Author of meatonomics
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m a lawyer, writer and animal advocate. When I’m not at work, helping animals, or supporting animal lovers, I like to hike, bike, swim, do yoga, or read.
Why do you follow vegan diet?
One night, I watched a number of online videos about factory farming and laboratory testing. By the end of it, I was profoundly affected by the cruelty I had seen. It was literally like a switch flipped in my head and I could not bring myself to continue consuming animal products. I tried one week as a vegan, and that became permanent. Incidentally, I shared my experience with a friend, who posted it here: http://honkifyourevegan.com/2013/03/28/whats-the-furry-fuss/.
What benefits have you experienced from making the change?
I didn’t go vegan for health reasons, but I began to notice immediate benefits. I lost about 15 pounds, my cholesterol dropped from 200 to 140, and the acid reflux that had bothered me for years simply vanished. Colorectal cancer is common in my family, and I now know that eliminating meat has significantly lowered my risk of developing that disease as well.
How have you gained purpose since turning vegan?
For me, the main benefit of a vegan lifestyle has been a greater feeling of connectedness with the planet and its inhabitants. I tread with a lighter footprint. And I think I’ve become more empathetic and compassionate in my interactions with others.
What is your book ‘Meatonomics’ about (in a nutshell)?
The book explores the unseen economic forces that drive our animal food system, and the weird ways these forces affect consumers’ eating, spending, health, prosperity, and longevity. Among other things, we’ve lost the ability to decide for ourselves what – and how much – to eat. Instead, those decisions are mostly made for us by meat and dairy producers who control our buying choices with artificially low prices, misleading messaging, and heavy control over legislation and regulation.
What made you decide to write it?
A few years ago, I emailed a slaughterhouse video to a friend who taught at a major law school to see what he would think of it. He wrote back that while the practices in the film were clearly inhumane, they were likely illegal – and for that reason, they were anomalies. But after doing some research, I learned that in fact, the cruel practices that show up in slaughterhouse videos are generally legal. That’s because unlike most other animals, who are protected from cruelty, farmed animals are not covered by most anti-cruelty laws. For example, Connecticut makes it completely legal to “maliciously and intentionally” torture, mutilate, or kill a farmed animal. And additional laws passed at the behest of factory farmers make it hard or impossible for consumers to investigate, criticize or sue them.
These laws are bad for animals and consumers, and they serve only one purpose: to help factory farmers make more money. Further, such laws – and the behaviors they spur in producers – are responsible for a variety of social ills, including health problems, environmental damage, and classic “market failure” in the meat and dairy system. The economic forces of factory farming have not received much attention, so I thought it would make a good subject for a book.
While researching, what were some of the key issues/deceptions you identified?
Here’s one: in the U.S., Australia and most other western countries, animals raised for food have essentially no legal rights whatsoever. They can be treated in any way that’s expedient and cost-effective, without regard to whether it’s cruel or inhumane. Male animals routinely have their testicles crushed or chopped off without anesthetic. Chickens routinely have half their beaks chopped off, leaving a painful stump, and can be killed by almost any means whatsoever, including being thrown in a wood chipper, meat grinder, or garbage can. Farm animals can be mutilated, wounded, tortured and killed with complete legal impunity.
Here’s another: despite the conventional wisdom that says meat and dairy are good for us, the overwhelming body of objective, clinical research shows the opposite – that these foods are damaging our health. Americans’ meat consumption has doubled in the past 75 years, and that’s the main reason why one in three of us have heart disease, two in three are overweight, and we have three times the incidence of cancer as the rest of the world.
What do you think some solutions are?
There are two ways to solve the problem: individual change and institutional change. On an individual level, you might decide to eat less animal foods or give them up altogether. Among other benefits to this lifestyle change, vegetarians are slimmer and healthier than the rest of society and have lower cholesterol and longer lifespans. On an institutional level, a meat tax would return meat and dairy consumption to healthier levels and reverse many of the problems of meatonomics. I know everyone hates taxes, but this proposal wouldn’t cost anything extra because it includes an offsetting tax credit. The result is to shift consumption to healthier protein sources while putting cash back in people’s pockets, so we don’t spend more money on food than otherwise. The combination of a 50% meat tax and eliminating subsidies to the animal food industry would reduce animal food consumption by about 44% and provide benefits like these (these figures are for U.S., but would be proportionately similar for Australia):
- Almost 200,000 fewer human deaths from cancer, diabetes and heart disease each year.
- 26 billion fewer land and marine animals killed each year.
- A 3.4 trillion-pound drop in the emission of carbon dioxide equivalents. That’s like garaging all 250 million land and water vehicles in the U.S. each year.
- An area twice the size of Texas would no longer be needed for agriculture and could be returned to forest, grassland, or other native habitat.
- $26 billion in annual savings to Medicare and Medicaid.
- Yearly cash surplus of $32 billion in the U.S. Treasury.
What changes have occurred since the book was published?
The book has been reviewed a dozen times, in each case, favorably. I’ve spoken about the book in dozens of cities, and the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Many people have contacted me to say the book has changed their thinking, their diet, or their life. Now I just hope the message continues to spread.
What are you passionate about?
Helping animals, and helping people who want to help animals.
What do you value in your life?
I value my partner, the animals I share my home with (two cats, a rabbit and a tortoise), my work, and living in an area where I can enjoy either the beach or the mountains with a 15-minute drive.
What are 3 empowering beliefs that propel you?
“Facts do not cease to exist simply because they are ignored.”
– Aldous Huxley
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
What are your top 3 tips for individuals wanting make a switch/ depend less on animal products?
1. It may seem hard at first, just like riding a bicycle or learning to wind-surf. But just like these activities, once you’ve done it for a few weeks or months it will seem completely natural and you’ll wonder why you waited so long to change.
2. There are vegan alternatives for every conceivable kind of animal food, including milk, cheese, ice cream, eggs, fish, beef, chicken, pork, and more. The vegan options taste great and are completely free of cholesterol and cruelty. There is no reason not to enjoy the taste and texture of every vegan meal.
3. Start with a week as a vegan and see how it goes. Then try two. Then a month. Next thing you know, a few years will have passed and you will have saved the lives a few hundred animals!
What are your future plans?
At the moment I am focused on spreading the word of Meatonomics. I am also counsel in six lawsuits that seek to vindicate animal advocates or improve conditions for animals or for people who do animal advocacy work. I’d like to continue and grow this legal work. I also have some ideas for my next book, but I need to let those germinate for a little longer.
What is your great vision?
The complete abolition of all use of animals for food, clothing, testing or entertainment.
If there was one thing that you would like to change in the world, what would that be and why is this important to you?
I would like people to treat animals with kindness and respect, since all animals (even fish) feel pain and suffering just like us, and just like us, they want to be left alone to live their lives in peace and pursue their own desires.
What is the one idea that you can give to others to contribute to a positive change (on a personal level or the world at large)?
How are you Evol’ved as an individual?
Going vegan was the most important decision of my life. I’ve found a new spiritual strength and a sense of oneness with the planet and its inhabitants. I feel more self-aware, conscious, compassionate, and connected to the universe.
How can you be connected?