Your 20-Year Project

I think we need more people who are willing to devote 10–20 years of their lives to a single project that they believe has a huge potential for impact. Animals need you to find something important that needs to be done, and then to devote years of your life to figuring it out.

So are you ready for that?

Good Things Take Time

“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

This is a simple saying with a profound meaning for how we should approach creating an impact for animals, especially for us modern-day people with too many things to do and too little time to do them in. James Clear put a spin on it when he wrote that Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, But They Were Laying Bricks Every Hour.

What do you get when you do a million things all at once and never stick to anything for more than a few days or weeks? You may get random piles of bricks all over the place, but you most certainly won’t get Rome.

Alan Turing spent his whole life studying mathematics, cryptography, and electronics in order to come up with the insights into computing that he did. Jane Goodall began her work studying chimpanzees back in 1960, and almost sixty years later continues her work by spending nearly all of her time advocating for chimps. Peter Singer, best known in the animal rights movement for his 1975 book Animal Liberation, has dedicated his whole career to moral philosophy and its applications.

With billions of people in the world working on millions of distinct things, each of us can choose to dedicate ourselves to an important topic and give it the time it deserves. (Don’t worry—other people are going to work on other important things. You don’t have to do it all.)

So which topic are you going to devote yourself to? How long are you willing to persevere in order to make it a success?

Are you chasing a hundred little things, or one big thing?

An Abundance of Good Ideas

The thing is, there are plenty of good ideas out there. In fact, there are tons of great ideas—profound, game-changing ideas that have the potential to make a big difference for animals.

The problem? We don’t have enough people who are willing to push through years of hard work to bring those ideas to life. It makes sense—bringing something to life is hard. Having ideas is easy.

As humans, we like ideas. We like coming up with them, talking about them, debating them, chewing on them. Ideas are fun. They’re sexy. They’re addictive. And you can think of them from the comfort of your couch while drinking a beer and hanging out with friends.

But ideas alone don’t create change. Ideas need to be brought into existence through the slow, difficult, beautiful process of actualizing them.

The idea of juicy, savory, realistic plant-based burgers is great—that’s a really good idea with the potential to get a lot of non-vegans to switch to eating plant-based. But unless someone is spending 10–20 years developing that burger, marketing the burger, building the factories, fighting the competition, crafting a new market, and so on, then the burger idea isn’t going to come to life.

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are on that quest right now, and it’s taken them about 10 years each to get to where they currently are (since 2009 and 2011 respectively). They’ve both broken through into fairly significant success (at least in terms of distribution and media coverage), but both companies have massive potential for more growth and bigger impact. Ten years of hard work got them where they are—it’ll take another 10, or 20, or 50, for them to get a taste of what their real potential is.

So what’s your idea that’s worth spending decades on? If you find yourself saying “someone should do this”, is that person you?

Real change for animals takes a specific plan, and that plan is going to need to be carried out every day for years—decades.

Are you ready to do that?

Compound Interest

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world,” so the quote goes. (Purportedly by Einstein, but quotes are so hard to verify.)

First, you invest. Then you earn a little interest on your investments, which then gets added back to the investment. But now the amount of your investment is a bit bigger, so next time you earn a little bit more interest, which gets added back again. And so on, and so on, so that Benjamin Franklin’s investment of $4,500 for the city of Boston in 1790 became $4.5 million by 1990, two hundred years later.

What many people don’t realize is that compound interest is the perfect metaphor for investing in projects, as well.

The website and app HappyCow was started in 1999 by Eric Brent (just one year after Google was founded, incidentally). These days, we know that HappyCow is the go-to resource for people looking for vegan and vegetarian restaurants—but it required twenty years of work (twenty years of investing in HappyCow as a project) to get to where it is today, and at any point Eric could have thrown in the towel and shut it down. With each bit of investment though, it became a more valuable resource. And as it became more valuable, more people used it, and Eric learned more about how to make it better. That’s how projects compound over time into something greater.

Mercy For Animals was also founded in 1999 and confined its work mostly to Ohio for the first several years of its existence, a much smaller domain than the half dozen countries it works in now. Similarly, PETA has been in existence since 1980 and spent much effort over its first ten years on a single case (contrasted with the dozens of campaigns it has running at any given point now). With each year of effort, both organizations grew their networks, grew their influence, and gained a bit of “interest” from their previous investments in the work.

Investing in the same project over time is just that—it’s an investment. And if you devote years of hard work to a big, important project, that investment will pay off. (Yay for compounding!)

Imperfect Solutions That Get Better Over Time

I think people are sometimes afraid of being failures (or of their projects failing), but that’s the wrong way to look at it.

First, every pursuit is a learning experience. You always have the opportunity to learn something you didn’t know before and use it in the future to improve your work. That’s hugely valuable.

Each organization and each person can only accomplish so much in this vast ecosystem of society that we live in. Life is hard—it requires a lot of work to learn new things, build new structures and institutions, or change existing ones. In order to achieve mastery of a domain (or truly creative synthesis of multiple domains), you need to put in a lot of focused work. Angela Duckworth found that grit is correlated with success—and grit basically means “sticking with something for a long time”. When you stick with something for a long time, you’re going to learn a lot. With each thing you learn, you’re able to build something better the next time.

Hence, your own 20-year project.

Second, nothing is ever perfect. Absolutely nothing. Frankly, the concept of a “perfect solution” doesn’t even make sense. The whole world is constantly in a state of breaking and repair, of trying and trying again, of getting it slightly wrong a million times and fixing it.

Nearly everything starts out bad, and then slowly—painstakingly, over the course of years of work—it gets better, bit by bit. This, in a nutshell, is the story of life—there are no perfect solutions, and nothing is ever finished. We create imperfect solutions and then try to improve them with time. Things do get better because of our efforts, but we’re never done.

It’s actually been really hard for me to accept that nothing is ever going to stop needing repairs. For example, Google is an amazing search engine—and it continues to be because a bunch of people at Google are constantly fixing it and improving it. Google is never going to be a “perfect” product, because perfection doesn’t exist. There are simply a series of problems (often big, fuzzy, ill-defined problems) and solutions to those problems (which are always imperfect in some way). And even when we do our best, things go wrong and we have to figure out how to move forward.

Think about some of the most successful companies or people. Think about Google, or Facebook, or Apple. On the animal rights side of things, think about PETA or Mercy For Animals or Beyond Meat. None of these companies or organizations started off great. They all started off with people, ideas, prototypes, and the magnificent art of “not getting it right”. They all got many, many things wrong. And they’re still getting things wrong.

Stuff breaks at major software companies all the time. Successful animal rights organizations are constantly struggling to raise money, or to create a better strategy, or to hold onto good people, or to expand into a new country, or to get better project management software, or whatever.

Everything is slightly broken all the time. (Or, you know, majorly broken.) Everything has limits to what it can do. Everything has bugs and faults.

Build it anyways. That’s how life works. We’re in the business of imperfect solutions to difficult problems.

When It Breaks, Start Anew

As a recent example, despite hundreds of years of construction and repairs (and all the blood, sweat and tears that went into those efforts), the Notre Dame cathedral recently caught fire and sustained a huge amount of damage. What do we do when calamity strikes? We accept it, and then we plan for bigger and better things.

This can be a source of inspiration for you, because it takes a little bit of the pressure off of us to create perfect solutions. (Remember: there is no such thing.) Once you accept that imperfection is part of the process, you’re free to create things and then improve them from there.

