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Consumerism

Chipotle’s Seven Deadly Sins – What You Don’t Know about this Scarecrow May Kill You

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Chipotle’s Seven Deadly Sins – What You Don’t Know about this Scarecrow May Kill You

(Note: see a talk on this subject here.

Why protest Chipotle? We often get this question. On the face, Chipotle seems like a “good corporation.” They’re at least starting a conversation about animal welfare, right? And heck, they’re offering us a vegan burrito! But there are seven deadly sins, behind the glitzy marketing, that make Chipotle perhaps the most important target in the animal rights movement.

1. It’s one of the largest and fastest-growing animal killers in the world. It’s a $16 billion company -- the third largest publicly-traded restaurant company in the world -- and has grown by 1000% (yes, one thousand percent) in the past five years. If you’re concerned about animals being killed for food, this is where all the action is. Even just slowing Chipotle's growth by a few percentage points would imply tens of millions fewer animals slaughtered in its engine of violence. 

2. It’s lying to the public.  Its corporate motto is “Food with Integrity,” and it deliberately uses terms such as “natural” and “responsibly raised” that have no regulatory significance. It shows the world happy animals in sunlit fields. Yet even cattle industry publications point out that Chipotle sources from brutal, gruesome factory farms.

The  Chipotle Scarecrow : innocent look but deadly core. 

The Chipotle Scarecrow: innocent look but deadly core. 

3. It’s a leader in pro-meat propaganda.There was American Meat back in Feburary, which was described by the Village Voice as “exemplifying the history of meat production in the U.S., especially its innovations, by arguing that the industry is essential to the sustainability of our civilization.” There's the Cultivate festival, which is Chipotle's attempt to show the world that we can cultivate a better world by killing animals. More recently, they started putting up billboards that simply say "MEAT MEAT MEAT." (They're not afraid to lay it on hard, apparently.) 

4. It tries to buy off activists… and often succeeds. Despite its massive pro-meat propaganda machine, Chipotle has somehow earned supporters within the animal rights movement. It's an invasion of 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. 

.5. It has the most progressive and animal-friendly customers… and it preys on their ethical instincts. Chipotle's Culinary Manager Nate Appleman, in a moment of accidental honesty to the New York Times: “You put tripe in a bowl and tell them it’s from a humanely raised cow, and they’re going to eat it.”

They forgot to point out the  violence . 

They forgot to point out the violence

6. It makes killing animals more profitable. The average Big Mac costs $3.50 and hardly makes McDonald's a dime. Chipotle, in contrasts, charges almost $8 a burrito -- and makes a huge killing off the premium

7. It’s framing the debate as one of "food choice." But it's not food. It's violence. And it's violence that has to stop. 

We'll discuss these seven factors -- and perhaps just as important, what we can do to stop their dangerous impact --  in our open meeting on February 16

Veg*n Consumerism: Panacea... or Pitfall?

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One of the complaints we face, in campaigning against Chipotle, is that we shouldn't target a restaurant that has a vegan consumer option. "After all, they're helping people along, step by step," critics say. "Why not go after McDonald's instead?" But when you unpack this criticism, you see that even the critics -- who perversely favor vegan consumer options above all else -- should be our campaign's biggest supporters! 

First, even if one thinks the vegan option is important, our campaign is perhaps the best way to ensure that the vegan option stays. In the face of public pressure and scrutiny, the company (which markets itself as friendly to vegans) could hardly abandon its vegan burrito now, in a moment when its vegan-friendly credentials are being challenged. Indeed, it's at least as likely that it will seek to add even more vegan options to satisfy the protesters, and further prove to progressives and activists that they are a "good company." Chipotle -- which has invested tens of millions into its image as an ethical company -- and its ilk are precisely the companies most likely to respond to a pressure campaign by adding more options. 

Second, veg*n options are not a promising platform for animal liberation. This is not theoretical. We can look directly at a real world counter-example: India. The country, which probably has more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined, has doubled its meat consumption in the past 10 years.  Young vegetarians are now, in NPR's words, the new pariahs -- dismissed as needlessly traditional and excluded from a new symbol of status. 

Vegetarianism, in short, has no natural moral trajectory. When framed as a personal choice, as in many parts of India, it is not a strong platform for growth. Animal liberation, in contrast, is such a platform. Indeed, without a strong liberationist movement to culturally construe and interpret veg*n options, those options serve no function for animals whatsoever. They are not a panacea, but a pitfall. 

