According to the ‘modern’ approach to advocacy, it’s no longer necessary to convince people of the morality of your cause. Just make changing one’s lifestyle so easy it takes no effort at all.
As someone who has spent his career trying to be concise, compelling and occasionally clever, I appreciate a well-turned phrase.
Like this one describing the vegan movement, written by an insider who should know. It appeared in a story on the Huffington Post-Canada and attempted to refute “the stereotype of vegans and vegetarians as self-righteous, hectoring, spoilsports pushing their puritan agenda.”
Yup. Sounds about right.
The writer went on to gush about the “teeming crowds” at the Veg Expo held recently in Vancouver and how “vendors did a roaring trade with every conceivable social demographic, from soccer moms to urban hipsters to jocks wearing ‘plant-powered athlete’ t-shirts.”
The point was to argue that the animal activist movement is undergoing a paradigm shift, a phrase I despise, but one that applies here.
Instead of working to eliminate the alleged cruelty inherent in animal agriculture by appealing to people’s moral sensibilities, today’s “modern” activist is working to make conversion to vegetarianism so painless that people can begin substituting veggie alternatives to meat and dairy — and never notice the difference.
As the writer termed it, “The promotion of plant-based pleasure has arrived.”
I have to agree, but unlike all those t-shirt-wearing wanna-bes wandering around Veg Expo, that development is something to be lamented, not lauded.
I say that because the notion that social change can be effectively leveraged by making it so easy people don’t even realize it’s happening is more of a comment on how our collective lifestyles have deteriorated, not a savvy insight into how activists can manipulate human psychology to effect behavioral change.
Even the hardest of the hardcore animal rights advocates acknowledge that getting more than a tiny fraction of do-gooders to give up eating meat because of concerns about animal suffering is a losing cause.
Sure, the media helps gin up stories about the “horrors” involved in livestock production, while ignoring the impact of such a wholesale shift in food production, let the record reflect.
And any formal survey of American adults would reveal that the level of awareness about the challenges facing global agriculture’s task of feeding what will soon be more than nine billion Earthlings has risen significantly over the past decade.
But neither of those developments has resulted in equally significant changes in eating habits, food choices or allegiance to the vegetarian cause.
So now, the veggie activists are going to mimic what virtually every one of the modern corporations they love to hate does to sell whatever consumer gadgets or gizmos they’re marketing: follow the path of least resistance.
The way a business becomes successful in contemporary America isn’t by following P.T. Barnum’s dictum about never underestimating people’s intelligence. Now, success is predicated on never underestimating the laziness of the American public.
Want to change the laws by which our country is governed? Just click on a link, and a pre-written email will be instantly sent to your legislator (about whom you know next to nothing), whose staff will dutifully record whether your message is for or against the issue at hand.
And then proceed to ignore the pre-recorded talking points you spent all of 10 seconds emailing.
Want to impact the urgent challenge of planetary scarcities of agricultural resources, energy and arable land?
According to the new breed of animal activists, it’s as easy as buying clothing made from synthetic, rather than natural fabrics, or taking your kids to the local cineplex instead of the circus.
Or best of all, by ordering a “cheezburger” made from plant protein and formulated tofu as you wait in line at the fast-food drive-thru because it’s just too much effort to park your car and walk the 30 feet it takes to go inside the restaurant.
According to our intrepid vegan journalist, “Consumers can now be encouraged to make ethical choices that are not just painless, they're downright pleasurable.”
He’s right, but that comment isn’t an insight into how enlightened we’ve all become, but a sad commentary on how little sacrifice we’re willing to make to effect social change.
No matter which side of the issues we’re on. □
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator