Happy-Size Me

Veganism is often referred to as a tool to “reduce suffering”. It’s a utilitarian ideal and it sounds pretty reasonable right? I mean, who would want to take any other course of action. So given a choice of evils, vegan advocates might ask people to eat cows instead of chickens because it takes less lives per pound of flesh therefore less suffering. Any way they could convince people to use less animals works to further their goal of suffering reduction. The ultimate cream-dream goal however is to convert people into veganism. Because that of course, is the most compassionate and least suffering lifestyle evar ya know. 1

A major problem for that gold-star leaflet award of a vegan convert is that for even people who are sympathetic it can be quite a daunting challenge. This barrier to entry is quite extreme and vegan evangelists have been pondering how they can help hurdle it. Well instead of jumping over that obstacle, how about making it smaller and still get to that ultimate goal? I believe I have a solution that will totally reduce suffering by empowering sympathizers with a tool to reduce suffering without having to make dramatic changes to their money spending habits.

I believe that reducing suffering is the ultimate good, and must be our bottom line. –Matt Ball, Vegan Outreach2

Ethical 3 Suffering Offsets
We’ve heard of carbon offsets before. Ya know like when you a company has a project that reduces carbon emissions somehow, like by creating renewable energy sources, they could sell the offset in emissions to industries that puts carbon dioxide into the environment. In this way you neutralize the effect of pollution. Well, what if companies like say a Burger King, had a “supersize”-like option but instead of more food it comes with an extra expense. That extra goes towards animal-based charities who save animal lives. Now, people who care about animals can have their animal and eat her too! Talk about a “happy meal”! Maybe it can be tokenized with little toys or maybe a punchcard or something.

Welfare advocates will love this too because say, that extra cost can even maybe go back into the production costs of the meal itself for better welfare. So far producers balk at such measures because of the extra expense but with ethical suffering offsets bigger cages for chickens, etc can be afforded. Improving the lives of these poor wretched creatures works directly in line with the goals of vegan advocates with minimal suffering of even consumers! Choking down wheat grass shots isn’t required here and non-vegans become allies, not enemies!

This will make the work of vegan activists much easier too. Instead of standing out in the cold handing out flier after flier begging people to go vegan they could meet them where they’re at and give out coupons to participating restaurants participating in the ethical suffering offsets program. The general public just isn’t ready to make the vegan commitment so this is a bold innovative approach that should make any activist quiver with non-suffering excitement!

So, it’s out there for you people of the internet! It’s my billion dollar idea gifted over to those true blue dedicated vegan activists. 4 Get out there and reduce the hell out of that suffering!

  1. or is it?
  2. A Meaningful Life
  3. Chris MacDonald points out that these would be “suffering” offsets.
  4. Shoot, looks like it wasn’t an original thought after all. Oh well, it’s still ground floor!

46 comments to Happy-Size Me

  • TaVe

    2-358 slaughters are prevented for every dollar donated to Vegan Outreach.1
    A 4lb chicken provides about 2k Cal2. So a ~2kg (4.4lb) broiler chicken3 would provide about 2.2k Cal. McDonald’s southern style chicken sandwich is 400 calories. To be on the safe side, we can assume all of that is from the chicken and that 1 dollar only prevents 2 slaughters. For every 11 of those you eat, you would need to donate 1 dollar. Or ~10 cents per sandwich. You eat that 6 times a day for the whole year and donate ~$200 and you are more ethical than a vegan who just doesn’t eat any meat. And that is based on the worst possible assumptions. In reality, it would probably require many times less money.

    If you assume 358 slaughters prevented and only eat some cow (say 10% of your diet), then $1 would set off the slaughter for almost 2000 years. Although, if you include those killed in harvest, it is only 100-150 year for the cow. But then you have to include non-animal products that kill about 2 per million calories (500 days for an 80% animal-free diet). So you need to add $1 for every 2000 years- 1 cent per 20years.4 So they would have to donate about 21 cents every 20 years.

    I’ve had this idea for a while. Never shared it with anyone though- most vegans would throw a fit and the ones who want to attempt to debunk the idea would say something like “If you murder someone but sponsor a child in Africa so they get to live, you are still a bad person”. Or maybe “the best you can do is donate that money and be vegan”.