And—bringing it back to the 20-year project—if you’ve found something that’s important and worth devoting a lot of your time and energy to, then you have a long time to create better versions. Compared to your future versions, your first version is always going to suck. Try your hardest, enjoy your efforts, acknowledge the faults, and build the better next version.

Twenty Years

Why twenty years?

Honestly, it’s an arbitrary number that sounds like “quite a long time”.

Okay, well maybe not totally arbitrary. There’s the popular 10,000 hour rule about mastery (which is just a rough heuristic and can be doubted, like any theory of success or mastery), which can translate to 10–20 years of work, depending on how many hours you spend each day on your craft or your pursuit. Mastery is necessary to push us forward in new and important ways, and the only way to get there is through the long process of trying, learning, experimenting, practicing, and building.

But also—twenty years sounds like a long time. (Ten years also suffices. But twenty is better.)

There are a lot of domains we can look at to see how truly great things take a long time to create. Compound interest is a good example of this. Large amounts of sustainable growth don’t happen overnight, but rather accumulate over the course of decades. Great companies start with humble beginnings and gain prominence over the course of years. Organizations and businesses take decades (sometimes even fifty or a hundred years!) to spread globally and achieve household name recognition. Doctors spend decades mastering their craft, as do writers and engineers and programmers.

Even the overall story of humanity is one of gradual compounding of progress over the course of tens, hundreds, and thousands of years. To create computers, we needed electricity. To first harness electricity (through the use of generators—which someone had to figure out), we needed to know that electricity existed, and we needed to figure out its basic properties. All of these developments rested on top of the knowledge of language, the knowledge of how to extract and refine metals from the earth, etc.

As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Who are those Giants? Normal people who devote large chunks of their lives to figuring out difficult problems and building important things.

Distributed Probabilities

Let’s look at a bit of math really quickly. Let’s say that each of us has a certain probability of being able to execute an idea really well. Let’s also say that ideas generally get better over time as you try to bring them to life, although this probably isn’t true in a lot of cases.

If there’s only a 0.1 probability of you or I executing an idea really well (in other words, only 1 out of every 10 projects is very successful), then that’s a pretty small likelihood of helping animals if we’re the only ones trying to bring ideas to life.

But if there are 100 of us working on ideas, or 1,000, or 10,000, then suddenly we’re going to have dozens of great ideas brought to life. (10,000 people working on ideas with a 0.1 probability of success is 1,000 successful ideas. That’s what we need!)

In Support of Good Ideas

Good ideas are important, and I don’t want you to think I’m bashing the value of good ideas or saying that discussion and ideation aren’t important.

What I am saying, though, is that we currently live in an age where ideas are easier than ever and our attention spans are shorter than ever. That means we probably need to correct course in the other direction: erring on the side of doing, erring on the side of spending too long on single ideas rather than not long enough, and erring on the side of being too singularly focused rather than too broadly focused.

Amazing ideas are often created slowly (rather than discovered) during the process of bringing a mediocre idea to life. Once you start slamming your idea into reality, you’re going to notice some things and have the opportunity to improve your idea as you go.

Nuance

Alright, let’s talk about some of the nuance in this idea.

First, not everyone can focus exclusively on their own specific thing to the detriment of all else—then we would all be off by ourselves without any help or support from others. But, I believe that we’re currently underinvesting in the power of creating new things. And we can do both! Many great things start as side projects. There’s room for all of us to be leaders and followers, innovators and supporters, trail-blazers and trail repairers.

Second, I’m a big, big believer in the power of thinking critically and rationally, and I think that continuous learning is one of the most important habits to develop. I don’t think we should throw deep thought out the window, not at all! I also don’t think we should devalue learning. But once again, I think we’re currently underinvesting in taking action on long-term projects. With today’s ubiquitous access to the internet, getting information is easy—trying new things is not. Getting excited about new ideas is easy—sticking to the same idea for 10 years is not. Some of the most important learning happens while doing—so get to doing!

Now It’s Up To You

So what are you going to do now?

Is there something that you think is incredibly important, that you’d love to see someone do? Is that someone you?

Have you ever poured 10 years of your life into creating something specific that you wanted to see exist? I want to challenge you to have the courage to create what you want to see in the world. Create the thing that only you can.

Because the idea of the thing isn’t enough. No one else is going to build it for you.

It needs you to bring it into existence.


Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

Counterfactuals—The Art and Science of Wondering “What If”

Article Summary

  • To make better decisions, ask “how” you made past decisions (whether good or bad).
  • The opportunity cost of a decision is the value you’re losing out on by not making a different decision instead.
  • A counterfactual is a “what if?” question about the potential consequences of different decisions.

Introduction

Two of the most important skills we can develop are learning how to think and how to make decisions. Much of life boils down to what decisions we make and why, and so improving our ability to think about making decisions can affect everything else we do.

In this article, we’re talking about one powerful tool for clearer thinking when it comes to decision-making: counterfactuals.

A Brief Aside—To learn from your past, ask how you made decisions

Since we’re talking about making decisions…

I learned from Safi Bahcall that it’s very powerful to ask how you make prior good or bad decisions, rather than focusing too much on the decision itself. The example that Safi uses is chess. Let’s say you lose a game, and you think that the loss was because of one bad move towards the end—maybe you moved your queen into a trap and it got taken. Instead of focusing on the specific move (moving the queen into the trap), ask how you came to the decision to move the queen to that position. By asking “how?”, you can uncover your current patterns of thinking and improve them. By improving how you think, you’ll make better decisions in many other situations: not just “queen trap” situations.

Let’s try this out really quickly.

Pick one particularly good or bad decision you’ve made in the last year—maybe you developed a new habit of working out daily. How did you make the decision to start working out daily? Was it a conscious choice with a plan, or did your friend convince you to go with them? In the former case, you might see that you have a process that can help you build more good habits. In the latter case, you might realize that it wasn’t your doing at all, but the influence of your environment. In each case, you can learn more about how you made that decision and what it means for future decisions you’ll make.

Perhaps something going wrong in your life wasn’t your fault, and you made all of the decisions correctly. Perhaps something going right in your life was actually a matter of luck, and the decision you made wasn’t the best. Analyzing the “how” can help you understand.

Alright, let’s get back to the main point.

Part One—Opportunity Cost

The main question here is, “If I didn’t do this thing, what else could I do instead?”

Let’s say you have to make a decision, such as whether or not you want to play in your local community soccer league. You might frame the question like this: “Do I want to play in the league, or not?”

But there’s a very big, hidden, loaded word in that question… “not”.

Playing in the league looks pretty straightforward, and you can pretty much guess the results. You’ll play some soccer a few nights a week, make some new friends, get some exercise, etc.

But not playing in the league…well, that could look like literally anything else. There are an infinite number of things that not playing the league could be.

For example, you could use that same time to join a tennis league. Or, you could use that time to start a business, or write a novel. You could watch TV during all of that time. You could build wooden birdhouses. You could study for law school.

All of these are ways that you could spend your time if you didn’t join the soccer league. Choosing to play in the league means choosing to not do any of those other things. You’re saying “yes” to one thing, and no to everything else.

That’s part one of counterfactuals: realizing all of the other things you could be doing with your time. All the things you could be doing instead are together called the opportunity cost. It basically means all of the stuff you’re missing out on. (FOMO times infinity.)

Next time you’re considering spending money or—more importantly—time on something, make sure to think about what you could do with that money or time instead.

