Interviews With Gene Baur And Bruce Friedrich
Anthony Bellotti, a Faunalytics board member, recently caught up with Farm Sanctuary’s Gene Baur and PETA’s Bruce Friedrich. Baur and Friedrich address the growing importance of research for the animal protection movement and how they evaluate their campaigns on behalf of farmed animals, specifically.
Question: How have you utilized research in your project to understand vegetarian/vegan triggers and motivations?
Baur and Friedrich both acknowledged the importance of quantitative and qualitative research for animal advocates. For example, Farmed Sanctuary is currently planning a round of focus groups to unearth the underlying motivations for a vegetarian/vegan diet. Meanwhile, PETA prefers working from secondary research, including sociological and psychological literature. Friedrich co-authored a book that partly addresses the question: “Mostly we’ve worked from books like Influence, The Tipping Point, etc., to examine how people make moral decisions. So we’ve used research into how people make decisions to focus on how we should encourage people to make the decision to adopt a vegetarian and then vegan diet. Matt Ball and I talk a lot about this in our book (AnimalAdvocacyBook.com), of course.”
Question: What kind of message do you think is most effective for starting people on the path toward vegetarianism?
Interestingly, Baur and Friedrich disagree with each other as to the most effective message for driving vegetarianism. Baur believes the simple health message is most effective to get people started on the path, while Friedrich opts for the moral case. Friedrich’s approach is more about “encouraging people to align their beliefs and actions … [rather than] encouraging anyone to change their views.” He continues: “When I argue on college campuses for vegetarianism, I don’t discuss health at all unless it comes up in q-n-a,” says Friedrich. Baur takes a slightly different approach: “I think most people currently respond to health-related info and eat less meat as a result, which I think gets them on the path toward v*ism.”
Question: How does your organization evaluate the effectiveness of the various tactics that it uses?
Success metrics are a priority for Farm Sanctuary as the group “constantly” tries to measure the effectiveness of its tactics. “We are working to put better systems in place to measure the impacts of various actions,” Says Baur. He also noted Farm Sanctuary’s flexibility and willingness to adjust its campaigns when the evidence dictates. Meanwhile, Friedrich’s evaluation toolset includes gauging website metrics, orders of vegetarian information, vegetarian pledges, and online surveys.
Question: What research do you think is most needed to support the work of vegetarian/vegan advocates?
For Baur, research is about practical questions; it all boils down to message efficiency. “Bottom line,” he notes, “is getting bang for buck, and I think research that helps achieve that goal and helps advocates express our message most effectively is critical.” However, Friedrich still remains somewhat unconvinced that strategic research is needed to support veg*n advocates. “I tend to have some dubiousness about ‘what might make you go vegetarian?’ and ‘what do you think of this video?’ types of questions. I don’t think people know what they find most convincing. Look at people’s ostensible desire to lose weight, even as we become fatter and fatter and fatter. Look at people’s claims about what news interests them, compared to what is actually clicked on. etc. I think we need to find convincing research that we can extrapolate….”
Question: What do you think is the greatest advancement for vegetarian/vegan advocacy in the past 5 years and why?
Baur points to the rapid influx of veg*n foods into society as one of the greatest advancements for the farmed animal movement: “the widespread availability of vegan foods (from soy milk, to meat substitutes). People are more likely to try such foods, and then to use them regularly, if they are easily accessible.” Friedrich has a different victory in mind for farm animals. “Prop 2 in California springs to mind; it changes the playing field–chickens now matter; certain abuses are not okay. As the consistency principle kicks in, people will see that eating animals is not acceptable, according to the values they already hold.”
Question: How concerned are you by “veggie recidivism” — lapsed vegetarians who have returned to eating meat?
“I am very concerned about it, and don’t think it gets enough attention,” says Baur. “I’d like to know why people go back to eating meat so the situation could be addressed.” Friedrich adds: “Obviously it’s a concern, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.” Friedrich also hypothesizes that “veggie recidivism” is another symptom of health vegetarian messaging (though he acknowledges more “research would be very interesting and helpful” into this behavior.)
Question: What would you say about the importance of research for the animal protection movement and whether or not it’s becoming more or less important?
Baur and Friedrich agree that research is only becoming more important over time. “I believe research has always been important,” notes Baur, “but that animal advocates are coming to see its value now more than in the past.” Friedrich goes a step further in asserting that he had not even seen anything useful only 15 years ago. “Now, there’s more and more very useful research that can help us to guide our campaigns and actions.”
Both agree on the fundamental principle that research should guide our farm animal campaigns and actions in so far as it will allow us to work more efficiently. As Friedrich concludes, “I hope this is the start of a trend that will involve thoughtful activists analyzing precisely what arguments we should make, and how we should make them.”