    1. http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/dollar-worth.pdf
    2. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_calories_in_a_whole_4_pound_chicken
    3. http://animal-lib.org.au/subjects/animals-for-food/23-chickens-broiler.html
    4. http://www.animalvisuals.org/projects/data/1mc

    • Woah! And you did the math?! That actually sounds viable. Weird. I’m gonna have to comb through that but thanks! I wonder how many other people have thought about this.

      • TaVe

        After finding that page describing how much $1 does (probably around December), I’ve been interest in this idea. Finally decided to do the math because of your post. 😀
        I did a back-of-the envelope on how much of a carbon offset it is based on probably inaccurate vegan-promoted numbers a while back: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/other-rewards-to-help-with-environment/

        Although I’ve seen other sites who say they can plant a tree for 10 cents. 1 tree = ~37lb of CO2 sequested per year for a few decades if I remember correctly. So it is not good as that.

    • Ash

      Firstly, this would seem to undermine the utilitarian case for veganism and vegan outreach efforts, but probably not the abolitionist one.

      What you may have missed in your calculations is that any widespread knowledge of your proposal is sure to greatly reduce the effectiveness of each $1 spent with Vegan Outreach. If it were possible for enough people to be aware of and choose to follow your suggestion that it could have any substantial effect in preventing slaughter, the very knowledge that this eating choice was more effective than becoming a vegan (in isolation – i.e. assuming one didn’t become a vegan *and* support Vegan Outreach) could be expected to destroy the evidence-based case for veganism as a tool to prevent animal suffering. Therefore each $1 donated could be expected to prevent fewer and fewer animals being slaughtered, leading to some kinda bizarre dynamic equilibrium perhaps entailing more animal suffering than the status quo.

      In other words, the law of unexpected consequences, and the proposal works so long as only few people practice it and it remains ineffectual in the grand scheme of things, but doesn’t scale well.

    • TaVe

      When I found out how expensive Vegan D3 is from Quasivegan compared to non-vegan D3, I thought it made no sense to buy vegan D3 vitamins- it would be better to buy non-vegan D3 and donate the difference. Now that I’ve done these calculations, I wonder how many vegan items this applies to. Although that assumes that if you donate more for offsets, you will still donates as much as you would otherwise.
      For example: 4 pints of blue bell ice cream is like $5s. 1 pint of So Delicious is also ~$5s- or $20s for the 4 pints. That would save $15s- if you donate that, you offset the difference by a landslide.

  • TaVe

    Or they could say something like “that’s not sustainable if everyone starts doing that” and they will just ignore the reality that currently, that is not the case. Weird how some can blow off the “what if everyone is vegan?” question by saying that’s not a problem now but may bring up hypothetical “what if everyone is freegan or using ethical offsets” as if it disproved the argument. And if the money being less effective, you will have to start donating more and more until you cannot even afford it.

    • I like this more as a thought exercise and yeah I’m familiar with people who should know better about fallacies use em themselves. I probably do the same from time to time. Stupid monkey brain. 🙂

  • TaVe

    This is basically what I touched on in a comment below, although in less detail and perhaps it does not apply to your views.

    “Firstly, this would seem to undermine the utilitarian case for veganism and vegan outreach efforts, but probably not the abolitionist one.”
    It seems to me, most abolitionist are the black-and-white “eating meat is evil” and “veganism is the moral baseline” type of people, but if you question them on why that is the baseline they will say “veganism is gives you the perspective to consider other options” but they will not promote freeganism because it may involve eating “evil” animal products and furthers the idea that you can eat animals. I think they would be the most against it.
    I don’t think it really undermines the outreach aspect- you can tackle a problem from multiple fronts.
    But it does present a problem for the utilitarian view that veganism. Although, there has always been problems with that, as letthemeatmeat has pointed out.

    The idea is offset your damage- you do not pay a fixed rate. No matter how expensive it becomes, you either offset or don’t buy. You could even make an android and iphone app that you can scan products and look up restaurant menus to see how much you have to pay to offset, updated for the most recent info. Eventually this would force some people would originally thought they couldn’t go vegan to slowly shift towards veganism as it becomes too expensive to eat animal products on a regular basis while others might just stop offsetting.

