When piglets Lilly and Lizzie were rescued from a giant pig farm, their rescuers spoke openly about what they had done. A multi-year FBI investigation and state felony prosecution followed. At the end of their trial, supporters expected them to go to prison, potentially for years. The rescuers had gotten their affairs in order. We thought they’d be held in custody between the verdict and sentencing. We wondered how they would do in their yearly parole board hearings, given that they’d never express remorse. This was goodbye for a long time.
I was in the courtroom when the decision was announced. It all started the way we expected. After deliberating for nearly eight hours, the jury entered the room, stone-faced. They didn’t look at us. The judge asked if the jury had come to a decision. They had. The bailiff passed the written decision between the judge, the foreperson, and the clerk. But then something strange happened. Charge by charge, we heard the words “not guilty.”
It was a fantastic moment. We were elated. The bailiff scolded us gently, saying, “I get it, but you need to be quiet.” But how were we supposed to be quiet when the unbelievable had happened? The judge had referred to Lilly and Lizzie by name. The jurors had asked why we didn’t rescue more piglets. We had argued for rescue in a court of law, and we had won.
This moment of sweetness was particularly unexpected for me. In the years since I’d participated in Open Rescue myself, I had grown doubtful about our hopes that it would produce wins in the courtroom. After all, I served as DxE’s legal coordinator for a little over two years- hiring lawyers, setting up defendant meetings, and occasionally talking down the worried parent of an activist facing charges. In all this time, of dozens of criminal defendants, not one went to trial. Cases were dropped, activists took deals so they wouldn’t need to continue their cases, and mostly, cases were delayed long past the point when I, impatient with the glacial pace of the legal system, left DxE to start Pax Fauna.
Now that the celebrations are over and regular work resumes, this post is an attempt to make an honest assessment of Open Rescue as a tactic to create social change for animals, in light of a victory we never expected.
The rescue of Lilly and Lizzie happened on March 7, 2017, and their rescuers, Wayne Hsiung and Paul Darwin Picklesimer, were acquitted over five years later, on October 8, 2022. In 2017, DxE was releasing open rescues monthly, conducting mass trainings, and hoping that open rescue would end up being a viral tactic that would touch every farm and slaughterhouse in the world.
Since then, DxE has moved away from open rescue. At one point, Wayne had 17 pending felony charges, which seemed like plenty. Most of the cases took years to resolve (several are still plodding through pretrial hearings), and, without making it to trial, they didn’t always get the media attention we hoped for. Now that long-awaited evidence of the outcomes of Open Rescue cases are available, it is a prime moment for the movement to consider using it again. In this article, we’ll outline the lessons learned for the animal freedom movement from the Smithfield victory, and the implications for future strategy.
One defense strategy batted around in the heyday of DxE’s open rescues was that we could convince a jury to simply ignore unjust laws and make a decision based on their conscience, known as jury nullification. But it seems that’s not exactly what happened here. The jury did not explicitly decide that rescue is moral and Paul and Wayne didn’t deserve to be punished- they decided that the prosecution didn’t meet its burden of proof that the particular crimes charged had been committed. (From juror interviews afterwards, it seems that a moral motivation was also present, at least for some.) It also wasn’t a case that created a binding legal precedent. That means that nothing has changed regarding the legality of open rescue. Of course, activists hope cases like this can set a cultural precedent, and they can also be used as persuasive authority, information that informs, but does not dictate, the actions of judges in the future, even outside of the state of Utah.
Another piece to the theory whose result was inconclusive was the necessity defense- a legal concept in which a criminal act is justified if it prevents immediate, greater harm. The judge in this case forbade DxE from introducing it (as usually happens for animal and environmental activists hoping to claim it), but it would sound something like this: Paul and Wayne knew that animals were suffering terribly inside Circle Four Farms, and they were justified in committing trespass, a smaller harm, in order to stop a greater harm- criminal animal cruelty. While it was explictly forbidden, this defense was both implied by the defendants in their discussion of the poor health of Lillie and Lizzie, and possibly common sense to the jurors who aquitted. My guess is that the necessity defense represents an unquantifiable moral component to this case. It can’t be expected to earn aquittals by itself, since it’s rarely included in jury instructions, but it’s necessary for winning over juries all the same. (You can hear more from the jurors at an upcoming by the Denver Animal Activist Defense Project.)
It was, however, a proof of concept of part of a legal theory that Wayne and DxE have been touting for years- that under the right circumstances, diligent open rescue investigators won’t be guilty of any crime more serious than trespass. (In Utah, prosecutors must choose between charging burglary and trespass- this isn’t true everywhere.) Because investigators enter farms with only the intent of documenting what’s happening in the facility, they aren’t guilty of burglary, which generally requires entering a building with the intent to commit a theft or felony. Because the animals they rescue are on the verge of death, they aren’t guilty of theft, which usually requires that one steal something of value. However, courts and juries do not always agree with activists in the assessment of the monetary value of sick rescued animals, or the relevance of animal’s value, such as in Wayne’s own conviction at trial after rescuing Rain, a baby goat with pneumonia. (Another upcoming test will come from my own charges of burglary and theft in association with the rescue of beagles from a breeding and testing facility in Wisconsin, each valued at $1200.) In the future, activists may be able to set themselves up for success by rescuing animals whose urgent medical needs cost more than they are worth to the farm. (Of course, specific laws and jury instructions will vary according to circumstances and jurisdictions, and I’m writing this from the perspective of an activist and not an attorney or legal expert.)
Possible downsides to Open Rescue as a strategy could be the cost, the difficulty of replicating the legal strategy, and a risk of an undesirable media narrative. None of these seem insurmountable for a savvy group of activists.
Costs of the investigation itself can be in the realm of a few thousand dollars- lower if equipment (e.g. cameras) is used for multiple investigations. These include flights and hotels for a small team, a rental car, biosecurity supplies, and vet visits. The legal fees are where it really adds up. Lawyers can cost tens of thousands of dollars, to which we can add the price of specialized investigators or jury studies, additional tens of thousands of dollars. This price might be comparable to undercover investigations, which require a salary for an investigator for months in addition to the equipment and costs associated with preparing the story for release. However, the vast majority of Open Rescues were never prosecuted, resulting in a very low average cost overall.
Watching Wayne Hsiung represent himself in court, I was struck by the thought that he was the most qualified person in the world for this particular task- a lawyer and practiced public speaker who had been preparing for this moment for years. This might lead one to conclude that others can’t replicate his strategy, but I disagree. While Wayne’s decision to represent himself made for some exciting theater, I don’t believe it was necessary for the verdict. As touching as it was to hear him say to the jury, “I don't actually want you to acquit us on a legal technicality, I want you to acquit us as a matter of conscience” it seems that they probably were acquitted on a legal technicality as discussed above- the piglets didn’t have any monetary value, and perhaps that they didn’t have the intent to rescue when they entered the farm.
I believe that with competent counsel and no particular gift for public speaking, this case implies that other investigators could have a decent chance of acquittal from serious charges under similar sets of facts. (That’s not to say that any lawyer will do- competent and dedicated activist attorneys are vital and rare. Advice on their selection would easily fill a blog of the same length.)
A final concern with Open Rescue that I want to address is the narrative put forth through the media. DxE can be considered a liberationist group. That is, they are not interested in lowering the mortality rates of piglets in factory farms or winning slightly bigger cages for egg-laying hens- they mean to advocate for animals as individuals who deserve rights. However, this insistence on liberation over welfare doesn’t always get through to the media.
Of the Smithfield Investigation, the most widely consumed coverage came from the New York Times, the subtitle of which read, “The Utah trial highlighted what the defendants argued is a lack of transparency for the treatment of animals at large corporate farms.” It also included a discussion of corporate transparency, gestation crates, and a quote from Wayne Hsuing saying “Instead of trying to put us in prison… the better thing to do is just take care of your animals.” Facing a trial and serious criminal consequences, it can be tempting for a defendant or organization to adapt their message to one that may be perceived as more palatable and more likely to win the case and woo the media.
However, unlike many of DxE’s other Open Rescues that focused on dispelling the Humane Myth, the Smithfield Investigation’s narrative was more focused on corporate lies around welfare. (The company had previously vowed to phase out gestation crates, while its largest facility still used them.) I don’t believe that Open Rescue itself implies a welfare angle if the advocates behind it don’t want one.
In contrast with undercover operations, Open Rescue allows for a quality of storytelling that allows the audience to identify a single victim to feel empathy for. Discussion of particularly cruel practices or deceptive marketing can be accompanied by the story of an individual who survived, transforming a dark story about corporate wrongdoing into one containing a vision for change. These stories are also strengthened by the honesty of the activists, their willingness to break unjust laws in the open and demand their day in court.
Additionally, Open Rescue allows for the telling of many different stories- ones that may resonate on social media, traditional media, with lawmakers, and for juries, all of whom have different interests. While the media may not pick up every case of open rescue, if we try enough different ways, eventually some of them will blow up.
Open Rescue allows activists to be transformed by what they see. Now, when we speak about animals, we have firsthand knowledge of their lives and deaths. The risk we take in conducting Open Rescue functions as a signal of our commitment, to ourselves and to others. DxE’s mass open rescues and a similar tactic used by Meat the Victims transformed hundreds of activists into people with firsthand experience.
Importantly, this experience is of bearing witness and also of helping. By rescuing animals, or at least stopping the functioning of the facility for some time, activists’ witnessing of violence is accompanied by intervening, leading to more empowerment and less burnout than bearing witness on its own.
Open Rescue transforms not only the activists’ internal sense of motivation but also their credibility as messengers to the public: from here on, they can attest as eyewitnesses to the barbarity of animal farming.
To date, Open Rescue has done important work at transforming activists, challenging the humane myth, uncovering previously unknown atrocities, and earning a voice in the media, not to mention saving real lives. In the future, Open Rescue could be used in even more creative ways than we’ve previously seen. For just one example, in the context of an animal rights ballot measure, donors to the opposition could be identified and their farms could be investigated by groups unaffiliated with the ballot measure, with investigations published just before election day. This would provide both important publicity for the issue and accountability to those who would financially support an anti-animal position.
The full potential of Open Rescue as a tactic has yet to be fully realized. While it’s understandable that, in the period of time where many charges were pending and few were resolved, activists moved away from it, the time is now right to reinvest energy in openly investigating violent facilities and rescuing the animals we find there. We hope to see open rescue happen by greater numbers of activists, at greater frequency, and to save more lives than has been possible before.
While I do feel for the animals that are killed, I feel like hunting and eating meat are connected to us in like a very primal way… It adheres to the natural order of things, to consume meat products, and animal products… We don't cry when wolves eat rabbits… And I think that we are losing sight of our connection and our place in nature as like apex predators.
After interviewing hundreds of ordinary Americans about their views on using animals for food and noticing the themes represented in the quote above, I reread Hatchet, an iconic young adult novel in which a 13-year-old boy named Brian gets stranded in the Canadian wilderness and, against all odds, figures out how to survive. I was struck by how, despite my dedication to animal freedom, I found myself rooting for Brian as he killed and dismembered fishes, birds, and rabbits. For years, I’ve rolled my eyes when people bring up their ancestors or what’s natural to justify eating animals, but in reading Hatchet suddenly I was able to understand something important behind these justifications that had seemed so shallow to me before.
By imagining a sympathetic character holding those same objections, this essay will explore a strategy for an empathy-first persuasion approach. I’ll present a model for understanding society’s attachment to eating animals as a distant intergenerational trauma response, illustrated by quotes from interview participants in our animal rights messaging study. I’ll share how Brian, Hatchet’s fictional protagonist, helped me see this all more clearly. Most importantly, I’ll give you tools for how to respond when you come up against this in your own advocacy for animals.
At Pax Fauna, we believe in storytelling as a vehicle for change, and in Hatchet, we’re invited into Brian’s world. So let’s imagine what it would be like to understand Brian, and in doing so, understand the cultural forces supporting animal agriculture.
I came to see Hatchet as representing something deeper than the exciting adventure book I experienced as a kid. Brian’s situation is an acute version of the situation our ancestors found themselves in for countless generations- often in mortal danger or a few wrong moves from starvation.
The concept of intergenerational trauma explains how ordinary people who’ve never had an experience like Brian’s could still have the same reaction to animal advocates. First observed in acute historical tragedies- the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide- intergenerational trauma is a phenomenon in which trauma symptoms appear in children and grandchildren of people who experienced trauma. Put simply, trauma is often passed around in society like an electrical signal in the brain- always moving but never gone. One person expresses their trauma in a way that harms another, which can be metabolized as its own trauma. It’s important to understand that intergenerational trauma is not only passed down through abuse or neglect but also by transmitting a worldview shaped by trauma, one that emphasizes fear and victimhood or stoicism and self-reliance6, or even through epigenetics, changes in how the bodies of younger generations express genes caused by experiences of their ancestors.
It would be great if our lives could be a Disney movie, you know? But it's not. You know, it's just not.
Unfortunately, they still have to be killed. I don't like it. But in order for you to get the nutrients that you need, it's necessary. And I don't think there's really any way to get around it.
Brian was put into a situation where many animal advocates would agree that killing an animal is morally acceptable- it seemed that if he didn’t, he would die. As his eating became routine, I wondered what it would be like for him to return to society after having had the experience of killing and dismembering animals out of necessity.
If Brian was a target of our advocacy, my guess is that he would have a desperate need to be heard on his experience, his relationship with animals, and the depth of his connection with nature. If we tried to immediately appeal to how unnecessary it is for him now to eat animals, he’d be frustrated with us for not hearing him, and this need to be heard might be so great that it could present as hostility.
Reading about Brian crash-landing a plane alone into the Canadian wilderness, I found myself viewing his situation in a much different light than I had as a child- by repeatedly coming so close to dying, and by doing so totally alone, Brian undoubtedly experienced a world-changing trauma. Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, one of the world’s leading experts on trauma, writes in The Body Keeps the Score, “trauma [is] experienced not as memories but as disruptive physical reactions in the present.” That’s to say that, when coming face to face with reminders of the trauma such as the question of eating animals, Brian might exhibit some dysregulation of his nervous system- strong emotions that, to an outside observer, might seem completely irrational.
