist is, they were misinforming people, about half the people were misinformed about which one was the meat one and which one was the plant based one
And everyone said they liked the one that they thought was meat.
Mariann Sullivan: And that was a long time ago. They didn't, like, the plant-based ones probably were pretty bad.
Aidan Kankyoku: Right. Oh, I think about how much better, right. That's exactly, plant based sausages, 15 years ago, how, not analogous they were to meat. And yet everyone said they liked the plant based ones more if they thought that that was the one that came from animals. Not everyone. A few people in the study said the opposite thing, regardless of which the actual sausage was. People who had certain social values that were going to prime them to sort of think that vegetarianism is this good thing that we should all be doing. They liked the plant based sausage more, like the one they thought was plant based. Okay, so, the point is, it's not ethics, it's not price and tasting, it's not only any of these things.
Of course, all these things are factors.
Mariann Sullivan: But I mean, those things, they matter. It's not like this is a total waste of time developing these products. It's just not enough.
Aidan Kankyoku: Yeah, one way to put it is like, we're potentially walking into really tripping and falling flat on our faces with the meat alternative stuff if we fail to address these social pressures around it that could lead to it being rejected. So there are very strong cultural and social attachments to meat from animals.
There's a lot of hesitancy about the technologies behind these foods. We can look to the sort of what happened with genetically modified organisms in food as a sort of cautionary tale about techno hesitancy around food in particular. It's maybe it's just to say that what we're relatively not investing enough thought and time and money and energy in as a movement is thinking about these social signals.
So, okay, what can we do? What could we even invest in?
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, we want the answers, not just the question.
Aidan Kankyoku: And, what we can say about starting to find the answer, you know, the reason that we've invested in this less than other things, I think is fairly straightforward, because it's way harder and more complicated.
I mean, it's honestly as complicated as you think figuring out how to cultivate meat in a bioreactor from animal cells, as insanely complicated as that is. I think that social science is even orders of magnitude more fuzzy and complicated and imprecise and difficult than that is. So with that precautionary statement, we can get into it.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, well, let's get into it. I mean, if I understand correctly, the thing you don't think helps very much at all, except with a few special people, is just approaching people as individuals, explaining to them what the problem is, and expecting them to change. You see it much more as a a social entity or a social effort.
So can you just kind of outline what that looks like, what our goal should be? Not, the end goal of ending animal agriculture, but our goal in building a movement that will be more effective.
Aidan Kankyoku: So if we start to zero in on social norms as as an important factor
You know to start with, there may be aspects of it where that alone can start to invite our intuition in a different direction. Let's just think about it for a second. I mean, what would it take for if you think about someone in your life, like you mentioned, the people who focus on their brother.
I mean, I've been there Think about that person in your life. Like what would it take for them to see both the beliefs behind the pro animal cause as well as the actual behavior, which is not buying and eating animals? What kinds of things would it take for them to see that as normal?
Not necessarily the dominant norm yet, but like a norm that has a lot of momentum. So there's some nice research where most of the time people look to what are most people doing to decide what they're gonna do. But you can kind of hack into this. a researcher named Greg Sparkman, who's done a lot of work on dynamic norms, where you can hack into this and say, Okay, yeah, only 10, 10, 15 percent of people are doing this right now.
But it's growing a lot and the trend is like soon this is gonna be the dominant norm and you don't, you want to, you want to get on board now and you're gonna be able to, you know, sort of be like cool for doing this thing. So, okay, we only have a few vegans, so we can't make people think that this is what everyone's doing.
But how could we get it to feel like, hey, this whole pro animal thing, this is really what's happening. What would it feel like? What would that look like?
Mariann Sullivan: So keep going, what would it look like?
Aidan Kankyoku: I mean, I have some ideas, but I'm curious if you have some ideas.