Buying our Movement

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I'm known for being a skeptical vegan. I'm committed to the lifestyle, for sure, and have been for  years (at times, it was perhaps counterproductive. There was a time when I refused to ride in buses or cars because of the stearic acid in rubber). But I've also publicly declared my misgivings about the vegan consumerist approach -- that is, celebrating, advocating, and enhancing the lifestyle of the vegan consumer -- to animal liberation. There are sound reasons for thinking that vegan consumerism is not a good frame for achieving animal liberation. But sometimes, I go further and describe it as an obstacle to the movement's success and growth. Why might that be the case? I'm reposting a recent discussion below: 

The danger is the same one that William Lloyd Garrison pointed to in advocating for (human) slaves almost 200 years ago. Transforming an urgent social justice movement into a tawdry consumer movement ("Please buy fewer slaves! You'll be such a good person if you do!") re-establishes the "anchoring point" for the movement from "We have to stop all violence" to "let's reduce violence a tiny bit -- but realistically, maybe not at all -- because we can't really expect anything more." 

That normative anchoring point, in turn, will transform the number and type of social messages that are circulated in local communities by activists, i.e. the crucial conversations on the ground between friends, relatives, and co-workers. They're suddenly not talking at all about (much less judging their peers for) the horrors and injustice of animal holocaust -- but instead about adding a vegan option, or a "humane meat" burrito, to the menu at Chipotle.

The movement's demand for change for animals is lost in a spiral of vegan self-indulgence. And individual supporters of the movement are dis-empowered from speaking more confidently against animal abuse. "Don't be one of the militant vegans," people say. "After all, you got your vegan burrito, didn't you? Stop complaining!" 

The lost normative framing -- and the cascading impact this has on effective meme spreading in local social networks -- is the most important casualty of a shift towards vegan consumerism. But there are a number of other detrimental effects:

- Public dialogue is dampened or eliminated because the changes demanded, and controversy generated, suddenly become less compelling.

"Protesters storm into the streets to demand freedom" is an inspirational story and effective meme. "Protesters make polite request for a vegan burrito" is not. 

- To the extent public dialogue is created, it fails to sustain itself because multinational corporations and other institutions manage to convince the public, and even activists, that the problem has been resolved by offering humane alternatives (vegan or otherwise).

Campaigns, just like any good story, require conflict and continuing tension. Indeed conflict and tension are what feed an effective campaign/movement cycle. Efforts to mediate these sorts of conflicts douse the fire of a movement with cold water. Vegan consumerism, by offering faux alternatives and compromise, can have exactly that effect. 

- Even to the extent that alternatives ARE necessary, those that are created under the umbrella of vegan consumerism are susceptible to backsliding.

Whole Foods is perhaps the best example of this. It started out as a vegetarian grocer. Now it's one of the largest animal killers in the world. Alternatives that don't have sufficient structural and institutional separation from current structures and institutions are easily reshaped to serve status quo interests. The most obvious way this is true: the USDA regulates all food, not just meat production, and it has a long history of being controlled by Big Ag interests that have no incentive to implement genuine reforms for animals. The less obvious example is the countless successful vegan businesses that eventually sell themselves to Big Ag interests. (I see Native Foods going down this path, for example -- they recently hired Chipotle's former CFO and are no longer owned by animal advocates. It would not surprise me at all if, within 5 years, they start selling dead animals.)

The upshot: this isn't a consumer movement for vegans. It's a justice movement for animals. And don't let the trappings of vegan consumerism distract you from our central message and goal: not a vegan consumertopia but a world where every animal is safe and happy and free. 

Reflections on Consumer Boycotts

Reflections on Consumer Boycotts

A question that has come up recently is whether one can participate in our campaigns while continuing to shop at Chipotle -- which, after all, is one of the few fast food chains that provides a vegan option. We'll be offering a more detailed analysis later, but here are some preliminary reflections.

Individuals v. Systems: Emergence and Social Change (Video)

Colony wide properties, that no individual ant acts on or understands, matter more (even for understanding and predicting individual ant behavior) than an individual-level account. The intentionality of an ant colony is an  emergent property  

Colony wide properties, that no individual ant acts on or understands, matter more (even for understanding and predicting individual ant behavior) than an individual-level account. The intentionality of an ant colony is an emergent property 

The animal rights community typically focuses on individuals and individual decision-making, as the relevant locus of change. And yet a growing body of evidence shows that complex systems often have properties of their own -- so-called "emergent" properties -- that cannot be properly understood by examining individual components. So, for example, one cannot understand the behavior of a squirrel by using the tools of particle physics!

If human societies have emergent social and systemic properties, then one similarly cannot affect human social behavior by focusing exclusively on individual change. Focusing on systems, rather than individuals, leads to some important questions, such as:

- Should the movement be focused on creating public activists, or private vegans?
- Should the movement be targeting cultural norms, or individual consumer behaviors?
- How likely is it that any particular individual change, whether to a person or a business, is likely to sustain itself, if systemic properties remain static?

Cutting through the Haze

Press coverage can expand our message to thousands more people than we can reach on the street. But the press often distorts our message to mollify its audience. They selectively edit  to make activists seem crazy; or they cut the story so that the ultimate content -- and challenge -- to the audience is removed. But occasionally, the message of animal liberation cuts through the haze. That's what happened this weekend in the coverage by KPFA (94.1 FM) evening news. 

Click above to listen to the press report on the Bay Area Chipotle protest from this weekend. Much more on our day of action to come. 