Animal advocates are familiar with this level of objection- people who become angry and argumentative upon learning that you eat differently than them. Trauma educator Sarah Peyton writes about another level of faulty thinking that can be formed through trauma. “[In the face of trauma,] we learn to make unconscious contracts with ourselves that are attempting to keep us safe, but often end up creating self-sabotage and preventing self-kindness.” That is, when, in a traumatic situation, we learn strategies to survive, those strategies often persist past the point that they’re useful. This applies, for Brian, both to the act of eating animals and the cognitive trick of objectifying them.
The part of Brian that holds trauma (the amygdala5, for you technically inclined) can’t tell time, and remains as if “frozen in time in the traumas [he] experienced.”4 as described by Schwartz and Morrisette, authors of No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model. It wouldn’t know that Brian was safely returned to modern society- it’s still as awake as it was in the woods, watching for danger and prey. When Brian learned to objectify animals as a survival mechanism in the face of trauma, that could have persisted long after his rescue.
Humans, as a species, are reluctant to change. Because change means something new and new things are scary. And it goes back to our hunter days, in the dark, huddling around the campfires and all that, you know…. Anything new was a threat or a potential threat. And we still sort of have that instinct, you know, baked into our DNA.
When we challenge the moral validity of eating animals, it may sound to some like we are dismissing the entire legacy upon which we’ve built our lives. While we express compassion for animals, they hear disrespect towards the sacrifice others have made for us to be here. When people bring up their ancestors eating meat, indigenous people who hunt, or lions, they’re defending the validity of the very ground on which they stand. We can consider this particular form of defensiveness a deeply held trauma response formed long, long ago.
I'm questioning… why we're calling [plant-based eating] responsible when, for other cultures, part of their culture is to eat meat. So it's a taking away from their heritage calling this responsible when for them, this is the irresponsible choice of not following what their ancestors have grown up on.
Trauma needs empathy and warmth to heal. Van Der Kolk writes that “Recovery from trauma involves (re)connecting with our fellow human beings.” To understand what society might need to heal the trauma response of animal exploitation, let’s consider the empathy Brian might need before being convinced to support animal freedom.
Until we’ve empathized fully with the terror of living in fear of starvation, we can’t address the trauma of killing animals. Brian would still be defensive over his decision to kill animals until he’s fully heard about the desperation that led him there.
First of all, people have been killing animals since the beginning of time… I just kind of feel like it's just, that's the way it is. Someone's on top and someone's at the bottom.
Brian might also need to be acknowledged for his resilience. He doesn’t regret doing what he needed to do to survive. In fact, he’s proud of himself for the strength, determination, and intelligence he displayed by surviving in the bush with no preparation. He doesn’t want to abandon his resilience, and no one wants to abandon the resilience it took for their ancestors to survive. When people express an attachment to meat, fur, or other animal products as a cultural symbol of success and abundance, they may need acknowledgment, and even celebration, of their resilience.
What’s more, Brian feels a profound connection to nature, probably far greater than you or I do. He feels gratitude for the animals he killed and has peace with the fact that he killed them.
Saying [eating meat is] unnecessary would be unfair to, say, indigenous cultures, because they have a very spiritual reverence and respectful relationship with the animals that they take the lives of. And I think if we listen to indigenous wisdom, we could find a way to revolutionize our relationship with animals that we do kill.
The final piece Brian might need empathy on, in order to be able to hear an animal freedom message, is his grief at having left the woods behind. He felt connected to nature, and now he’s surrounded by people who don’t understand him and only want to talk about things that seem frivolous to him. In the woods, after a while, he felt in his element. His senses were elevated- he noticed every little detail. In the city, he’s bombarded by noise.
There is certainly parallel grief held in the collective consciousness. Deep down, many (or perhaps all) of us are mourning our severance with the natural world. We can recognize it whenever people reject modernity for its own sake, such as discomfort with cultured meat or B12 supplements. What would it sound like to empathize with that grief before asking for movement on animals?
In a sequel, Brian’s Return, Brian has difficulty adjusting to modern life. He feels stressed, alienated, and when triggered, viciously attacks a classmate. It isn’t until he meets someone who listens to him with empathy that he’s able to find a pathway out of his distress.
As tempting as it may be to respond to arguments about respect for nature, culture, and legacy, with another argument, such as by declaring that it’s unnecessary to eat meat in the modern world or by introducing evidence that humans fare better on a vegan diet, we recommend connecting first with the values that the argument is coming from and connecting with those values the best you can. That might sound something like this:
I hear you bring up lions eating gazelles in nature, and I can respond to that, but first I want to make sure I understand where it’s coming from. Is it important to you to be connected to the natural world? Me too, very much, and I’d love to hear more about your sense of connection to nature… For humans to not think of ourselves as separate from nature? Yeah, I feel that too, like, I feel really sad when people talk about these pie-in-the-sky technological solutions to climate change because I don’t think we can just invent ourselves out of every problem. Is it kind of like that?
Connecting first on the shared values behind the argument, however frustrating, is a way to disarm the defensiveness born from trauma and hopefully, help someone give themselves permission to change their mind.
If my ancestors didn't hunt, I probably wouldn't be here today. Because I mean, that's what we had to do for survival. But I mean, I think some people would also say that, I mean, it's kind of unethical when we're in a point, you know, in the world where we don't have to do that. It's not like 1850, and I'm, you know, a pioneer in California, killing a bear for meat or something, and it just doesn't work like that anymore. Like, I can go to the store, I don't have to go and shoot an animal or, you know, catch a fish to eat.
In the author’s note following Brian’s Return, we learn that the author, Gary Paulsen, is a vegetarian. If Paulsen, a vegetarian who believes it’s wrong to kill animals, can write a story so sympathetic to the hunter in our history, surely we can all afford to employ a little empathy in our advocacy. In an interview on NPR, he said of a time in his life before he even published Hatchet, "And I'd quit trapping because I don't - I decided that it was not correct to kill animals. And I'm not going to get into a big controversial thing, but for me, it's not the right thing to do. I can't - I'm a vegetarian now."
This piece contains the processed data informing the findings we present in Where the Animal Movement will be Reborn. We recommend reading that piece first if you haven't already, then coming back here if you want to see the data.
Data was drawn from Meta’s Social Connectedness Index. We used Python to draw out data for each of the counties in which we were interested, adding data on the census population of each county. I examined the data for each county and noted more counties that showed up between the different counties’ data sets. Data for each of these is included except for Arlington, VA, which appears to be highly connected to many counties, we suspect because of its proximity to Washington D.C. While it shows up as a top connector for many of our interesting counties, these counties are not also a high connector for it. That is, if you live in Boulder County, you’re more likely to have a Facebook friend in Arlington County, VA than many other counties across the country, but someone in Arlington is not particularly likely to have a Facebook friend in Boulder or the other counties in which we’re interested. Hennepin, MN (Minneapolis) and Davidson, TN (Nashville) behaved similarly, showing up as top connectors for the interesting cities but without a mutual connection in most cases.
I first examined data for Boulder CO, Alameda (Berkeley CA), Multnomah (Portland OR), and Buncombe (Asheville NC). After examining these data, I examined the data for other counties, which frequently appeared as connectors to the initial counties. Counties with less than 200,000 people were filtered out in all cases, because small populations have less potential for connections in general, and because small numbers are easier to skew, such as by one family moving from one county to another.
Counties in the same state and in neighboring states were filtered out as well because geography is already a well-established predictor of connectedness. However, because California and Texas are large states with interesting areas near their geographical centers, neighboring states were not excluded from their data.
For each county, after filtering the data, I recorded a list of the counties that appeared, in order. When several or more counties outside the targets appeared before one of the target counties, I recorded the target counties with a number, which indicates that counties rank in connectedness out of 3192, the total number of counties included in the dataset. Note that this does not account for filtering, so in general, there wasn’t a huge difference in the rank of the last county listed in order and the first one listed with a rank number.
Top 10 connectedness indicates that after filtering, a county appeared as one of the first 10 listed. Top 10% connectedness indicates that the county’s rank is 319 or less. Top 10% connectedness is usually only slightly broader than Top 10.
Boulder seems to be very well connected to the other counties we examined, appearing in the top 10 connectedness with all of them, and having all of the target counties in the top 10% of its connectedness. While Arlington VA, which is next to Washington DC, was highly connected with all of the counties we looked at, these counties didn’t appear as its most connected counties. In fact, with the exclusion of Arlington, each of the counties that appear as high out-of-area matches with Boulder is also highly connected with each other. Jefferson county, near Boulder and Denver, also often appears highly connected to the relevant counties.
The Bay Area is highly connected to the counties we looked at. San Francisco, like Arlington, is a highly connected area in general, but Alameda county’s data displays a unique and mutual connection with the other areas- Boulder, Portland, Ann Arbor, and Austin. Its connection with Nashville and Minneapolis is also in the top 10% of connectedness.
Washington and Idaho were filtered out as neighboring states. Californian states were initially not filtered out in order to examine the connectedness with the target Bay Area counties. As hypothesized, they ranked high in connectedness with Multnomah, in addition to Santa Cruz, which was later added to the list of target areas. When CA counties were filtered out, the further counties appeared as highly connected.
While Buncombe, NC was highly connected to the other areas we examined, its highest connections were in the broader geographical area. Only when bordering states (SC, TN, VA, GA) and also nearby states (FL, KY) were excluded did our target cities show up as its top connections. Given the size of North Carolina and its neighboring states when compared with the larger Western states, this probably does not indicate a lower level of connectivity than the other areas have. Low connectedness with Dane, WI, and Washtenaw, MI is noted.
Travis seems slightly less connected than the others, but all of the target areas are still relatively high, though Santa Cruz and Hawaii fall outside the top 10%.
I filtered out Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan as neighboring states. Buncombe, Alameda, Santa Cruz, and Hawaii fall outside the top 10%. Multnomah and Travis are the nextmost connected counties after Hamilton, IN, afterwhich only target counties are listed.
Santa Cruz is geographically close to the Bay Area counties but not directly next to them, and with the exception of Dane, all of the interesting counties are in the top 10%. Santa Cruz is about two hours from Berkeley by car, or about three hours via public transit.
I filtered out Ohio, IL, and IN as neighboring states. WI didn’t show up in the data very frequently, even though Michigan’s upper peninsula borders Wisconsin, perhaps explained by Ann Arbor being in the Southeast corner of Michigan, furthest from Wisconsin. These data are presented without excluding Wisconsin.
Our Bay Area counties show up as the most connected, and Portland is still in the top 10, as are Boulder and Buncombe. If we exclude CA and OR as neighboring states, then Boulder is #3. Travis and Dane fall outside of the top 10%.
None of our target counties are in Denver’s Top 10, but the majority are in the top 10%. Hawaii and Santa Cruz fall just outside the top 10% connectedness, while Alameda is around the 15th percentile. Denver and Boulder are about an hour apart by both car and public transit- close enough that activists living in one could access the other for events without staying overnight.
Iowa and Wisconsin were filtered out. While Hennepin shows up as a high connector for many of the interesting cities, only Boulder is a top connector for it, though Multnomah falls just outside of the top 10%.
Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi were filtered out to reveal Buncombe NC as the top connection, which is in a bordering state, and Denver as the third highest. With the exception of Buncombe and Travis, all of the interesting counties fell outside of the top 10%.
Any questions about our methodology? Comment below!
Back when I was an organizer with Direct Action Everywhere, trying to figure out how to build a mass movement for animals, there were a few strategic puzzles that just kept coming up, year after year. One of the most persistent was the debate between concentration and distribution.
One possible strategy was to concentrate all of our energy in one place. We could carefully select a city where we had the best chance of establishing a historic precedent for animals, then encourage dedicated activists to move there, in the same way that the gay community concentrated in San Francisco, creating new norms of LGBT acceptance that slowly spread across the country.
But we could also imagine benefits of a more distributed strategy. By investing in chapters all over the country, we could reach more people and engage more activists. Even if vegans are willing to uproot their lives and move to a new place, it might not be very strategic to remove people from the social networks where they can have the most influence. Being widely distributed would also enable us to seize opportunities wherever they might pop up: it’s impossible to guess where the next dramatic escape of an animal from a slaughterhouse will happen (a fantastic opportunity for a protest to seize the narrative) or where an unexpectedly sympathetic city council might take shape. This was the let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom strategy of SNCC, Martin Luther King, and other civil rights strategists in the 20th century, all of whom built deep networks of community organizing all across the American south.
(This problem is specific to social movements in the United States and other countries with a large population spread out more-or-less evenly across a massive area. For this reason, I was always jealous of movements like in the UK, where a whopping 14% of the population live in the London metro area and 87% within a four-hour train ride, allowing nearly everyone in the country to get to a major protest in London and still be home in time for dinner.)
Well, I recently stumbled onto an answer to this old predicament: A solution that promises the best advantages of both concentration and distribution. It happened in a funny way.
At Pax Fauna (where, sure enough, I’m still trying to build a mass movement for animals) we work remotely, which has allowed me to move out of my house in Boulder and spend several months traveling, doing stints of house-sitting and couch-surfing in various cities across the country. Well, actually, I’ve been drawn to certain cities in particular: Boulder, Berkeley, Portland, Madison, Asheville, and Austin. When people ask me, I’ve struggled to name exactly why I feel drawn to spend time in each one, what it is that these cities seem to have in common besides being the sorts of places angry counter-protesters tell animal rights activists to “go back to.” I certainly have personal connections in each, but somehow it feels deeper. I’ll sometimes say something like, “There’s kind of a vortex between all these cities, right?”
Right, it turns out.
I was recently introduced to an amazing data set published by Facebook, which measures the connectedness between every county in the United States. The Social Connectedness Index essentially measures the density of Facebook friendship connections between any two counties. We learned about it in Change, a book by social network researcher Damon Centola, who advises that it is a pretty good way of measuring real social connectedness at this point in time.