Part Two—Counterfactuals

The main questions here is, “What would happen if this thing didn’t happen, or hadn’t happened?”

This question is more directly in line with what people mean when they say “counterfactual”, and it refers to imagining how the world might look now if a particular event hadn’t happened in the past, or similarly how the world might look in the future if a particular event weren’t going to happen in the present.

When we choose to do something, we’re choosing not to do the infinite number of other things we could have done. When something happens, everything else that might’ve happened doesn’t.

So what would’ve happened if we had chosen to do something else? What would’ve happened if one of those other infinite things had happened?

Enough talking in the abstract—let’s get concrete.

Counterfactuals in the Past: Animal Liberation

We’re going to stay away from the Hitler counterfactual, because many others have fought about that and there’s much you can read on it. We’ll turn to something more directly related to animal rights, because it’s more interesting and useful for us.

Let’s look at the publication and popularization of the book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, the work that some people say set off the modern animal rights movement. Whether or not that’s true, it was at the very least quite influential.

What would have happened if Peter Singer had never written or published it?

The first option is that someone else would have written a similar book that would have had a similar impact. Perhaps it wasn’t the unique skills of Peter Singer that helped stir up the modern movement for animals, but just the fact that someone wrote a clear argument for animal rights in a time and place when there was already a little momentum in that direction. After all, Donald Watson and others had already founded The Vegan Society back in 1944, thirty-one years before Singer’s book. Ruth Harrison published an impactful book called Animal Machines in 1964 which documented the brutality of factory farms, and in 1965 Brigid Brophy published an article titled “The Rights of Animals”. In fact, Peter Singer himself wrote a review for a 1970 book called Animals, Men, and Morals which he said was “a manifesto for the Animal Liberation movement.” Perhaps the time was simply ripe for another reawakening of the movement for animals, and Peter Singer happens to be remembered as one of the main catalysts.

Another option is that the movement would actually have suffered a major hit without the publication of Animal Liberation. Maybe no one else would have done as good of a job as Singer, or perhaps his position and privilege as a white male philosopher helped with the spread and acclaim of the book in ways that others wouldn’t have had the benefit of. Perhaps Ingrid Newkirk wouldn’t have founded PETA without reading Singer’s book, and perhaps without PETA a whole collection of other individuals would have never gotten involved in animal rights, and many other organizations wouldn’t exist.

Let’s now hypothesize about another scenario, and one that might seem counterintuitive to you (but is maybe one of the most important counterfactuals to think about). What if Peter Singer’s book actually set the animal rights movement up for a series of long, difficult decades in which very little progress was made compared to what could have been? We all know that the number of animals killed for food has only gone up, and up, and up over the last 40 years. What if Animal Liberation inspired 40 years of ineffective activism, work that didn’t really end up doing any good for animals? What if, without the publication of the book, someone else’s book would have set the foundation for a completely different kind of animal rights movement, one that by now would have already achieved legal personhood for animals and the abolition of eating meat?

Although it might be hard to imagine, it could be the case that the efforts of well-intentioned people end up having a negative effect in the long run. Not only do we need to ask this difficult question about the work of others, in order to learn, but we also need to ask it about ourselves, in order to choose better paths forward. If we ask, “How might this actually harm more animals in the long run?”, then our answers will hopefully help us refine our strategy and end up with a better plan that mitigates those risks.

With counterfactuals, you have to be ready to hypothesize anything—especially the answers that you might not want to hear. Only through a careful consideration of alternatives can you select a path going forward.

Working through this process doesn’t mean that you need to consider each alternative as equally likely—some outcomes are surely going to be much more likely than others. (If Peter Singer hadn’t published Animal Liberation, perhaps all vegans and vegetarians would have vanished off the face of the earth over the next 40 years. But probably not.) It’s the consideration of the other outcomes that is the important aspect here, and the sincere effort to understand how the world might look if other decisions had been (or will be) taken.

Let’s jump back to the present and look at some very real decisions we have to make today when advocating for animals.

Counterfactuals in the Present: China

If you’re reading this, you’re probably an animal advocate. You probably also don’t live in China.

But why don’t you? Over 50% of the animals killed for food are killed in China (mostly fish), while only 2% are in the US, with similarly low percentages for most other Western countries. If you want to do the most good in the world, and you’re currently not living in China, it probably makes sense to imagine the counterfactual of living in China.

You may very well still come to the conclusion that it doesn’t make sense for you to live in China, for some good reasons: you aren’t native to China; you don’t speak the language; free speech and activism are more restricted; you have a job in the US; the internet allows you to work internationally in certain ways no matter where you live; etc. But, if you aren’t simply rationalizing your current choices—in other words, making up seemingly logical, palatable reasons for something when the true reasons are much different and perhaps not logically defensible—then you might also see a lot of good evidence for moving to China. Perhaps in your current life trajectory, you can impact X animals, and if you moved to China you could impact 100X. It’s a possibility—and that’s the value of the counterfactual, to help you consider that possibility.

(Here are two ways to flip these questions around and consider different angles of the counterfactual: What wouldn’t happen if I moved to China that is (or could be) happening right now? What isn’t happening right now that could be if I moved?)

Counterfactuals in the Present: Chickens and Fish

Let’s look at one more example, one that has actually drawn a lot of attention in the last decade or so of the movement.

For many years, a lot of animal advocacy focused on helping animals who humans more easily feel moral responsibility toward: cows, pigs, dogs, chimps, elephants, foxes, etc. During that time period, and perhaps unknown to most activists at the time, the consumption of chickens and fish increased significantly. Today there are many more animals killed for food each year than several decades ago—and the vast majority of them are chickens and fish.

Let’s look at some data.

First, notice how tonnes of “Poultry” meat on the bottom has grown quickly (by a multiple of more than 10), while the other categories haven’t seen the same growth.

And once we look at the number of land animals being killed (the above is weight), the picture is even more bleak. Chickens don’t weigh very much compared to cows and pigs, which means that equal weights of chicken flesh and cow flesh mean very different numbers of chickens and cows killed.

The graph for farmed fish looks similar. (And wild caught fish numbers have increased over this time period as well.) Fish, too, are much smaller on average than cows and pigs, which translates to a massive number of them being killed.

Is this how the course of history had to go to lead us to the present? Or is there another way?

Alternative Pasts

Imagine, for example, that the animal rights movement had started by looking at the greatest numbers of animals killed, realized it was mostly fish, and then chickens, and advocated from that perspective. Is it possible that we could have prevented the meteoric rise in numbers of animals killed? Could we have stopped literally trillions of fish from being killed by humans, and billions of chickens from being born into factory farms? Perhaps by starting with chickens and fish, we could have more quickly expanded humanity’s moral circle to include individuals who humans don’t currently have much empathy toward.

Maybe. But maybe not.

We could imagine a scenario in which the animal rights movement did start with chicken and fish advocacy, but where those efforts had almost no effect on society because of humanity’s current lack of empathy toward them. What if others didn’t start joining the movement because they didn’t understand why we should care about chickens and fish? What if the vibrant ecosystem of organizations and activists that exists today never developed because it was harder for people to relate to the asks being made?

It could be the case that on the journey to expand humanity’s moral circle, it’s better to focus on the easier areas and then push on to the harder ones incrementally. It could also be the case that it’s better to target the furthest reasonable point and push for that, in the hopes that acceleration will be faster if people know where they’re going.

