Viewing entries tagged

To Answer Your Question, Gary...

To Answer Your Question, Gary...

By Jeff Melton


The day after Wayne Hsiung and Gary Francione debated on Bob Linden's Go Vegan Radio show (July 26th, 2015), Gary posed a question to DxE activists:

“A serious question for supporters of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE):

Wayne Hsiung acknowledged last night on Go Vegan Radio with Bob Linden that people don't have to be vegan to participate in DxE 'activism.'

So let me see if I have this right: a non-vegan can participate in a DxE action and go into Chipotle's and chant, 'It's not food, it's violence' to other non-vegans.

Can someone explain this to me? What's the difference between the DxE non-vegan and the non-vegan Chipotle customer, other than the former is wearing a coordinated t-shirt with a DxE logo?”

Yes, Gary, although it is rare for non-vegans to participate in our protests, non-vegans are allowed to participate in our demonstrations, just as they are allowed to participate in most other protests regarding animal liberation issues. As I'm sure you are aware, having participated in animal liberation protests in the past, it is not as though the Vegan Police are standing at a gate checking people's V-cards! 

Should there be such vegan policing at our protests? The general consensus among DxE activists is that this would not be productive. Although not formally incorporated into our organizing principles, informally we follow an open model of organizing. That is, in all that we do, we default to inclusiveness—to supporting, encouraging, and welcoming other activists even if they are not yet fully on board with everything we believe and do. An example of this is that we allow people to join our protests if they are not yet vegan.

Yes, Gary, there is a huge difference between someone who has begun to take to heart such ideas as that harming animals is wrong and that animals are not ours to use sufficiently that they are willing to take a public stand in favor of these ideas and, often, have already expressed serious interest in going vegan, and someone who has not had that sort of epiphany— even if neither one is yet vegan. Research suggests that when people are put in situations that call attention to hypocrisy on their part—to a discrepancy between their professed beliefs and some of their actions—that they are very likely to act to eliminate that inconsistency. In this case, that would mean that, having publicly expressed a commitment to DxE's view that animals are neither our property nor our slaves, they are not likely to continue treating animals as if they were for much longer.

Scott, who joined our protest in Bloomington, Indiana a couple of months ago, is a great example of such a person. Scott was a student in my Introductory Psychology class last spring. In my “Intro. Psych.” classes, I show a video about attitudes toward animals and discuss animal liberation in the context of how attitudes toward animals are arbitrary and culturally shaped. Scott immediately seemed to “get it” and expressed an intention both to go vegan and to come to one of our DxE protests and see what it was like.

A couple of weeks later, at our May Day of Action, we protested at Chipotle and at Chik Fil A. Scott came to our pre-protest meeting, and told us that although he still intended to go vegan, he was not there yet, and said that if we didn't think it was appropriate for him to participate, he would understand. We told him that, although as he knew— and we would keep reminding him— he needed to go vegan in order to live consistently with his newfound value that animals should not be treated as our property, we were fine with him participating, and so he did.

Not only did he participate, but he also spoke at Chik Fil A. I have no doubt that he will stick with his commitments to be vegan and continue being a voice for animal liberation. Other core activists in DxE have reported similar stories of non-vegans joining their protests and becoming vegan soon thereafter. There have even been cases of spectators at our protests joining us, and often also expressing an intention to go vegan, on the spot. There have been other cases where non-vegans who have joined our protests have gone on to become not only vegan, but core organizers.

Now that I've answered your question, I have a couple of questions for you, Gary. First, how can you continue to claim that Wayne Hsiung or DxE are “hostile to veganism” after it has been made so abundantly clear to you by Wayne and others in DxE that this is not the case? In his debate with you, Wayne said, “I just want to emphasize...that DxE, and I, believe in veganism. We believe in veganism fully, our house is a vegan house, and at many of our demonstrations we talk about veganism extensively.” Later, he followed that up by saying that “Every single one of our core organizers is vegan, it is a requirement to be a core member of DxE we make it absolutely clear that we believe in total animal liberation, which includes but is not exhaustive of the idea that animals should not be ours to use,” and that “All of us [in DxE] agree that veganism is a necessary condition to achieving animal liberation.” In a blog post the following day, Wayne also pointed out that he and many other core DxE organizers (myself included) refuse to even eat with others who are consuming animal products.

We often talk to people about going vegan at our protests, as Rama Ganesan does in this video, in which she successfully convinces a vegetarian to go vegan. We also do literature tabling and many other forms of vegan/animal liberation education aside from our protests, such as my weekly Farmer's Market table. Some of us even sing about going vegan. It's true that often, we don't tell people to “go vegan” at protests—just as you didn't in an interview with CNN a few months ago. When we chatted back in May on Bob Linden's show, we agreed that in the brief time you had you got the point across that animals should not be our property and that no use of animals was necessary, which is indisputably a message implicitly advocating veganism. Similarly, at every single one of our protests, we get that same point across, whether or not we use any v-words, with chants and speeches that make clear that animals are not ours to use, such as “Their bodies, not ours; their milk, not ours; their eggs, not ours; their lives, not ours.”

The second question I had for you is: What is the basis of your claim that Wayne and DxE are “new welfarist,” that we support animal welfare reform campaigns and organizations such as PETA, Mercy For Animals, Compassion Over Killing, or Farm Sanctuary who engage in them? What welfare reform campaigns do you think we support, Gary? You have never named any of them. Wayne explicitly rejected the new welfarist point of view when he was on Bob's show with you: “...the reality is that we are not working with Peter Singer, we are not working with Bruce Friedrich, we are challenging them. I agree completely that welfarism makes people complacent, that there is no evidence that it leads to real improvements for animals in the short or long term...But the difference between you and me, Gary, is I challenge people publicly but I also am willing to engage in dialogue because I think these people can change.”

There is a huge difference between being willing to engage in dialogue with Bruce Friedrich, Ingrid Newkirk, and other leaders of the large animal advocacy organizations and agreeing with or adopting their approach, or being uncritical of them and their organizations. Wayne, I, and many other DxE activists have been publicly critical of the approaches and tactics of these organizations. More broadly, in all of our activism, we make clear that we do not support welfarist tactics but, rather, directly advocate an end to all animal exploitation and killing. That is made abundantly clear in numerous blog posts as well as on our Frequently Asked Questions page.

We have made many detailed critiques of the inadequacies of a new welfarist approach, such as those here, here, and here. Common chants at DxE protests include “Someone, not something!”; “Their eggs, not ours! Their milk, not ours! Their bodies, not ours! Their lives, not ours!”; “Humane killing is a lie; animals do not want to die!”; and, of course, “It's not food, it's violence!” (the “it” being the animal products served in the establishments we protest). Indeed, the entire basis of our “It's Not Food, It's Violence” campaign, and the reason why it has targeted Chipotle and Whole Foods more than any other establishments, is our belief that there is no such thing as humane animal agriculture. Our objective is not to focus on alleviating "animal cruelty" or asking for "more humane" methods of exploitation, but to demand an end to animal exploitation and killing altogether. The objective of building an animal rights movement powerful enough to bring down the system of animal slavery mandates that all of us willing to make that unequivocal demand collaborate with each other. It is not served by attacking and misrepresenting those who are doing the same.

Why activism, not veganism, is the moral baseline

Activists across the world took action this weekend for animals as part of the international event: #LightThePath (Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen)

Activists across the world took action this weekend for animals as part of the international event: #LightThePath (Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen)

Why activism, not veganism, is the moral baseline

In the aftermath of the Francione debate, DxE’s cofounder explains why veganism is not enough.

by Wayne Hsiung 

In yesterday’s discussion, Gary Francione repeatedly stated that DxE is “anti-vegan” – implying that we condone the use of animals. This is false. At DxE, we believe that it’s important to avoid personal contributions to animal exploitation, and we have strong norms against using animal products within our community. (Indeed, many of our organizers – including me – take this a step further and refuse to eat with others who are eating animals. Here’s Lauren Gazzola explaining why at last year’s AR conference.)

The difference between DxE and Gary is that, at DxE, we also believe that our personal actions are not enough. That if veganism is a political principle and not a personal choice, we must live out that difference in action.

Let’s use a hypothetical to explain the difference.  

Suppose you come across a mob of people beating a child with a stick.