So I decided to use this data to test my theory about the “inter-city vortex.” I grabbed the data for each of the counties I was interested in. It’s basically a spreadsheet listing every possible pair of counties, with a score for their relative connectedness. (With 3192 counties in the country, the file has over 10 million lines of data. It crashed Aidan’s computer. We had to call our friend Steven Rouk for help. Thanks, Steven!)
As one would expect, each county is most connected to itself, followed by neighboring counties, other counties in the same state, and often a few counties in neighboring states. This much isn’t new, of course. We know people who live near us.
But for many counties, when we look past those initial close geographical connections, we find county pairings start to pop up that aren’t geographically close at all. As I looked at the places I was most interested in, even though they’re literally spread all across the country, some of the same counties kept popping up.
Some groups of counties are indeed highly connected to each other, forming different socio-cultural networks geographically dispersed throughout the US. And sure enough, one such network was that progressive clique I’d been trying to put my finger on. It included all of the places I’d originally hypothesized, as well as a few I wasn’t expecting.
But don’t worry, this piece is about more than just providing scientific validation for my travel plans, though that’s a nice plus. This network of cities is our answer to the problem of concentration vs. distribution.
Change is a book about how new norms spread through social networks. Or, more accurately, why some norms spread and others don’t. In it, Centola works out that the answer has much less to do with the norm itself (i.e. is it “viral” enough) and much more to do with the layout of the social network it is spreading through. In the simplest terms, while information spreads through social networks like a virus, jumping quickly from person to person across networks, behavior change spreads very differently. These complex contagions (such as believing in animal rights or participating in a social movement) spread through tightly knit social clusters on the periphery of a network, building momentum at first by reaching critical mass in small, relatively isolated clusters. Centola calls this the Snowball Strategy (read all about it here).
So far, the Snowball Strategy would seem to be an argument in favor of social movements concentrating their efforts in one place. But there’s one more crucial step. A new norm starts by building momentum in social clusters on the periphery. But how does it break out of that cluster and into the mainstream?
The answer, according to Centola, is wide bridges. Behavior change doesn’t spread easily. It has to overcome a lot of resistance. The reason these changes start in social clusters on the periphery is that these clusters are made up of strong ties- important personal connections involving a lot of trust and social influence. Weak ties, like acquaintances we meet at conferences or the dentist we see twice a year, aren’t powerful enough to spread new social norms. You’re probably not going to change fundamental beliefs or behavior just because your dentist tells you to, right? (Be honest: how often have you been flossing lately?)
Well, it turns out this principle doesn’t just apply on the individual level. For a new norm to make the jump from one social cluster to another, the two clusters need to have a strong connection. And the way that social groups are strongly connected is through wide bridges. Basically, two groups that have lots of connections between them share a wide bridge. At this level, the strength of the ties is less important than the number.
Which finally brings us back, as you guessed, to our network of cities. The Social Connectedness Index shows that the following cities all share wide bridges with each other:
Simply put, what happens in Portland or Asheville matters more in Boulder than what happens in, say, Cleveland or Las Vegas, because of the wide social bridges between these cities. But why are we talking about this network of cities in particular? They share more than just wide bridges. These are all very liberal cities, and several are college towns with younger-than-average populations. Besides gender, the two strongest demographic variables predicting greater support for animal rights are liberal politics and youth.
All of this points to a potential strategy for the animal rights movement: to invest our resources neither in one central location nor in complete dispersion, but instead in a carefully chosen network of cities throughout the country. The essential hypothesis is that efforts and changing norms in each of these cities would be mutually reinforcing. If a vegan in Boulder decides to join a protest, her influence makes it more likely that her friends in Berkeley and Asheville will decide to join a similar protest organized in their area. If the politics of animal freedom catch on among young people in Portland, they’ll spread it to their friends in Austin and Madison, reinforcing activists' message in those cities. (In Change, Centola documents several modern trends that spread in precisely this way, from the hashtag #blacklivesmatter to the original adoption of Twitter as a tool.)
By focusing on just this handful of cities, we can effectively concentrate our resources while building a genuinely nationwide movement. If we can get animal rights to catch on in this peripheral network of hip, liberal cities, we’ll have anchors down in half a dozen states (including some solidly red states, Texas and North Carolina). From there, our snowball can build into an avalanche.
We’re calling on any organization that runs local or area-based programs to join a conversation: what would it look like for many movement organizations to combine our efforts in a carefully chosen network of cities like this? Imagine what would be possible. Imagine the kind of flourishing movement we could create by giving it everything we’ve got in just the right places. University campaigns, vegan restaurant pop-ups, raucous anti-fur protests, ambitious ballot measures, and everything else you can think of all within a few square miles of each other. Surely, that’s what it looks like for animal freedom to become normalized.
We’re not married to only these cities; for one thing, they’re whiter than the nation as a whole, and weighted towards blue states, which carries a risk of locking us in as a partisan issue. We just want to get the conversation started. If your org is involved in any strategies like this at the city level, comment here or reach out!
This report aims to provide an overview of the narratives currently in play by the industry, advocates themselves, and the Media. By noticing which narratives are and aren’t being echoed by the Media, we examine implications for advocates and inform the later phases of our messaging research.
In conducting a review of materials recently disseminated by advocacy groups, we included website content from The Humane League (THL), Mercy for Animals (MFA), and Farm Sanctuary, as well as press releases from Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) regarding animals used for food, excluding press releases regarding animals used for other purposes such as entertainment and testing. Also included in this review were transcripts of popular videos from prominent advocates Earthling Ed, James Aspey, and Vegan Evan. The prominent individual advocates are considered one group for the purpose of analysis, given the cohesive strategy they collectively represent- convincing individuals to go vegan.
While food is often discussed in the materials we reviewed, we intentionally excluded advocates known primarily for their discussion of food and health, regardless of their notoriety. We also exclude those whose primary audience consists of animal advocates or vegans, favoring instead materials directed toward the public at large.
In our review of industry narratives, we conducted Google Searches of Superbowl ad meat, TV commercial meat, Cheese ads, meat ads, and milk ads. We also reviewed the ads section of the website for Center for Consumer Freedom, the Animal Agriculture Alliance, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, Farm Babe, and Meatingplace. We also examined the websites for animal product US Checkoff Programs, which are government-run advertising programs responsible for campaigns such as Got Milk? and Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner. They’re funded by mandatory fees paid by industry and thus are strictly regulated: US checkoff programs can use government funding to advocate for their product but not against any other. Checkoff programs we included were the American Egg Board, the American Lamb Board, the National Dairy Promotion and Research Council, and the National Pork Board.
To review Media articles we made Google News searches using these keywords: animals food, animal agriculture, animal cruelty farming, farm animals, factory farming, aquaculture cruelty, animal rights, and animal rights protest, and selected articles with titles and content discussing the ethical concerns of farming animals. All of the relevant articles published by news outlets on the first three pages of Google results were included in the analysis. Pro-advocate outlets, such as VegNews, and pro-industry outlets, such as Agweek, were excluded. Media Outlets were not excluded for political bias or small readership. We limited the Media analysis to articles published in 2022.
Google searches for the Media analysis took place between Oct 31 and Nov 2, 2022. In October 2022, several newsworthy events occurred related to animals used for food: a trial and acquittal of animal rights activists in Utah, a sentencing of animal rights activists in Canada, and the arguing of California’s Proposition 12, landmark animal rights legislation, in front of the US Supreme Court. This may have created more positive Media dialogue than we may have observed had we conducted the searches at a different time.
References for each section are indicated in-text by an endnote preceded with an abbreviation of the reference list from which it came- A for Advocate, I for Industry, and M for Media.
We used inductive thematic analysis to separately analyze each section, using the qualitative analysis software Taguette, which allows for creating tags to identify themes. Inductive thematic analysis is a process of analyzing qualitative data that identifies themes that are naMed as they emerge in the data. After gathering the samples and uploading them to Taguette, we identified themes and tagged instances in each sample while writing subject memos. This allowed us to examine the data by theme to understand how each idea presented throughout the sample.
After examining the interaction between ideas in advocate, industry, and Media materials, we present several takeaways to help advocates succeed. Each theme is discussed in further detail later in the report.
It seems that the Media is listening to advocates. Their efforts to get the issue on the table are fruitful and should be continued through legal cases, ballot measures, rescue, and investigation.
The Media seems willing to engage with our strongest frames, and care should be taken to create situations and stories that emphasize them. The Media accept that animal farming is a problem that requires a solution, but the solutions they are currently presenting are not the ones advocates would hope to see. That said, overall the Media is receptive to our message.
Advocates can push harder when speaking to the Media. We have a real chance to win them over to our genuine goal: adopting a narrative that violence against animals is a sufficient reason to leave animal farming behind completely. We advise advocates to tell a story of society shifting away from using animals for food, completely, in the light of any specific policy goals they’re working on.
Whenever it is natural to do so, name individual animals. This invites Media and others to do the same, which allows a semantic upgrade for animals from property to person and provides an identifiable victim with whom to feel empathy.
Consider the ramifications of emphasizing individual instances of cruelty, which may imply that unspeakable cruelty is not the norm in the industry. Instead, emphasize the ubiquity of animal cruelty as norms throughout the animal industries.
De-emphasize the consumer frame to tell a story of voters and citizens, not consumers. Speak of change that society is undergoing together, shared values upheld by particular policies, and avoid making consumerist recommendations, even implied.
Their activism is the slow, grinding work of changing cultural norms — to shift the value of a farmed animal from commercial to intrinsic.M55Torrella, K. (2022b, October 25). What is an animal’s life worth? Vox. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2022/10/25/23412945/farm-animal-welfare-humane-meat-eggs-voteVox
An “all press is good press” strategy suggests that some advocates are confident that when members of the public engage with their arguments, they’ll surely be won over. They also understand that their audience desperately does not want to hear from them. In the words of a seven-year-old Vegan Evan, “Most people don't think about what they're doing because they don't want to think about someone dying."A6Bugga, H. (2021d, March 5). Beyond Meat Teams Up with McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, and More. Mercy for Animals. https://mercyforanimals.org/blog/beyond-meat-mcdonalds/
The Media sources we reviewed suggest this belief is correct: the news articles we examined were overwhelmingly positive and usually relayed advocate messages more strongly than industry ones. If bad press exists, the movement isn’t its cause. Significant exceptions to this observation demonstrate that the task ahead of us, in the face of effective industry messages picked up by the Media, is greater than simply getting the issue on the table. It will instead require using stronger messages that can overcome ineffective default frames and strong industry messages currently in use by the public and the Media.
The solutions or “asks” offered by the advocates vary widely, as do their presentations of the issue. Moreover, the issue is often reduced to a list of terms that may not have much relevance to the reader, such as this quote from DxE, found within a press release that otherwise describes a protest: “It’s time to shut down factory farms and slaughterhouses and create a future that prioritizes compassion, public health and the environment."A12Direct Action Everywhere. (2021b, February 15). Activists delivered 7,000 paper hearts to Farmer John Slaughterhouse for the 7,000 pigs killed each day [Press release].
On the bright side, the Media does identify that animal agriculture has far-reaching impacts, which devastate habitats, pose a threat to human health, and exploit workers, among other things. This closely mimics how advocates discuss the laundry list of problems with animal agriculture, affecting animals, the environment, and public health.
There are lots of reasons why, on paper, meat grown in bioreactors is a brilliant idea. For a start, we’d be able to cut down on intensive animal farming, which can be brutal and inhumane. Rearing animals in cramped conditions can create the perfect conditions for diseases to spread, and even pass to humans.M22Hamzelou, J. (2022, October 28). Will lab-grown meat reach our plates? MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/10/28/1062327/lab-grown-meat/MIT Technology Review
Even when a story clearly relates primarily to one problem with animal agriculture, the Media is willing to mention others. In the following instances of Media quoting advocates in pieces about the Supreme Court argument on California’s Proposition 12, legislation that protects animal welfare leads to a discussion of industry harms to human health.
The Court has repeatedly affirmed the states’ rights to enact laws protecting animals, public health and safety, and the pork industry should focus on eliminating cruel caging of animals rather than attacking popular, voter-passed animal cruelty laws.M4Arnold, M. (2022, October 11). Why pork producers are challenging this animal cruelty law. Yahoo News. https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/why-pork-producers-challenging-animal-160913962.htmYahoo News
"In addition to the extreme cruelty, it's a human health problem," Block said. "When you confine animals in these terrible conditions, it is a breeding ground for viruses."M12Dwyer, D., Herndon, S., & Gehlen, B. (2022, October 11). Supreme Court battle over “cruelty” to pregnant pigs could affect pork prices, animal care. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/supreme-court-case-weighs-treatment-pregnant-pigs-pork/story?id=89811909ABC News
What’s more, according to the Media, is that we’re basically winning. Both advocates and industry are quoted to make this point.
"They just let a guy who walked into a factory farm and took two piglets out without the consent of Smithfield walk out of the courtroom free," Hsiung, who co-founded DxE in 2013, told reporters outside the courthouse in St. George, Utah. "If it can happen in southern Utah, it can happen anywhere."M54Stancil, K. (2022, October 11). Acquittal of Activists Who Saved Dying Piglets From Smithfield Sets 'Right to Rescue' Precedent. Common Dreams. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2022/10/09/acquittal-activists-who-saved-dying-piglets-smithfield-sets-right-rescue-precedentCommon Dreams
Ng said such exposés have “forced” the global aquaculture industry to counter any “false narratives” and so create better environmental outcomes and more humane treatment of farmed aquatic animals, which he said is a positive outcome for the industry as a whole.M8Cover, S. (2022a, August 11). Citing a ‘troubling vacuum in oversight’ animal welfare groups call for new rules to govern fish farms. Spectrum News Maine. https://spectrumlocalnews.com/me/maine/news/2022/08/11/groups-petition-state-for-new-aquaculture-rulesSpectrum News Maine
Policy wins, both in the corporate and government spheres, are newsworthy.