How you decide to answer these kinds of questions also probably determines how you assess counterfactuals. If you think we expand humanity’s moral circle one step at a time, then perhaps the world couldn’t be drastically better by advocating for fish and chickens earlier on. If you think we can push multiple steps at a time, then maybe you think the world would be much better off if we had advocated for them earlier. Perhaps you think neither option is optimal, and that a different approach (such as educating the population on speciesism) would have been the best path.

Using Counterfactuals to Make Progress

How do we make progress on these huge questions that involve the entire global infrastructure of modern society? This is a topic for another post (or 1,000 posts), but in short I think we can turn to these three strategies for the time being:

  1. Research
    • Looking to past movements; studying the structure of modern society and creating models of it; immersing ourselves in the existing knowledge about relevant fields such as psychology, sociology, economics, and law; looking at and attempting to reason about the potential impact of current advocacy tactics; and running our own experiments.
  2. Deliberation
    • Using tools like counterfactuals to hone our reasoning; fostering constructive debate and disagreement between thoughtful individuals; seeking diverse sources of information and ideas; and having a toolbox of questions that help to diagnose potential logical flaws.
  3. Experimentation
    • Learning what differentiates good and bad experiments; committing to pursuing promising ideas for extended periods of time; helping others commit to pursuing other promising ideas; and sharing results and information with other advocates.

The combination of these three strategies can help provide a direction even in the face of astronomical uncertainty—and asking “what if?” is a big part of the process.

Conclusion

Counterfactuals are important because they force us to imagine more possible scenarios than we might at first. By asking “what if?”, we can make better decisions by having a more full picture of the possibilities.

A good counterfactual analysis will include both (a) what could happen in the future if a different decision were made in the present, and (b) what won’t happen in the future if you stop doing what you’re doing now.

Similarly, if we’re considering the past, we might ask: How might history have gone differently if a different decision were made?

But at the end of the day, a counterfactual is simply asking: what if?

Additional Resources:

There are a lot of great websites out there for learning how to make better decisions, how to avoid common human biases, and how to think more rationally. Here are some of my favorites.

A Review of Vegan Business

Article Summary

  • Business is a powerful force (indeed, one of the most powerful) in modern society.
  • Our movement has a small (but growing!) set of organizations devoted to helping vegan businesses, vegan business owners, and people interested in the vegan business scene. Businesses dedicated to providing services to other businesses (rather than consumers) are called “business-to-business” models (B2B).
  • These organizations help with: networking, startup coaching, investing, finding jobs, marketing, programming and tech, and many other things.

Introduction

One of the missions of AMP is to “bring together”—meaning to take the different pieces of our growing movement and help us see all of them in context, to see the full picture.

Today, we’re going to be doing that with the whole vegan business landscape. (Or at least a pretty big slice of it.)

Why Business Is Important

This might need no explaining to most people, but it’s a profound point that I want to spend a couple sentences on.

How do goods and services get created and distributed? How do resources change hands?

A Quick History of Commerce

As anthropologists have documented, the practice of trade has existed for millennia. If you have something that I want or need, and vice versa, then we’re both better off if we trade. But, this kind of trading can be tricky because it depends on you having exactly the thing I need, and me having exactly the thing you need. But, if we both use a shared currency—something that we agree is a generic representation of value—then you can give me currency for goods (or services), and I know I can spend that currency on anything I need later on, as long as the person I’m trading with accepts that currency.

Plato is credited as one of the first discoverers of “division of labor”—the idea that specialization leads to greater productivity—which has since become an axiom of business. In other words, it’s more efficient for you to grow corn while I cut down trees rather than both of us try to do both things. It’s more efficient to have one person maintain your database while another takes care of graphic design instead of both people trying to do both. The higher productivity of specialization combined with the flexibility of a generic currency is a very powerful combination.

Modern Economies

The most prevalent model for creating and exchanging resources today is called a mixed economy, where both governments (i.e. public sector) and free markets (i.e. private sector) are each partially responsible for creating goods and making them available to others. The extent to which each of these two sectors contributes to the economy is dependent on the policies in place at any given time: for example, how many subsidies are given to what industries, or which goods and services should be classified as public goods. The story of which sector should control water is one example of how these decisions aren’t straightforward.

There are other ways that goods and services change hands, such as bartering or free gifts, but these aren’t usually discussed as primary driving forces of economies. (Although the psychological effect of gift giving surely has an enormous influence on business and politics.)

This intricate interplay among businesses, government, and consumers is one of the most important aspects of society, and as such businesses are an incredibly powerful force that we should pay attention to.

The Infrastructure of Vegan Businesses

When we think about vegan businesses, we might picture restaurants and food companies (which we’ll cover briefly first). But there’s also a whole ecosystem of organizations that exist to help vegan businesses. These types of businesses are known as “business-to-business” models (or B2B), and some good examples of types of B2B businesses are marketing agencies, software as a service (SaaS) companies, and tech firms that help with needs like web development.

This article isn’t intended to be comprehensive, but hopefully will give you a good picture of some of the types of businesses that you might not have known of. If you’re a vegan business owner, you might find something useful here!

With that said, let’s start our look at the big picture of vegan business and its supporting infrastructure.

Vegan Companies and Products

Wikipedia has a very-incomplete list of vegan and vegetarian companies, and a quick Google search brings up various “listicles” of other vegan businesses (like 9 Vegan Startups You Need to Know About in 2018 and 5 Woman-Owned Vegan Businesses You Should Be Obsessed With) as well as other incomplete lists like this one or this one. If you’re looking for vegan or cruelty-free makeup brands, the list of lists is even longer. These days, new vegan companies are popping up so quickly that it’s hard to keep track of them all.

The organization Vegan Action takes the cake by far, though. They certify products as vegan (with the instantly-recognizable “V heart” logo), so their list of companies using their logo is very comprehensive. And although these are just companies with vegan products, and not necessarily vegan companies, it’s still impressive to see so many companies listed. There’s also the European site V-Label (with another recognizable certification logo), although I wasn’t able to find their list of certified products or companies.

Investing in Vegan Companies

If you’re interested in investing in vegan companies, there aren’t many options available right now since most of them are private—but there is a website called Vegan Launch dedicated to helping people find investment opportunities. (There are also opportunities to invest in early stage companies such as Billion Vegans through platforms like Wefunder.) Then, there are venture capital funds like New Crop Capital that “invest in companies developing meat, dairy, eggs and seafood with plant-based ingredients or through cellular agriculture, as well as companies that promote and distribute these products.”

As of mid-2018, there’s also now a US Vegan Climate Index stock index that investors can use to help them guide their investments towards companies that harm animals less, even if the investments aren’t in vegan companies. The index was created by some folks at Beyond Investing (here’s their other site), which is another platform for helping people invest in vegan businesses.

Vegan Jobs

For people looking for vegan or animal advocacy jobs, VeganJobs.com helps connect companies to individuals. There’s also the VegNews job board, as well as the job board maintained by the business services company Vegan Mainstream (and the corresponding Vegan Jobs Facebook page).

The organization 80,000 Hours is devoted to helping people find high-impact careers, with animal welfare work being one of the main problem areas, so their job board is also a great place to look. (As of this posting, there are 35 job postings under the “Factory Farming” problem area filter.)

Vegan Business Networking

There are some solid organizations in this category.

First, there’s Vegan Leaders network “for vegans working in corporate (esp. Fortune 500) management and business functions.” Talk about a powerhouse network of people who can really make a difference in the business world. To help executives (and other employees) make traction in the companies they work in, Vegan Leaders put together the Vegan Leaders Playbook with information on how to veganize a company from the inside out. Their official purpose is “to a) demonstrate the pro-vegan trend among business leaders, b) provide a peer network for corporate vegan influencers, c) engage members in valuable discussions and initiatives.”

Next, there’s the great networking group Vegan Ladyboss: “Vegan Ladyboss is a global community of vegan womxn who organize meetings all over the world to advance their careers and animal advocacy.” There are currently about 40 groups in different cities around the world, although the majority of the groups are distributed throughout the US—including one here in Boulder, Colorado! (There’s also Vegan Business Exchange, which looks similar.)

Finally, ever heard of Toastmasters? Well guess what—there’s a Vegan Toastmasters! It looks like there’s only one for now (in Los Angeles), but maybe more will pop up in the future.

Vegan Business Media

To kick this category off, there’s the eponymous Vegan Business Media run by Katrina Fox, and her podcast Vegan Business Talk. There’s vegconomist which bills itself as “the vegan business magazine”, and there’s also the (rather abandoned) website Vegan Business Magazine.

There’s the Vegan Trade Journal, the Vegan Trade Council, the Plant Based Foods Association, and even a Plant Based Foods of Canada which is comprised of companies such as Daiya, The Field Roast Company, and Beyond Meat Canada.

The Vegetarian Resource Group has a vegetarian business page with a decent amount of information (some recently updated, some a bit older), and The Vegan Society has a “your business” page with resources.

Starting and Running a Vegan Business

If you’re looking to start a vegan business, there’s certainly no shortage of ideas: just see here, here, here, here, and here. There are a lot of ideas out there—we just need people to run with them! There are also a lot of advice articles, such as Colleen Holland’s tips for starting a vegan business or Melissa Vanderhorst’s advice for starting a vegan business.

(As an interesting aside, I really do think we need more people who are willing to devote a significant amount of time and energy to developing the potential stored in a single idea. The founder of HappyCow, for example, started the website back in 1999 and put in years of work making it what it is today. There are something like 30 million vegans globally; imagine what would happen if each of us picked a project and put all of our effort into it.)

Finally, there are several organizations whose goal is to provide vegan entrepreneurs with coaching and training. Vegan Mainstream offers consulting and online courses for owners of vegan businesses. Smart Vegan Biz connects individuals with vegan franchising opportunities, and they also have an “Academy” section of their site.

Vegan Service Providers

As you’re starting your vegan business, you might need some services—and there are vegan organizations for that, too.

If you need help building a website or app, there’s Vegan Web Design or the solopreneur project TofuDesk. (There’s also Vegan Hacktivists, although they’re currently devoting all of their time to projects delegated by the organization You Are Their Voice.) For marketing, you could use Edgy Vegan Marketing, Sweet FireBrand, or V-GON Creative.

Of course, if you’re a plant-based or cell-based meat startup, there are the powerhouses of The Good Food Institute and New Harvest to help you out.

Miscellaneous—Vegan Travel

While not really in the category of vegan business associations or services, I find it pretty incredible how many vegan travel and cruise organizations there are:

Miscellaneous—Vegan Festivals & Events

There are also websites for vegan events:

Miscellaneous—Vegan Blockchain

And finally, this massive list wouldn’t be complete without including the far-reaching and rather-difficult-to-grasp Vegan Nation, the creators of the blockchain currency VeganCoin: “We in VeganNation, share this conviction and strongly believe that a designated coin will not only unite vegans, but empower the community, creating a force to be reckoned with. A strong and united community will be able to have a bigger impact on pressing global issues and make the vegan lifestyle more approachable and attainable.”

Conclusion

Woo! What a ride. So many links.

While not all of the groups I listed here are high-quality or recommendable by themselves, I think it’s really impressive to see the quantity and variety of organizations branding themselves as vegan. And, the more people work on these issues, the better the quality will become.

After all, it takes a lot of bad ideas to get a few good ones—but everyone in business knows that already.


Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

Animals in the Far Future, and How to Help Them

Article Summary

  • Around 74 billion land animals are killed by humans for food each year, and another 1 to 3 trillion fish are killed each year. In total, we could say there are somewhere around 1 trillion animals killed by humans each year for food.
  • Although that’s a big number, the majority of all animals ever killed by humans could exist in the future, especially if our current trends continue. If we assume that humans continue their current animal consumption for another 1,000 years, then almost all of the animals who will ever be killed by humans haven’t been born yet.
  • Since we care about all animals, we need to make sure our impact helps animals in the future—either by ensuring that they don’t exist (vegan world), that they’re born into a life free of exploitation (sanctuaries), or at the very least that their suffering is as minimal as possible (high welfare).
  • To impact animals in the future, we need to:
    • Keep the far future in mind;
    • Make our impact global;
    • Make our impact structural; and,
    • Make our impact resilient to societal disruption.

If we care about animals, then we need to take the big picture into account.

In this article, we’re going to be thinking about our impact over all time—in other words, how our work affects animals who might exist in the future.

Animals Killed Each Year

First, let’s get some numbers for how many animals are killed each year. There are around 56 billion land animals killed each year for food globally, and the majority of them are chickens. There are also 1 to 3 trillion fish killed each year for food by humans each year (including bycatch, feeder fish, etc.). Over half of all animals killed for food are killed in China.

These numbers aren’t perfectly precise, but they give us a sense of the scale.

Looking Into The Future—But First, Math

But now let’s factor in the role of time: how many animals are killed each year, for all years, past and future.

(Before we start, I want to say that I know these numbers are going to be very rough estimates and guesses. But, I hope the general scale and logic of these estimates still conveys the point, even if they aren’t accurate.)

Animals Killed in the Past

To get the number of animals that humans have killed in the past, let’s assume that the number of animals killed has grown at the same rate as the human population. This model, while not being completely accurate, will at least give us a reasonable estimate for animals killed in the past.

If we use this model and go back to the year 5000 BCE, then our model estimates that humans killed around 150 trillion animals in the past. Just for context: a million seconds is about 11 days; a billion seconds is about 31 years; and a trillion seconds is around 31,700 years, or nearly 32 millennia.

150 trillion animals killed is a completely astronomical number.

Animals Killed in the Future

Now, let’s look at how many animals might be killed by humans in the future.

Because the future hasn’t happened yet, there isn’t a “correct” answer to this question—there are only guesses that we can make based on different hypothetical scenarios. I’ll walk us through a few of those scenarios so that we can get a sense of what different versions of the future might look like.

Many of them, though, show that most of the animals who have existed or will exist could exist in the future, meaning they haven’t even been born yet. (Even though the number of animals already killed by humans over the course of history is so large.)

Scenario #1: Current Consumption, Eventual Societal Collapse

In this first scenario, we’ll use a very simple model of the future: Humanity stays the exact same as it is right now, and lasts another 1000 years before society completely collapses and humans go extinct.

Since humans currently kill somewhere around 1 trillion land animals and fish each year, this scenario implies that humans would kill (1 trillion animals per year) * (1000 years) = 1000 trillion (or 1 quadrillion) more animals in the future.

In this case, 87% of all animals who humans will ever kill live in the future. (1000/(1000+150))

Scenario #2: Cyclical Society Collapse and Rebuild

Humans are pretty scrappy and can learn to live almost anywhere on the planet. If global human society were to collapse in a significant way, I think there’s a good possibility that some communities would find a way to continue surviving.