Mariann Sullivan: I mean, I guess, and it's so hard to go here, but I guess what you're saying that makes sense to me is that we somehow hold on for our own selves as veganism, as the Lodestar, as the only moral way to live, and yet we let go of that in communicating with people to some extent and don't make that the, you either love animals or hate animals and the decision is whether you eat animals. Somehow we have to like encourage them to see caring about animals is really the way to go. And, you know, I don't think people are very far from that. I think most people really care about animals. That's the crazy thing about this whole thing. We could win this thing in a minute, if we could just think of the right way to do it. They're already there, in their hearts, but we just have to, like, get over this, feeling that they have that it will make them weird. And I think veganism kind of is, it is both the goal and the block. Really changing the way you eat is just, for some reason, it's just too much for people. Like, at every single meal that they have with other people, they will have to announce this thing about themselves.
That they're not sure they can defend, that they're not even sure they want to do, that they don't, as you pointed out, they don't want to think about it. Like as soon as, like you brought up this in completely innocuous question, just how do you feel about, about animal resources for food or something?
And they're like, Oh God, don't ask me that. Like they don't, they don't even want to go there. And we're asking them like every single meal to think about this thing that they don't want to think about. So somehow. The first step would be to really just enhance their self identity as, as caring about animals without forcing us to advocate for, cage
Aidan Kankyoku: Yeah, I think, you hit on a bunch of the key things there. So I think we can find that if we just start to shift our thinking to social norms, we have a lot of the answers or we have some of the answers. So one way I would describe one of the things you were pointing to is like, there's an information gap among the public about how much other people really do care about animals and really are concerned about what happens to animals on farms.
Lots of people themselves are just really upset and distressed when they think about what happens inside slaughterhouses, but they think everyone else must not be, because look, everyone's eating meat. So they don't want to be, you know, they don't want to go out on a limb and take on that big cost. And in the research literature, there's a great example that looked at this with men in Saudi Arabia, collecting information about how they felt about increasing rights for women.
And this is this case study where lots of men felt personally that they supported much broader rights for women, but they thought everyone else didn't. And they so they didn't want to go out and say that they did, because they thought there would be social consequences for taking that position.
So not everyone, but a majority of people were hiding their position about what they thought would be ethical. The majority actually agreed about what would be good, but everyone was hiding that because they all thought other people didn't think that. So one thing is how can we close the information gap for members of the public who think that they're the only one, or they're in a minority, for thinking that something really wrong is happening inside of slaughterhouses.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, we are kind of getting there, aren't we? Like, we're a lot closer to that than we used to be. I do think that people probably suspect that as vegans we're criticized a lot or taunted, and I don't think that's really true. I mean, I'm not sure it ever was true. I'm not really the person people taunt. I don't know. Like, maybe I seem too pathetic.
Aidan Kankyoku: There's, definitely some taunting.
it's true that there's taunting. There's a lot of respect, I mean, I think, it's another one of these things where people act very differently, like, in individual interactions, than in big group settings.
In individual interactions, anecdotally, speaking of my own personal experience, when someone finds out I'm vegan, their reaction is sort of respect and even a sense of like, oh, just by me saying I'm vegan, like they, I'm reminding them that they're not doing something that they think they should be doing, you know, so then there's like whatever defensiveness and whatever. And then maybe they respond with defensiveness, or they respond with like, oh, you know, I've tried, or I wish I could do that, or whatever, whatever, but in a larger group.
That sort of, you know, one person who's there who's like, Oh, how do you know someone's vegan? Don't worry, they'll tell you. Duh duh duh duh duh, those kind of jokes. Like, that becomes the dominant thing because people are more nervous. So I think there's been progress. But I think there's still a big information gap that if we could close, or significantly narrow, where way more people knew that way more people are really upset about what's happening in slaughterhouses.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, and you're not really talking about an information gap about what's happening in slaughterhouses. You seem to indicate people are pretty familiar that it's bad. Maybe don't know the details, but you know, who wants to know the details, but they know there's something wrong. Is that what you're saying?