In the face of nightmarish violence, a global movement for animals grows. #LightThePath to liberation.

“Join us,” they say. “It’s fun.”

The first response to the mob is, “Everyone else is doing it, so I might as well, too. And who knows, maybe they’re right that it’s fun.” This is the unthinking reaction that most people give to the brutal violence raging against animals. While we often condemn them for this choice, moreover, it’s important to note that most people don’t make a real choice. They never say to themselves, “Between torturing and slaughtering billions of gentle baby animals, or not torturing and killing… I choose torture.” As with other historical participants in atrocity, they simply accept the way things are; they are products of the system to which they were born.

Our most basic perceptions of the world – even something as simple as the length of a line – can be hugely distorted by cultural or social influence. And it’s difficult for ordinary people to see atrocity as atrocity, when it has been “made normal.” So yes, participating in mass violence is a shameful and unethical choice, but let’s always keep in mind that, ultimately, this participation is a systemic and not individual problem. (See the recent talk we gave at Northwestern for more on this distinction.)

The second response to the mob is, “I’m not comfortable with beating a child. It’s wrong. So I’m not going to join you.” This is veganism – non-participation in a violent practice. And while it’s certainly preferable to beating the child ourselves, it still falls far short of the moral baseline. Because where we have the power to take some action to help someone who is being abused – whether a human or non-human child (and note that virtually all animals killed by humans are, in fact, children) – we have a duty to do so. Indeed, many jurisdictions make it a crime when we fail to act to assist a helpless person in need.

This is especially true when we have benefitted in some way from the victim’s abuse. For example, while ordinary citizens do not have a duty to intervene in or report violence, if someone joins and partakes in the benefits of such a criminal conspiracy, the law requires them to take action to stop that conspiracy.  For example, suppose that you have been paid to be the getaway driver in an armed robbery. It’s not enough to say, “I won’t participate” after you’ve already been paid. After all, if you have benefitted from the crime, you have a responsibility to stop it.

As beneficiaries of 10,000+ years of human supremacy, and of continuing violence against animals both in captivity and the wild, we are all in this position. We are beneficiaries of a violent conspiracy. Our homes, our gadgets, our streets, and, yes, even our vegan food are products of violence against animals.  (For every animal humans kill for food, there are perhaps 1,000 who suffer and die to habitat loss and climate change.) And simply attempting to remove ourselves, when we continue to benefit from this system of violence, falls far short of our moral duty. So yes, participation in violence is shameful and unethical, but so too is inaction in the face of violence. So too is veganism without action.

But then what is the moral baseline? This brings us to our third response to the mob: action.  “Hey, stop what you are doing!” we might say to the men who are beating the child. Those of us who can muster the courage might try to physically shield the child from the blows. We might call 911, or try to rally other neighbors to help us save the child. We might even use physical force to defend the child and take away the stick. But if we truly seek to fulfill our moral duty in the face of the largest atrocity in history, we must do something beyond inaction.

But if activism is the moral baseline, why do so few vegans take action? There are at least three important reasons. The first is that they have not been taught to do so. Partly due to pseudo-scientific research, our movement is so focused on personal consumer behavior that it loses sight of its reason for existence: not vegan food, but the animals. I’m distressed by the number of conversations among AR activists that start with the tone and color of justice, and end with the tone and color of a vegan cupcake. But this is not a personal but a movement flaw. We need to collectively stop talking about where we can get vegan French fries, and start talking about animals and their lives. We need to make action for animals, not vegan consumerism, the unrelenting focus of our movement.  If people are not taught to act, they will not.

The second reason is that people have no idea what action to take. There is extensive research showing that, if people are presented with too many options, and those options have uncertain effects, they will often be paralyzed by indecision. “I want to help animals, but how?” Anyone who says they have a 100% clear answer to this question “What action?” is deceiving us, but there are big picture insights, from both the practice and scholarship of social movements, that should inform our decisions. One of those big picture insights is that movements rise or fall on the basis of their ability to mobilize and sustain nonviolent direct action. It turns out doing so is rather hard because early movement adopters face ridicule, rejection, or even repression. But it’s not nearly as hard as one might think. In fact, all you need is 3.5% (and probably far less). If you can mobilize 3.5% of the population in sustained and nonviolent civil resistance, you win. Every single time.

DxE's model in one simple infographic. 

This is the reason for DxE’s existence. We don’t need to convince 100% of the public to “go vegan.” We need to inspire those who are already vegan to take action. To give people the mentorship and support they need to speak and act strongly and publicly for animals. To build the organizing capacity, the social institutions, and perhaps most importantly, the culture that our movement needs to change the world in one generation. To create activists, connect them in networks, and inspire those networks to take nonviolent direct action.  

But can we actually succeed? This brings us to the third reason for vegan passivity: hopelessness. Recall the hypothetical we started this discussion with, of a mob attacking a child. While morality requires us to intervene, where we can, it does not and cannot require us to intervene if there is no way to actually stop the violence. Morality cannot require the impossible.

If the raging atrocities against animals are unstoppable, then, we have no obligation to take action. Action requires hope. And hope, in our movement, is seemingly in short supply. Many advocates suggest that the end of animal exploitation might occur hundreds, if not thousands of years from now. They say, with confident regret, that people will most likely always exploit animals. We’ll never get to 3.5%.

But this is nonsense. Indeed, it is a cognitive bias that a distinguished psychologist at Harvard calls “The End of History Fallacy.” Because it turns out, change does happen, and it happens far faster than any one of us can predict. Just a few decades ago, marriage equality would have been unthinkable. Only 1 in 4 supported it, and even progressive politicians rallied to “defend marriage” against the insidious influence of “the homosexual agenda.” A professor of mine in law school, one of the most distinguished progressives in the legal academy, said that, when he started as a professor decades ago, the term “gay rights” sounded like a criminal conspiracy. Yet 20 years later, the tides have turned. Over 60% of the population now supports marriage equality (and a much higher percentage of young people), and it has been enshrined as a constitutional right. Gay rights is no longer a criminal conspiracy. It’s what every upstanding American citizen believes.

We will achieve the same progress for animal rights. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll showed that 32% of the populationhigher than the percentage who supported LGBTQ equality in 1996 – currently believe that animals should have the “same rights as people.” Moreover, this percentage is increasing quickly…. while animal exploiting industries get smaller. (Agriculture, for example, is a vanishingly small percentage of the American economy, and our calculations show that it would take a mere 1-2% of US GDP to rescue every single animal currently in captivity and place them in a sanctuary for the rest of their lives.) Further, animal issues are blowing up in our broader culture. The Dodo founders have pointed out that animals are among the most shared subjects on social media, and an astonishing 79% of people in America say they must be protected from “all suffering and harm.” As Frank Bruni of The New York Times points out, windows into the world of animals are growing, both big and little. And the more we see of animals, the more we realize: they are us. They are our family members, our children, our friends. And when we see they are us, we see, too, our duty to defend.

In the face of all these incredible reasons for optimism, it’s time for us to discard our cynicism and doubt. It’s time for us to be inspired, not to lonely inaction, but empowered activism. And it’s time for our movement to take a new and more confident tone: That we are strong. That we are smart. And that we are inspired.

And we will succeed. 



Celebrity Vegans: What Does the Science Say?

Celebrity Vegans: What Does the Science Say?

by Wayne Hsiung 

The Internet was afire yesterday with back and forth arguments about the impacts of celebrity vegans, most of whom adopt vegan diets for selfish reasons.  But one thing was notably missing from the discussions: evidence.

As someone who has performed research with some of the top social scientists of our day, back in my time as a researcher and then faculty member at MIT and Northwestern respectively,  I have a special interest in utilizing evidence over mere intuition. So what does the evidence say?

1. Celebrities don’t have nearly the influence that you might think.

Malcolm Gladwell coined the term The Law of the Few to assert that, when it comes to social change, some people are just more important than others. Those with special influence, connections, and fame – like Beyonce or Miley Cyrus -- can cause messages to explode exponentially. Gladwell’s popular writing refers back to work by a psychologist at Yale, Stanley Milgram, who famously conducted a study on spreading messages through a social network in 1969. Milgram’s study made two startling conclusions: first, that every human on the planet is connected within just a few small steps (thus the famous Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon test);  second, that an astonishingly small handful of people seemed to be “supernodes” through which all messages would be transmitted. Gladwell implied that, if we could change Milgram’s supernodes, we could change the world.

