02 January 2008

Make This the Year You Do Right by Animals

As another year begins, most of us find ourselves reflecting on our lives and resolving to improve ourselves and our lives in various ways. These resolutions typically fall into one of two categories: (1) resolutions to acquire some desirable trait or better-making habit, e.g., resolving to exercise regularly; and (2) resolutions to eliminate some undesirable trait or worse-making habit, e.g., resolving to quit smoking. Sometimes resolutions from each category mirror each other, e.g., the resolution to improve one's health and the resolution to quit smoking. Most New Year's resolutions are primarily self-regarding, like resolving to get in better shape and resolving to eat fewer sweets. Some resolutions, however, are primarily other-regarding, like resolving to help others in various ways, e.g., resolving to volunteer at the local soup kitchen, or resolving to donate a certain amount of one’s paycheck each month to an organization working to curb global hunger and poverty.

As you might expect with 66% of Americans being overweight, out of shape, and in poor physical condition, the most popular resolutions include the following:

1. Lose weight.
2. Quit smoking.
3. Exercise more.
4. Eat right.
5. Get in better shape/become more healthy.
6. Drink less alcohol.
7. Spend more time with family and friends.
8. Get out of debt.
9. Try something new or learn something new.
10. Get organized.

I suspect that many, if not most, of these resolutions are on your list of resolutions, as well. Last year, I encouraged readers to add one more resolution to their lists:

11. Stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty in all of its forms.

Now that 2008 has arrived, I'd like once again to encourage new and old readers alike to make this the year that they stop supporting animal cruelty in all of its forms. If you currently eat meat, make a commitment to reduce your consumption of animals in January and stop eating them altogether in February. If you are already a vegetarian, make this the year that you decide to go vegan.

Below, I offer several reasons as to why you should add resolution 11 to your list of resolutions, but first a reality check. Most people who have made resolutions like 1-10 above will have failed to keep them by the end of January. One reason people generally aren't able to stick to resolutions like 1-10 is that, so stated, these resolutions are vague and imprecise with no clear objective in sight. Lose weight. How much? Quit smoking. How and by when? Exercise more. How much more? Eat right. What counts as eating right? Get in better shape. By what standards?

Since the New Year's resolutions you have made for 2008 are your resolutions, I assume that you would actually like to succeed in keeping them. To increase the likelihood of keeping your resolutions, experts recommend that you try to make your resolutions concrete and precise. For example:

1. Lose weight—I will lose 10 pounds by March 15th.

2. Quit smoking—I will join a smoking cessation program in consultation with a physician and quit smoking by the end of February.

3. Exercise more—I will walk or jog or stationary cycle or X [plug in your preferred form of aerobic exercise for X] 30 minutes a day and do strength conditioning twice a week.

4. Eat right—I will eat a diet low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and high in complex carbohydrates and fiber; and I will limit my consumption of empty calories like those found in sweets, soda pop, and trendy high-calorie coffee drinks and energy drinks.

5. Get in better shape/become more healthy—By May 1st, I will have lowered my systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 10 points each, lowered my total plasma cholesterol by 30 points, lowered my resting heart-rate by 5 beats per minute, lowered my body mass index (BMI calculator) by 2 points. [The numbers provided are just by way of illustration. Since people vary in the degree to which they are in or out of shape, individuals need to determine their own fitness and health improvement goals, in consultation with a physician.]

6. Drink less alcohol—I will not consume more than the recommended one to two alcoholic beverages per day.

7. Spend more time with family and friends—I will do X in the evening with my spouse or partner, and I will do Y with my kids on the weekend (where you and your family and friends fill in the variables appropriately).

8. Get out of debt—I will pay off some specific amount of debt by March 31st.

9. Try something new or learn something new—I will try out a new healthy habit, or I will try to learn how to do X.

10. Get organized—E.g., I will clean out one closet each weekend for the next 6 weeks, or I will spend 20 minutes each evening sorting through a pile of papers, etc.

Specific resolutions like those just listed are easier to follow; they allow you to track your success, and they can be fully accomplished.

What about resolution 11? Like the original 1-10, resolution 11 is also vague on details. Stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty in all of its forms. How? What can I do to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty, and is it difficult to do so?Here are some surprisingly simple things you can do to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty:

(a) Stop eating animals.

(b) Stop eating animal products.

(c) Eat delicious plant-based meals centered around whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and in moderation nuts, instead.

(d) Stop wearing animals—Don’t purchase or wear garments made of fur or containing fur trim; don't purchase garments advertised or labeled as "faux fur" since these garments may be made of real fur mislabeled as faux fur (for details, see my previous post on mislabeled dog fur jackets here); don’t purchase leather, and as your leather garments wear out, replace them with nonleather alternatives. Don’t wear wool.

(e) Don’t purchase cosmetics or personal care products that were tested on animals when equally effective cruelty-free products are available.

(f) Don’t purchase cosmetics or personal care products that contain animal ingredients.

(g) Purchase cruelty-free cosmetics and personal care products instead. Cruelty-free shopping guides that list companies that don't test their products on animals are available here, here and here.

(h) Don’t attend circuses that contain nonhuman animal acts.

(i) Do attend socially conscious circuses like Cirque de Soleil that exclusively feature human performers.

(j) Donate only to Humane Charities that don't test on animals. A list of Humane Charities is available here.