Aidan Kankyoku: Yes. I think actually a lot more people know the details than are willing to go. Like a lot, a lot of people have seen the footage we've got, and that's been a huge success of the movement in the last however many decades, a lot of that footage has penetrated. So, especially if we just zero in on, that 48 percent of people supporting closing slaughterhouses was like nationwide, if we zero in on like our most supportive maybe social clusters, let's say, Liberal cities, so like urban, younger people.
These are like people who are more likely to be sympathetic to our cause and also more likely to be more informed. So if you go to a city like Denver, I live in Boulder, Colorado. Denver's next door. It's 700, 000 people. Um Pretty progressive. I mean, like 82 percent Biden vote in 2020. So we're talking about a very democratic, blue stronghold kind of city. That number is going to, I mean, that's going to skyrocket, like a much higher percentage of those people are upset about what's happening in slaughterhouses. They would support some kind of move away from that food system. But they don't know that other people would.
So one strategy here is, well, okay, a set of strategies is, you know, how can we put people in a position where they're going to demonstrate to their peers that they think this?
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, that's definitely the next question. Maybe we can open their willingness to do something. But what? Do what?
If we're not going to ask them to go vegan, which is what we always ask them to do!
Aidan Kankyoku: Right. And I'll admit that this question of what action can we ask people for? It's still one of the big, it's like for me, the next exciting question that we're trying to answer. We have one that we're trying. So we are running right now in Denver, a pilot ballot measure campaign to ban slaughterhouses in the city of Denver.
So we have a ballot measure that's currently circulating, and we're about to be able to turn in the signatures and qualify it for the 2024 ballot, where every voter in the city of Denver is going to have a chance to weigh in on whether we should ban slaughterhouses from operating in the city of Denver.
And if that passes, but even if it, so let's say it doesn't pass, it gets in the 40s, 40 percent something, Suddenly, everyone in Denver sees that, oh, like, it's not a small number of people in my city who actually think that we shouldn't be doing this anymore.
Mariann Sullivan: But, I mean, I guess this is obvious. But from our point of view, like what good... I mean, I don't know how many slaughterhouses there are in Denver. Is there a lot of in city slaughter?
Aidan Kankyoku: We have one large lamb slaughterhouse. It's potentially the largest lamb slaughterhouse in the country, which makes it a mid sized
Mariann Sullivan: Without asking people to not eat lamb, what good is that going to do?
They'll just get their dead lambs from somebody else. Obviously you've thought about this, so, why do I feel like it's going after the wrong problem?
Aidan Kankyoku: Sure. Well, so we could go back around to how we settled on this.
But what we decided is, I think there's a real short term, some instrumental impact of this. It's going to impact like the lamb industry in at least this is the sort of surrounding states.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, that one company, like, it's worth doing, I'm certainly not against it.
Aidan Kankyoku: Right. But much more of what we're interested in with this campaign. You're, you're right. The short term instrumental impact, I would say, is tertiary for kind of why we think this campaign is exciting. The primary impacts are more of what we're going to, what we're talking about of these social signals.
How can we send a big social signal to lots of people that actually a political position of supporting animals who are being killed for food and supporting moving away from that actually has a lot of support, and is actually a serious political movement that's really catching on.
How can we sort of send these signals? How can we engage people in that civic lens that we talked about rather than a consumer lens? What is the civic lens? I mean, at the end of the day, like we said, the main way people engage in that is as voters and this is a first step, we'd like to see a lot more with it, obviously. You know, expand it to other cities, but also primarily, I would say, use these kind of city campaigns, this gets maybe into a whole lot of stuff that we're not going to be able to talk about as much today, but using the city campaigns to build grassroots power in a particular place up towards maybe running a state campaign and maybe a factory farming ban statewide in Colorado, suddenly we're talking about something much more impactful.
