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On SWITCH, by Chip & Dan Heath, and Going Vegan

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been thinking a lot about why people go vegan and why they don’t. I stopped blogging largely because I couldn’t possibly make it a priority, but also because I was preaching to the choir. And then the most fascinating thing happened: my writing career resurrected itself. It’s fascinating because I was suddenly in a position where I had to read a lot of books about why people do what they do. Why people make the choices they make became something I would be writing about, with a particular focus on why and how people change (and how to get them to change).

As a result of my education by experts, I have important support for many conclusions I’ve come to merely by experience. I’ll stick my toe back into the bloggy waters with some guidance for those helping others to consider going vegan or in their transitions to going vegan, inspired by (or directly from) “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard,” by Chip & Dan Heath (Broadway 2010). At no point do the brothers Heath mention veganism, though they do discuss social change. Please note that I was not involved in the writing of their book. Also note that I won’t be writing about whether lifestyle change is the solution, as opposed to a dismantling of the system that creates/necessitates exploitation and oppression.

  • We’ve had this discussion many times, but the jury really is in, and when someone makes a change, it is rarely motivated by logic or statistics or ironclad arguments. The idea that a change should be made might come from logic, but the motivation to do something about what you know to be true is an emotional one. You must feel compelled to do something. To that end, watching a video or looking at photos that are graphic (within reason), and preferably that focus on individuals, stirs up the emotion needed to motivate. “Trying to fight inertia and indifference with analytical arguments is like tossing a fire extinguisher to someone who’s drowning. The solution doesn’t match the problem” (107). “The sequence of change is not ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE, but rather SEE-FEEL-CHANGE (106).”
  • That’s not the end of the story though, because if you’re up against a culture that doesn’t support your change, or worse, a personal environment that doesn’t support your change, you’re in for a real struggle.
  • And speaking of struggles, failure is part of change. This is where I have a problem with the vegan police. People stumble. I’m an ex-, ex-vegan, and I’ve had people tell me I “was never a vegan in the first place” if I could stumble like that. It doesn’t help people warm up to the idea of change if they know that they’re going to be watched and ridiculed when they make a mistake. Or for the amount of time their change takes, which brings me to . . .
  • Just because my husband went vegan overnight and has yet to even ponder going back, doesn’t mean everyone can do that or should be required to. When you break it down, it wasn’t overnight at all. He lived with a vegan. I didn’t pressure him, and after more than a handful of years of marriage, he one day said, “The only reason I keep eating animals is because you keep buying them and cooking them for me.” Let’s hear it, people: “A vegan wouldn’t do that–Mary Martin isn’t a vegan because she bought and cooked dead animals.” But back to my story. I responded, “I’m feeling generous today, and I’m willing to forget you said that. But if you don’t want me to, you’re life changes, tomorrow, in a big way.” And he went for it. But he had years of grooming. He was primed with stories, stats, pictures, some video. Watching me be healthy and fit and have boundless energy. He did it when he was ready. And when he was ready, he had a live-in chef who would make his transition, including eating out and traveling and clothing, as easy as it could be. Which now brings me to . . .
  • You have to make it easy; you have to “Shape the Path” for people. If that means shopping for them or with them, cooking for them or with them, sending them links to information on circuses or zoos . . . or shoes . . . that’s what you do. And when they do things on their own–even little things–you praise them. All of this might sound silly, but the people I’ve personally helped go vegan were the beneficiaries of this kind support, and they’re all still vegans. This doesn’t mean Meatless Mondays should be applauded, but Vegan Tuesdays should.
  • “Shrink the Change” is related, in that the more of a head start you can help provide people with, the shorter their journey is–the less they have to change. Vegan Tuesdays. Pointing out things they already do (they don’t go to the circus or the zoo or polo, and they think that drinking the milk of a cow is disgusting) helps them see that they aren’t starting from scratch.
  • “Appeal to identity.” This is where we have a problem, as we aren’t rallied around one identity. I don’t mean to suggest that we should all agree on issues such as: capitalism, violence (including its definition), strategy, what to feed cats and dogs, or whether cooked food is the devil. Oh, and welfare reform. Yeah, that. I would like us to be known as the people who stand for justice for animals, humans, and the planet. Sure we might love animals, but love of animals isn’t the point and it’s not what motivates us necessarily. We are the people who say: Why kill someone when you don’t have to? We are the people who care about global hunger and climate change and have a real solution on the individual level, and we’re happy to support you if you care about those things and you’re moved to change your lifestyle. But that’s me. And in the population of people who self-identify as vegans, I’m pretty sure there are some who would draft a different identity.
  • Finally, what often looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. I experienced this when I fell off the vegan wagon. I did it because it was easy. I was living on Palm Beach and I didn’t know one vegan. I was surrounded by filet mignon-eating, martini-drinking, trust fund beneficiaries (lovely people, by the way), I was in the midst of a lucrative career and did a lot of charity work, and it was easier for me to not be a vegan than to be a vegan. I even started drinking alcohol for the first time. Martinis, of course (gin!). Meanwhile, if I was living back in Manhattan, I’m certain things would have been different. The culture is different, the environment is different, the support is different (as in, it exists). I simply took the path of least resistance, where thinking about what to order or where to buy gorgeous shoes became something that took 30 seconds rather than 30 minutes. (Remember SITUATIONS MATTER?)