So in this scenario, let’s assume that society collapses sometime this year and brings us back to the point of ancient civilizations, somewhere around 3000 BCE. Let’s also assume that this pattern of growth and collapse will occur again in exactly the same manner as before, and that it will occur some number of times…maybe five more times before humans go extinct.

In this case, we can take the total number of animals that humans have killed for food in the past (150 trillion) and assume that humans will kill this number again in each successive cycle. This means the total number of animals killed by humans for food in the future is (150 trillion per cycle) * (5 more cycles) = 750 trillion animals, which would mean that 83% of all animals killed by humans will live in the future.

Scenario #3: Long-Term Human Civilization

With the meteoric rise of industrialization and advanced technologies like computers, it’s not hard to imagine that humans might continue developing and growing into the far future, even to the point of colonizing other planets and star systems. (It’s also not hard to imagine us using that industrialization and technology to destroy society.)

Let’s assume that the human population continues existing into the future at the current population, and continues eating animals at the current rate. We know that the human population will actually continue growing (at least for some time), and the number of animals killed for food will also probably continue growing (at least for some time), but it simplifies the calculations to assume that things remain the same—and the conclusion is still just as profound.

Humans have to go extinct at some point, even if that point is billions of years in the future (unless it turns out we can find a way to decrease entropy in the universe), so we still need to estimate a length of time that humans will exist. Let’s try two different numbers: 10,000 years, and 10,000,000 years.

If humans survive another 10,000 years killing animals for food at our current rate, then 98.5% of all those animals will exist in the future, which is already the vast majority.

But if humans survive another 10,000,000 years, then 99.999% of the animals exist in the future.

Scenario #4: Vegan World Next Year

Just because this is the world we’re all going for, let’s assume that killing animals for food becomes illegal next year and stays illegal for the rest of the history of humanity, and that we have a big old happy vegan world.

Animals will still be killed this year, but after this year zero more animals will be killed by humans for food, which means 100% of animals killed for food would be in the past. In this scenario, we’re good! Mission accomplished.

Complications—Mission Accomplished?

There are at least two primary complicating factors here that we haven’t considered:

  1. We haven’t been considering well-being, only lives. I think we could all agree that it’s better for individuals to have happy, healthy lives than miserable, sick ones. It makes a big difference whether there are 100 trillion animals who all live mostly happy and healthy lives, or whether there are 100 trillion animals whose every moment is full of suffering and torment.
  2. Our scope has remained limited to just animals killed by humans for food, which doesn’t include the very large problem of wild animal suffering, and it also doesn’t include the problem of animals killed and controlled by humans for other reasons.

Both of these issues are very important, and they both add a layer of complexity to our thinking. For now though, we’re going to leave in-depth discussions of these topics for a later date. (For a crash course on the problem of wild animal suffering, see here, here, and here.)

The Future—Recap

As you can see from the models above, it doesn’t take much before the majority of the animals actually exist in the future—and in some scenarios, practically 100% of them do.

This all gets a little bit abstract when we’re talking about the future, so what does it actually mean?

It means that we need to figure out how to make our impact last into the future so that all of those trillions (and quadrillions) of animals aren’t born into this world just to suffer and be killed by humans. If we figure it out, then we can prevent a truly astronomical amount of suffering from ever happening.

The last thing we want is for humans to go on a universe-colonizing spree and bring their animal exploiting tendencies with them to countless other planets.

Practical Takeaways (…sort of)

All of this high-minded talk about the “far future” may be interesting, but what can animal advocates practically take away from this discussion? Is this topic too far off into the hypothetical to have any real, practical advice?

I think there are several actionable takeaways here already, although I would love to see more research done in this area.

Takeaway #1—Go by the Numbers

The first implication is that we need to really look at the numbers of animals harmed and killed by humans, and look at where those numbers might increase most in the future and what kinds of animals will be affected.

As a very practical example, it could be partially the case that the demonization of red meat over the last few decades has helped give rise to the enormous numbers of chickens killed and eaten every year. Similarly, fish are already the most killed animals for food globally, by far—if we ignore them in our advocacy, we might see yet another massive increase in the numbers of fish being born, killed, and eaten. Since chickens and fish receive much less empathy from humans than pigs and cows (and fish are much harder to relate to in nearly every way), this issue can fall off the radar. In fact, getting the animal advocacy movement to talk about the huge number of chickens took quite a few years, and we’re now in the process of slowly starting to advocate more specifically for fish.

Knowing the numbers matters.

Takeaway #2—Macro Trends

A second implication of focusing on the future is that we should become students of macro-societal trends and evolutions in order to understand (a) which big, lasting shifts occur in societies, and (b) how those shifts occurred.

We can look to other social movements to see how victories were achieved, like the civil rights movement or the marriage equality movement. We can study the rise of intensive animal farming, or the history of animal agriculture from the beginning of humanity until now. And we can also ask, “Which ideas have lasted the longest?”, and then deconstruct which practices or features of those ideas helped them to survive. For example, we could look to ideas from old religions and civilizations that have lasted through long stretches of time and influenced modern society, and hypothesize what made them different from other ideas that didn’t have as much of an influence.

A great example of analyzing macro trends is the book The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker, which looks at the global decline in violence over the course of human history. Similar studies can be found (or conducted) for other phenomena as well.

Takeaway #3—Global Focus

One very specific macro trend is the importance of looking globally.

I live in the United States, which directly accounts for about 2% of all animals killed for food by humans each year. China, on the other hand, accounts for about 50% of all animals killed for food each year. India accounts for another 10%, and Indonesia for yet another 8%. (source)

Let’s say we completely end animal farming in the United States. While this would be a great accomplishment by itself, it would only spare 2% of the animals killed for food. To have a significant impact, that accomplishment would need to influence countries like China, India, and Indonesia.

We have to keep our focus global. With two-thirds of all the world’s farmed animals living in China, India, and Indonesia, we have to remember that success for farmed animals in the US or UK or Australia doesn’t necessarily translate to global success.

Takeaway #4—Resilience to Societal Disruption

Human societies change—constantly.

Just for a little perspective…

  • Christianity came into existence about 1900 years ago.
  • The (Western) Roman Empire stopped existing around 1500 years ago.
  • Islam came into existence around 1400 years ago.
  • The American Revolution was 236 years ago.
  • The French Revolution was 220 years ago.
  • Slavery was abolished in the British Empire 186 years ago.
  • WWI was 101 years ago, and WWII was 74 years ago.
  • The first radio news program was broadcast 99 years ago.
  • The internet went public about 30 years ago.
  • The Soviet Union stopped existing 28 years ago.
  • 9/11 was 18 years ago.
  • The first iPhone came out 12 years ago.
  • Instagram came out 9 years ago.
  • The AI system Watson defeated the two reigning Jeopardy! champions 8 years ago.
  • A self-driving semi truck drove on public roads without a human inside for the first time 1 year ago.

Just a gentle reminder that we have very little idea what the future is going to look like. And because of this, we need our progress for animals to be global, and to be resilient to massive societal disruptions and overhauls and shifts in power.

What happens if we achieve total animal liberation in the United States, and then China goes on to become the major world power and ethical influence? What if there’s another global war? What if a quasi-apocalypse happens and much of human society is destroyed? How does the rise of artificial intelligence affect our ethical progress? How might our morals change when we send humans to other planets?

Our ethical progress must be able to survive these disruptions if we want to prevent the huge amount of suffering and death that could happen if animal exploitation continued existing into the far future.