It’s a compelling story. The problem is, quite simply, that the data does not bear it out. Duncan Watts, a sociologist at Columbia, showed us why. First, in experimental tests of message transmission using thousands (rather than dozens) of messages, it turned out that supernodes were not so important. Messages would, in fact, be spread through a small number of social steps. But there were many pathways through which this could happen, most of which did not utilize any highly connected person. The supernodes, it turns out, were not important.  A second set of experiments explained why. In everything from musical tastes to Twitter retweets, it turned out that masses of highly motivated “ordinary people” – and not a few strategically placed influencers – were the driving force for change. If Watts is right – as most social scientists now think (see, e.g., Christopher Chabris's takedown of Gladwell at Slate) – then we should be spending more time on building networks of highly motivated ordinary people and less time on celebrities. Gladwell’s Law of the Few should be retracted and replaced with the Law of the Many.

2. Focusing on selfish motivations (e.g. health) can “crowd out” intrinsic and moral motivations (ethics).

Many say that we should “throw everything but the kitchen sink” to convert people to veganism. Others say that humans, as selfish animals, must be given selfish motivations to refrain from harmful conduct. The upshot is that we often focus on selfish reasons for people to go vegan – health, beauty, etc. The problem, again, is that these arguments are contradicted by the evidence.  

In a series of ingenious experiments,  sociologists, psychologists, and economists have shown that selfish motivations can “crowd out” moral ones – and lead to more harmful behavior as a result. In perhaps the most famous example, Uri Gneezy and his collaborators showed that creating a material incentive to encourage parents to arrive on time to day care actually increased the number of people who would show up late. The reason? There was a prior moral motive to show up on time – the embarrassment of forcing employees to stay late, and appearing to be bad parents – but focus on the selfish motive, i.e. financial costs, crowded this moral motive out.  And when framed in a callous and self-centered away, surprise, surprise, parents failed to pick up their kids.

The same is true of focus on selfish motivations for veganism. To the extent it’s framed in selfish terms, people will behave selfishly (e.g. abandoning veganism the moment it becomes inconvenient). This problem, in turn, is not just theoretical. The vast majority of vegans (over 75%) revert to eating animals, and in an astonishingly short period of time. (One study found that 60% of self-identified vegetarians were eating animals again... within a week.) This reversion, moreover, is associated with selfish motivations for going veg. 

In short, if we want to create effective, robust change, we should focus on the social and moral instincts that have driven human beings since our inception as a species

3. Economic change, on its own, is not effective at creating social change.

Finally, many argue that the growing consumer power of vegans, limited though it might be at present, will take us down the path to liberation. Animal exploitation, as an economic industry, must be challenged on economic terms. Only by increasing the costs for exploitation, or benefits of nonviolence, can we shift our social equilibrium. Celebrities, given their supposed influence on mass consumer behavior, are a powerful tool to achieve this success.

But once again, the data from notable historical periods simply does not bear this out. Robert Fogel, the Nobel Prize winning economist, is famous for exhaustively researching the data on slavery and finding that, surprisingly, economic factors played almost no role in its disappearance. To the contrary, slavery was a massive, profitable, and growing system, right up to its abolition in the 1860s. But if slavery didn’t end via economics, how did it end? In short, moral and political mobilization.

Fogel’s research is part of a massive trend in social science that some have called the “cognitive revolution.” The basic idea: that we cannot understand behavior without looking at mental models and processes. Numerous examples of activism targeting consumer behavior -- from the failed free produce movement (which attempted to economically modify slavery via boycott) to modern green consumer activism -- have failed to achieve tangible results. In contrast, powerful moral and political mobilizations -- the antislavery movement that began in the 1830s, or the early environmental movement built on direct action -- achieved groundbreaking systemic change. Yet in so many ways, modern thinking within animal advocacy remains mired in outdated social science. As animal advocates, we too often assume that we can understand incredibly complex economic systems as if they are deterministic and predictable, e.g. with poorly-supported claims of how many animals we "save" via a vegan diet. And we focus on changing supply and demand rather than reshaping the moral and political ecosystem that determines what counts as a “product” (as opposed to a “victim’s body”) in the first place.  This naiveté undermines our effectiveness. 

Summing up, when you see the next celebrity going vegan, don’t jump on the bandwagon. First, ordinary people – like you – are the ones who power movements. Second, the selfish motivations that often motivate celebrities can “crowd out” the powerful moral norms that are our movement’s greatest weapons. Third, even if celebrities drive consumer behavior, that alone is not sufficient to drive social change.

So by all means, keep eating vegan, Hollywood. Just don't expect social change to result.

Because it is the moral power of ordinary people -- and not a celebrity-inspired consumer fad -- that will change the world for animals. 

Why Beyoncé Going Vegan is Bad for Animals

Why Beyoncé Going Vegan is Bad for Animals

By Brian Burns

This Monday, Beyoncé announced a vegan diet as her key to weight loss on Good Morning America. And while her fans rushed to the blogosphere to voice their disappointment, animal rights groups proclaimed victory. This announcement, along with many others this week - including Ben and Jerry’s soon-to-come vegan ice cream and Miley Cyrus’ similar dietary change – is hailed as strong evidence that the animal rights movement is winning.

But it isn't. Why? Because veganism for its own sake is not good for animals. Instead, the promotion of the vegan diet without animal rights messaging actively harms the animal rights movement. Moreover, the movement’s focus on mass consumer dietary change has little historical or empirical basis, despite being our movement's main strategy.

To be clear, both I and DxE believe nothing short of a vegan diet is morally permissible, because killing and eating others is wrong. But we must acknowledge that focusing on getting people to go vegan, rather than other tactics to help animals - such as protest, community building, or simply encouraging people to talk to their friends about animal rights - is a deliberate choice by the animal rights movement, and this choice is not optimal.  We can do different and do better than hailing celebrities such as Beyoncé or Miley Cyrus. Below are a few reasons why we should consider other options for advocacy rather than simply focusing on consumer change.

1. Veganism frames society’s conversation about animals suffering as one of consumerism and dietary choice rather than justice and equality.

When presenting any issue, framing is extremely important. Is climate change about saving people and the planet, or do-good liberals interfering with productive industry? Is high defense spending about imperialism and killing, or ensuring defense for a strong America? We should ask ourselves, then, how we are framing the suffering of animals - and the answer is that veganism and dietary choice frames animal rights in favor of our enemy.

If you've ever argued with someone who eats or kills animals, you must have heard, "it's my personal choice to eat meat!". Why then, are we making this argument for them? By framing animal rights as an issue of dietary change - titling animal rights leaflets "Your Choice", for example - rather than one of justice and equality, we set ourselves up for failure.

2. This framing disempowers vegans from speaking strongly for animals.

By focusing on creating individual dietary change rather than communities for activism, we create a dispersed nation of lonely vegans. This loneliness is extraordinarily disempowering, and causes vegans in best case to remain silent on animal rights, and in the worst case to go back to eating animals again (84% of the time, in fact).

Moreover, consumer vegan messaging induces complacency and stops vegans from helping animals. Because the central focus of our movement is to "go vegan", many get the sense that once they change their diet, they're done, and need to do no more for animals. But animal rights, as we all know, only begins with our diets. We need to inspire people to do more for animals by not just believing in animal rights themselves, but by bringing animal rights to their family, their friends, and the world.

Finally, say they decide to do just that. With a focus on veganism for veganism's sake, animals' lives often get lost in the message. For example, consider an interchange of which I myself have been very often guilty: you're eating with a friend, and they ask why you ordered the veggie burger rather than the steak. "I'm vegan", you respond. Not, "Animals deserve to live, they are not our food". Not, "In all ways that matter, animals are like us - and violence against sentient beings is wrong". A serious opportunity for dialogue and change is missed, and the personal choice framing is reinforced.

3. Veganism as a strategy has no basis.

Simply put, the vegan boycott as a tactic for helping animals - in place of others, such as protest and community building - is failing. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2012, the number of vegetarians has declined in the last decade, and "Vegetarianism in the US remains quite uncommon and a lifestyle that is neither growing or waning in popularity".

