Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Who here thinks that is enough?"

By Anne Green and Matt Ball, in Boulder and Denver; originally published in 2010:

My name is Anne Green, and I’m Vegan Outreach’s Director of Operations and Development. How many people here are familiar with Vegan Outreach?

For those who aren’t familiar with Vegan Outreach, our purpose is, simply, to reduce the amount of suffering in the world as much as possible.

Well, thanks for coming!  :-)

Specifically, we work to reduce suffering by distributing our illustrated and documented booklets to new people, especially young people. By showing people the hidden realities of modern agribusiness, we provide the animals a voice, allow people to make informed, ethical choices, and create real, fundamental, lasting change.
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I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with Vegan Outreach since the beginning. I still remember when Jack Norris lived with us – starting here in Boulder – just after Ellen had turned 1. We would sort, fold, and staple each booklet by hand on the floor of our living room, which was also Jack’s bedroom, Ellen’s playroom, the T.V. room, and Vegan Outreach’s office. 

Since that time, Matt and I – and Jack and Jon Camp and Lisa [Shapiro] and Ann [Swissdorf] and Barbara [Bear] and everyone else who makes up Vegan Outreach – have gained many decades of combined experience. Activists are taking the case for cruelty-free eating to the public every day, gaining more valuable feedback. We are also good friends with some of the leading thinkers and activists from the animal advocacy movement. And to get a better perspective and greater insight, we also study philosophy, psychology, sociology, and history.

Vegan Outreach continues to evolve in our efforts – cutting things that don’t work, refining things that do. But our bottom line remains having the greatest impact possible, reducing the amount of suffering in the world as much as we can.

It really is that simple – we are trying to reduce suffering as much as possible.

Before I turn the floor over to Matt, I should warn you to lower your expectations. A brilliant orator he isn’t. Indeed, as a speaker, Matt is a good writer. I always tell him, “Be brief, be funny, and be seated,” although tonite I’ll let him stick around for the Q&A.

However, what Matt lacks in charisma, he makes up as a writer. I ask you to please take the time to pick up and read this booklet, A Meaningful Life. I promise you – you won’t regret it.

And if you are looking to have a greater impact in the world, I strongly encourage you to consider this book by Matt and Bruce Friedrich.

The book covers the essence of Vegan Outreach – pragmatic, effective advocacy for the animals, so we can reduce as much suffering as possible. I hope you share this goal and choose to be a part of our work.

Let’s start with a little quiz:

How many vegans does it take to change a lightbulb?

After previous talks I’ve given, a number of people have told me, “The question and answers went OK,” a nice way of saying, “Quit with the prepared remarks.” I’ve learned my lesson, so I’ll just say a few words before we open it up for discussion … although that doesn’t always go well. Once, I gave my spiel about why Vegan Outreach focuses on animals raised for food, who make up about 99% of animals slaughtered each year in the U.S. But then the first question was about helping sharks.

Although, in a way, that isn’t a terrible question – aquatic animals do tend to get less attention than land animals, especially large, rare land mammals. It is a little different these days, with more focus on the spill in the gulf.

Most people agree that what is going on in the gulf is terrible. The oil-coated animals aren’t an abstraction like “the environment” – these animals are real. But the horror isn’t really so much all the animals that are dying – we all die eventually – as it is their acute suffering.

For all the suffering in the world, why are we so focused on the gulf? I see three reasons:

  1. The media has made the gulf disaster very visible. For the vast majority of people, out of sight means out of mind, but the pelicans in the gulf have a very high profile.
  2. As horrible as everything is in the gulf, the number of animals visibly affected is relatively small. People see several birds and turtles and can wrap their brain around the plight of those individuals.
  3. Three words: “Not my fault.” There is a clear villain in the gulf, a huge company to hate. More importantly, there are no personal implications from our outrage at BP – just a good, clean hatred.

Let’s compare this to the leading cause of suffering on the planet: raising and butchering animals for “food”:

  1. Animals to be slaughtered for food are well-hidden from view, and what happens to them is denied.
  2. The numbers are staggering. Animal advocates sometimes can’t help but throw around statistics about how many animals are slaughtered for food. (I’ve been guilty of this). But doing so can hurt the animals. Millions or billions of unseen animals is simply beyond our ability to grasp, let alone motivate us to take action in our everyday lives. We simply aren’t designed to deal with large numbers; as it has been said, “One death is a tragedy; a million, a statistic.”
  3. Despite our masterful penchant for rationalization, there is a direct connection between the suffering of these animals and the meals we eat. If we were to really consider these animals’ plight, it would have personal implications for us. Facing the hidden realities behind our meals calls into question if we really are a good person.

Furthermore, animals being raised for food aren’t living wild and free, suffering from oil poisoning only at the end of their lives. “Food” animals – especially pigs and chickens – suffer during their entire lives.

We all know about the horrors, that we could watch hours and hours of gruesome, sickening video. I assume we can take that as a given, OK?

With all that said, you may think I’m pessimistic, but the flipside is the opportunity.

Every day, our food choices can send a clear signal – against animal suffering, and, as importantly, for cruelty-free foods.

But we can do so much more!

Look at it this way: By being a vegetarian, each of us will save hundreds of animals from being treated like a piece of meat.

That is a tremendous accomplishment. But who here thinks that is enough?

Who wants to do even more?

By leafleting or donating such that just one person stops eating animals, we can accomplish as much as we will with every single food choice we will make during the rest of our lives! Close your eyes and think about every meal you will carefully plan for the coming decades – you can double the impact of all that effort by just writing a check or leafleting for an hour or two!

In my decades as a vegetarian, this is quite possibly the most important lesson I’ve learned, so let me ask it another way:

Who here simply wants to survive in a non-vegan world?

Who wants to be an active part of changing the world?

Whenever I talk about “changing the world,” at least a few people scoff. But this isn’t a fantasy – really, it isn’t! Thinking the world doesn’t and can’t change is the fantasy – just look at history, especially recent history!

In all of human history, it took until late in the nineteenth century for slavery to be officially abolished in the developed world. Despite thousands of years of human civilization, only in the last hundred years was child labor abolished in the developed world, child abuse criminalized, women given the vote, and minorities given more rights.

Many thoughtful, admirable people worked to bring about those ethical advances for humanity.

Now is our turn.

Because of the number of individuals suffering and the reason for this hidden brutality, I believe animal liberation is the moral imperative of our time. We can be the generation that brings about this next great ethical advance. We have an amazing opportunity to be part of something incredibly profound, something fundamentally good. This really is as meaningful and joyful a life as I can imagine!

We have no excuse for waiting – we have the knowledge, the tools, and the truth. Being an effective advocate for the animals requires only our choice. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.:

The arc of history is long
And ragged
And often unclear
But ultimately
It bends towards justice.

Please be a part of bending the arc.