Cassie King

Published on:

August 8, 2017

Robert Grillo Calls For “Truth-Centered Advocacy”

By Leslie Goldberg

When Donald Trump tweets insults, lies and inanities, he is actually, whether he knows it or not, taking a page from animal agriculture and its defenders, says animal rights writer and activist Robert Grillo. “It’s called the tactics of deflection,” he explained, speaking on the phone recently from Chicago where he lives. 

Grillo is out with a new book, titled “Farm to Fable – The Fictions of Our Animal-Consuming Culture.” The author will be giving a talk at the Berkeley Animal Rights Center, 2425 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA, on Friday, Aug. 11 at 7 pm. He will discuss, among other things, how animal rights activists might counter industry’s (and Trump’s!) relentless pursuit of changing the subject.

According to Grillo, animal agriculture wants to talk about anything except the torture and killing of animals.  Some diversions include statements such as “Plants have feelings too”; “Why don’t you care about people?”; “Vegans are wimps and weird”; “Everybody’s nutritional needs are different”; “I only eat ‘humanely-raised’ animals or animals I killed myself”; “Vegans are angry and rude”; and “Animals give their lives to us.”

These are some of the fictions our animal food-eating society is built on and it’s up to activists to call out these things for what they are: fabrications. 

Unfortuately, activists can fall victim to this same deflection tactic spawned by animal ag, says Grillo. We do this when we focus on simply changing the behavior of the non-vegan rather than really getting to the core of the problem: human exploitation of animals. When we stop short of talking about values such as truth, honor, non-violence, respect, kindness, and empathy for all, we fail to reach people at the deepest levels – the levels where true and lasting change occurs.

“For example, like handing out  food samples to the exclusion of dealing with the messier, more difficult issues,” Grillo said. “To me, it’s like treating the symptoms rather than the cause of the disease.”

In his book, Grillo expresses frustration with this corporate style of activism embraced by the large main-stream non-profit animal rights organizations, which ask for little from members beyond donations and/or small changes in behavior. “They are asking us to adopt a ‘foot in the door’ tactic, believing that small changes can lead to large fundamental change.

“There is no basis or research to show that this is effective,” Grillo said. In his book he points to the huge amount of recidivism among people trying to go vegan.

The author notes that this corporate style non-profit advocacy is unique in history.  It was never used in the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement or the anti-war movement. Like Direct Action Everywhere, Grillo takes guidance from these non-violent social justice issues.

Direct Action Everywhere’s “Liberation Pledge,” which asks participants to decline to sit with people eating animals and to also explain why we’re not sitting with them, is a prime example of the kind of activism Grillo supports.

The author writes that whenever we activists avoid honest discussion and focus on “acceptance” instead of “influence,” we are engaged in the “tactics of deflection” ourselves, which is not to say he’s in favor of aggressively shouting down or insulting a naysayer or refusing to hear them out. 

“We need a ‘truth-centered advocacy’ which establishes trust and integrity with our audience,” he said. “We don’t need to use deception. Fully 80 percent of Americans care about the suffering of animals, according to one study. We must appeal to peoples’ higher values.”

Grillo suggests advocates adhere to three core truths in our work on the behalf of animals:

1) Stick to the truth of the experience  (as we can best understand it) of the animal victims. 

2) Rely on our own true experience as witnesses to the animals.

3) Facilitate true empathy to ourselves, other humans and to animals. Help others to see our commonality with non-human animals.

Robert Grillo has 20-plus years of experience in marketing, publishing and writing. He is the director and founder of the non-profit animal advocacy group “Free From Harm.” The 700-page Free From Harm website is accessed by

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