Perhaps then we're just not there yet. Perhaps with continued efforts at vegan advocacy we will reach some critical mass of vegans, which will in turn create a social cascade for animal rights in society. Unfortunately, this model is tried and tested - look at the nation of India. Some regions report as high as a 40% vegetarian population, yet animal rights is fading as violent western habits spread into the country. Vegetarianism, historically framed as a personal or religious choice, is an outdated fad. And while enormous change is beginning to happen for animals, this is due to grassroots animal rights organizing in contrast to - rather than in support of - the consumer vegan messaging so present in the movement today.

Finally, boycotts on their own have not succeeded in other social justice movements without the accompaniment of direct action campaigns. The best possible example of this is the Free Produce Movement in the early 1800s, which sought to fight the American slave trade by boycotting all goods made by slaves. The boycott was tried, then decried as a failure by the leaders of the antislavery movement, who moved on to much greater success by building chapters across the country that held meetings, debates, and protests centered on the lives of slaves in the US, and not the quality of their cotton coats or tobacco cigars. We should think about what we can learn from these past efforts.


In summary, the centering of veganism for its own sake - exemplified by our movement's universal hailing of Beyoncé, Miley, Ben, and Jerry, despite little to no words from them on the subject of animal rights - is a stumbling block for our movement. What, then, do we propose instead? Simply: treat animal rights as an issue of social justice. Focus on creating activists instead of consumers. Build community centers for animal rights rather than making dispersed, lonely vegans. And most importantly, stay on message: animals and their lives, rather than humans and their diets. In doing so, we can create enormous positive change for animals. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for an updated strategy piece with much more information on this issue.


EDIT: It was pointed out that using Beyoncé’s name and image in the title of the piece comes in the context of the movement’s history targeting and policing black women, of which I was sorely unaware as a white man. 

While the intention of the article was to discuss strategic problems with consumer framing in the animal rights movement (using news items such as the movement’s recent hailing of Ben and Jerry’s, Miley Cyrus, and Beyoncé as lead-ins), the choice of Beyoncé as a title and image is indicative of implicit bias on my part, and certainly has aggravated much of the already existing hate towards black women (or all women) in the movement.  I seriously apologize for some of the horrifying comments that others made after the blog was published, either as a consequence of the article or as a consequence of the context in which the article occurred - for example, the selective targeting of women wearing fur rather than men wearing leather with hateful language such as “fur hag”, or some of Gary Yourofsky’s violent statements towards women and people of color.

In that respect, I hope that people can discuss the substance of the post - that vegan celebrities are not our messiahs, and more importantly that the animal rights movement must think seriously about consumer veganism as a strategy to help animals  - rather than selectively target certain individuals, especially when that targeting is selective on the basis of race, sex, or other group membership. Not only is it factually inaccurate to say that animals are suffering as a result of individuals rather than systems and social norms, but it is harmful in a very real way to people, and makes our movement weaker and less inclusive.



Vegan Options are Not Animal Liberation

Vegan Options are Not Animal Liberation

By Hana Low


A well-known animal advocacy organization recently produced and published a humorous video gently mocking vegan consumerism. Widely shared and discussed by members of the vegan community, the video could have functioned as a viral advertisement promoting Whole Foods, and might as well have been produced by Whole Foods’ own robust marketing department. While satirical, the video does highlight some real limitations of how the animal rights movement is often framed.

In the video, entitled “29 Thoughts Every Vegan Has at Whole Foods," a young white man in his early thirties is shown on the telephone with his friend, saying that he is going to drop into Whole Foods to pick up some coffee. The next minute and a half of the video consists of him meandering about the grocery store, admiring produce and ogling various corporate goods. Mysteriously, he manages not to meander into any department that sells animal products— even though the chain generates $2.4 billion in meat sales and sells millions of animal bodies each year. He is so enthralled by the “vegan options” in the store that he selects and buys several products that he says he doesn’t even need.

The video succeeds in painting vegans as class-privileged, frivolous, shallow consumerist yuppies, rather than activists fighting for total animal liberation. This is a systemic problem in the animal rights movement, which tends to celebrate vegan options and treatment-centered reforms that in some cases strengthen industry by quelling criticism of animal slaughter. Judging by how he was depicted, the man in the video might not have been an ethical vegan or cared about animals at all. He gave no attention whatsoever to animal advocacy, only the consumer choices in front of him. The video did not educate about violence against animals, discourage buying animal products, or invite food justice activists who care about affordable healthy food access into our movement, which is often plagued by the myth that buying expensive specialty foods is necessary to eat a plant-based diet.

Some animal advocates will respond to these words with some feelings of frustration, saying that being vegan is taking direct action for animals. And while eschewing animal products is certainly the moral baseline, because eating animal products is not ethical, it is only the beginning. All we are doing, in being vegan, is preventing a few more dollars from going into the pockets of animal agriculture. Our impact on weakening the system is negligible. Each of our independent consumer choices little impact on animal agriculture.

This article isn’t about boycotting Whole Foods. Most people don’t live in an area that has an all-vegan grocery store, and vegan grocery stores, if they do exist where we live, often don’t have all of the staples that we need and often are more expensive than their not-exclusively-vegan counterparts. So while supporting all-vegan businesses is admirable, that’s not our request.

Vegans must always keep in mind that a corporation or restaurant that is “vegan-friendly” may not be "animal-friendly.” A steakhouse or a dairy ice cream parlor could be “vegan-friendly” if it offers a vegan meal or ice cream flavor that vegan humans can buy and eat. But just because a place has “vegan options” for your consumer pleasure doesn’t mean that it does not perform acts of tremendous violence and exploitation to nonhuman animals. Don’t let the halo effect of those swanky vegan options pacify you and prevent you, a human with a voice, from speaking out against violence and remembering that veganism is but one part of liberating animals.

Because we are only 2% of the population, our boycott has a limited impact and doesn’t even rescue animals from death. We must empower and educate others. Many of us have only begun to participate in the lifelong and multistep process of animal liberation:

  1. Boycott (refuse to financially support industries that exploit animals for food, clothing, entertainment, research).
  2. Disrupt speciesism (speak out to stop violence against animals).
  3. Save lives (by financially and physically supporting animal sanctuaries and fostering or adopting animals ourselves, so the survivors of these systems of exploitation can live lives free from violence).

Animal advocates should always center their actions and rhetoric around the plight of the animals, and their stories of both oppression and liberation. The video, though it was produced and published by an animal advocacy organization, did not even mention the exploitation of animals. Animal liberationists aren’t doing this work because the food is tastier or the clothes are more fashionable. We do this because nonhuman animal voices are silenced, and because we are liberationists fighting for human and nonhuman self-determination, bodily autonomy and justice.

Whole Foods, and other animalmongers that market themselves as green, ethical, compassionate companies, do not care about animals. Whole Foods cares about profit, whether the dollars they are generating come from vegans or animal eaters; so, they engage in expensive and complex humanewashing to deceive us all. We as a movement should be aware of how vegan consumerism and non-animal-centered messaging bolster Whole Foods’ reputation and play into their bloody hands.

Learn more about why DxE is targeting Whole Foods in our latest campaign.

How Chipotle Hurts Pigs...By Not Selling Them

How Chipotle Hurts Pigs...By Not Selling Them

By Glenn Alexander

Chipotle has stopped serving pig parts for the time being.  Must be a good thing, right? Not necessarily...

Chipotle has stopped serving pig parts for the time being.  Must be a good thing, right? Not necessarily...

Following Chipotle’s recent announcement that it will be offering free burritos to customers who try their vegan option, the restaurant chain has also announced that it is, until further notice, discontinuing its sale of “pork” due to its suppliers’ failures to meet Chipotle’s standards of animal welfare.  This has been met by cheers of praise from some animal-lovers, who thank the company for its apparent willingness to sacrifice profit for the sake of ethical values. 

Are Chipotle’s motives really that straightforward?  Unfortunately, it is rarely that simple— and this is no exception.  Chipotle’s “pork” boycott and free burritos are nothing but clever and deceptive PR stunts by a profit-hungry corporation.

First, let’s look at short-term profit.  It’s unlikely that the company will lose much money from taking a single item off of its menu, especially if the removal is temporary.  Any consumer coming to the chain hoping for “pork” will, in all likelihood, choose to buy another menu item instead— which will probably be animal-based. Moreover, the increased attention brought on by these two recent press hits will result in more people patronizing the company in the immediate future. Chipotle’s profit margin remains intact.

The real insidiousness behind Chipotle’s stunt is in the company’s pursuit of long-term profit.  It is no coincidence that Chipotle’s announcements took place very soon after it stopped being the main target of Direct Action Everywhere’s national “It’s Not Food; It’s Violence” campaign.  After all, one of the company’s main profit sources is its ethical, wholesome image, and DxE’s campaign was based around challenging that very image.  It only makes sense, then, that after such a campaign has ended, the company would do what it could to quell any and all consumer doubts about its commitment to treating animals with care. 

Chipotle has convinced the public that it has found and ethical and responsible way to exploit and kill animals.  It has found a consumer base that wants to make a positive difference in the world, and provided it with the comforting lie that all consumers need to do to make good on their moral duties is buy the dead bodies and stolen products of animals who have been, in Chipotle’s words, responsibly raised.”  Cornering that consumer base, especially given increased public concern for the treatment of animals on farms, stands to gain the company an incalculable amount of money.

Crucially, the success of Chipotle’s strategy does not depend on its actually treating animals with respect, but rather on convincing the public that it treats animals with respect.  As an open investigation of a "certified humane" reveals, even the so called best farms involve unconscionable animal suffering.  And, as many consumers know deep down, but willfully ignore, all “food animals” are slaughtered and slaughter is inherently violent.

In this illusory win-win relationship, the animals lose – even the pigs Chipotle refuses to sell.  The unchallenged spread of this humane lie gives ethically minded consumers a comforting retreat when the exploitation of animals is discussed.

“It’s not that we use animals that’s the problem; it’s how we use them.”

These lies guarantee that when Chipotle inevitably does bring pigs back onto the menu, people will buy them with clear consciences.  They guarantee long-term profit for whatever “pork” producers Chipotle chooses to buy from, thus ensuring the continued suffering and violent deaths of the pigs on those farms.  Most problematically, the myth of humane animal exploitation implicitly justifies the continued existence of all animal exploitation, and all of the suffering that comes with it, under the fraudulent guise that it can be reformed.

It cannot. There is nothing humane about slaughter. There is nothing compassionate about captivity. There is nothing ethical about animal agriculture. If you care about animals, don't look for the right way to do the wrong thing. Instead, join the ever-growing global movement for animal liberation: the right of every animal to be safe, happy, and free from human exploitation and violence.

Making real change for animals starts with you.

How The New York Times’ Exposé of the Meat Research Center is Deceiving Readers… and Hurting Animals

How The New York Times’ Exposé of the Meat Research Center is Deceiving Readers… and Hurting Animals

The Times condemned the abandonment of a lamb in the pasture but failed to point out the millions of other baby animals are killed, mutilated, and forcibly taken from their mothers as standard practice in the industry. 

The Times condemned the abandonment of a lamb in the pasture but failed to point out the millions of other baby animals are killed, mutilated, and forcibly taken from their mothers as standard practice in the industry. 

DxE’s lead investigator explains how the Times’ grossly misleading reporting reinforces three myths about animal agriculture.

by Wayne Hsiung

Yesterday, The New York Times published an article about a little known government program in Nebraska -- the Meat Animal Research Center --  with horrifying stories of abuse, including baby animals starved or crushed, animals subjected to genital mutilation, and countless other animals suffering from diseases such as mastitis. The article quickly became one of the most shared on the Times’ site, and the world collectively gasped at the animal cruelty exposed by the Times.

So why did I -- as someone who has spent the better part of 15 years fighting for the animals we use for food often at the very places where they are being held captive or killed -- find myself shaking my head, laughing, or even crying out in outrage while reading the piece? It was not just because the article (and its Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Moss) demonstrated a startling ignorance of animal agriculture, though that ignorance was aptly shown.  No, I found myself reacting so negatively because the article’s focus on an obscure research center served to mask the far more insidious systemic problem: namely, that violence against animals is everywhere, including at the Times’ favorite grocer (and advertiser) Whole Foods. Indeed, the Times’ shockingly sloppy reporting on the issue propagates three dangerous myths.

Myth #1: Premature death is an unusual problem in animal agriculture. Slaughter, in turn, is humane and well regulated.

The Times writes that its investigation has shown that animals at the Meat Research Center are “subjected to illness, pain and premature death.” It uses a number of powerful stories to illustrate this point -- including a little lamb who was sick and left to starve in a grassy field -- and mentions that “calves have been dying at high rates since 1984, and the easy care lambs for 10 years.” In contrast, the Times writes, “[t]he center’s parent agency, the Agriculture Department, strictly polices the treatment of animals at slaughterhouses and private laboratories.” The reader is left with the impression that, if not for the insidious Meat Research Center, animals would have the opportunity to live their lives out peacefully! (Indeed, even at the Center, it appears the problem of “premature death” has only existed since 1984.)

Left unspoken: all animals in the agricultural system are victims of “premature death.” Chickens are killed at six weeks. Pigs at six months. Cows at 1.5 years. Hens such as Mei Hua, who we rescued from an egg farm, are killed at around 2 years. In all cases, the animals are still juveniles when their lives are ended -- both chronologically and in terms of physical and psychological characteristics. Moreover, the “strict” policing of slaughterhouses that the Times article describes is in fact an industry-run charade. Nearly two thirds of slaughterhouses systematically fail to properly stun animals, leaving them screaming in pain and terror as their bodies are torn to pieces on the slaughter line. And the minimal requirements of the Humane Slaughter Act -- which does not cover poultry -- are hardly even enforced. Investigators have relayed stories of showing up at facilities they are legally obligated to inspect… and simply being refused access to the facility. This is the natural result, of course, when the Department of Agriculture is a revolving door for industry executives.

Contrary to the Times' reporting, stories of distressed animals left to die -- such as Mei Hua pictured here -- are routine in all of animal agriculture. 

None of this even begins to address the millions of animals who die from starvation, disease, or sheer neglect even before they get to slaughter. Anyone who (unlike the Times reporters) had actually been to an animal farm would recognize this, as the “premature death” toll is quite apparent from the corpses littered everywhere on the premises. The hen we rescued from a Whole Foods farm, Mei Hua, would have been another such victim if we had not arrived on the scene and rushed her to emergency medical care.

Myth #2: Mutilation, confinement, and other abusive practices are unusual in animal production.

The Times similarly recounts horrific stories of abuse at the Meat Research Center, including disease, mutilation, and confinement.  “A single, treatable malady — mastitis, a painful infection of the udder — has killed more than 625,” the writer explains. “[P]regnant ewes were injected with so much of the male hormone testosterone that it began to deform their babies’ genitals, making urination difficult… An animal manager, Devin M. Gandy, complained in 2012 that swine were kept in pens so small, 4 feet by 4 feet, that they appeared to violate basic rules on animal care.” Perhaps the most terrifying example of abuse is the story of a “young cow, a teenager” who was tied down and subjected to repeated sexual assault by “six bulls.”

The Times, once again, makes it seem as if all of these practices are unusual forms of abuse. (After all, there would be no “story” otherwise.) In fact, the exact practices condemned by the Times are routine practices in animal agriculture, including on so-called humane farms. For example:

-          While the author condemns the death of 625 cows from mastitis (a painful infection of the udders caused by overmilking), out of 580,000 animals housed by the facility since 1985, hundreds of thousands of dairy cows die from the exact condition every year, including on “humane farms.” Indeed, the annual death/cull rate from the condition -- which some reports have found to be as high as one third of the entire herd annually -- is so high that all dairy cows (even those who have no immediate medical emergency) are slaughtered at around five years. Their bodies are too broken for them to go on. 

-          The Times expresses horror at “deformed genitals” but fails to acknowledge that male pigs and cows go through genital mutilation -- castration without anesthetic -- as routine practice on all farms. Once again, this is allowed by every “humane” certification standard, including Certified Humane, GAP, and Animal Welfare Approved, which have all been enthusiastically recommended by the Times’ writers in prior articles. 

-          The Times decries the extreme confinement of pigs at the research center but fails to point out that Whole Foods supplier Niman Ranch, which loves to brag about how its pigs are raised “outdoors or in deeply-bedded pens,” permits animals to be raised in as little as one third of the space (5 square feet compared to 16 square feet) allotted for the pigs by the research center. (Imagine a 200 pound man living his entire life in a bathtub. This is the reality of Whole Foods' "humane" farms.) 