This is maybe a step in that direction because, It takes a lot of capacity and power to win a statewide ballot measure campaign that's provocative and edgy like that. Setting ourselves up for future campaigns, but pertinent to this conversation is maybe this is a way to close that information gap.
Mariann Sullivan: And is it a way to get people to take a stand for animals without asking them to stop eating them? And maybe, you know, some of them will start thinking about eating them, but you haven't asked them to, so you don't have that defensiveness. Is that right?
Aidan Kankyoku: Yeah, so in psychology or in, like sales this is called the foot in the door strategy, where, okay, there's a big gap between where people are right now and where we want them to be. Veganism, it's a huge step. Yeah, so how can we subdivide that? And one way people talk about doing it is, Meatless Mondays, or...
Whatever, reducetarian. And maybe there's something to that. I'm not here to criticize that. But here's a different way to do it. Can we offer people political positions that they can actually act on? Like you said, not just something ineffable, but no, really cause people to take a specific action, furthering the goals of the animal freedom movement.
And will that kind of shift their personal identity, get them to the point where they can say, I'm not vegan, or I'm not vegan yet, I'm not vegan, but I'm pro animal, and I'm going to support this policy. And now maybe there's this principle of consistency kicks in that I want to be more consistent.
So yeah, okay, I voted for the lamb ban, the lamb slaughterhouse ban, and now, maybe I shouldn't buy lamb tonight... that's speculative. I'm not relying on this having a big impact on diet change in the short term, but if we can build this into a political movement, again, it's like going back to this public opinion research we were doing.
We'd get so many people into our interviews who not only, you know, in the beginning say, Oh, I, I don't, it's so upsetting to think about what happens to animals, but also could say, yeah, you know, if everyone had to do it, I don't want to do it alone. I don't want to be the one, you know, in my friend group of 20 people, like, exactly like you said, it's, there's this huge, I don't want to take on this huge social cost, go out on a limb, you know, stick my neck out, be the one to have to shoulder this.
But if everyone had to do it, I'd support that. That'd be a good thing. I mean, I think we have some, we have all these quotes from people who are like, oh yeah, I mean, if you put a bunch of people in a room and they have to talk about this and, Everyone's going to come around to a yes. Like this is just common sense.
This is what you should be doing. Oh, there's a 400 percent tax on meat tomorrow. Well, no more hamburgers. I mean, these are all, I'm just like spitting off some quotes from... so maybe there's a path to really radical change for animals that doesn't go primarily through people going vegan in larger and larger numbers, but instead goes through turning this into a political movement where people are putting the onus on government policy to prod collective action.
Mariann Sullivan: And can we get to the, like, what ends up being a stumbling block for so many people in any kind of reform? I mean, and you say it's not in Eastern Europe, but it definitely is here. And that's like this idea, which I've never embraced, that welfare reforms, I'm not sure I would call this a welfare reform.
It's kind of akin to a welfare reform... make people feel better about eating animals, and therefore they're not only not the right way forward, they're not only a waste of time, but they're actually harmful. I think that has been one of the most, unless it's true, and I just don't have any reason to believe it's true, because I don't see why that would be true, and it seems to me that most people don't care at all, don't feel bad at all about buying factory farmed meat, so it's not like...
It's not like if we tell them something, they're going to feel better about it because they don't feel bad about it. So I've never really bought into that, but I think it is a huge worry for people that in making reforms, in telling people, Oh, well, you should feel good because you voted against slaughtering lambs.
I do feel good. Let's go out and have hamburgers. Is that a thing? Is it just not true? Is it, is there any reason to believe it is true? And, what do people do about it if they're worried about that?
Aidan Kankyoku: This is a very important question
It's an empirical question that we don't have an answer to. That's the first thing I'm gonna say like there's Conceivably, there's a way to really robustly answer this question about how do welfare reforms change the way that people think about the position of animals used for food more broadly and the idea of moving away from it more fully? There's some evidence so far that's been collected through different research that contradicts it.