Download the interview clip here

 

Effective Meme Spreading (Video)

Effective Meme Spreading (Video)

In disciplines ranging from economics to history, the cognitive revolution has shown that ideas that spread -- so-called "memes" -- are perhaps the most important forces in social change. But what causes some ideas to spread more effectively than others?

In this talk, activist, lawyer, and trained behavioral scientist Wayne Hsiung discusses three principles of "Effective Meme Spreading." Among other things, you will learn:

- why generating conflict and controversy (such as that created in the Civil Rights Movement, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring) might be vital to an effective meme; 
- why convincing a person's friends might be more important than convincing the person herself, if you want the idea you're spreading to stick; and
- how strong and supportive communities provide the necessary "fertile ground" for memes to grow, survive, and reproductively flourish. 

Slides for the presentation can be found here.  

About the Speaker

Wayne Hsiung is a lawyer, writer, and organizer for DxE in the Bay Area. Prior to entering the practice of law, Mr. Hsiung was a National Science Graduate Fellow researching behavioral economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Harry N. Wyatt Scholar and Olin Law and Economics Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. He served on the faculty at Northwestern School of Law, as a Searle Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Law, from 2006-2007, where he focused on behavioral law and economics, free speech, and environmental law.

Mr. Hsiung has worked on social justice campaigns since 1999, including campaigns against capital punishment and on behalf of low-income youth, and has been a grassroots organizer in the animal rights movement since 2001. In his free time, he enjoys playing with his two dogs (Lisa and Natalie) and two cats (Joan and Flash).

 

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Meat Consumption - In Decline, or Not?

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Last year, at around this time, blogs and social media erupted over a Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) report indicating that per capita meat consumption had been on the decline, since 2008, and was projected to continue to decline in 2013. There was widespread cheerleading (and even some statistical analysis) to suggest that the animal rights movement's efforts had caused this apparent decline. Conveniently ignored in this was the fact that far greater drops in meat consumption were seen during the Great Depression -- including a one-year 18% decline (citation link currently unavailable due to government shutdown).

So how have things progressed? Well, the new numbers are out. And the results are sobering: across the board increases in demand, for all species other than turkeys. The 3% increase in chicken alone will overwhelm all other numbers, and manifest in hundreds of millions more individuals forced to endure the torments of animal "husbandry" and slaughter.  

By the logic used, around this time last year, does that imply that the animal rights movement has suddenly failed, despite its successes starting in 2008? Did we match our glorious success in 2012, with abject failure in 2013? Surely not. The demand for meat is a complicated variable that can't be linked to any one factor. And there is significant year-to-year variation that has nothing to do with our work. 

The upshot? Too much of AR activism focuses on short term data that has no impact on our long-term success: small down and up ticks in meat consumption; the percentage of people who "choose vegetarian" due to x, y, or z intervention; or even the passage of a regulation that does not fundamentally alter the "fox guarding the henhouse" dynamic inside the USDA. But don't be confused by the noise. The path to liberation requires a sound strategy, grounded in historical examples of success. Taking those steps, and not obsessing over minor changes in secondary variables (with doubtful scientific accuracy), should be our focus. 

Make Their Hearts Sing

Make Their Hearts Sing

Too often, we hear that we have to use the latest in marketing research, cheap advertising tricks, and other forms of psychological manipulation in order to effect change. But the changes being effected by such methods are generally skin deep. If we want to move people to real and permanent effect, the models we should seek are models from storytelling, from theater, from the great social justice movements of history, and even... from a beautiful song. 

Metaphors We Live By

The metaphors we conjure up have a huge impact on our ability to effect change.

The metaphors we conjure up have a huge impact on our ability to effect change.

 Berkeley cognitive scientist George Lakoff, whose work has influenced a generation of political campaigners, is famous for the idea that metaphors are the essence of human thought – “Metaphors We Live By”. On so many issues of public controversy, the metaphor a community uses, to understand a problem, determines how individuals feel and act on the issue.

Is homophobia about “family values” or “bigotry”?

Is taxation a matter of “coercion” or “sharing”?

Is the Iraq War about “safety and security” or “violence and aggression”?

Yet, even in animal rights communities, the metaphors that currently dominate our thinking on animals are self-defeating metaphors of personal consumption – what milk to buy (soy, or dairy?), what restaurant to eat at (herbivore or carnivore?), which product to purchase (with the bunny logo? or without?). The problem with this consumerist framing is that it leaves us trapped in the metaphor of the oppressor.  Critics or our message immediately ask themselves, “In a free society, why should any of us care what others are buying and selling?”

But we do not have to accept this metaphor. We can challenge it by saying directly and confidently that this movement is not a matter of personal choice, but of horrific violence. By telling the story from the victim’s perspective, rather than the oppressor’s.

Is animal rights about “consumer choices” or “animal liberation”? The answer to that question will determine whether our movement sees the explosive growth it needs, to effect real and permanent change.