Graphic footage of recto-vaginal assault, which millions of cows suffer through on farms across the world. 

-          Finally, while the Times recounts with horror the story of a “teenager” who is subjected to repeated sexual assault, it completely ignores the fact that recto-vaginal assault, in which a man violently inserts his arm into a young cow's anus and vagina simultaneously, is the standard method of insemination for all 9 million dairy cows in this country. You can see for yourself (WARNING: GRAPHIC LINK) the fear and pain this practice causes the animals. (The farmer in the video, which was industry-produced, himself acknowledges the fear the animal feels as she is about to be violated.) 

If even more horrific practices are standard practice for the entire industry, why is the Times focusing its ire on an obscure research center that no one has ever heard of?

Well, that brings us to the next myth:

Myth #3: Industry is making rapid progress in improving animal welfare.

I previously noted that the Times has a dual interest in promoting the myth of humane animal agriculture. First, it knows what its readers want to hear. In the increasingly polarized, audience-driven world of news media (Fox News, etc.), this creates a strong incentive to distort facts to serve the readers’ pre-existing worldview. None of the Times’ readers want to hear about the cruelty inherent to eating animals, so the Times ignores it completely. Second, the Times has a massive financial stake in maintaining advertising from the fastest-growing and most media savvy corporations in the world, i.e. humanewashers such as Chipotle and Whole Foods.

It should come as little surprise to those of us who have observed the Times’ shameful reporting on animal issues, then, that it bends over backwards to defend the prominent name brands of animal agriculture:

Last January, Tyson Foods told its suppliers to start using pain medicine when they castrate or remove the tails of pigs, and to stop putting pigs in pens so small they cannot move. Whole Foods and some other supermarkets are refusing to buy fresh meat from sources that do not meet their standards for animal welfare.

Sounds great, right? Except there are some disturbing holes. The reference to Tyson, for example, fails to point out that the letter sent to suppliers (a direct response to an undercover video showcasing horrific abuse of pigs) did not impose any actual requirements. It merely “encouraged” and “supported” such changes, which, of course, the entire industry has been doing for the past 10,000 years. (When was the last time an industry rep admitted that he supported abuse?) Whole Foods, in turn, is described as “refusing to buy” from sources that fail to meet their standards, but the Times fails to point out that 93% of the funding for the “independent” Global Animal Partnership -- the source of Whole Foods’ standards -- is, you guessed it, provided by Whole Foods itself. The one and only time Whole Foods’ standards have actually been independently scrutinized -- by DxE’s recent investigation -- exposed the moral and factual fraud embedded in Whole Foods’ entire humane meat mythology. And yet, far from “refusing to buy,” the company doubled down on its supplier, a farm run by a man who has publicly stated that he does not believe in the existence of “happy chickens.”

Images from the research center, such as the above, show far better conditions than even so-called "humane" farms. So why does the Times make the abuses within seem like unusual cruelties? 

Indeed, by any objective measure, the Meat Research Center is doing far better than the Tysons and Whole Foods of the world. For example, while the institute is condemned for having insufficient veterinary staff for the 30,000 or so animals on site, animals in agricultural facilities never receive any veterinary care at all. Moreover, while the institute absolutely is involved in shameful neglect of animals -- abandoning some to die from predator attacks or inclement weather -- the green pastures at the center are light years better than the images we took from a “certified humane” Whole Foods farm, where the animals were cramped in such filthy, disease-ridden conditions that we had to hold our breath every time we went in. And while the Times rightly accuses the institute of emphasizing profit over pain -- citing internal documents where pain is mentioned 2 times and profit over 100 --- the mere acknowledgment that animals are feeling creatures is better than the Whole Foods farmer who disturbingly believes that chickens cannot feel pain at all.

What, exactly, is going on? Why would the Times ignore the mountain for the molehill?

There are three possible explanations. .

The first and most charitable explanation is that the reporter and editors are simply ignorant. While the Times is the gold standard for journalism, our recent experience with the Times shows that its reporters are surprisingly sloppy -- misquoting, making clear factual errors, and otherwise stumbling in the face of press deadlines.

The second explanation is the one that I offered previously: that the Times is bowing to financial pressure and incentives. It’s worth noting that this bias need not be insidious or even intentional. Ample psychological research shows that people go out of their way to believe things that serve their self interest. So, for example, if a Whole Foods CEO were to make a call to the Times’ publisher, explaining why allegations against the company were false, the publisher would be inclined to believe his story. After all, millions of dollars might be at stake in this belief. In contrast, the Meat Research Center is an obscure institute that has no advertising dollars. Indeed, attacking the “unnatural” practices at the center will very likely push people to seek out “natural” alternatives at Whole Foods and Chipotle -- the Times’ partners in crime.

Given the stranglehold of industry and tradition over public dialogue, independent media is vital to creating a more honest look at animal industry. 

The third and most likely explanation, however, is the most terrifying. Perhaps the reporter did actually make a good faith effort at due diligence. And perhaps the Times isn't unduly influenced by financial pressure. Instead, perhaps they have so normalized the violence against animals in agriculture that they can’t even see it as violence. The distinctive feature of this investigation, after all, is not the violence -- far more gruesome practices are routine in animal farming -- but rather that it’s occurring in the context of “experiments.” Follow-up coverage of the Times’ story (see, e.g., here and here) seems to also emphasize this point. The logical and moral distinction between torturing animals for science, on the one hand, or gustatory pleasure, on the other, is of course completely arbitrary. But even the typical New York Times reporter (or reader) may not be willing to acknowledge this, since it might implicate their own behavior.

What's the moral of the story? The Times' incredible efforts to ignore or even disguise violence that's happening right in front of their eyes shows us that we can’t just show people the violence. (They’ve already seen it, and are quick to dismiss it so long as it’s “normal.”) We have to make our own media, and craft our own stories -- through facebook, youtube, twitter, and every other platform we have -- in a way that interprets the violence as, well, violence. We have to empower critical voices with less bias and more knowledge, such as James McWilliams’ The Daily Pitchfork. And above all, instead of relying on Big Media alone, we have to inspire people on the ground to be change agents in their own communities. Big Media will eventually come around, but only if we force the issue onto the table and point out the absurdities in the entire system. And that is precisely why we at DxE take nonviolent direct action

Did The New York Times Cover Up Whole Foods's Fraud?

Did The New York Times Cover Up Whole Foods's Fraud?

by Wayne Hsiung

Basic failures in the Times's coverage of DxE's investigation -- including fabricated quotes -- should lead us to question reliance on Big Media. 

When deciding where to pitch our investigation, we faced a question: do we go with Big Media publications that have a history of defending Whole Foods, and extensive ties with the company? Or do we shoot for a smaller outlet that might be more sympathetic to our message? Our press advisors resoundingly recommended the former route, as the reach and prestige of a flagship outlet such as The New York Times would be a huge victory for our network -- and for the message that we are trying to get out.

But there were a number of problems with the Times’s coverage by Sabrina Tavernise and Stephanie Strom, which prominent food writer James McWilliams described as "deeply skewed," that deserve a response. Indeed, there was a basic failure of the journalistic process, including refusal to consider incriminating documents, blatant misquotes, and massive over-representation of industry perspectives, that should remind us that, while Big Media gives us an opening, it’s up to us to deliver a truthful message.

The Times made, or amplified, flatly false factual statements, and used fabricated quotes to do so.

The industry’s main contention is that the video is not representative of the general conditions in the farm -- and, by extension, other humane suppliers. Steve Mahrt, for example, claims in the article that only “three chickens” were found in distress. The Times quotes Marht on this approvingly, linking within the quote (something I have never seen before in over 20 years reading the Times) to a propaganda video (link now dead) from the farm showing fraudulently idyllic conditions.

Mr. Mahrt said the video produced by Direct Action Everywhere “isn’t anywhere indicative of our operation — they had to go through 15 barns off and on over a year to find three chickens they could use to make their point in this video.”

The Times then moves on to me for a response.

For his part, Mr. Hsiung said Direct Action Everywhere had found dozens of chickens in poor condition but had highlighted only a few in the video.