    Admittedly, it would be hard to know how effecting a dollar you donate now will be. The link I shared is 6 years old, for example. There would probably need to be some organization that evaluates how effective various organizations are regularly- some types would be hard to quantify. Which would also need funded, raising the cost of offsets.

    Also, don’t forget. This works both ways. As more people become vegan, you have to pay more to offset your damage- about 2 animals every million calories with current farming methods according to link 4 in my above comment- if you want to go solely by animals killed. Although you could give money to organizations that work on developing more ecologically friendly agriculture methods. Still it would be hard to quantify how much a $ would do in such an organization.

    “the very knowledge that this eating choice was more effective than becoming a vegan… could be expected to destroy the evidence-based case for veganism as a tool to prevent animal suffering…”
    My guess is most vegans became vegan for more emotional reasons anyways and most people suck at logic and morality. So you can still manipulate people into being vegan with videos of sad animals being slaughtered, twisted logic, and using some mysterious forms of morality (stuff like valuing life).

    But I agree that advocating this would likely make outreach less effective if it ever gained traction. I

    Also, convincing others to become vegan is not the only way to help animals. You could give to other groups, such as groups that lobby for better animal protection laws, making it more expensive to raise animals, making eating animal products more expensive, causing less people to eat meat or those that raise animals more humanely- you could do something like paying for 2 to be raised humanely for every one you cause to live in factory farms would. One example organization is Humane Farm Animal Care at the cost of ~3cents per animal.1 Once again, raising animals humanely runs into a roadblock at scaling up, where it become prohibitively expensive. But this is easier to quantify than outreach effectiveness at least and with differing types of offset programs, you would run into problems slower. The US spends ~150billion a year on fast food alone though. If everyone donated 10% of what you spent at fast food on lobbying organizations/campaign finance, that would be 15billion a year. That could bring real change in laws and enforcement, seeing how only 2-5billion is spent on federal campaigns each year (2) and only about 3.5bil spent on federal lobbying each year. That probably would only offset a fraction, through improved lives and high costs leading to fewer sales. But it does show that some forms can be scaled up to a degree. Then there are organizations like vegfam that work in foreign nations, so the US could continue its lifestyle and just force veganism on 3rd world countries through charity. 4

    Anyways, since this is largely a logic based argument and has math involved, I don’t think we have to worry about it ever catching on to a degree that would create many problems. How many people who think climate change is a real problem actually try to offset their CO2 emissions? And if everyone tried to offset their CO2 emissions but continued burning coal/oil/etc, we would run into some of the same problems.
    Seems like bringing up a hypothetical future where large numbers of people try to use offsets so you can no longer offset seems to ignore that it could help animals now. Just because freeganism cannot be scaled up does not mean that you should never eat freegan or tell others to. If everyone tried to eat freegan all the time, clearly it wouldn’t work. But that is not an argument against some people eating freegan sometimes. The only counter-argument that I see as having real credit is an extension of the problem of scaling up offset- if the abolitionists are right when they say promoting anything less than veganism harms more animals. I don’t buy it though- it seems to ignore the “foot in the door” phenomenon. Especially in this situation where you get people to become financially invested in the problem.

    On a completely unrelated note, if my calculations on the CO2 offsets through vegan outreach are right, I’ve probably offset ~.2-30 tonnes of CO2 this year through goodsearch. My footprint this year will probably be like 15 tonnes. Coolbeans. I thought I was only at a few tonnes so far. And wow this comment is too long- almost twice as long as Crank’s post. Might as well make my own blog post on this subject and include this. >.<

    1. http://www.certifiedhumane.org/index.php?page=donate
    2. http://www.quora.com/How-much-total-money-is-spent-on-political-campaigns-in-the-U-S-every-year
    3. http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2010/02/federal-lobbying-soars-in-2009.html
    4. http://www.vegfamcharity.org.uk/

    • Rhys

      Please do write a blog entry about this. I want to read it. What’s the name of your blog?