At first blush, the list of changes that are required in order to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty may seem daunting, but in reality, quite the opposite is the case. First, since there are so many things that you can do to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty, you can start with any one of these sub-resolutions (a)-(j) and then, once that sub-resolution has been accomplished and thoroughly ingrained in your behavior, you can move on to the next way you can stop supporting cruelty. In short, breaking resolution 11 into a number of easily accomplished specific sub-resolutions makes it more likely that you will accomplish at least part of your over-arching goal of reducing your contribution to unnecessary animal cruelty. Second, many of the things you can do to stop supporting animal cruelty—like not buying or wearing fur or fur trim—require minimal effort and no expense!

Where should you begin? Obviously, since not buying and not wearing fur requires minimal effort and no expense, that's a good place to start. Of course, since that is so easily accomplished, you may have already fully succeeded in carrying out that aspect of resolution 11 long ago. What to do next?

I recommend trying to accomplish sub-resolutions (a), (b), and (c) next. Why? Because doing (a), (b), and (c) will help you accomplish many of your other resolutions. Moderately to seriously overweight people who eliminate all meat and all animal products from their diets and replace those animal-based foods with plant-based foods almost always lose 10-20 pounds with no other behavioral changes. If you are serious about losing weight and improving your health, try out a cruelty-free vegan diet for three months. [You can download a "Vegan Starter Kit" from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine here.] If you are like most people, you will be amazed at (i) how much weight you will lose, (ii) how much better you will feel, and (iii) how much more energy you will have. One virtue of a low-fat vegan diet is that you can eat as much vegan food as you like and still lose weight. Switching to a vegan diet devoid of meat and animal products also almost always results in significantly lower plasma cholesterol levels. A vegan diet also reduces the risk of heart disease and some cancers, while lowering blood pressure, and is, thus, an extremely effective means of helping you to achieve your goal of improved health. By eating a low-fat vegan diet centered around whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, you will be eating right. And, of course, by experimenting with all sorts of new vegan dishes, you will be learning a new healthier way of cooking and eating. Free recipes can be found at The Vegan Chef and Vegan Connection. Free Fat-free vegan recipes can be found at Fatfree Vegan. So, if you are serious about losing weight, improving your health, eating right, and trying something new, switching to a cruelty-free vegan diet will single-handedly help you accomplish all of these goals.

But wait. There's more! For no extra charge, switching to a vegan diet also dramatically reduces your contribution to unnecessary animal suffering. If you are like most people, you think that it is seriously morally wrong to contribute to unnecessary animal suffering. Switching to a vegan diet will help you to live your life in accordance with your own deeply held moral values and will, thereby, help you to live an authentic life, i.e., a meaningful life of integrity. When looking for ways to better ourselves in the New Year, we should look for ways to better ourselves physically, emotionally, and ethically. Making an effort to live our lives in a manner consistent with our most deeply held moral values is one of the most important steps we can take toward being our best selves.

Like resolution 7, resolution 11 is primarily an other-regarding resolution (even though those who respect animals and refuse to eat them will experience profound health benefits as a result). Its primary focus is the well being of other sentient beings. Since other beings are affected by our other-regarding behavior, other-regarding resolutions may be easier to stick to than purely self-regarding resolutions. After dieting for a few weeks, one might rationalize as follows, "Oh well, I don't really mind carrying around 20 extra pounds. I just read that 'curviness' is in this year. Plus, if I lost weight, I'd have to buy new clothes." But if one keeps in mind the animals that one is trying to help, one might be more inclined to stick to one's resolutions. Plus, as Kathie Jenni rightly points out here, when it comes to doing right by animals, one can always take steps to reinforce one's motivation.

Suppose you find yourself about to give up on one of the sub-resolutions of resolution 11 that you have set for yourself, e.g., sub-resolution (a). Then, you can stop and remind yourself of one of the main reasons you resolved to stop eating meat in the first place, namely, your desire not to support the kinds of cruelty inherent in modern animal agriculture. If you feel yourself losing your resolve, take 12 minutes to re-view the documentary "Meet Your Meat" here or here. Or, suppose you're thinking about back-sliding on sub-resolution (d) and purchasing a fur-trimmed garment. Then, take 2 minutes and re-view this video of raccoon dogs being skinned alive. After seeing these documentary videos, I think you'll find all the strength you need to steel your resolve not to purchase such products of pain.

The Bottom Line:

Elsewhere in this blog (see here, here, and here), I have written about ethical synergy, the regularly observed phenomenon that simultaneously showing respect for persons (including oneself), animals, and the environment typically benefits all three groups (including oneself). Resolving to do right by animals and to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty is yet another powerful example of ethical synergy at work. As we have just seen, resolving to do right by animals is a great way to do right by oneself. By not ingesting animals you will not only not be supporting the unnecessary animal cruelty inherent in modern animal agriculture, you will also be taking positive steps toward improving your health, eating right, and losing weight, steps much more likely to result in permanent weight loss and improved cardiovascular health than unhealthful fad diets that cannot be sustained for the long haul. By not purchasing exorbitantly expensive fur coats and fur-trimmed coats, you will be actively boycotting animal cruelty while simultaneously saving money that can be applied toward resolution 8, i.e., that of getting out of debt. Doing right by animals makes us better people in countless ways, and that, of course, is the main reason we make New Year's Resolutions in the first place. Join me in resolving to do right by animals in 2008. Make this the year you go cruelty-free. Do it for the animals. Do it for yourself.

Wishing you a Happy Healthy Humane New Year!