The reader is left to puzzle. If we found dozens of hens in poor condition, why did we highlight “only a few” in the video? Our work -- and the challenge to Whole Foods -- is immediately discredited.

Contrary to the Times's reporting, the first few seconds of our video demonstrate dozens of hens in crowded, filthy conditions. 

Of course, if you’ve seen our video, you’re probably laughing. Indeed, this was the incredulous reaction of a (conservative, non-animal-loving) professor of law at the University of Chicago I shared the coverage with: The New York Times’s focus on the issue was ridiculous given that far more than three animals are shown in the video’s first 30 seconds. Moreover, we provided the Times with dozens of photos of sick and distressed animals, and documents from the farm itself proving that far more animals were dying every single day. (I suppose in the Times’s world, a brutal death is not a “poor condition?”)

But here’s the problem: the article didn’t initially link to the video (or even provide a photo). Brian Burns and I badgered the Times all day, but it wasn’t until almost a full day after the article was posted -- and all the viewers had already passed through the site -- that the link was finally included in the article.

That’s right. In coverage of an investigatory video exposing animal cruelty, the Times refused to post the video of the investigation, but did post (embedded within a direct quote) the response video by a known industry shill.

What in heaven’s name is going on?

It gets worse, though. Suppose the Times just felt the need to quote “both sides” and made an inadvertent error in failing to include the video initially. At least they gave us a chance to respond, right? And I got the chance to explain our video?

Wrong. Because the quote attributed to me -- that we highlighted only a few hens in the video -- was fabricated. Indeed, the Times sent me that exact statement, asking if it was accurate, and I rejected it. I wrote in response:

We personally witnessed hundreds of animals in extreme distress over the course of the investigation. (By implication, thousands more were similarly afflicted.) And all of the animals were suffering from the crowding and poor conditions inside the facility, even if they were not suffering from an immediate medical emergency. 

The reporter wrote back “thanks wayne” as if to confirm the correction… but somehow the original misquote -- saying that we highlighted “only a few” -- ended up in the final article. Unbelievable.

Another line of reasoning used by industry to argue that our footage was not representative was that the footage was not from the “organic” barns. But as anyone who has a passing understanding of industry certification would know -- and as we explained to the Times -- organic has nothing to do with certified humane status, and no welfare requirements beyond giving animals “access” to the outdoors. Michael Pollan (who unlike the Times called our investigation a “black eye” for industry) has pointed out that “access” can be something as simple as a tiny window through which the animals never even pass. And in this case, the farm had a permanent exemption to even this trivial requirement because of the alleged threat of avian flu. In short, the organic designation has no relevance to any of the abusive conditions we found. We further pointed out to the Times that there was absolutely no external distinction drawn between organic and non-organic barns, and that we visited most of the barns on the facility -- and drew footage from virtually all of our visits for the video. The Times failed to include any of this in their story.

The Times never bothered to check whether the eggs were being marketed as "certified humane." 

Finally, industry claimed that the barn at issue was not the one that was “certified humane.” Here, the Times’s failure was most astonishing. Because the industry rep herself -- Adele Douglass -- conceded that the certification had lapsed and no audit had actually been performed (due to staffing issues). But the Times not only accepted Douglass’s line of reasoning without question, despite its transparent absurdity (For heaven’s sake, how can they complain that it was “a different barn” when they hadn’t even done an audit?), but failed to point out that the products continued to be sold as “certified humane.” All it would have taken to verify this was a 5 minute trip to Whole Foods. But it was 5 minutes that the Times simply could not afford (perhaps literally, as I’ll discuss below) when it comes to questioning their -- and their readers’ -- favorite grocery giant.

The Times failed to scrutinize any claims made by Whole Foods. Indeed, it barely mentioned the company at all.

Whole Foods, by all measures, is the biggest player in this drama. In revenue, it is probably thousands of times larger than even the massive Petaluma Farms entity, and its brand and reputation -- and not some unknown farmer or standard -- are what drive people to consume “humane” animal products. Fortune Magazine has said that Whole Foods, not Petaluma Farms or Certified Humane, is taking over America.

Yet the article completely ignores Whole Foods -- making the company seem like an incidental buyer of the farm’s eggs (along with Organic Valley) -- and utterly fails to scrutinize any of the marketing claims (“Raised with Care,” “Cage Free,” and “Certified Humane”) that fill Whole Foods’s stores. Instead, the only treatment given the company in the article is this:

"Other than doing some personal research and going online to see what different certification labels require, it gets tricky for consumers — and for us, too,” said A. C. Gallo, president and chief operating officer of Whole Foods.
Whole Foods, which also sells Petaluma’s Rock Island, Uncle Eddie’s and Judy’s brands, has just begun giving suppliers its own set of required humane standards for laying hens. As part of that process, a Whole Foods executive toured Petaluma Farms in February, but did not see anything resembling what was shown in the video, Mr. Gallo said.

When I saw this, I could hardly believe what I was reading. The Times, which bashed our investigation’s accuracy (ignoring supporting documentation -- and their own eyes -- in the process), simply accepted Whole Foods’ statement that it was “tricky” to determine what various certifications mean and quickly moved on to explain that the company was beginning to move to “its own” standard for laying hens. Problem resolved!

As someone who worked as reporter myself for almost 10 years, including at CNN’s DC bureau, I can say this was a basic failure of journalistic integrity. Additional questions should have been asked. When did the Whole Foods executive visit the farm? What expertise do they have in assessing hen welfare? Was the visit announced or not announced? Heck, did the “executive” even go into a barn? (In my experience representing executives at Fortune 500 companies as a corporate lawyer, not too many would be comfortable sifting through the filth of a farm.)

The Times understandably hit us with a barrage of skeptical questions -- all of which were adequately answered (even if our answers and evidence were ignored) -- but did not even bother asking Whole Foods a single one.

Worse yet, even if Whole Foods simply was suffering from confusion over the “tricky” situation, as its own president admitted to the Times, what basis does the company then have for saying so confidently that its animals are raised with compassion and care? The Times’s story frames the “tricky” certification standards as a problem for Whole Foods but fails to point out that Whole Foods is the 800 pound gorilla driving the entire “humane certification” enterprise, making farmers like Mahrt fearfully quiver in the process. Whole Foods’s failure in this single instance should have been an opening for the Times to question the grocer -- and the entire industry’s -- reputation for rigorous standards, transparency, and ethical behavior. Instead, the piece was a clever defense of the industry -- deflecting concerns to a single player (Mahrt) and ignoring the systemic concern.

We made this point to the Times reporters over and over and over again. And yet not even a word of it was mentioned in the article, which brings us to the final problem.

The Times ignored our voice, and literally gave over 10 times more play to the industry voices despite the fact that our investigation triggered this coverage.

You would think that, in coverage of an investigation of cruelty, the Times would want to include something from, well, the actual investigators. But not only did the Times refuse to post our video, they also, despite many hours of interviews and communication over a month-long period, failed to quote us at all, beyond a four word slogan (“five steps of cruelty”). In contrast, they included over a hundred words from industry (and, once again, links embedded into the direct quotes to purportedly justify industry claims!). Indeed, the disproportionate coverage of industry perspectives makes the piece read less like investigative reporting and more like a press release from industry. What the heck is going on?

My best guess is that the Times did not like what we had to say. We emphasized throughout our investigation that our findings problematized the entire notion that animals could be “ethically used.” (“You’re not going to succeed at that,” the reporter said to me. I wondered what basis she had for interjecting that opinion into what should have been an objective interview.) We made absolutely clear that our investigation targeted the “best of the best” -- a farm that was certified by a standard supported by The Humane Society of the United States -- to show that this was not a problem of a single farm, or even a single grocer, but an entire system. But the Times flatly failed to make that connection, perhaps to protect is liberal, urban, meat-eating readers from the harsh truth of even so-called humane agriculture: It’s not food. It’s violence.

But there is a more cynical interpretation of these events. Subscription revenues have dropped in the past decade, with the onset of the internet revolution, and even flagship papers such as the Times are forced to rely on advertising to survive. The Times, which reported a $9 million loss last quarter, needs Whole Foods’s advertising dollars. We know Whole Foods is spending an unknown amount of its $20 million Values Matter advertising campaign with the Times. (The Times’s upper-middle-class readers are exactly the folks Whole Foods is targeting with their ads.) We know that even half of that advertising budget -- small by Whole Foods’s standards -- would transform the Times’ third quarter loss to a gain.  We know the Times, like other traditional media outlets, is in a fight to the death for financial survival. Is it surprising, then, that the Times ultimately takes the grocery giant’s side?