      • TaVe

        I don’t actually normally blog- especially with college coming next month. >.<
        I do have one that I occasionally put stuff on, but its mostly random and stupid. Perhaps I will start a real one, but I rather let you (and other people) tear apart whatever I've already said on here 1st so I can avoid re-posting something that might be obviously really stupid. 🙂

        Plus, I would have to actually make sure the numbers I use are accurate- not trusting answers.com and such non-cited sources. And perhaps look at the water footprint, CO2 footprint, etc to make a case for people who simply care about the environment to donate to groups like Vegan Outreach.

        • Rhys

          I don’t see too much to tear apart, though I haven’t scrutinized your numbers. I’d run it on my blog as a guest post if you wanted to put it all together for that.

  • Cool idea. Two comments.

    1) You need to call them “suffering offsets,” since carbon offsets, too, would be a sub-type of “ethical” offsets. (In both cases, you’re trying to reduce the amount of something bad *somewhere else*.)

    2) No burger joint will ever go for it, because they last thing they want to do is remind eaters that they’re causing suffering. The cows are HAPPY, remember?

    • 1) Oh jeez, yeah “suffering offsets” would be more precise. Good catch, I’ll update the post.
      2) But what about say…tobacco companies who constantly remind people how bad their products are and yet people still smoke? Also, what burger joint claims their cows are happy?

  • Another thought: the best way for a meat eater to offset both the carbon and suffering implied by his diet would be for him to convince one or two OTHER people to become vegetarians or vegans. Got a room-mate who is already wavering and *tempted* to become a vegetarian? Put up a few slaughterhouse pictures around the apartment, and presto! From a consequentialist point of view, reducing HIS meat intake is just as good as reducing yours.

    • TaVe

      Or getting a large group to do meatless-mondays. Or get the cafetaria that serves 100s a day to reduce the suffering per person served by a tiny %. Or any get McDonalds to add .00000001% more filler to their meat. Etc. Etc. From a consequential POV, it is all the same.

    • This is what Vegan Outreach does. The best win for them is to make another person vegan. Then, if you go vegan it’s your onus to do the same otherwise you’re a jerk.

  • Rob Wakeman

    Clearly, we should extend this to all forms of suffering too. How much would I have to donate to Planned Parenthood to offset a clinic bombing? All you’ve demonstrated is that ethics and economics are not the same thing.

    • TaVe

      What’s wrong with applying it to that situation?

    • Rhys

      I don’t think that’s a great comparison. Planned Parenthood’s role is not to stop people from bombing abortion clinics. Donating to Planned Parenthood after blowing up a building full of people wouldn’t be a utilitarian offset in the same way that it would be to talk five people into becoming vegan (or paying Vegan Outreach to do it for you) right after you quit veganism.

      • Rob Wakeman

        Jesus, really? Is this something you guys are actually taking seriously? You have an ethical obligation to each individual you encounter – you can’t distribute ethics across an abstract economic system using money as a vessel for moral absolution. If you murder someone, and then you prevent five other people from murdering someone, you’ve still murdered someone. You’ve still violated your ethical obligation to the one person you’ve murdered. That can’t be erased.

        To say that donating money to charity is more ethical (even if it is more effective) would be to say that Bill Gates is a more ethical person than you are because he donates more money to charity. Money is not a measurement of morality. You people probably think corporations are people too.

        • Rob Wakeman

          We’re a step away from simony, indulgences, and the Pardoner’s Tale here!

        • TaVe

          I see Gates as being less ethical than me because he has such a large share of the pie, which means others don’t and are suffering as a result. He hasn’t come close to offsetting the harm his hoarding has caused. But basically all Americans fall into this category. So by having enough money to offset those costs, you are causing harm. Which actually would apply to ethical offsets for not being vegan. Still, in the case of choosing between an expensive vegan version vs a cheap non-vegan version of a product and donating the difference, the more ethical choice would be the non-vegan product if the donation at the more than offset the (indirect and direct) harm caused by the consumption of the product.

          “People do not feel in any way ashamed or guilty about spending money on new
          clothes or a new car instead of giving it to famine relief. (Indeed, the alternative does not occur to them.) This way of looking at the matter cannot be justi ed.
          [. . . W]e ought to give money away, rather than spend it on clothes which we do not need to keep us warm. To do so is not charitable, or generous. Nor is it the kind of act which philosophers and theologians have called \supererogatory”| an act which it would be good to do, but not wrong not to do. On the contrary, we ought to give the money away, and it is wrong not to do so.”
          Peter Singer, Famine, Auence, and Morality

          I have applied this form of thinking to situations where it probably would disgust most people. Someone on youtube basically asked “what if Joe Paterno was covering up child molestation by someone like Fritz Haber who would go on to greatly improve the world?” My answer was it would be more moral (and it got downvoted). Although I’m not sure how one would make such a decision without knowledge of the future and our biases make it where we are not good judges of such.

          • Rob Wakeman

            That moronic comment got downvoted because it is profoundly and dangerously incorrect. First of all, Haber caused World War II so obviously you hate the Jews. (This is problem with complex systems such as economics, geopolitics, ecology, all of which are interwoven anyway. Because as you say we can’t predict the future, talking about ethics at large abstract levels becomes messy and unproductive. This is basic systems theory.)

            Second, we need to first reckon with ethics at the individual level and not reduce individual beings (human or animal) as units ethically interchangeable with money. Ethical value does not equal monetary value.

            Third, we need to divorce the donating money to charity and the violation of an animals’ fullness of being. Of course I agree that people should donate money to charity. But those acts of charity do not absolve you of acts of violence. They are good things to do. They do not erase bad things you have done.

          • Rob Wakeman

            Er. WWI. The human endeavor to control the nitrogen cycle caused WWI. Which caused WWII. Whatever. It’s all the same. Haber/Hitler, Hitler/Haber. Haber probably caused 9/11 too.

  • TaVe

    “First of all, Haber caused World War II so obviously you hate the Jews. (This is problem with complex systems such as economics, geopolitics, ecology, all of which are interwoven anyway. Because as you say we can’t predict the future, talking about ethics at large abstract levels becomes messy and unproductive. This is basic systems theory.) ”

    I didn’t know about his role in the World Wars. So rather than some hypothetical situation about child molesting, we can talk about actual history. Haber and Bosch’s work is also responsible for helping feed billions since his time. Although you could actually paint this in a negative light, destroying the environment and whatnot. Regardless, you get the point of the example.

    Another similar example is the “if you could go back in time and kill Hitler (and the holocaust never happen as a result), would you?” If you think morals should be completely on an individual level and the resulting good is irrelevant, then killing Hitler is wrong and you are immoral regardless of how many people it saves.

    Anyways, we seem to agree it is impractical to use in such a complex system where you cannot know what the outcomes are. You would not know in 1925 that Hitler would go on to be the leader of Germany and the Holocaust would happen. But for cows or chickens locked up in small cages, the difference between protecting would-be number 8417 vs would-be 5923 is little.

    • Rob Wakeman

      The reductio ad Hitlerum doesn’t provide any basis for building an ethical system. I realize I brought him up, but I was joking. Hitler is an outlier. Constructing everyday ethics based on outliers won’t work and applying everyday ethics to outliers won’t work either. This is why a “state of emergency” exists.

      The fact that the difference between protecting would-be 8417 vs would-be 5923 is little is exactly the point. Killing one and saving the other is not a moral wash. Killing one and saving a hundred others is not a moral wash. It makes no difference to the one you kill whether or not you save a hundred others. This does not mean you should not save a hundred others, but it still makes no difference to the one you kill.

  • CAW

    I think this is a brilliant post. If you accept the utilitarian view of vegan motivation, then a market-based approach such as “suffering offsets” is likely to be the best method for saving the most animals at least cost. However, to be truly effective, the decision to enter into the offset market cannot be a choice. We must add to the cost of non-vegan foods the estimated or desired premium in order to achieve some goal; TaVe’s posts are great for working out the kinks, but they do not help setting the actual value. Any strictly utilitarian vegan would be completely irrational for not wanting to see a system like this in place.

    That said, Rob Wakeman takes a view that is not strictly utilitarian. If veganism involves moral value that incorporates the personal responsibility of individual actors, then a market-based approach is incomplete. Killing one to save five may be utilitarian, but it is not necessarily ethical.

    • CAW

      Also, Rob and TaVe are not necessarily at odds. Implement a market-based regulation of suffering in animals to achieve suffering reduction at least cost; and individuals are still free to make ethical decisions to not directly participate in killing.

    • Thanks CAW! The comments I garnered on this post are exactly the sort I was hoping for. I’m thrilled by the conversations here!

      Taking utilitarianism to it’s absurd conclusion hopefully illuminates a better view of that framework for those vegans who are fervently subscribed.

      • CAW

        But my point is that you’re not taking utilitarianism to it’s absurd conclusion–you’re properly applying it. If the purpose of veganism is to maximize net social welfare, at least social welfare that includes the concerns of animals, then a market-based approach is a perfect fit. That is not absurd, it is eminently reasonable.

        The absurdness to me is that some see veganism as only utilitarian. There is no reason why we should abandon utilitarianism in general terms (what other way could we value aggregate choices?), but utilitarianism does not capture the full picture.

        • True but what I would like to square away is how to get utility out of utilitarianism without getting hung up on it to the extent it drives a philosophical stance. Did that make sense?

          • Rob Wakeman

            “True but what I would like to square away is how to get utility out of utilitarianism without getting hung up on it to the extent it drives a philosophical stance. Did that make sense?”

            Yup, I think it does. Perhaps utilitarianism works better for incentivizing institutions, systems, and nonmoral actors. It doesn’t work for individual human beings whose relationships are not calculable in mathematical formula.

          • CAW

            You’re putting the cart before the horse. The decision to apply utilitarianism is a philosophical stance. First we decide upon a goal: maximize net social welfare. Then we decide what is captured by social welfare and how it can be measured. A market-based approach has the greatest chance of maximizing outcomes (allocating resources efficiently).

            The problem is that this type of application of utilitarianism says absolutely nothing about what each individual should decide to do in any given situation. That is the ethical component that still needs answering. There is nothing wrong with utilitarianism being a philosophical stance, either for designing markets or for individual choices, but as Rob Wakeman and I think everyone else intuits, utilitarianism is unsatisfying for helping to guide us in our daily lives.

  • dysomniak

    Dave are you trolling your own blog again?

    Taking the idea at face value, I would say my feelings on the idea are somewhat similar to my feelings about people buying “ethical” meat. Sure it’s better if the cow got to spend some time outside, but don’t expect me to pat anyone on the back for buying it. Of course I don’t like the idea of carbon offsets either: we all have a moral obligation to both do as little direct harm as we can *and* to donate what we can to good causes (it’s easy for me to pontificate when I can’t afford to donate anything of course).

    What about *really* unethical foods? How much more of an offset do you need to buy for foie gras? Veal? Bald Eagle? Chimpanzee? Someone’s kidnapped retriever? An unwanted human infant?

    (good post, great discussion)

    • Maybe? 😀

      What is it you don’t like about carbon offsets? Are you afraid it will justify or perpetuate unethical or wasteful use of resources?

      It could possibly be applied to all sorts of situations and not just food! Maybe alternative medicine practitioners can breathe a sigh of relief by adding a suffering offset tax onto practices such as shark finning. It could be a good strategy to fight poaching too?

  • Maybe this is off-topic but what about the idea of vegans having less of an impact on welfare when their “votes” are removed from equation? Are vegans then even less effective?

    • Rob Wakeman

      I don’t understand what you mean by this.

      • Rob Wakeman

        Oh, you mean by not buying “humane meat,” you think vegans are empowering factory farming? I’d say that’s extremely unlikely. Even if I don’t “vote” for humane meat with my fork, I still vote for it with my actual votes for elected officials, petitions, letters, and other activism. And I still “vote” for businesses that support increased welfare – food coops, farmers I know at markets, pro-welfare restaurants etc. John Mackey of Whole Foods is the perfect example of how vegans vote for welfare.

        • Vegans taking their money out of the equation are not increasing welfare for animals. There’s no chance for animal food producers to appease and recapture their “vote” so they have no incentive to try. For now all I’m talking about is this consumer-based approach to ethics so many vegans champion.

  • Francesca

    I was taking this post to be something like Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

  • […] sinniert  darüber, ob es für Tiere und Umwelt nicht fast besser wäre Fleischesse zu haben, die sich stark engagieren… Was denkt Ihr zu dem philosophischen […]

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