So it's mixed results about whether it leads people to think more about actually, you know, maybe the Prop 12 campaign and learning about what's happening to hens in cage farms and then they do research and think those cage free farms are better and actually more people look into reducing their consumption or it makes people more comfortable.
I mean, I think you're right. It's like Well, you know, I actually do think people feel bad about what happens, but it just doesn't matter because they're still buying it. It's like, yeah, okay, they feel bad about it, but the point is not for people to feel shitty when they're consuming these products.
The point is for them to not consume the products. So, so I don't want to brush aside those concerns because I think it's unresolved and it could be that winning certain welfare reforms... I don't think it's decisively proven by any means, but there's a there's a logic to what we're thinking people would be thinking, like, oh no, we made it better.
And it's certainly true that the vast majority of people don't think that the solution is to get rid of animal farming completely. They think that the solution is to make it better. Now their idea of making it better is economically, it's a fantasy, obviously we all know that but that is how they think. So could it be sending that signal to them? What I would say is I think whether welfare campaigns are sending a negative signal, I don't think they send the really strong positive signal that we're trying to send. So I think that whatever the movement's doing, what we're focusing our public engagement on, like fortunately, a lot of the welfare campaigns now, they're targeted at corporations and corporate boardrooms, and it's actually not primarily about engaging with public opinion.
That leaves a big opening to what we should be engaging with public opinion. That's been the theme of this whole conversation. I think that's not a controversial claim among most activists. Like, yeah, we've got to convince people to support our movement. And so it leaves an opportunity that we can really choose, you know, what kind of policies or asks or demands or narratives do we want to be presenting to the public?
And I think it's correct that incremental welfare improvements probably aren't the strongest story to be telling to the public. I don't think a slaughterhouse ban in Denver is an incremental welfare improvement. I think it's a conversation about, should we,
Mariann Sullivan: wasn't fair. I admit it.
Aidan Kankyoku: No, it's okay. I mean...
Mariann Sullivan: it's different.
Aidan Kankyoku: Some people will probably see it that way.
The funny thing is it's almost the opposite. I mean, it's more of a NIMBY thing, you know. If we're gonna get some people on board who aren't like on board with the whole animal rights message, it's gonna be like, oh, slaughterhouses shouldn't be in Denver, they should be out in the middle of nowhere.
Mariann Sullivan: Must smell bad.
Aidan Kankyoku: Yeah, right, which there's actually been some criticism from animal activists about that choice of policy, and it's a legitimate thing. I just think the benefits outweigh that. And anything we do has pros and cons so we have to make choices sometimes about what kind of negatives we're willing to accept.
Mariann Sullivan: And we have to face the fact that it's a very big lift. It's a tiny little movement and we're trying to change the way the entire world eats and has
eaten for like, a really long time. So we have to give ourselves a break
Aidan Kankyoku: And a huge structural part of the economy.
I mean, absolutely....
Mariann Sullivan: Well, I could do this all day, but you know, I have to let you go because we're running out of time. But I really encourage everybody to go read through your website because there's so much more information there. It's just so exciting to talk about somebody who's thinking strategically and in new ways and, you know, with a relatively positive outlook, so thanks so much for all of it, Aidan, and thanks so much for joining us today.
Aidan Kankyoku: Thanks, Mariann. Yeah, I guess I just want to acknowledge to any listeners that there's probably a lot of like threads that we opened that we, you know, didn't answer and didn't tie off, and a lot of those questions don't have simple answers.
Mariann Sullivan: Was there anything else you want to add before...?
Aidan Kankyoku: Not, not any one thing that's burning.
It's just to say, I think for some of the questions that you might be left with, I may or may not have an idea of what some possible answers are, but I also just want to say, I very much think that nearly everyone in this movement is capable of, thinking through these questions.
So I hope you don't feel sold out or anything.
Mariann Sullivan: I don't think that's the case. Thanks, Aidan.
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