Never mind that we documented to the Times, using federal tax records, that 93% of the Whole Foods supposedly “independent” standards are funded by the company itself. Never mind that Whole Foods, unlike us, has a clear incentive to lie to the public -- and no regulatory apparatus to stop them in their lies. Never mind that Direct Action Everywhere is filled with people who have devoted their lives to public service -- not profit -- and have studied, worked at, and published at some of the most credible research institutions on the planet, including Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and MIT.

All of that doesn’t matter in the desperate struggle to defend Whole Foods.

But the real victim here is not just the Times’s advertising revenues. It’s journalistic integrity, public consciousness, and above all, the animals’ lives.



Veganism is NOT Cruelty-Free

Looking for cruelty-free options?  If you are a follower of the animal rights movement, then you have likely seen veganism advertised this way—as a tool for people who don’t want to hurt animals to stop paying for animals to be hurt.  Sensible enough, right?  There is more to it though

Why Target Whole Foods

DxE investigators find shocking mistreatment of animals at a "humane" Whole Foods supplier.... and attempt to rescue a little hen named Mei from the brink of death.

Why Target Whole Foods?

By Brian Burns

There are many reasons to target Whole Foods, from its horrendous violence towards animals to its incredible growth based on fraud. Here are some big reasons why the company is one the animal rights movement should protest, followed by some questions we are often asked about the campaign.

1. It’s massive. 

Despite its public image, Whole Foods is the second-largest grocery store in the US valued at $17 billion, more than double that of other industry giants such as Safeway. On top of its gargantuan size, it has announced long-term plans to quadruple its stores while most comparable chains have seen zero to negative growth. But this rapid expansion has come at the cost of countless lives: analysts have reported to us that the company profits from approximately $2.4 billion in meat sales and hundreds of millions of animals killed annually, with the sales accelerating every year.

Whole Foods is not a progressive mom-and-pop shop. It's a corporate machine - one whose engine runs on stolen lives.

Whole Foods says they respected him. Yet they mutilate and deface his body, then hang him mockingly in their store.

Whole Foods says they respected him. Yet they mutilate and deface his body, then hang him mockingly in their store.

2. The company lies about caring for animals.  

Whole Foods says its animals are “Raised with Care” with strict animal welfare standards developed by the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) – for example, laying hens are able to “move around freely, exercise and flap their wings”. What they don’t say is that GAP is almost entirely funded by Whole Foods (almost 95% of its budget coming from the company in recent reports). GAP allows mutilation, including castration of baby pigs and the slicing of hens’ beaks at almost all of its farms.

Worse yet, they are committing not just factual - but also moral - fraud. They are feeding the public the false idea that somehow, you can care for animals and kill them too. And tragically, the public is eating it up.

Whole Foods says “Values Matter” – but more importantly, truth matters. And DxE has concrete evidence of Whole Foods’ fraud with a first-of-its-kind investigation of a “Humane Certified” Whole Foods farm.



3. It preys on people’s concern for animals. 

People care about animals, and Whole foods seeks to commodify that care and sell it for profit. In 2012 regulatory filings, Whole Foods categorized these people – their largest customer base – as “Conscionables”, or “customers [who] connect with us on a deeper level because of our shared values.” With its recently announced $20 million PR campaign “Values Matter”, the company explicitly stated that its profits depend on deceiving consumers, particularly the “Conscionables”, with a false image of a progressive company that cares for animals, despite all evidence to the contrary. 

Its recent "Values Matter" campaign even contains bizarre and offensive advertisements proclaiming "PICK A CHICKEN, COOK A CHICKEN, KNOW YOUR CHICKEN", and "CHOOSE A FISH, COOK A FISH, SAVE A FISH" - as if, by eating animals killed by Whole Foods, you are  actually saving them from death.


4. It’s insidiously influencing our culture.

The public’s view of our food system is evolving due to growing awareness of factory farming and repeated undercover investigations at the worst-of-the-worst” facilities. But despite the fact that 99% of all animal products come from factory farms, most people believe that most animals are treated humanely, and that the industry is changing for the better. This is no coincidence. Companies like Whole Foods are actively shaping the public’s view of animal agriculture with false marketing. Examples include “Know what Kind of Life your Dinner Lived” and “A Hearty Helping of Animal Compassion with Every Order [of meat]”. 

5. It’s buying our movement. 

By any measure [Whole Foods] is a remarkable company…I’ve known John for many years, and he serves on the board of The Humane Society of the United States. We also serve together on the board of the Global Animal Partnership.
— Wayne Pacelle, CEO of The Humane Society of the United States

Despite its horrible record of animal abuse, some of the most prominent figures and groups in the movement, including Peter Singer, publicly thanked Whole Foods for its compassion towards animals. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey even sits on the board of the largest animal protection group in the country! This is an invasion of the movement snatchers. And we can't let them succeed. Because if they do, they will have bought out our movement's greatest strengths: our integrity and our soul.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Are you calling for a boycott of the company?

No. The number of vegans – let alone animal rights activists – is very small in relative to Whole Foods’ enormous customer base, so a purely economic boycott would have little significance. We can amplify our message drastically, however, by taking direct action against the company with public protest – especially against a company as famous as Whole Foods. Boycott if you can, but more importantly, direct your anger at Whole Foods with more than your wallet by joining the It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign.

What about vegan options?

Keep in mind the stories of Mei and Sephy, both of whom were rescued from dire conditions and horrendous violence at the hands of Whole Foods. Given this company’s track record of animal abuse, it should be a target of the animal rights movement, and they know it. Offering vegan options is a well-documented strategy of quelling animal rights dissent. But we will not be duped by Whole Foods throwing a few vegan items our way.

Moreover, public protest is the best way to encourage Whole Foods to continue offering vegan options. Companies do not act like people – they will do what is best for PR and profits. With a pressure campaign directed against the company’s exploitation of animals, Whole Foods will scramble to do whatever it can to placate the public, including offering more vegan options and even improving its miserable animal welfare standards.

What about their animal welfare standards?

Whole Foods’ animal welfare standards are a marketing ploy at best. Despite claiming to protect animals, their “5-Step” animal welfare standards allow severe mutilation of newborn creatures, including castration of baby pigs and slicing of chicks’ beaks, all without painkillers. The “Certified Humane” label often touted at Whole Foods’ meat counter is equally meaningless, giving “cage-free” birds only one square foot of space to move, and allowing the burning of animals’ flesh while still fully conscious. 

Why do you not talk about veganism?

Direct Action Everywhere strongly endorses veganism as a rejection of speciesism but chooses to frame our advocacy in terms of the rights and lives of animals rather than the dietary convenience of humans. Framing is extremely important when convincing people to change both their thoughts and behavior. And the dietary framing of animal rights has, thus far, failed: despite massive efforts by large organizations at “vegan conversion,” the percentage of vegetarians and vegans in the US has not budged, even a little (according to Gallup, “Vegetarianism in the U.S. remains quite uncommon and a lifestyle that is neither growing nor waning in popularity”). We need the public to think of animal rights as a social justice issue like any other, not a consumer fad.

In addition, it is clear the animal rights movement needs activists, not consumers. In order to change the massive system of animal exploitation, we need mass political action far more powerful than a diffused boycott. The standard vegan narrative, unfortunately, has created a world of isolated vegans who are often afraid to speak up strongly for animal rights. DxE seeks to create the opposite: a global network of tightly connected activists who are able to both inspire each other to act boldly, and to create activists out of ordinary people – setting a wildfire of protest around the world. 

Why protest inside?

The goal of the Truth Matters: It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign is to change the public’s idea of meat from food to a product of violence against sensitive creatures. Consequently, we go inside of restaurants and grocery stores, where animals’ bodies are routinely served and eviscerated, since it is in these places that extreme violence against animals is normal. The conflict and backlash that come with challenging these violent norms, contrary to common belief, serves the movement positively by drawing attention to the issue and starting a substantive discussion of animal rights. For more information on going inside, see here.