Long-distance transport of live animals has come into the spotlight after an EU Parliament committee called on member states and the Commission at the start of the year to step up their efforts in ensuring greater respect for animal welfare.M10Dahm, J. (2022, November 2). Germany tightens animal transport rules, urges EU-wide follow-up. Euractiv. https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/germany-tightens-animal-transport-rules-urges-eu-wide-follow-up/Euractiv
Since 2017, when Galvani started out as the sole employee, the organization has garnered over 60 commitments from large food companies operating in these regions to source cage-free eggs, or pork from pigs that weren’t confined in small crates. Some of those include big supermarket chains, like Cencosud in Latin America, Central Retail Food Group in Thailand, and Ismaya, a restaurant operator in Indonesia.M56Torrella, K. (2022a, October 20). The future perfect 50: Carolina Galvani, animal welfare activist at Sinergia Animal. Vox. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/23344716/future-perfect-50-carolina-galvani-animal-welfare-activist-sinergia-animalVox
In industry promotional materials, supporting farmers is presented as, in itself, a moral good.
When you choose American Lamb, you support the nation’s shepherds and their families and help to sustain working farmland and farm communities.I6Discover the versatility of. (n.d.). American Lamb. Retrieved April 23, 2021, from https://www.americanlamb.com/American Lamb
The farmers’ and farms’ contribution to and membership in their communities is emphasized. Every farmer is both a consumer and a producer, so it is in their interests to do everything by the book.
The beef that farmers and ranchers raise is the same beef they feed their own families, so it’s no surprise that they want the best care for their livestock to ensure everyone has wholesome, safe, nutritious beef.I2Beef sustainability and chefs. (n.d.). Beef: It’s what’s for dinner. Retrieved April 30, 2021, from https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/raising-beef/beef-sustainability-and-chefsBeef: It’s what’s for dinner
Try to spend your money in your own community by supporting farmers that employ these practices as this also strengthens regional economies.I15Opinion: Veganuary campaign not telling the whole story of animal. (2021, February 3). Eat North. https://eatnorth.com/jenn-sharp/opinion-veganuary-campaign-not-telling-whole-story-animal-agricultureEat North
Food cost is invoked by the industry as a perk of animal products and as a risk associated with letting their adversaries win.
Chicken is the affordable cornerstone to a nutritious meal.I4Check in on all things chicken. (n.d.). Chicken Check In. Retrieved April 19, 2021, from https://www.chickencheck.in/Chicken Check In
While these ideas are not unheard of in Media reports, they didn’t appear in our analysis, perhaps because of a high volume of advocate-prompted newsworthy stories in October 2022.
Industry promotional messages also present the industry as necessary by emphasizing the economic activity it’s responsible for, a message more often repeated by the Media.
One of the three most important economic sectors, Colorado’s agricultural sector accounts for approximately $47 billion of economic activity. In real numbers, 170,000 jobs in Colorado related to agribusiness and tens of thousands of these jobs will be lost if this measure passes.I8Friednash, D. (2021, April 13). Friednash: The Colorado animal cruelty initiative is actually a campaign to end meat, poultry and dairy production. The Denver Post. https://www.denverpost.com/2021/04/08/animal-cruelty-initiative-13-pause-colorado/The Denver Post
"Our plan was to keep farmers farming," Hoggard said. Instead, he said farmers would be selling their farms "so fast you won't even hear the dogs barking on the back of the ute (pickup truck) as they drive off."M44New Zealand angers its farmers by proposing taxing cow burps. (2022, October 11). NPR. https://www.npr.org/2022/10/11/1127955580/new-zealand-angers-its-farmers-by-proposing-taxing-cow-burpsNPR
Much of the agriculture industry rebukes Proposition 12, as many farming facilities don’t meet its standards. To date, about 65,000 farmers raise 125 million pigs annually, boasting a $26 million in gross salesM4Arnold, M. (2022, October 11). Why pork producers are challenging this animal cruelty law. Yahoo News. https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/why-pork-producers-challenging-animal-160913962.htmlYahoo News
Even a piece that is generally friendly to advocates invokes economic activity to illustrate the difficulty advocate interests face.
On Saturday, a jury acquitted two of the activists on the charges, a somewhat unexpected verdict in a part of rural Utah whose economy is largely tied to the fortunes of agricultural giants like Smithfield.M27Jacobs, A. (2022, October 18). Animal Rights Activists Are Acquitted in Smithfield Piglet Case. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/08/science/animals-rights-piglets-smithfield.htmlThe New York Times
A frame sometimes reported by the Media is to present a better way of producing animals as the solution. This takes the form of lionizing small or organic farms, newfangled sustainable farming methods, or farmers’ own efforts to improve their practices.
Food production is one of the major drivers of the climate crisis, but new practices in agriculture offer important solutions. The bottom line is that the way that we move forward with producing food will have everything do with our success in addressing the climate crisis.M40Meeting a ‘generational challenge’: Feeding the world and doing it sustainably. (2022, October 13). Penn Today. https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/penn-vet-Medicine-meeting-generational-challenge-feeding-world-and-doing-it-sustainablyPenn Today
The Jovaag Family Farm is part of the Niman Ranch network of family farmers who specialize in certified "humanely-raised" pigs and other animals. They abandoned gestation stalls, or crates, years ago and now give pregnant sows more than 60-square-feet each, piles of comfortable hay and fresh air and sunlight.M12Dwyer, D., Herndon, S., & Gehlen, B. (2022, October 11). Supreme Court battle over “cruelty” to pregnant pigs could affect pork prices, animal care. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/supreme-court-case-weighs-treatment-pregnant-pigs-pork/story?id=89811909Devin Dwyer, Sarah Herndon, and Bobby Gehlen, ABC News
Characterization of plant-based meat as fake, artificial, and created in a lab is repeated often. We didn’t find this echoed by the Media.
Lab-grown meat, in particular, is not a good cultural fit for Nebraska. Think about going to Misty’s Steakhouse in Lincoln: “I’ll have the synthetic Medium-rare steak with that special A1 CO2 sauce, but with a little less red dye this time, thanks.”I7Fortenberry, R. J. (2021, April 6). Local View: A beef with Bill Gates. Lincoln Journal Star. https://journalstar.com/opinion/columnists/local-view-a-beef-with-bill-gates/article_1912f587-47ed-5cc6-b7ce-1fb928f422b9.htmlOpinion Piece: Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Lincoln Journal Star
This section looks at how different actors talk about animals themselves.
In an attempt to garner empathy from the audience for animals used for food, all five advocate groups we examined invoked similarities between these animals and humans or animals who are more readily offered empathy- generally cats and dogs. Animals’ abilities are given ample real estate, such as in Mercy for Animals blog post reporting on Cuttlefish Passing the Marshmallow Test A7Bugga, H. (2021e, March 12). Cuttlefish Demonstrate Intelligence, Pass Test for Human Children. Mercy for Animals. https://mercyforanimals.org/blog/cuttlefish-intelligence/ . Animals’ friendly or loving relationships with humans, other animals, and their family members are often cited briefly and sometimes explored in depth, as exemplified by The Humane League’s article ‘Five animals who escaped from slaughter against all odds'.A23Five animals who escaped from slaughter against all odds. (2021, March 19). https://thehumaneleague.org/article/escaped-farm-animals
In line with these messages, we found Media reports referring to rescued piglets by name, affirming the sentience of fishes, and describing animals’ unique personalities.
But Ganzert told a happier story about a chicken named Rose and a horse named Princess.M48Rose, C. (2022, October 6). American Humane rescues horses, other farm animals affected by Hurricane Ian. Palm Beach Daily News. https://eu.palmbeachdailynews.com/story/news/2022/10/05/hurricane-ian-american-humane-rescues-horses-other-farm-animals/8170003001/Palm Beach Daily News
Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that fish are sentient, conscious, capable of pain, suffering and logical thought, the state does not provide proper oversight of how fish are raised and treated in aquaculture facilities, according to a 32-page petition filed Aug. 1 by the groups, only two of which are Maine-basedM8Cover, S. (2022a, August 11). Citing a ‘troubling vacuum in oversight’ animal welfare groups call for new rules to govern fish farms. Spectrum News Maine. https://spectrumlocalnews.com/me/maine/news/2022/08/11/groups-petition-state-for-new-aquaculture-rules .Spectrum News Maine
The 1,400-pound male bison is the undisputed patriarch of a small northern Maine bison herd and he loves few things more than noshing on fall gourds.M5Bayly, J. (2022, October 27). Don’t throw away your pumpkins after Halloween. It could be a farm animal’s next snack. WGME. https://wgme.com/news/local/dont-throw-away-your-pumpkins-after-halloween-it-could-be-a-farm-animals-next-snackBangor Daily News
The individual advocates emphasize the tradeoff between an animal’s life and the momentary pleasure of a meal. The speech analyzed by Earthling Ed even featured a lengthy introduction in which Ed speaks of how much he used to enjoy consuming animals, to drive the point later that animals don’t deserve to die for our taste budsA21Earthling Ed. (2018, April 14). You will never look at your life in the same way again | Eye-opening speech! [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3u7hXpOm58 .
As obvious as this problem is, the Media never touched it, with the exception of an exceptionally pro-animal Vox article summing up the question in its title, “What is an animal’s life worth?"M57Torrella, K. (2022b, October 25). What is an animal’s life worth? Vox. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2022/10/25/23412945/farm-animal-welfare-humane-meat-eggs-vote
Industry frames usually emphasize some other part of the picture, guiding the public to think of the food supply instead. But when animals are discussed, farmers are characterized as caring experts. They work closely with veterinarians whose ethical stances are beyond reproach.
Veterinarians have to be part of the work to sustain and steward the natural resources that make farming—and life on this planet—possible.M40Meeting a ‘generational challenge’: Feeding the world and doing it sustainably. (2022, October 13). Penn Today. https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/penn-vet-Medicine-meeting-generational-challenge-feeding-world-and-doing-it-sustainablyPenn Today
DxE and PETA both naMed animal abuse as criminal and discussed reporting animal abuse to authorities, though in different ways. DxE, in many press releases, calls for the prosecution of corporate actors for routine violence against animals, sometimes citing legal opinions and contacting law enforcement.
“In the face of a pandemic, it’s unconscionable that our government would prosecute a nonviolent activist exposing the truth about corporate misconduct and the presence of dangerous pathogens,” said Bonnie Klapper, a former federal prosecutor who represents DxE. “Our legal system should be pursuing the animal abuser -- Smithfield -- and not the animal rescuer.”A18Direct Action Everywhere. (2021h, March 31). Woman accepts Scotland County plea offer after removing sick piglet from Smithfield factory farm [Press release].
DxE alleges the slaughter process depicted amounts to criminal animal cruelty, and it filed a complaint with local and state officials Tuesday. As of Saturday, they had not received any response.A15Direct Action Everywhere. (2021e, March 6). Activists in Coalinga with 50-foot banner and giant Gavin Newsom head protest Harris Ranch [Press release].DxE Press Release
In the materials we reviewed, PETA reserves these solely for individual instances of abuse and often calls for the workers themselves to be prosecuted.
PETA … sent a letter today to Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III calling on him to review the matter and, as appropriate, file criminal cruelty-to-animals charges against the facility and the worker(s) responsible for shooting a cow in the head four times.A29People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. (2021d, February 23). Cow repeatedly shot in the head; PETA seeks criminal probe [Press release]. https://www.peta.org/Media/news-releases/cow-repeatedly-shot-in-the-head-peta-seeks-criminal-probe-3/PETA Press Release
Focusing the blame on individual bad actors is a strong industry frame found in the Media- when cruelty is present, that’s an anomaly whose solution is to fire or correct the bad actor and let the industry go on functioning as normal. Quotes from industry representatives in the Media relied on this idea to frame cruelty as the exception and not the rule.
In response to footage filmed by Open Cages at Cranswick chicken factory, which showed birds struggling to support their own weight, Morrisons released a statement. They told ITV they had launched a "full investigation" and that they care[d] deeply about animal welfare.M37McGuckin, I. (2022, October 28). Bath Morrisons: Open Cages activists stage protest at new store. SomersetLive. https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/local-news/bath-morrisons-open-cages-activists-7757592Somerset Live
In response, Cooke Aquaculture CEO Glenn Cooke released a statement… “I am disappointed and deeply saddened by what I saw today,” Cooke said in the Oct. 7, 2019 statement. "As a family company, we place animal welfare high in our operating standards and endeavor to raise our animals with optimal care and consideration of best practice.”M8Cover, S. (2022a, August 11). Citing a ‘troubling vacuum in oversight’ animal welfare groups call for new rules to govern fish farms. Spectrum News Maine. https://spectrumlocalnews.com/me/maine/news/2022/08/11/groups-petition-state-for-new-aquaculture-rulesSpectrum News Maine
In discussions of welfare, industry emphasizes animals’ freedom to move around barns and comfort and calmness while in transit and slaughtered. Farmers care for their animals so much that cruelty is unthinkable. An important principle relied on by the industry is that stressed animals are less productive, which means that farmers don’t have an economic incentive to create cruel conditions.