Takeaway #5—Focus on Structural Changes

How does something last from one generation of humans to the next? Or from one millennia to the next?

It lasts because of something that carries it forward into the future. That “something” is often a structural entity of some sort: a religion, a culture, a government, a corporation, a university, a law.

If you change someone’s mind about something, and that person changes their behavior, and then that person dies (as we all do eventually), how do the changes they made continue into the future? They only last if they impact someone else who is still alive. This is why we can’t just rely on changing the attitudes and behavior of individual people—because we then depend on those people to propagate that change into the future on their own.

Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.

Influencing structures, on the other hand, increases the probability of the change being carried forward.

Takeaway #6—Focus on Moral Circle Expansion, Aided by Technological Progress

We can’t trick people into doing the right thing for the wrong reason, because at some point the wrong reason won’t be applicable and people will change again.

For example, as powerful and as useful as health and environmental arguments are for veganism (and they are useful!), we must at some point bring in the full weight of the ethical argument if we are to make lasting progress for animals.

This ethical progress is the process of expanding humanity’s moral circle.

Second, technological progress can greatly aid this process. As Malala Yousafzai‘s father discovered, people are much more open to girls’ education when they have clean water.” It’s hard to care about higher ethics when you feel like you’re having a hard time meeting basic needs—and to some people, completely switching their way of eating can feel like a need isn’t being met. Technology is another name for “creative use of resources to meet needs”. We should use it.

Conclusion

I hope this article has at least prompted some thought about the importance of making our impact last into the far future. This is a big topic—and very complex and uncertain—so we need all of us to be thinking about it in relation to our activism.

For more discussion of the moral value of beings in the far future, check out:

And maybe with all of us working on it, we’ll get this problem solved in the not-too-far-future.


Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.

I Asked Activists What They Need—Part 1

I wanted to know what people in our movement need. So I asked them. This post is as simple as that.

Specifically, I asked them to answer these three questions about their animal activism:

  1. What do you need?
  2. What are your problems?
  3. What are your opportunities?

This wasn’t a formal survey—I didn’t ask many people, or code and quantify the results, or get a representative sample. But I think it’s still valuable, in a smaller, more personal way.

This type of question-asking is something I carry with me in everyday life. It’s immensely valuable to pick up thoughts, ideas, and needs on an ongoing basis. The “just ask some people” type of survey is open to all of us. Not only do you get some answers that may surprise you, but it’s also a good way to meet activists from around the world.

Also, one thing to note is that you might disagree with some of the answers people give when you do this kind of exercise. In fact, if you’re talking to a diverse enough group of people, you’re almost sure to be challenged and stretched. (Read the responses I got, and see what kind of internal intellectual or emotional response they prompt in you.) What’s important is recognizing that these are the genuine feelings and thoughts of other activists in our movement. That perspective is valuable.

Here are the almost-verbatim answers (with some minor changes to aid reading and comprehension) from the activists who I asked: Corey Rowland, Beau Broughton, Jocelyn Cole, Faraz Harsini, and Tonia Moore.

Enjoy!


Corey Rowland

What do I need?

I had trouble forming my answer to this because I often am not sure what I need. I think I need opportunities to connect with myself and others. I am very aware of the risk of activist burnout because I can feel it building in myself or others at times. I think being a part of a supportive and loving community is really important in sustaining the work we are doing. I also need opportunities to see the impacts of my efforts. I need to feel like the work I am doing is paying off in some way.

What are my problems?

My biggest challenges are definitely time and specifically deciding how to spend my time. Living in the SF Bay Area, there is always so much to do (both in the animals rights community and of course outside of it). I work as a high school teacher, which can suck up a lot of your time if you aren’t careful! I think I also struggle with a lot of self-doubt. I want to get better at trusting myself and to be more willing to take risks. Sometimes the ideas that sound the silliest can be game-changing! I often have ideas, but because of the hustle-and-bustle of life and my dismissive attitude, I think I let opportunities pass me by.

What are my opportunities?

In the past year I have learned that my greatest opportunities as an activist can come from the awkward, uncomfortable, sometimes threatening intersections of my identity as an activist and all the other roles I fill. I was fired from my teaching job earlier this year for getting arrested in a mass action and it ended up being an experience I would never want to undo (I learned a lot and thankfully, got my job back!). I am also a friend, family member, artist, and ally in other movements. I belong to social circles outside of the AR movement, and this can be leveraged to build support from folks in these circles. I think it is crucial for activists to remain genuinely involved in communities outside of the animal rights community so we can best utilize our growing power and remain conscious of how animal rights fits into the bigger picture that is the world!


Beau Broughton

What do you need?

We need volunteers from all walks of life to lend their passion and dedication to our efforts to end the abuse of animals raised for food. The Humane League acknowledges that there are myriad ways to influence change for farmed animals, so we have a big tent in welcoming supporters of all stripes. We are looking for online activists, for volunteers to help with community-building events and fundraising, for dedicated advocates to join us at protests and other campaign actions, and for influencers to spread our message on social media, to name a few.

What are your problems?

It can be challenging to see change occur at a slower pace than we’d like, or may have previously anticipated. For example, in our work encouraging major corporations to implement welfare policies for egg-laying hens or broiler chickens, it may take months or even years for a company to make a public commitment that meets our standards. So, while it’s not necessarily a problem, since we are making major gains with dozens of companies and changing public perception of farmed animals, it’s important to have perspective. As activists, we want the world to change yesterday, but we must be strategic and pace ourselves for the long fight ahead.

What are your opportunities?

At The Humane League, we have great opportunities for seasoned and aspiring activists across the spectrum of involvement levels. We have the Fast Action Network for those “armchair activists” who want to take a few high-impact actions online a few times each week. We also have opportunities for people to plug into on-the-ground actions with our team of full-time grassroots staff in major cities across the country, as well as volunteer coordinators to facilitate actions with those who may live outside a major city.


Jocelyn Cole

What do you need?

I think the movement for animal liberation could benefit greatly from more consistently dwelling in nonviolence and agape love (both behaviorally and at mind). Thus, I need to take the time to figure out what steps I can take, and what specific work I can do to help make the types of cultural changes I would like to see.

What are your problems?

I am putting my efforts and energy in many different directions, thus potentially keeping me from taking the time to figure out the steps mentioned above. I think the content of nonviolence and agape is relevant to all aspects of the movement, and of an organization, but currently I am struggling with where to start.

What are your opportunities?

I am surrounded by a community with a lot of experience and knowledge, endless opportunities to train and better myself, and spaces to learn from and connect with each other. I have close friends who help me grow as an individual and as an activist, and together we are doing the best we can to help and be the movement.


Faraz Harsini

What do you need?

Money. Eventually you can do anything with money.

What are your problems?

Money.

Let me combine 1 and 2 and explain! If I had the money, here are things that I’d focus on:

A—Informing/educating people. This would accomplish another thing that I think is important: normalizing veganism. You know how we quote Melanie Joy all the time, that the reason people eat meat is because it’s normal, necessary, and natural. So we should do the reverse and normalize veganism!

