Whataboutism is always wrong

Whataboutism is a rhetorical strategy — a kind of counter argument — made popular during the Cold War. Back then, the US would assail the USSR over human rights violations, and instead of responding to the charges, the Soviets would say, “But what about your own abuses of the homeless? What about your treatment of women? What about etc. etc.?” Whataboutism is a tool for distraction and deflection.

The Cold War is (mostly) over, but whataboutism is still going strong. Our president is a big fan of it, and so are carnivores, apparently. People learn that I’m a vegan and ask, “How can you care more for animals than people? What about all the starving children in Africa/Asia/Appalachia? What about people dying of cancer?”

The obvious answers that line of questioning is “Do you think I can only care about one thing at a time?”

A recent study has shown that I’m not alone in my thinking. In fact, it’s not only shown that people can care about the welfare of multiple groups, it’s shown that people are more likely to do so. The big takeaway:

“In other words, concern for human suffering seemed to feed concern for animal suffering, and vice versa. It’s the suffering, not the species, that matters to many….

Compassion begets compassion. The response, both in argument and in practice, to ‘what about X?’ is ‘yes, that too.‘”


Circus in Germany Goes Cruelty-Free by Replacing Real Animals with Holographs

[A] circus in Germany known as Circus Roncalli has taken a more creative approach to the issue [of animal cruelty] to help to keep circus shows alive—it has swapped real animals for holograms.

Circus Roncalli first began entertaining crowds with animals in 1976; but today, the organizers are the pioneers of the futuristic hologram approach in an attempt to fight against animal cruelty in the entertainment industry. While the traveling shows still feature real acrobats and swirling fires, none of the animals are real. Instead, Roncalli project 360° 3D holographic images that fill the entire 105-foot-wide, 16-foot-deep arena.

via My Modern Met

Beyond Meat, but not beyond masculinity

[M]eat-eating has long been associated with masculinity. And so the Los Angeles-based company, in its mission to make meatless choices mainstream, has leaned into the manliness of a hearty, red-liquid-dripping burger (even if that liquid isn’t blood). Its marketing strategies avoid potentially off-putting words like “vegan” or “veggie burger“….

If Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods succeed in instilling this new idea of meat, the cultural link between meat and masculinity may well remain intact. “We can’t just eat our way out of toxic masculinity,” says Max Elder, the research director at the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit research center in Silicon Valley.

“Are these plant-based meat alternatives sufficiently different that they will challenge existing ideologies?” he asks. “I’m sort of skeptical that we can both preserve everything that these companies want from meat, and get rid of everything these companies don’t want from meat at the same time.” 

— Sarah Todd, writing for Quartz

Food for thought

The newest version of the Impossible Burger–the plant-based meat that uses food science to replicate the taste and feel of beef–has a carbon footprint 89% smaller than a burger made from a cow.

A new  analysis found that the burger also uses 87% less water than beef, uses 96% less land, and cuts water contamination by 92%. Those numbers are improvements on the last iteration of the burger, in part because the company has become more efficient as it grows and because it switched from wheat to soy as a key ingredient, because soy also yields more acres on a farm. But the majority of the impact simply comes from the fact that the product isn’t made from an animal.

— Here’s how the footprint of the plant-based Impossible Burger compares to beef


I think anthropomorphism is not such a big deal with species that are close to us, and that’s why I invented the word “anthropodenial,” which is the opposite. [It means] that you deny that there are connections between humans and other species. And actually, entire areas in the university — like philosophy, anthropology [and] parts of psychology — they are anthropodenial. … They’re saying that the human mind and the human spirit are so totally different, we cannot compare them with what a monkey or a dolphin or [another] animal is doing. They are denying that connection, which I think is detrimental and is actually much more dangerous, in my opinion, because anthropodenial has a lot of negative side effects in my mind. It’s much more dangerous than anthropomorphism.

Frans de Waal on NPR, where he speaks about his new book, Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves

Food for thought

Uniquely human emotions don’t exist. More and more, I believe that we share all emotions with other species in the same way that we share virtually every organ in our bodies with them. No exceptions. 

Like organs, the emotions evolved over millions of years to serve essential functions. Their usefulness has been tested again and again, giving them the wisdom of ages. They nudge us to do what is best for us. Some emotions may be more developed in humans, or apply to a wider range of circumstances, but none is fundamentally new.

— Frans de Waal in the New York Times

Nonprofit that advocates for meat alternatives lands start-up funds from Y Combinator

From Fast Company:

At the demo day for Y Combinator’s summer batch of startups, most of the companies are, unsurprisingly, focused on digital tech–like Bot M.D., an AI assistant for doctors working in developing countries, or Shelf Engine, a startup that uses demand forecasting to help grocery stores eliminate waste. But the roster also includes a startup nonprofit that is working to grow the burgeoning market for “clean meat”–animal protein grown in vats from stem cells, so that it can avoid the problems inherent in producing meat from animals.

Good Food Institute, founded two and a half years ago, is working on building that larger ecosystem. It works with universities to recruit young scientists and entrepreneurs to the new field of clean meat. It performed market research to land on the phrase “clean meat” for the industry (rather than “lab-grown meat,” or “cultured meat,” or “animal-free meat”; “clean meat” is meant to contrast with the pollution and antibiotic use in conventional meat production). It lobbies policymakers and meets with traditional meat companies, such as Tyson, to convince them to fund plant-based and clean meat startups. It funds open-source research on plant-based and clean meat, so startups don’t continually repeat the same basic research, and will soon release a startup manual that walks companies through basic steps like how to find lawyers or a contract manufacturer, so founders can focus on their own product and business plan. It has also launched three startups directly itself.