Any deviation from our high standards for animal care is counterproductive to this mission and would never be toleratedM2Animal rights activists found not guilty on all charges after two piglets were taken from Circle Four Farms in Utah. (2022, October 9). The Salt Lake Tribune. https://www.sltrib.com/news/2022/10/08/animal-rights-activists-charged/The Salt Lake Tribune
We believe that that creates a healthier animal, and a healthier animal equates to healthier product to eat.M12Dwyer, D., Herndon, S., & Gehlen, B. (2022, October 11). Supreme Court battle over “cruelty” to pregnant pigs could affect pork prices, animal care. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/supreme-court-case-weighs-treatment-pregnant-pigs-pork/story?id=89811909ABC News
Media reports detailing cruelty often appeared in our analysis, sometimes quite graphically.M2Animal rights activists found not guilty on all charges after two piglets were taken from Circle Four Farms in Utah. (2022, October 9). The Salt Lake Tribune. https://www.sltrib.com/news/2022/10/08/animal-rights-activists-charged/M6Brinsford, J. (2022, October 5). Animal rights activists hit out at Bobby Wagner after “excessive” tackle. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/bobby-wagner-los-angeles-rams-animal-rights-tackle-excessive-1749053 M8Cover, S. (2022a, August 11). Citing a ‘troubling vacuum in oversight’ animal welfare groups call for new rules to govern fish farms. Spectrum News Maine. https://spectrumlocalnews.com/me/maine/news/2022/08/11/groups-petition-state-for-new-aquaculture-rules M9Cover, S. (2022b, September 23). State rejects animal welfare petition to better regulate fish farms. Spectrum News Maine. https://spectrumlocalnews.com/me/maine/news/2022/09/23/state-rejects-animal-welfare-group-s-fish-petition- M10Dahm, J. (2022, November 2). Germany tightens animal transport rules, urges EU-wide follow-up. Euractiv. https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/germany-tightens-animal-transport-rules-urges-eu-wide-follow-up/ M11DeMille, D. (2022, October 3). Animal rights groups protest as St. George trial set over pigs taken from Utah farm. St. George Spectrum. https://eu.thespectrum.com/story/news/2022/10/03/dxe-animal-rights-groups-protest-st-george-trial-wayne-hsiung-paul-darwin-picklesimer-pigs-utah-farm/8167606001/ M12Dwyer, D., Herndon, S., & Gehlen, B. (2022, October 11). Supreme Court battle over “cruelty” to pregnant pigs could affect pork prices, animal care. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/supreme-court-case-weighs-treatment-pregnant-pigs-pork/story?id=89811909 M13Edwards, R. (2022, October 18). Salmon firms accused of hiding lice levels. The Ferret. https://theferret.scot/salmon-firms-accused-lice-levels/ M14Favre, D. (2022, October 4). Supreme court grapples with animal welfare in a challenge to a California law requiring pork to be humanely raised. Yahoo News. https://news.yahoo.com/supreme-court-grapples-animal-welfare-122506229.html M18Fur, L. (2022, October 11). Two animal rights activists await Wednesday sentencing. Unicorn Riot. https://unicornriot.ninja/2022/two-animal-rights-activists-await-wednesday-sentencing/ M19Galler, G. (2022, October 31). USDA urged to finalise ‘organic’ standards. New Food Magazine. https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/news/169523/usda-urged-to-finalise-organic-standards/ M22Hamzelou, J. (2022, October 28). Will lab-grown meat reach our plates? MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/10/28/1062327/lab-grown-meat/ M23Held, L. (2022, October 5). Next on the Supreme Court docket: Farm animal welfare. Civil Eats. https://civileats.com/2022/10/05/supreme-court-docket-farm-animal-welfare-prop-12-california-gestation-crates-pork-industry/ M27Jacobs, A. (2022, October 18). Animal rights activists are acquitted in Smithfield piglet case. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/08/science/animals-rights-piglets-smithfield.html M28Jacobson, P. (2022, July 12). Fish-farming practices come under scrutiny amid surge in aquaculture. Mongabay Environmental News. https://news.mongabay.com/2022/07/fish-farming-practices-come-under-scrutiny-amid-surge-in-aquaculture/ M29Kateman, B. (2022, October 18). AI could fuel factory farming—or end it. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90796707/ai-could-fuel-factory-farming-or-end-it M30Kessler, M. (2022, October 4). ‘Elevate the message’: Animal rights activists protest in St. George ahead of Circle Four Farm trial. Stgnews. https://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2022/10/04/mgk-elevate-the-message-animal-rights-activists-protest-in-st-george-ahead-of-circle-four-farm-trial/ M32Kopecky, A. (2022, October 12). Animal rights activists are escalating tactics to expose ‘systemic abuse’ in factory farms. Has it backfired? Canada’s National Observer. https://www.nationalobserver.com/2022/10/11/news/animal-rights-activists-escalating-tactics-expose-systemic-abuse-factory-farms M33Krupnick, M. (2022, October 19). EPA sued over lack of plan to regulate water pollution from factory farms. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/19/epa-lawsuit-water-pollution-factory-farms M37McGuckin, I. (2022, October 28). Bath Morrisons: Open Cages activists stage protest at new store. SomersetLive. https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/local-news/bath-morrisons-open-cages-activists-7757592 M39McNeill, Z. (2022, October 5). Animal rights whistleblowers stand trial as supporters rally outside Utah courthouse. Waging Nonviolence. https://wagingnonviolence.org/2022/10/animal-rights-direct-action-everywhere-whistelblowers-trial-utah/ M46Pomrenke, E. (2022, October 31). Further animal abuse from Borgarförður farmer already implicated earlier this year. Iceland Review. https://www.icelandreview.com/news/animal-abuse-borgarfjordur/ M48Rose, C. (2022, October 6). American Humane rescues horses, other farm animals affected by Hurricane Ian. Palm Beach Daily News. https://eu.palmbeachdailynews.com/story/news/2022/10/05/hurricane-ian-american-humane-rescues-horses-other-farm-animals/8170003001/M49RTÉ News. (2022, October 27). Judge describes Galway animal welfare offences as “shocking.” RTE. https://www.rte.ie/news/regional/2022/1027/1331815-calves-cruelty/ M54Stancil, K. (2022, October 11). Acquittal of activists who saved dying piglets from Smithfield sets 'Right to rescue' precedent. Common Dreams. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2022/10/09/acquittal-activists-who-saved-dying-piglets-smithfield-sets-right-rescue-precedentM56Torrella, K. (2022a, October 20). The future perfect 50: Carolina Galvani, animal welfare activist at Sinergia Animal. Vox. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/23344716/future-perfect-50-carolina-galvani-animal-welfare-activist-sinergia-animal M57Torrella, K. (2022b, October 25). What is an animal’s life worth? Vox. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2022/10/25/23412945/farm-animal-welfare-humane-meat-eggs-vote M62Williams, R. (2022, October 28). The Download: the human toll of ethical AI, and lab-grown meat. MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/10/28/1062344/download-human-toll-ethical-ai-lab-grown-meat/
The following representative quote is shared alone to illustrate the extent of graphic imagery a highly respected outlet, the New York Times, published.
Although Hsiung and Picklesimer documented dead and dying piglets in piles of feces and blood and claim the two piglets they removed were injured, sick, and starving, DxE noted, Wilcox ruled in February that "video of the rescue—and any evidence of the condition of the animals—is barred because it might arouse 'horror' in the jury."M27Jacobs, A. (2022, October 18). Animal rights activists are acquitted in Smithfield piglet case. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/08/science/animals-rights-piglets-smithfield.htmlThe New York Times
In industry materials, humane meat is billed as something you can feel better about buying, and discussed to support certification programs that most producers use and to imply high welfare standards across the industry.
Dairy farmers—with small or large farms—use best management practices as outlined in the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Animal Care Program to ensure their cows are well-cared for by providing them with a nutritious diet, plenty of water and well-ventilated, well-lighted barns—all of which help keep cows healthy.I23Undeniably Dairy. (n.d.). Join us on the journey. US Dairy. Retrieved April 30, 2021, from https://www.usdairy.com/US Dairy
Beef Quality Assurance is better for cattle, better for ranchers, and better for people who appreciate beef’s place in a healthy, sustainable dietI2Beef sustainability and chefs. (n.d.). Beef: It’s what’s for dinner. Retrieved April 30, 2021, from https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/raising-beef/beef-sustainability-and-chefsBeef: It's What's for Dinner
Some dissonance was observed in the way advocates referred to themselves. Advocates understand that the public will be more trusting of individuals with whom they can identify. They’re simultaneously aware of the transformational quality of advocacy work to the advocates themselves. These factors seem to pull the language in opposite directions.
THL states, “You don’t have to be passionate about protecting animals to recognize that these cruelties are unacceptable” while DxE describes its own members as “schoolteacher"A12Direct Action Everywhere. (2021b, February 15). Activists delivered 7,000 paper hearts to Farmer John Slaughterhouse for the 7,000 pigs killed each day [Press release]. A18Direct Action Everywhere. (2021h, March 31). Woman accepts Scotland County plea offer after removing sick piglet from Smithfield factory farm [Press release]. , “UC Berkeley students"A20Direct Action Everywhere. (2021j, April 12). Three UC Berkeley students still locked down inside dining facility lockdown, Arrests expected [Press release]. , or local to the relevant area.A13Direct Action Everywhere. (2021c, February 17). FBI attempts to infiltrate animal rights group following cruel mass pig killing exposé [Press release]. . However, more often, advocates refer to their membership, supporters, or allies as “activists” or “vegans,” placing them in a different category than the general public.
“DxE activists made it inside Farmer John where they attempted unsuccessfully to rescue a pig from slaughter. Days later, dozens of activists were arrested at the slaughterhouse for chaining themselves to the gate."A12Direct Action Everywhere. (2021b, February 15). Activists delivered 7,000 paper hearts to Farmer John Slaughterhouse for the 7,000 pigs killed each day [Press release].
Johnson continued, “I’m proud to be born and raised in this state. Unfortunately, Iowa’s rampant animal abuse and corrupt politics fly in the face of the common-decency values its good people instilled in me as a child."A13Direct Action Everywhere. (2021c, February 17). FBI attempts to infiltrate animal rights group following cruel mass pig killing exposé [Press release].
Sparse examples of the advocate as a regular person frame were found in the Media.
"This world needs more empathy, we need to care about others a little bit more, and I do think most people care about animals," Soranno said before the sentencing. "I don't want to break the law, I don't want to be a mischief-maker, I don't want to get in trouble. But I feel compelled to do it because if not, those animals just suffer."M15Fawcett-Atkinson, M. (2022, October 13). Animal rights activists jailed over sit-in protest at hog farm. Canada’s National Observer. https://www.nationalobserver.com/2022/10/12/news/animal-rights-activists-jailed-over-sit-protest-hog-farmCanada's National Observer
Renee King, married a cattle rancher, turned vegan, and converted their ranch into a safe haven for farm animals….something she never thought would happen.M25Hoxworth, C. (2022, November 1). Degrees of science: Rowdy Girl Sanctuary with Renee King. KWTX. https://www.kwtx.com/2022/11/01/degrees-science-rowdy-girl-sanctuary-with-renee-king/KWTX
Reporting on both of the criminal cases widely reported in October 2022 sometimes, but not always, unselfconsciously framed the activists as martyrs, quoting them emphasizing the injustice of the treatment of regular people who dared to challenge the industry.
Picklesimer is “probably the person that I know that enjoys being outdoors the most,” he said, adding “it just breaks my heart to think of him and Wayne being locked up.”M2Animal rights activists found not guilty on all charges after two piglets were taken from Circle Four Farms in Utah. (2022, October 9). The Salt Lake Tribune. https://www.sltrib.com/news/2022/10/08/animal-rights-activists-charged/The Salt Lake Tribune
“We take responsibility for what we did, while at the same time recognizing that without actions like this, animals in farms remain unseen and unheard with practically zero protections," Schafer said in an interview before the sentencing.M15Fawcett-Atkinson, M. (2022, October 13). Animal rights activists jailed over sit-in protest at hog farm. Canada’s National Observer. https://www.nationalobserver.com/2022/10/12/news/animal-rights-activists-jailed-over-sit-protest-hog-farmCanada's National Observer
The industry characterizes animal advocates as extremists, dishonest, or corrupt.
These messages made their way into the Media reports, though in this analysis they were only found as brief quotes in articles mostly focusing on advocate messages.
The individuals who committed this act are part of an anti-meat movement determined to undermine livestock agriculture…M2Animal rights activists found not guilty on all charges after two piglets were taken from Circle Four Farms in Utah. (2022, October 9). The Salt Lake Tribune. https://www.sltrib.com/news/2022/10/08/animal-rights-activists-charged/The Salt Lake Tribune
...biased reporting, myths, half-truths and sometimes outright misinformation perpetuated by some environmental, food safety and animal rights groups concerning the aquaculture industry…M28Jacobson, P. (2022, July 12). Fish-farming practices come under scrutiny amid surge in aquaculture. Mongabay Environmental News. https://news.mongabay.com/2022/07/fish-farming-practices-come-under-scrutiny-amid-surge-in-aquaculture/ (Fish farming)Mongabay Environmental News
All five advocate groups, especially DxE, MFA, and PETA, use language around corporate and government corruption and wrongdoing.
The cruel practices our investigative footage reveals stand in stark contrast to Costco’s claim that animal welfare is a “critical component that has been integrated into all aspects of the chicken supply chain.”A9Bugga, H. (2021g, April 12). Mercy For Animals Took to the Streets to Expose Costco’s Cruelty. Mercy for Animals. https://mercyforanimals.org/blog/costcos-cruelty/Mercy for Animals
While this language may sometimes promote little-picture thinking, pointing to individual instances of wrongdoing or specific problematic policies, it may also be a reportable story in and of itself.M111 charged with animal abuse at turkey farms. (2022, October 11). Lancaster Farming. https://www.lancasterfarming.com/farming-news/news/11-charged-with-animal-abuse-at-turkey-farms/article_16f8c0fe-4570-11ed-aee8-8751b2a801d3.htmlM48Rose, C. (2022, October 6). American Humane rescues horses, other farm animals affected by Hurricane Ian. Palm Beach Daily News. https://eu.palmbeachdailynews.com/story/news/2022/10/05/hurricane-ian-american-humane-rescues-horses-other-farm-animals/8170003001/
Advocates are aware of systemic factors, and on rare occasions explain these with the industry itself as the villain. However, these systemic portraits are rarely accompanied by a credible systemic solution. The resulting message conveys a deeply entrenched status quo that ordinary people could scarcely hope to change.
The meat industry itself has utilized these cultural narratives to push its agenda of selling as much meat as possible to the public. The meat lobby is notoriously powerful, exerting influence on government agencies to tip the scales in its favor. This lobbying has been successful at shaping federal dietary guidelines, which recommend sustained meat intake while suppressing recommendations of meat consumption reductions. It's also kept meat prices artificially low, which has helped compel consumers to continue eating large portions of meat each day.A25 Is meat consumption in the US increasing or declining? (2021, March 21). The Humane League. https://thehumaneleague.org/article/meat-consumption-in-the-us/The Humane League
Luckily, we found more articulate systemic solutions in the Media reports than in the advocate language, covering new proposed laws and regulations to protect animal welfareM8Cover, S. (2022a, August 11). Citing a ‘troubling vacuum in oversight’ animal welfare groups call for new rules to govern fish farms. Spectrum News Maine. https://spectrumlocalnews.com/me/maine/news/2022/08/11/groups-petition-state-for-new-aquaculture-rules M10Dahm, J. (2022, November 2). Germany tightens animal transport rules, urges EU-wide follow-up. Euractiv. https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/germany-tightens-animal-transport-rules-urges-eu-wide-follow-up/ M15Fawcett-Atkinson, M. (2022, October 13). Animal rights activists jailed over sit-in protest at hog farm. Canada’s National Observer. https://www.nationalobserver.com/2022/10/12/news/animal-rights-activists-jailed-over-sit-protest-hog-farm M19Galler, G. (2022, October 31). USDA urged to finalise ‘organic’ standards. New Food Magazine. https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/news/169523/usda-urged-to-finalise-organic-standards/ M32Kopecky, A. (2022, October 12). Animal rights activists are escalating tactics to expose ‘systemic abuse’ in factory farms. Has it backfired? Canada’s National Observer. https://www.nationalobserver.com/2022/10/11/news/animal-rights-activists-escalating-tactics-expose-systemic-abuse-factory-farmsM33Krupnick, M. (2022, October 19). EPA sued over lack of plan to regulate water pollution from factory farms. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/19/epa-lawsuit-water-pollution-factory-farms M43Neslen, A. (2022, October 27). EU on track to break pledge to cut methane emissions by 30%, warns report. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/26/eu-on-track-to-break-pledge-to-cut-methane-emissions-by-30-warns-report .
The industry characterizes farmers as regular people the reader can identify with. Farming is very important to their way of life and family legacy.
This is a romantic story easy to find repeated by the Media.
According to the company’s website, Niman Ranch was started in the early 1970s on a family-owned cattle ranch in Bolinas, California, just north of San Francisco. The company gained a reputation as one using humane methods and all-natural feeds, and before long, became a hit in local grocery stores and popular San Francisco Bay restaurants.M21Hallman, A. (2022, November 2). Sandquists named top hog farmers for Niman Ranch. Southeast Iowa Union. https://www.southeastiowaunion.com/news/sandquists-naMed-top-hog-farmers-for-niman-ranch/Southeast Iowa Union
industry materials paint farmers as heroic, trustworthy, committed, ethical, and expert. Their sacrifice of “waking up early every day” is one Americans should feel indebted to. Their hardworking nature deserves respect. They are the ones responsible for maintaining our food supply with their specialized knowledge. Every piece of the system is meticulously designed with efficiency and ethics in mind.
When the Media quotes farmers, they tell the same story.
Mike Boerboom, the third-generation farmer, hopes the justices will conclude that Californians have gone too far. "We produce a lot of food to feed the rest of the country," he said. "It's California today, but are there going to be more mandates that come potentially from every other state? That's the fear," he added.M12Dwyer, D., Herndon, S., & Gehlen, B. (2022, October 11). Supreme Court battle over “cruelty” to pregnant pigs could affect pork prices, animal care. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/supreme-court-case-weighs-treatment-pregnant-pigs-pork/story?id=89811909ABC News
We raise pigs to feed people with wholesome, nutritious and affordable protein.M2Animal rights activists found not guilty on all charges after two piglets were taken from Circle Four Farms in Utah. (2022, October 9). The Salt Lake Tribune. https://www.sltrib.com/news/2022/10/08/animal-rights-activists-charged/The Salt Lake Tribune
The science of fish welfare is evolving and as new information emerges, many of the fish farming husbandry techniques practiced by modern aquaculture farms here in Asia is evolving concomitantly,M28Jacobson, P. (2022, July 12). Fish-farming practices come under scrutiny amid surge in aquaculture. Mongabay Environmental News. https://news.mongabay.com/2022/07/fish-farming-practices-come-under-scrutiny-amid-surge-in-aquaculture/Mongabay Environmental News
The Media was quick to criticize the government in multiple countries, discussing poor regulation, and low enforcement of laws protecting animals and the environment, and excitedly relaying the story of a multi-state FBI investigation over the rescue of two dying piglets.
No instances of the industry responding to accusations of government corruption appeared in our reports. Instead, they pointed to government regulations to insist that their practices are held to high standards, or to cultural norms that using animals is acceptable and necessary. Discussion of regulation is the most common appeal to authority- if the industry is regulated, then how could anything bad be happening in it? These ideas weren’t found in the Media analysis.
As the advocate review was conducted in early 2021, advocates often invoked COVID-19 to criticize the industry for poor pandemic response and to emphasize the risk of animal agriculture towards creating “the next pandemic.” This was detailed in a Media piece titled “How Factory Farming Could Cause the Next COVID-19”, which was published by The Regulatory Review, a University of Pennsylvania publicationM31Khodor, O. (2022, October 12). How factory farming could cause the next COVID-19. The Regulatory Review. https://www.theregreview.org/2022/10/12/khodor-how-factory-farming-could-cause-the-next-covid-19/ .
Antibiotic use in animal agriculture is often mentioned by advocates, though the risks it represents are not consistently articulated. Human health is sometimes mentioned as a great reason to go vegan or decrease consumption of animal products, and occasionally specific health risks are mentioned, such as increased heart disease and certain cancers associated with eating animals and animal products. These factors are generally a side note, and a transparent example of motivated reasoning. This may be familiar to members of the public exposed to industry framing of activists as dishonest about their true goals.
When disease or antibiotics are mentioned in industry messages, farmers are upheld as trusted experts to solve societal problems.
“The responsible use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is one of the most misunderstood topics in today’s food system,” said J.J. Jones, executive director of NIAA. “Farmers, ranchers and veterinarians face an ever-changing landscape of consumer demands without much needed constructive discussion or feedback.”M42National Institute for Animal Agriculture partners with CDC. (2022, October). Drovers News Source. https://www.drovers.com/news/industry/national-institute-animal-agriculture-partners-cdcDrover's News Source
The Media somewhat frequently discussed public health dangers as a result of factory farming, and in two long-form Media pieces, journalists even explained the mechanism by which the overuse of antibiotics causes harm.M22Hamzelou, J. (2022, October 28). Will lab-grown meat reach our plates? MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/10/28/1062327/lab-grown-meat/ M31Khodor, O. (2022, October 12). How factory farming could cause the next COVID-19. The Regulatory Review. https://www.theregreview.org/2022/10/12/khodor-how-factory-farming-could-cause-the-next-covid-19/ . It seems that increased advocate messages around the disease risk of factory farming associated with the pandemic has be heard by the Media.
Advocates mention climate change often and rarely describe any mechanism by which animal agriculture contributes to climate change, deforestation, ocean dead zones, or pollution. Environment, like public health, seems to function as secondary support for veganism.
Some long-form Media reports explain mechanisms by which animal agriculture contributes to climate change, and less often, deforestation.
On the other hand, we know that livestock agriculture is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for 11.2% of U.S. emissions and 10-12% of global emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, respectively. These emissions arise mainly from fertilizer application, manure management, and direct release from cattle. Further, land conversions for agriculture promote deforestation, a major contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss.M40Meeting a ‘generational challenge’: Feeding the world and doing it sustainably. (2022, October 13). Penn Today. https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/penn-vet-Medicine-meeting-generational-challenge-feeding-world-and-doing-it-sustainablyPenn Today
In addition to the methane emitted from their digestive tract activity, cattle are also responsible for a high percentage of greenhouse gas produced from manure management. The latest 2020 gures have not matched the highest emissions on record: The two cattle categories have accounted for as much as 38.08 mil ion (dairy) and 11.14 million (beef) metric tons per year, while swine has accounted for up to 24.49 million metric tons per year. This is because during warmer months, bacteria breaks manure down into nutrients for the crops it fertilizes, a process that naturally produces greenhouse gasses as a byproduct.M58Vale, A. (2022, October 11). Vale, A. (2022, October 11). Visualizing three decades of animal agriculture emissions in the US. Northwest Georgia News. https://www.northwestgeorgianews.com/visualizing-three-decades-of-animal-agriculture-emissions-in-the-us/collection_932f7546-53ed-52c7-8891-d79b3c577434.html#1Northwest Georgia News
The process of producing meat is also terrible for the environment. Animal agriculture is responsible for a significant chunk of our greenhouse-gas emissions. We use more than a third of our planet’s habitable land to farm animals—land that may have been carbon-consuming forest or woodland. The destruction of forests for agriculture can leave many species, lots of them endangered, without a home. This can decimate biodiversity.M22Hamzelou, J. (2022, October 28). Will lab-grown meat reach our plates? MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/10/28/1062327/lab-grown-meat/MIT Technology Review
In regards to the environment, the industry cites:
By and large, the Media does not appear to be buying these arguments. Besides in brief retort quotes that don’t receive much engagement by the author, these messages weren’t found in Media reports. It’s notable that the industry materials we chose did not differentiate between small farms and large farms, but were instead spokespeople and industry groups that sought to present a united front for the industry. It is possible our review missed materials portraying a successful Media strategy pitting small farms against industrial facilities.
However, positive portrayals of animal agriculture’s effects on the environment were discussed in the Media when advocating for particular practices that cause less harm.
Food production is one of the major drivers of the climate crisis, but new practices in agriculture offer important solutions. The bottom line is that the way that we move forward with producing food will have everything do with our success in addressing the climate crisis.M40Meeting a ‘generational challenge’: Feeding the world and doing it sustainably. (2022, October 13). Penn Today. https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/penn-vet-Medicine-meeting-generational-challenge-feeding-world-and-doing-it-sustainablyPenn Today
The advocacy organizations we examined are both distinguished and unified by veganism. We know that the strong supporters and workers of each organization are overwhelmingly vegan- people who abstain from consuming animal products out of an ethical objection to the practice. But veganism plays significantly different roles in their respective messaging strategies.
DxE’s asks of supporters are usually in the realm of calling elected officials or law enforcement, signing petitions, or participating in protests and other events, without any consumer ask or discussion of veganism. PETA makes veganism the ask of the majority of their press releases, while MFA requests instead that the audience choose more plant-based foods. They also promote their vegetarian starter guide, which advocates for only plant-based foods. THL also avoids veganism, and focuses consumer asks on meat consumption, such as by saying, “Curbing or eliminating your meat consumption makes the world a better place." A25Is meat consumption in the US increasing or declining? (2021, March 21). The Humane League. https://thehumaneleague.org/article/meat-consumption-in-the-us/
Each of these organizations exists to advocate for animals. Veganism- discontinuing the personal consumption of animal products- exists to reduce demand for animal products and thus prevent animal suffering. However, much of the advocate materials are not about animals. Appeals to the environment, public health, or workers’ well-being function to support veganism, which in turn is meant to protect animals. As discussed above in the section on antibiotics, this may play into the industry frame of advocates as dishonest about their true intentions.
“Because 99% of our food comes from industrialized agriculture, many of the foods we eat contribute to these cruel industries. By choosing a diet free of animal products, known as a vegan or plant-based diet, we can help alleviate the amount of harm inflicted on workers and communities by animal farms and slaughterhouses. Check out our plant-based eating guide at the link below."A25Is meat consumption in the US increasing or declining? (2021, March 21). The Humane League. https://thehumaneleague.org/article/meat-consumption-in-the-us/
There’s a dark side to some of the arguments for reducing animal consumption- replacing large mammals, who cause worse harm to health and to the environment, with smaller animals, means more animals suffering and slaughtered. Media articles sometimes specifically advocated replacing meat from large animals with meat from small animals.
“Switching from eating beef to consuming poultry, for example, already result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions." M60Wilde, W. (2022, October 30). Fact check: How bad is eating meat for the climate? DW. https://www.dw.com/en/fact-check-is-eating-meat-bad-for-the-environment/a-63595148Deutsche Welle
Likely due to regulations of US Checkoff programs, small animal replacement advocacy was not found in our industry analysis, and while advocates didn’t outright advocate for small animal replacement in their environmental arguments, it may seem an unspoken suggestion to the reader. This presents a question for advocates who seek to rely on environmental and health arguments for their advocacy.
Industry materials, after discussing the positive environmental impacts of their work, often shift attention onto the consumer’s responsibility with ways that a caring consumer might minimize their own impact without giving up animal products. This is the same frame used by the advocates, though the specific ask is different.
While we did find Media acknowledgment of the harms caused by animal agriculture and the benefits of veganism (or meat reduction), we often found these alongside a consumer frame which limited discussion to what it was reasonable to ask of the reader.
When the Media reports attributed responsibility to consumers, no particular pattern was noticed in what they suggested consumers do with that responsibility. Between different articles, we found suggestions that readers eat no meat, less meat, humanely raised meat, sustainably produced meat, and meat from smaller animals. As discussed above, we also saw in-depth reporting of systemic issues contributing to various problems associated with animals used for food.
Typical Europeans and North Americans could cut back one-quarter of their annual average greenhouse gas emissions if they switch to plant-based foods."M60Wilde, W. (2022, October 30). Fact check: How bad is eating meat for the climate? DW. https://www.dw.com/en/fact-check-is-eating-meat-bad-for-the-environment/a-63595148Deutsche Welle
Ultimately, Galvani said, “as consumers, the most important step we can take is to reduce or eliminate our consumption of animal products, fish included, if we want to protect our planet.”M28Jacobson, P. (2022, July 12). Fish-farming practices come under scrutiny amid surge in aquaculture. Mongabay Environmental News. https://news.mongabay.com/2022/07/fish-farming-practices-come-under-scrutiny-amid-surge-in-aquaculture/Mongabay Environmental News
Reducing the suffering of billions of factory-farmed animals is so hard in large part because overcoming human nature is so hard; most people, when given the choice, will choose cheap, conventional meat over the more expensive organic variety (or plant-based versions, for that matter).M57Torrella, K. (2022b, October 25). What is an animal’s life worth? Vox. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2022/10/25/23412945/farm-animal-welfare-humane-meat-eggs-voteVox
“Dr. Mitloehner said that it was wrong to suggest that food choices would drastically affect the climate and the environment. (The Lancet researchers, and the scientific consensus, maintain that food choices do affect the climate.)"M55Tabuchi, H. (2022, November 1). He’s an outspoken defender of meat. Industry funds his research, Files show. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/31/climate/frank-mitloehner-uc-davis.htmlThe New York Times
But could consuming large amounts of meat affect more than just your cholesterol levels?M31Khodor, O. (2022, October 12). How factory farming could cause the next COVID-19. The Regulatory Review. https://www.theregreview.org/2022/10/12/khodor-how-factory-farming-could-cause-the-next-covid-19/The Regulatory Review
Overall, the Media is receptive to reporting advocate frames. They accept environment and animal suffering as reasons why policies that move society away from using animals for food should be pursued but don’t always rely on advocating for the solutions that advocates most want. While comparing the effectiveness of advocates and industry messages is outside the scope of this report, the Media seems willing to amplify the messages in use by the subject of their stories.