Informing people can be accomplished via different approaches, and some of my favorite ones are:

I—What Ethical Choices Program (ECP) does. They have about 150-200 educators in many cities in the US, and recently India and Canada too. They are very well organized (I personally have observed how they manage all these educators), and they go to high schools. They have four types of presentations: ethical based, environmental based, health based, and a combination of all. They reach out to teachers and ask if they’ll let them give these presentations in a related class. But the thing is ALL the presentations include a 3-4 minute video showing slaughterhouses, etc! I’ve seen the comments from the kids and how successful this has been. Teachers are stubborn, but a lot of kids actually listen. The last time I checked a year ago, they were reaching out to something like 20,000 students! And by now it’s probably more! If you think about it, this is a good portion of all the high school students! A lot of kids actually can’t become vegan right away because of their parents. But what it does is that when this generation becomes parents, or when they grow up, when they hear veganism they would be much more accepting than our parents! This is the best way to invest for the future (probably 10 years), but it will have a great return.

II—I would spend some of that money on advertisement, and education through advertisement. In the last Animal Rights Conference I asked a lot of influential AR activists that if you had so much money to spend on advertisement, what message would you choose—ethics, environmental, etc. One of the best things I got out of this last ARC is actually the answer to this question! It would be the health-related messages. Because what eventually caused a huge drop in the rate of cigarette smoking was the health ads. So we went from ads with doctors who were pro smoking, to today, that smoking is not COOL anymore! We should make eating animals like that!

Source: Annual adult per capita cigarette consumption and major smoking and health events in United States, 1900-1998 – Hanson, Venturelli, and Fleckenstein (2009). Pulled from Our World in Data – Smoking.

Also I always say from here to your workplace, how many times are you exposed to unhealthy and carcinogenic foods? And how many times you see something actually healthy, encouraging people to eat fruits and veggies?Almost all TV and radio ads have some sort of animal abuse or unhealthy thing in them.

Sidenote: I think health related things are something tangible for people. It’s their body, their health. And the habits and behaviours of one individual can have negative impact and consequences on the same individual. Environmental issues are not tangible for people. Also even if they understand the issues, the responsibilities get diluted between a lot of people so they don’t feel bad as much. An ethical approach I believe is something in between. But I think that should be included in those ads so every now and then people see the word “vegan”, on buses, in metro stations, etc.

III—Having more vegan doctors. That and what Dr. Greger does, taking new scientific data, and making them simple and understandable. This is very effective because, first, most people don’t understand science (lol), and, second, because they don’t have any ideas what scientists do and where these new information come from! However, I’m not sure but I’m afraid that most of his audiences are already vegan. So a combination of everything I said about advertisement would be necessary to get the message across. And I will invest on this.

Bottom line: In my opinion having an organized mechanism for advertisement would be extremely effective. This includes different approaches at the same time: some ads saying meat is like smoking, some ethical related, etc.

I actually had one of the students in our AR org come up with a design that is catchy, relating meat and cancer (fig. below).

Sources: NCBI, IARC, and WHO

B—Making vegan things cheaper and available. This is why I want to have a chain restaurant if I had money, and offer very tasty and cheaper foods there. When I get a pizza and I ask them to remove cheese and meat and use vegan cheese, and they charge me more for it, that doesn’t help people consider veganism as something normal and easy. Reaching out to chain restaurants to have vegan options also helps.

A huge barrier for people becoming vegan in my opinion is the picture that they imagine when you say vegan food. They probably think, “Oh so… you basically eat salads”, or, “Veggie burgers suck” (because they tried them 10 years ago, and sure they sucked back then, but today is a different story). Or many think the meat alternative is tofu! They don’t think about all the great stuff that we have. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT (in my humble opinion) TO CHANGE THAT IMAGE! We need them to imagine a tasty Impossible Burger (which isn’t available in all places, which is another issue). So I would donate money to some organization to take care of it.

One other thing I would want to do if I were rich would be to start a company. This company would have teams. (And I should say this is in my childish imagination, having no information about how businesses work). So in each team there’s a lawyer or businessman or investor, and a representative from a vegan distribution center (or someone who can manage and restock vegan foods in stores). This team would reach out to places that serve or produce non-vegan stuff, and help them to make the transition to a vegan place.

I got this idea after I was in a protest in front of store that produced fresh chicken meat, meaning they slaughtered the chicken right there, probably in the backyard. During our protest, the owner was extremely angry. He was red and was yelling. Police were there just making sure we stay on the sidewalk. Then cops thought it was fine, and they left. Next, a few activists broke into the store, and forcefully saved several chickens. This is not a comment about their action. I just started to look at this from the owner’s perspective. When he goes back to his friends and family, how will he describe veganism? I think if my dad came home and said this happened to him, I would have hated vegans forever! Also, in any talk with customers or any opportunity he finds, he would trash-talk veganism. So I thought, “What if instead of this much hate, we did something positive?” So this team would go there, and say, “Hey, we’ll give you money for investment, we’ll help you to make the transition, we’ll take care of all the paperwork and legal stuff for you! Most importantly we’ll advertise for you. And hey, eventually you will make way more money than you do now!”

This would accomplish several things at once:

  • Spreads good words about veganism. He would then tell his family and friends how successful his business has become! So we’re basically planting seeds this way.
  • Makes non-vegan stuff less available. This is another important factor that makes eating meat inconvenient! Eventually, most people just want something easy and cheap!

What are your opportunities?

In my case, the plan is that I will work on clean meat for a few years, and during this time I will learn a little about businesses and find connections and people who trust me and partner up with me, maybe to start a restaurant, or something to do with clean meat. Or both.

Lastly, I said money and business a lot in my answer, but the truth is my goal has never been becoming rich. My only goal is to do the most effective thing to save animals. But I can’t do all of these things alone. However, if I were rich, I could support other orgs to do these kinds of things. Maybe some of these things are already happening, but if they had more money they could do much more.

Also, with money, you can influence politics—for example, meat taxes, restricting import and export of animal products to other countries, or passing more animal protection laws. You know how much the egg/dairy/meat industries have manipulated people via politics, well, with money we can neutralize that!


Tonia Moore

What do you need?

What I need is a better understanding of where to focus my efforts (i.e., what types of actions are most likely to result in the most change?). I love doing outreach, for example, but I also suspect that convincing people one at a time to adopt a vegan lifestyle is probably not going to change much, if anything, for somebody trapped on a farm facing an early death. There are so many channels that may lead to animal liberation—legislation (working within the political and legal systems), protests, going into places of enslavement to expose the truth—I feel like I can’t do everything and doing a little bit of each may just be exhausting and ineffective…

What are your problems?

My problems are (similar to question #1) figuring out exactly what methods work and are worth my time. And also how to deal with my own emotions better. I get enraged when animals are suffering and dying — but my rage doesn’t help the animals, tears me up inside, and turns people outside the movement off so that they won’t respect the movement or listen to what we have to say. I need to learn to keep my emotions in check without imploding.

What are your opportunities?

I am starting to realize that opportunities for outreach present themselves every day. For example, if someone admires your faux leather coat, you volunteer the info that it’s vegan. I also have opportunities to open the minds and hearts of loved ones but sometimes I shy away from these discussions because I fear I’ll feel super disappointed (crushed, actually) if they don’t see the animals’ perspective. I find myself sometimes not engaging on AR issues with the people I’m closest to because I’m afraid they won’t understand and our relationship will suffer.


Animal Movement Project (AMP) is a platform dedicated to building the movement for animals.

We share thoughts and ideas that can take the movement for animals from x to 10x. Our focus is predominantly on animals exploited for food since they account for more than 99% of the animals exploited by humans. The topics covered are often about ways to tie the pieces of the movement together or to fill in the gaps. We focus on connecting people, ideas, and resources to each other.