Recently, I wrote about a little-known group of vegetarian activists called Vegan Outreach. Their claim to fame (allegedly) is that they distributed a million anti-industry booklets to so-called supporters over the last three months.
So they say.
The booklets are all about condemning animal agriculture and promoting the vegan lifestyle, which is fine. We have something called the First Amendment, and it’s what makes this country great. They’re welcome to have at it in trying to convince Americans that raising livestock and eating meat or poultry is somehow evil and immoral.
I can live with that. People aren’t stupid, and the truth has a nasty habit of eventually prevailing, no matter how heated some group’s rhetoric becomes.
What I have a lot less tolerance for, though, is the wild numbers Vegan Outreach claims, as “proof” of its legitimacy. To even approach the numbers they claim, they’d have to be handing out nearly 11,000 brochures every day, five days a week, four weeks a month, three months straight just to get within shouting distance of a million booklets distributed.
Even though they say they’ve got nine people working full-time on booklet duty, that’s still a hefty 1,700-plus booklets per person per day. You know how long it would take to hand out 1,700 booklets? Try leafleting some time, as I’ve done on numerous political campaigns over the years, and you’ll quickly find out that the majority of people you approach want nothing to do with your literature. So to unload 1,700 booklets you have to conservatively approach probably triple that many people—more than five or six thousand people every day.
Where are these activists leafleting? Times Square? The Rose Bowl on game day?
Now, however, the plot has thickened, as Vegan Outreach has fired back to contest my skepticism over their million-vegan fairy tale, headlining its latest fan club email with “Let’s Shock the Meat Industry Even More in 2014!”
The email continued: “Recently, meat industry spokesman [don’t I wish!] and Executive Director of the Meat Industry Hall of Fame Dan Murphy went looking for the most unbelievable claim by any animal rights group.”
(Slight correction: It wasn’t much of a search. No other group I know of is so over-the-top).
Then they quoted an excerpt from my recent column about the group (“Lies, damn lies, and vegan statistics”): “When VO’s website begins bragging about its influence, and the numbers of susceptible people they’ve touched, all credibility disappears.”
Thank you, vegans, for choosing the most salient statement from that entire commentary. That was exactly my point: When any organization starts tossing around unbelievable data about their reach and their impact, they’re no longer believable.
Moreover, reliable research estimates that less than 5 percent of U.S. consumers are actually adhering to a vegetarian diet, which means that true vegans—who are but a small minority of all veggies—couldn’t possibly number more than 1percent of the population.
And that’s being generous.
So for Vegan Outreach to claim that the group has connected with fully one-third of its entire universe of supporters in a single college semester is about as ridiculous as trying to pretend that humanity has always existed on plant foods alone.
You know that evolutionary calendar that compresses all of the Earth’s history into a single year? It calculates that our solar system was formed on Jan.1st, dinosaurs died out on Dec. 26th and humans first appeared just five seconds before midnight on New Year’s Eve. In that timeframe, the vegan lifestyle doesn’t even rate the blink of an eye.
And unlike their statistics, that’s no exaggeration.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.