In a subsequent report, we examine how ordinary citizens understand the issues surrounding animals used for food in ways that do and don’t overlap with the frames used by the Media, advocates, and industry.
This process allowed us to identify sticky and effective frames from each voice in the ecosystem and to identify frames that backfire. It is no surprise that the consumer frame, in heavy use by the Media, industry, and most advocate groups, was also heavily relied upon by ordinary Americans. In 1:1 interviews and focus groups we listened for frames used when the consumer frame was not present, and tested ways to overcome it.
Eva posing with Anna, who was rescued from a breeding and testing facility
This blog is part of a three-part series. To learn more about the pledge, start with Part 1
If you know me, you know that I’ve been heavily involved in the animal freedom movement for years. I’ve been inside factory farms housing pigs, cows, and chickens and I’ve seen unspeakable suffering in each. I’ve looked into the eyes of countless animals nearing slaughter and carried only a precious few to safety. I’ve been arrested and charged with felonies for the work, and I gave up a meaningful career in hospice care to give more of my time and energy to the movement. I did all this because I believe the cause is profoundly important, a matter of life and death. In turn, these experiences have further shaped my worldview.
My purpose for this letter is not to convince you to share my beliefs; I only ask that you understand me. You know that my work is about animal advocacy, but in spending time with my loved ones, I’m not just an advocate for animals- I’m a sister and a daughter who wants to be understood for what my inner world is like.
I know I haven’t always communicated the way I want to about this. I’ve probably spoken in a way that felt like an attack on you. I imagine there’s a lasting impact from some of those conversations, and I’m sorry for that.
Of course, I care about animals, and I want people to agree with me that their suffering matters, but on the other hand, that belief causes me so much suffering that I almost envy those who don’t share it, or who have made peace with this way of the world. Are you willing to hear what it’s like for me?
In my world, animals used for food are fully conscious beings. Their lives and deaths are the stuff of nightmares. I won’t get too graphic, but they experience unspeakable pain, grieve when separated from their families, and every single one of them experiences the same terror at slaughter that you or I would. Again, I’m not asking you to agree that this is true, but to consider what it might feel like for me to believe that it is.
You can think of it as constant grief that never fades because the loss is still occurring, day by day, second by second. It usually isn’t overpowering- I can be absorbed in other things and experience a rich life for myself, but I encounter reminders dozens of times each day. Some of them are subtle- like when someone mentions their dinner plans, which I suspect include eating an animal. Other reminders are much more acute, like when I walk by a recognizable body part on display in a restaurant window.
Piled on top of that is the guilt I feel every time I don’t speak up. I see people fishing in the park, and I wonder if there’s something I could say to prevent someone from suffocating to death in the next few minutes. I wonder if someone will die this way because of my cowardice, my unwillingness to intervene. I wonder if there’s something I should be saying at all sorts of moments to at least try to prevent the suffering of some animal or another. There’s a sense of paralysis that comes with having so many times where I think I should say something as if to speak up once I’d need to speak up every time. So I almost never do.
The main part of this experience I want you to understand is what it’s like for me to sit and socialize when someone’s eating an animal. I can choose between disengaging emotionally to avoid the pain, verbally addressing the violence I perceive on the table, or avoiding the situation entirely. As you can imagine, I encounter this agonizing decision all the time.
I want to let you in on this part of my world because I care about our relationship. I don’t want to relate to you in a way that holds such a large part of myself back; I want you to know what it’s like to be me. I also share this to give you some information about what might make our relationship more comfortable for me. If you’re willing, when we eat together or attend an event where food is served, it would do so much to help me feel seen and welcome if you decided to go without animal products. I ask this of you, specifically, because you’re someone I feel close to and supported by. I know that not everyone will oblige to this request, and I don’t make it of everyone.
I want to hear what this is like for you to read, and I’m happy to answer any questions. I especially want to hear if any part of this letter comes across as an attack or a judgment because that’s fully not what I intend. I understand that we have different outlooks on this subject, and I really do accept that. In my work, I’m not interested in making more vegans- I want to see a world where the incentives are changed, and it isn’t so difficult to go without eating animals. In my personal life, this request could help me stay present with the people I love.
Fork bracelets inscribed with Liberation, photo courtesy EnvisionPositive
This blog is part of a three-part series. To learn more about the Pledge, start with Part 1.
In 2015, I told my family that I couldn’t come to Christmas dinner if they were eating an animal. This was my first act in taking the Liberation Pledge, a public oath to live vegan, refuse to sit at tables where animals are being eaten, and encourage others to do the same. Along with many others, mostly in affiliation with the grassroots animal liberation network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), I took the Pledge as an honest expression of my own integrity and believed it to be a potent strategy for social change. In hindsight, the Pledge did not have the strategic value we imagined it would, but I’m hopeful that its essence can be expressed constructively- to allow animal advocates to energize their social networks to create change. In this post, I’ll make a proposal to do just that.
In contrast with a pledge that we promise to follow in every situation, with every person, the new Liberation Pledge is a promise to have brave conversations with people we’re close to, where a solution is found in collaboration with the other.
To this day, I don’t want to sit at tables while animals are being eaten. If I do, I face a difficult choice. I have the option to emotionally disengage from what’s happening, not to think of who is being eaten and what their presence means. If I choose this, then to some extent I disengage emotionally from the people around me. In this case, I’m not bringing my whole self to the table. In some situations, this option surely makes the most sense.
Practitioners of the Pledge generally understood this. We might have “broken” the Pledge or simply not practiced it in certain situations. For example, while I took the Pledge around family and friends, I never made such demands at work. Instead, I chose to prioritize the work itself and engage on more of a surface level with my colleagues.
But in other situations, I don’t want to attend and disengage. Then, to fully include myself, I need to ask others to accommodate my emotional needs by refraining from eating animals.
That's where the request comes in, our update to the second tenet of the Liberation Pledge. This is our proposed strategy to achieve the original goal of the Pledge, which was to change the norms around eating animals using the strength of our closest social relationships, while at the same time deepening those relationships.
Of course you’re angry about what’s happening to animals. I’m angry too. It breaks my heart to know that people who know and love me continue to eat animals’ bodies. Of course we sometimes want to yell or blame or threaten that we aren’t coming to Christmas if they can’t have one goddamn vegan meal in their lives. But nonviolence asks us to accept sacrifice, for the sake of the cause, to achieve a goal. Sometimes that sacrifice looks like a glamorous photo of civil disobedience, but more often, it’s about building the discipline we need to win people over. It means dealing with our own emotions first, so that when we show up to try to do the work the world needs, we’re intentional, emotionally generous, and unflinchingly nonviolent.
What if the most important struggle for animal activists takes place not outside factory farms or in politicians’ offices, but at their family’s dinner table? How would we approach our strongest relationships if we truly believed they were the most valuable resource we have to create social change? Our answer is the request.
The request can have a political effect, but that’s not why you’re doing it. It’s about your personal comfort in connection with others, and that’s okay. When you make the request, you’re inviting someone into your world and asking to be understood. When you engage with directness and empathy about the ways that you aren’t currently meeting each other’s needs, you open a door to greater honesty and closeness.
Let’s consider a more radical abandonment of the political framing: Your family doesn’t have to accept any part of your worldview for this to work so long as they can empathize with your experience. Here’s an extreme example. In the TV show Better Call Saul, an attorney named Chuck believed that he had a condition called Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EMS), causing him to live without electricity and often wrapped in a foil blanket. While his condition is portrayed as psychosomatic, his law firm turned off everything electric so that Chuck could come to a meeting for an important case. That decision had nothing to do with the existence of EMS as a condition outside of Chuck’s mind and everything to do with their respect for the founding partner of their firm. They only needed to accept his experience of the world, not any objective truth about it, to, quite literally, meet him at the table.
Similarly, for this request, your family only needs to accept that in your reality, animals are sentient and what’s happening to them is terrifying and heartbreaking. They don’t have to accept that this is objectively true. By explicitly putting aside who’s right, you can allow the request to live in your connection without it requiring the examination of psychological defense mechanisms around eating animals. You can talk to the person themselves, the one who cares about you and doesn’t want to cause you unnecessary suffering, without talking to the part of them that needs to defend itself.
While the early framing of the Liberation Pledge talked about using your social capital to create a cultural stigma around eating animals, it missed the mechanism by which this can happen- empathic connection, where our loved ones feel generously enough towards us to consider our world and feel pain on our behalf. By accepting that their realities may differ from ours and not, in this conversation, asking that they feel empathic pain on behalf of animals themselves, we have a chance at making the request from a place of real connection. This is a great strategy to help them eventually empathize with animals, but it will work better if you focus on the connection, not the strategy.
Back to the example of EMS in Better Call Saul, it’s important to the example that Chuck was a respected partner of the firm. With such a high need for accommodations for the most basic of participation, he was generally only shown interacting with those who respected him greatly.
Consider, who are you to the people you’re making this request of? If they asked you to accommodate them in a way that might be emotionally difficult for you, would you be likely to challenge yourself to serve the relationship? If not, it might make more sense to take care of yourself in a way that doesn’t rely on strength the relationship doesn’t have right now, and save the difficult conversation of the request for people you’re more invested in.
A paradoxical mantra of Nonviolent Communication is that it’s hard to listen if you haven’t been heard. The paradox lies in the fact that it’s true for both parties, but only one person gets to be heard first, often leading to an emotional standoff where people in conflict talk past each other. If we, as practitioners of nonviolence, can offer to do the hearing first and frequently, we can break that vicious cycle and be more likely to have a connective conversation.
In the first part of the conversation, be prepared to communicate the following messages, in words that are as natural to you and your relationship as possible.
The practical difference between the original Liberation Pledge and our update is that the original Pledge was delivered in a static state, “I don’t sit at tables where animals are being eaten” where the outcome of the updated Pledge is determined through conversation in collaboration with the other. “I’m thinking about Thanksgiving and feeling pretty worried about how I’ll feel with a turkey there. What’s coming up for you hearing that much? I think I understand, am I getting it? Are you open to hearing more about what’s coming up for me? How is that to hear? How would it be for you to… go without the turkey? Let me prepare a main dish instead? Have me visit after dinner? What ideas do you have for how we can work this out?”
Another difference in this proposal is to rethink our request as specific to a relationship, not a table or event. This can set us up for more realistic positive outcomes and help us invest our energy in productive ways. You might choose to attend a large family reunion where animals are being eaten and only make the request to those you most know and trust, letting their show of solidarity be a signal to others.
The more we can accept that this conversation is pretty difficult for the people we’re talking to, and stay in it with patience, the more likely we’ll have a connecting outcome. While the framing presented here is meant to reduce defensiveness, your loved ones will likely be carrying some messages from their own discomfort with eating animals, from what they’ve heard from others, and maybe even from what they’ve heard from you in the past.
Expect to continuously return to empathy- letting them know what you’re hearing is important to them, and checking to see if you got it right- as long as it takes.
Conflict is extremely hard, and working through it in relationships usually takes much more time and energy than we expect. Practicing nonviolence doesn’t mean investing fully in every relationship or every conflict. Sometimes, you might not be willing to sit at a table or attend an event without the request being met fully and immediately, and you may not have the kind of relationship where you want to be so vulnerable as to share the pain of living in a world with the awareness of animals that you have.
In these cases, you might not decide to have a conversation about it. You might suggest a vegan restaurant or a walk in the park instead of lunch, or you might just decline an invitation. If you do decide to have a conversation, I recommend the same steps as above, with only as much investment in empathy as you’re willing to give, and with a blameless acceptance of the possibility that you might not be compatible dining companions.
There are certainly elements of the Pledge that we’re preserving. Firstly, the Pledge asked us to be willing to make ourselves uncomfortable to act in accordance with our values. The bravery that Pledgers developed, and their willingness to withstand social pressure for a cause, is an undeniable positive outcome, and a central tenant of the updated Liberation Pledge.
Interactions that are awkward or clunky are not a sign of failure- they’re a necessary part of developing a new skill. While this model doesn’t demand a public commitment to have a conversation at every opportunity, it does contain the request that we push ourselves to show up authentically in these conversations, even when it’s hard. In fact, a display of nervousness or anxiety around the conversation can be another way to show how much your loved ones matter to you.
And let’s keep using the fork bracelet as a symbol, a reminder to ourselves, and a conversation starter. Like turning swords into plowshares, bend a fork that was an instrument of violence, and make it into a symbol of peace. I invite you to dust off your fork bracelet or bend a new one if you like, and wear it as a reminder to yourself to be brave, honest, and kind. Then, when someone compliments it, you have the option to offer, “Thanks. I wear it to remind myself of an intention I have- can I tell you about it?”
An icon of fork bracelet inscribed with “The Liberation Pledge”
In 2015, animal advocates with Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) launched an inspired new campaign among their members. It took courage, required sacrifice, and greatly backfired. This three-part series examines what the movement learned from the Liberation Pledge, how we might energize the intention behind the Pledge in a better way, and a piece to share with friends and family to do just that.
The Liberation Pledge was a fascinating idea and a bit of a disaster. Instead of energizing supporters’ social networks to create change, as its creators intended, it often had the opposite effect- to isolate advocates from their closest relationships.