I recommend SWITCH, for its entertaining stories of human ridiculousness, as well as for its real-world advice for people wanting to create–and sustain–change in others.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Not sure why you and other welfare organizations read Switch and take it to mean let’s tell people to “go vegan some of the time” or “cut out this arbitrarily chosen animal product.” After reading “Switch,” my interpretation is that we can apply social psychological techniques to vegan outreach *without* selling out the animals and offering the public a wishy washy contradictory message. And yet, groups like Vegan Outreach celebrate this book as some sort of justification denouncing veganism in favor of vegetarianism, or the utility in Meatless Mondays. I wrote about this topic here:

    December 31, 2012
  2. mary martin #

    Hi Corey, and thanks for stopping by.
    In deconstructing your comment, I find that:

    1) You mean to insult me (“you and other welfarist organizations”).
    2) I’m not sure you read my post. I specifically say that Meatless Mondays shouldn’t be applauded. At no point do I endorse vegetarianism. I have no connection to Vegan Outreach whatsoever. I had no idea any vegans were out there reading this book. I spend no time on blogs, as parenting/family and work are my priorities.
    3) Going vegan little by little, as in, perhaps a day of the week at a time, if that’s all you’re moved to do, should be praised. If someone is doing their level best, and is indeed making progress, you don’t reprimand them and their coach for not pushing them.

    If anyone uses this book as a reason to help people do what they can, notice what they’re already doing (not going to zoos), and praise small things, it’s because that’s what the Heaths are saying. I didn’t love the analogy, but remember . . . “Shamu didn’t learn to jump through a hoop because her trainer was bitching at her. She learned because she had a trainer who was patient and focused and reinforced every step of the journey” (252).

    I bitched at people for a while, and I can tell you that got me nowhere. I don’t promote anything but vegan values. If you have a problem with Vegan Outreach, talk to them. But the reason they can use this book to support something other than vegan values is because of the Identity issue I refer to. You have a different definition of what it means to go vegan than they do.

    December 31, 2012
    • CQ #

      Good to have you back, Mary!

      May I go slightly off-topic for readers who may not be familiar with marine parks.

      I don’t care for the Shamu analogy any more than you do, Mary, and furthermore, I don’t think it’s accurate. The “Switch” authors write: “Shamu didn’t learn to jump through a hoop because her trainer was bitching at her. She learned because she had a trainer who was patient and focused and reinforced every step of the journey” (252).

      From everything I’ve read about these “aquaprisons,” as Joan Dunayer calls them in her book “Animal Equality: Language and Liberation,” two of the key ways trainers get orcas and dolphins to learn tricks and obey signals are: (1) drastically underfeeding the animals so they will respond out of desperate hunger, and (2) placing the animals alone in small holding tanks for extended periods — the equivalent, in terms of confinement, of a factory-farm sow gestation crate.

      The trainers may be patient and persevering, but that doesn’t mean that Shamu wants to do a single thing to please them. He just wants to not starve and not be immobilized and isolated.

      The miserable lives of these imprisoned mammals can be seen at, among other sites: and (the latter a documentary titled “Lolita”).

      January 3, 2013
  3. mary martin #

    I’m glad you brought that up, CQ, and you’re absolutely correct. The section about training “exotic animals” (the authors’ words) is actually very troublesome, as they say that harming animals to get them to perform is a thing of the past. So it’s actually worse than the Shamu analogy, unfortunately.

    January 3, 2013
    • CQ #

      Ah, yes, that relic of the “past” excuse. While that argument may be true when it comes to training horses today (it appears that “gentling” really is replacing violent “breaking” in the equine industry), it is surely deceptive in the land of Shamu. It reminds me of welfarism in the “food-animal” industry.

      Speaking of which . . . I’ve never equated you with welfarism or with Vegan Outreach, Mary, and I certainly don’t see any connection to that strategy or that organization in this post.

      This thread (which I have a dear friend to thank for sharing with me, since I wouldn’t have found it on my own) reminds me a bit of Vegan Rabbit’s recent offering: (including the exchange between Kara and Calvin in the comments section).

      It’s so true that every vegan has a slightly different idea of what it means to be so, because of our one-of-a-kind individuality — or, as you put it, “the Identity issue.” And not only that, but most vegans evolve within their vegan journey.

      As to the “Switch” SEE-FEEL-CHANGE approach to change, which you’ve verified by experience, Mary, interestingly, David Cantor of Responsible Policies for Animals would say that change takes place over the long haul and remains permanent only when the ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE model is adopted.

      In a recent email, David wrote: “I believe the task isn’t fighting cruelty [to animals] . . . but changing the public mind, and it has to be done through the written and spoken word. [It] can’t be done through exposes, demonstrations, etc., due to the radical nature of the cause and the enormity of the necessary perceptual and conceptual shift — not that those things [exposes, demos] don’t work for less-radical changes.”

      So much to think about. So much to try out. So much to learn. And so much to unlearn! I trust we’ll all keep growing, and at our own pace, since that’s what we are made to do. 🙂

      January 4, 2013

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