In this piece, you’ll learn
The next piece in this series suggests a better way to energize the intention behind the pledge, for animal advocates to align their actions with their values in their personal relationships.
The Liberation Pledge was a three-part public pledge to
Enthusiasts of the pledge hoped it would create a cultural stigma around eating animals similar to the stigma that has developed around smoking over recent decades. That is, even while smoking is still practiced, it is prohibited by default in public and private spaces.
Before we had the Pledge, many of us felt alienated from friends and family who continued to eat animals. We were forced to choose between two options: speaking up and risking being seen as obnoxious, angry, and argumentative, or keeping the peace with painful inauthenticity, swallowing our intense discomfort at watching our loved ones eat the bodies of animals.
The pledge gave us hope that there was another way: being honest with those around us while continuing to spend time with them. And, on a larger scale, we hoped that if we all joined together, we could create a world where eating meat is stigmatized: a world where someone would ask, “Does anyone mind if I get the steak?” before making an order at a restaurant (or maybe even one in which restaurants would think twice before putting someone’s body on the menu).
Some people took it a step further, arguing it was immoral not to take the pledge, saying, “You wouldn’t sit quietly eating your vegan option while a dog or a child was being eaten, would you?” According to this view, it was our duty not to sit idly by while violence was committed in our presence.
While some beautiful and inspiring stories were detailed on a Facebook group for the Pledge, it seemed to me that there were many more instances of total disaster: people experiencing huge ruptures in their oldest relationships around the Pledge while often lamenting that those they had just discarded “care more about eating dead animals than they care about me.”
From where I stood, the biggest effect of the Pledge was for advocates to lose relationships with family members who didn’t comply. Upon taking the Pledge, a close friend at the time experienced a years-long estrangement from their family, including those who were already vegan while many others decided to skip birthdays, weddings, and holidays with family. It’s possible that all of this added stigma around eating animals. With these relationships broken down, we don’t know.
I believe the pledge was so popular because it politicized something that we desperately wanted for our own comfort–no animals on the table while we were there–and I took it pretty much as soon as it launched.
The Pledge certainly contributed to my alienation from nonvegans, though I neither experienced the best nor the worst of it. My immediate family accommodated a request for vegetarian tables at holiday dinners, but I’m sure that there were many invitations I would have received if not for it. While my overall immersion in the animal rights community during that time certainly deserves some of the credit for the fact that I didn’t develop many new relationships with nonvegans during the following several years, the effect of the Pledge can’t be discounted.
A website was created with advice for taking the pledge, which is still online as of this writing. It suggested that pledge-takers write a public statement (a model announcement is provided) to inform their friends and family about their new commitment. It also offered some logistical suggestions for getting together with friends and family who aren’t willing to cooperate with the rules of the Pledge. Most importantly, it laid out the reasoning for why we must, together, participate in the Liberation Pledge (to stigmatize eating animals) and directs the reader to “stay firm and nonviolent in the face of conflict.”
This was the right kind of advice, but it fell far short. With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that the founders of the Liberation Pledge underestimated just how difficult an undertaking they were proposing. In fact, the pledge in practice often had the opposite of its intended effect, an outcome that profoundly undermined DxE’s central theory of change. DxE believed in the power of social networks to create change. That is, by taking bold actions and making personal sacrifices, activists would present a model to their communities and inspire friends and family members to reconsider their views on animals. However, while the pledge was meant to spark this process, in practice, it resulted more often than not in the disconnection of activists from their social networks. Instead of creating change by leveraging their personal relationships (the most important resource activists have, according to the social movement theory of change), the pledge weakened and sometimes even severed these relationships.
I believe these problems were mostly a matter of inadequate training. Pledge-takers were sent to the front lines of a fiery struggle for social change (their family dinner table) with nothing but a template letter. In contrast, tactics that involved legal risk or personal safety were only encouraged with plenty of training. While the Pledge wasn’t a matter of life and death, freedom or prison, it was a risk to members’ closest and most important relationships. With 20/20 hindsight, it seems that it was unwise to encourage pledge-takers to risk these relationships with so little training.
A lot of people might think of activism as characterized by righteous anger, held in an image of somebody yelling into a megaphone at a protest. But DxE understood that while anger has its place as an energizing and powerful force, the task of winning over hearts and minds is difficult, delicate, and requires extraordinary discipline over our own emotions. They might not have fully understood how much more difficult this is with our loved ones than with the public at large. The same advocate who can always treat hecklers at a protest with kindness might still be underprepared to treat their own family members with love and acceptance when the topic of animals comes up.
Framing the Pledge as a political action instrumentalized our closest relationships, communicating to those closest to us that we thought of them as objects to be used for the cause.
By framing the Pledge as a pledge or oath, it was presented as a promise to people who weren’t present. Exasperated by the custom and direction to make a public statement before having private conversations with those affected, the Pledge had an unnecessary effect of communicating to our loved ones that they didn’t really matter to us, at least not in comparison to this new thing we were doing. By not including our loved ones in a decision that would greatly affect our future interactions, we communicated something that was often taken as profound disrespect.
At the same time as it communicated that we didn’t particularly care about our loved ones, it explicitly appealed to their care for us, creating a heartbreaking competition about who loves the other less, and therefore gets the accommodation. Some of our loved ones must have felt that they’d be showing disproportionate care for us by agreeing to vegan tables, and so they attempted to call our bluff by serving meat.
Of course, not every Pledge conversation went this way, and many included affirmations of how much the relationships meant to us. Some relationships truly were deepened by the pledge, but it seems that they were the exception.
Even if you plan to hold a boundary around sitting at such a table, framing it as such in initial conversations is confrontational to an antisocial degree. Rather than inviting others to understand our experiences, the explicit focus on integrity (I wouldn’t sit if a dog were being eaten) unnecessarily created an adversarial dynamic.
By being all or nothing, the Pledge puts us in a position where we are de facto excluded from many large events or gatherings with people who don’t know us well. In these cases, it won’t make sense to accommodate us by inconveniencing so many others, especially if our hosts don’t know us well.
In the early days of the Pledge, attendees at every DxE event were repeatedly encouraged to take it, in observance of its third tenant, to encourage others to do the same. Today, it is rarely discussed in public, probably due precisely to some of the harms I’ve described.
While some people continue to practice it in some form, it seems that the political framing has largely dropped off. We understand that, while it didn’t take off as a political strategy, the practice of only sitting at vegan or vegetarian tables is important for our own mental health. Most people still practicing the Pledge (at least the ones I know) are dedicated animal activists who largely associate with other vegans. When we don’t, we might quietly suggest a vegan establishment and only inform our potential dining companions of the pledge when necessary. “The Pledge” still exists as shorthand for this habit, even when its third tenant and political framing are absent.
While mostly inert, I believe that the Pledge continues to cause harm, albeit small harms compared to when it first came about. The Liberation Pledge Facebook Group remains somewhat active as a periodically updated illustration of the Pledge’s continuing effects. A recent post asks for advice for dealing with a mandatory school event, predicting that the writer will end up sitting alone in the corner throughout. To this person, it seems that the Pledge will prevent her from getting to know her classmates and thus prevent her from becoming a person whom they can know well enough to look to as an example. In addition, the poster’s relationship with the Pledge deprives her of the chance to develop connections with others.
You may be thinking at this point that I’m encouraging everyone who has taken the Pledge to renounce it: that’s not where I’m going.
In the next piece, I offer a proposal for rethinking the concept behind the Pledge to support the relationships and well-being of movement participants. With some slight modifications, the promises of the Liberation Pledge can be realized as a vehicle for connection and a microcosm of social change. Click next to learn more.
I recently volunteered at a high volume spay/neuter clinic in the Navajo Nation. Watching a large Shepherd mix walk to her crate to await surgery, I was struck by the unselfconsciousness of her emotional expression. She pulled on her leash and darted from side to side, with her nose to the ground and a low wag of her tail- a picture of anxiety. I imagined myself going to a conference, nervous for a presentation and whether I’d be caught forgetting someone’s name, and how automatically I’d try to hide my emotions- masking my facial expressions, holding my hands still, forcing my gaze to move at a slower pace. If I was very successful, I might hide my emotions so well that I’d hide them from myself, only considering that I might be nervous when I made too many errors with my words or turned around so frantically that I spilled someone’s coffee. Or, I might never notice my nervousness, and only see evidence of generalized stress as bad news at my annual checkup.
Emotionality is to being animal what rationality is to being human. This simplification of a human- animal binary suggests that development and understanding of our own emotionality is in advocates’ interest in breaking down this binary. When we can experience ourselves as fully human and fully animal, we can begin to free ourselves from deeply internalized beliefs in white human supremacy. Without a deep familiarity with our own emotional landscape, we risk forgetting our animality and thinking of ourselves as superior to emotional creatures.
In their book, Afroism1, sisters Aph and Syl Ko offer that animal is a political category in addition to a biological one, much in the way that discussion of biological sex is often a stand-in for the political concept of gender. Animal here is a concept that allows some individuals, including certain humans, to be excluded from moral relevance. We can imagine a spectrum where whiteness and maleness is more human while blackness and femininity are less so. This provides a psychological basis to the coherence of Trump’s remarks about migrants as animals or the many animal-inspired racist or sexist epithets. “Animal” or “ape” only make sense as an insult where animal means distance from an ideal human.
Other traits, biologically independent of but sometimes politically associated with gender and race, also contribute to one’s place on the political human- animal spectrum. Folks with intellectual disabilities are sometimes referred to as trainable or educable to differentiate them on the extent of their disability. The language of training some humans and educating others provides that some humans are animals1, in the words of the Ko Sisters, while racist beliefs about black folks’ proclivities towards violence result in huge numbers literally caged.
When I was a child, a grey and white cat showed up in our family and decided that our home was hers. Soon after, a kitten with similar markings arrived in the same way. We began differentiating them as the big cat and little cat, imagining them to be temporary visitors, but as they became members of our family, the names stuck.
I remember sometimes fixing my gaze on Little Cat and trying to understand that she was an animal. An animal, I’d repeat in my mind, straining to imagine her to be of the same Kingdom as racoons darting across the road at night, or of bears I’d delightedly ogle at the local zoo. Sometimes I’d get a glimpse of her in this way, a brief flash of Little Cat as a body with fur and claws- animal rather than, well, Little Cat. More often than not, she’d respond to my staring with a meow or a nuzzle that pulled me back into interaction before I could see her as anything but family. I felt sure of her discomfort in these moments, that she didn’t like these experiments of mine- didn’t like the way I looked at her and maybe even the distance I might inject between us when I tried understanding her as animal.
When we consider these most human individuals, we find individuals socialized to be the least permitted to emote. Conversely, the least human humans- imagine women, black folks, and children- are painted as ruled by emotions. Animal advocates often argue that animals are capable of experiencing emotion, as a way to plead for their moral consideration, but where has our own ability to experience emotion gotten us with the power holders of the world? How expert are the most human among us at experiencing the full range of their own emotions?
A common retort to advocates’ pictures of animals’ friendships, loyalty, humor, and trauma is an accusation of anthropomorphizing, a ten dollar word for a fully semantic argument, even when Humanness means more rationality and less emotional expression. Perhaps instead of saying animals experience human emotions, we should argue that humans experience animal emotions.
As obvious as this sounds on its face, I invite you to occasionally pause and name the emotion you’re experiencing under the assumption that you are, indeed, experiencing an emotion. Can you name the subtleties of responses to everyday stimuli, or the tinges of emotions you might feel embarrassed to admit to- and also name that embarrassment? Are you fully aligned with the emotional motivations of your actions, or are you able to believe that any decision is made without emotion? Can you feel an internal shift when an emotion is named? What would you call that sensation?
Studying nonviolent communication (NVC) involves developing one’s ability to self-connect and name emotions, separating them from judgements, stories, or other pseudo rationality. A striking but routine occurrence in many beginners of NVC, especially, in my experience, older men, is the discovery of a hugely limited vocabulary for naming emotions. We might report feeling good, ill, or angry, and have significant difficulty in naming a greater spread of feelings.
Our invitation to develop your ability to experience and express emotions is motivated by my disgust at the strength of the ideological boundary between humans and animals and its consequences for individuals whose interests are dismissed as animal. (Again, human and otherwise.) I hope that an invitation to develop both awareness and acceptance of emotions is an invitation to understand yourself as animal, as a natural and emotional being. Nothing here is meant to reject rationality or humanness. In fact, we believe that the more we develop our ability to self-connect, the more perfectly we’re able to be rational. Indeed, emotions that aren’t named do not just disappear. They manifest as motivations, thoughts, and even illnesses whose cause we may not be aware of. Only after acknowledging emotions can we truly decide how or when to act on them.
In our research, we sometimes hear our subjects disgusted with the unnaturalness of factory farm environments, where animals are denied the opportunity to perform species specific behaviors. Imagine pigs rooting in the dirt, chickens dust bathing, and cows nursing their young. Similarly, we sometimes look with concern at highly trained dogs and wonder if they’re ever allowed the chance to dig and play tug of war- behaviors we see as important to the well being of members of their species- or if they’re so disciplined that they never indulge in such delights.
The practice of naming our emotions is vital to the wellbeing of the human animal. Think of it as one of our species specific behaviors. Although trained, to varying degrees, to suppress this inclination, the internal process of naming emotions shifts the nervous system in these animals in ways that are easily observable in a laboratory setting2.
Human brains possess an amazing ability to self regulate- to experience a soothing effect of resonance simply by naming our own emotions. We learn this ability in childhood if we have a warm and responsive primary caregiver, and later through warm and secure relationships with important others. Continuing the development of this skill is a precious species-specific behavior to humans that allows us to regulate our own nervous systems and thus improve our quality of life, effectiveness of our work, and our physical health.2
Breaking down the human- animal binary means that we needn’t choose a place on the spectrum to occupy, but that we can defiantly pursue both the fullness of our humanness and animalness at once. We can be in full connection with our intellect and emotional selves and never see them in conflict. By studying nonviolent communication or other life affirming self-connection modalities, we can reject a restrictive view of what it means to be human and therefore begin to break down a human-animal binary that allows some individuals to be treated as less than human.
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