Brian Kateman coined the term “reducetarian” to describe a person who is deliberately reducing their consumption of meat. In 2015, Kateman founded the Reducetarian Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to reducing societal consumption of animal products.
He is the author of The Reducetarian Solution, The Reducetarian Cookbook, and Meat Me Halfway and is the lead producer of the documentary version of Meat Me Halfway released and streamed on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play, and more. He is a regular contributor to Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Forbes, and his writings have appeared in The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, among others. Kateman lives in New Jersey with his wife Isabel and rescue dogs Tobey and Cooper.”
Ana: Hello, and welcome to the Sentient Media podcast, where we meet the people who are changing the way we think about and interact with the world around us. And today we have the wonderful Brian Kateman. Brian, thank you for being here.
Brian: Thanks so much for having me.
Ana: A little quick intro to you, Brian. You’ve got such an impressive background, but I’ll give folks a little overview. Brian is an award-winning author and freelance journalist. His op-eds have appeared in dozens of media outlets, including The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, Vox, Salon, TechCrunch, The Independent, the list goes on and on. He’s also a regular contributor to The Fast Company and Forbes and Entrepreneur. And he’s also, importantly, co-founder and president of the Reducetarian Foundation, which is a nonprofit organisation dedicated to reducing the consumption of animal products. So yes, welcome again. And Brian, it’s such a pleasure to have you with us today.
Brian: Likewise. I’m a big fan of you and the organisation that you are helming so thanks for having me.
Ana: Thank you. I like to start out by hearing about the most recent article you saw in mainstream media that focused or featured in some way farmed animals, Does anything come to mind?
Brian: Oh, wow, putting me on the spot here with that. Truthfully, the one that came to mind is Kenny Torrella’s article on Vox, looking at, really, the history of how animals are treated, and how, if you are a farmed animal, this is probably one of the worst moments in existence for you. More animals are raised for food than ever before, more animals are raised in factory farming conditions. And I’m sure we’re going to talk a little bit more about this as it relates to some other concepts. But I do think this is important. Because as difficult as it is to accept that things are not good, it can be a motivator for us to recognize that we have a long way to go. And we have to keep working really, really hard. So I thought that was a good reality check. Because I think we’ve entered into a time where we are seeing some positive developments in the animal welfare space, environmental space, human health space, so on, but there’s really a long way to go. So that’s a depressing way to start this podcast. But that is the first article that came to mind and I’m a straight shooter, so I’ll share here with you.
Ana: No, that is really important. And I do think when you get bound up in the little bits of progress that we see — especially in the vegan or the animal advocacy community — you’d be like, “Oh, this little thing’s a success, yay, things are changing.” And then you go down the social media algorithm, so the only things that you actually see are positive — you know, plant-based stuff. And then when you actually look at the statistics, as we’ll get into in a minute, yeah, we are trending morally downward, right? That’s how you put it in your latest article.
Brian: I think you’re right. Yeah.
Ana: So I guess for you, your journey into language and politics and persuasion around diet and food — correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like that must have got established with your documentary “Meet Me Halfway,” which whilst I know it was a long time in the making, came out last year. But you ended up trying to answer the question, “Why is it so hard to get people to eat less meat?” I’d love to hear a little bit about what you discovered on this journey, during those years of creation?
Brian: Yeah, it’s interesting to reflect — in 2014 a friend and I came up with this concept “reducetarian.” I was still very much primarily focused on environmental issues. And although I was sympathetic to animal welfare, animal rights, veganism, I think I was also kind of skeptical of it. And I really hadn’t spent that much time with vegans or animal rights activists. And so it’s interesting to think about my progression because I’ve become — although I still care a tremendous amount about environmental issues and human health— I’m really emotionally laser-focused on trying to reduce suffering as it relates primarily to animals. And so one of the reasons I really liked our documentary “Meet Me Halfway,” is that because it was filmed essentially over four years, you see an honest progression in my own thinking and emotional states. I did come out of the gate with reducetarian, thinking that if we just told people to eat less meat, instead of telling them to go vegan, that they would cut back. And I still think, on average, telling someone to cut back on animal products is a more persuasive message than telling them to to go vegan, because the vast majority of people do not want to go vegan. But it’s also the case that the vast majority of people do not want to eat less meat. And so it’s really challenged me to understand that we’re going to have to rely on a variety of tools in order to actually advance that goal of reducing societal consumption of animal products, that may go well beyond communications, for example. Along the way, I participated in a pig vigil, in which I watched pigs be sent to slaughter, and that was a very transformative moment for m. Intellectually I was on board, but emotionally, it really impacted me. And it’s a moment that has stayed with me ever since. There are other moments in the film that were impactful on me. To contrast the pig ritual scene, one which may be a point of disagreement, which would be interesting, is I really enjoyed visiting Will — the high-welfare, sustainable, what he would describe as regenerative farming. And although I’d rather people eat a plant-based meal, I do see a very clear and obvious difference between how a farmer like Will raises his animals compared to the vast majority that are in the factory farming system. So “Meet Me Halfway” is a cool film. I think it’s important, but personally, I really enjoy it, because I think it really tracks my own emotional development and thinking, and I think I’m — I hope I’m wiser, and more nuanced in my approach to thinking about this issue and some of the tools that we at Reducetarian Foundation are advancing in order to achieve that goal.
Ana: Yeah, thanks for sharing that. I wonder if parallel to your own personal development and your own personal growth, because it was over a period of year, did you notice any shift or change in media coverage of these kinds of issues? Did you notice an uptick? Or, you know, was there any change there? In public perception?
Brian: Yeah, I mean, I think food as a topic has become more trendy, I think particularly as it relates to climate issues and animal issues. And for a long time,very little media coverage was written about climate change, the climate crisis. Now you have dedicated journalists, as you know, who are specifically focused on those areas. And I think there’s a willingness now to tackle what can be, historically, an uncomfortable topic, which is what people eat, and asking people to consider their food choices. So I think that is a positive development. And there is, I would argue, a significant amount of increase in attention as it relates to factory farming. There’s also more funding for that space. You know, I know — Open Philanthropy, I believe, has funded and is still funding The Guardian, for example, for some of this work. Of course, there’s Sentient Media there, people like me and others who have decided to write about these issues. So I do think there’s more media coverage. The awkward question I ask is, to what extent that is making a difference? And that, that’s the question I think I’m always asking, and I think many of us are asking and trying to understand, and I’ve just reached the conclusion that we will continue to try to be empirical and figure out what the impact of some of these activism efforts are but to some extent we just don’t know. And so I think we need a variety of individuals and strategies to be deployed. And it just happens to be that I’m personally pretty good at writing and taking complex topics and simplifying them, and I also enjoy it. And so for that reason, that’s something I’m going to continue to spend a portion of my time working on. I think there’s still plenty of topics that are not covered, though. I mean, fish is not a commonly covered topic. If we keep getting more fringe, insects is not covered very much. As the movement continues to grow, as we continue to think about different sets of individuals on this planet that might need our help, I expect that we will continue to push for new areas of coverage even outside of my field, whether that’s wild animal suffering, or many other topics that I think we’ll continue to see interest in internally within our movement. And then hopefully, we’ll push for that to be part of the larger discourse out there.
Ana: Yeah, that’s really insightful, I think, looking at this idea about the impact of the media. That’s something you know we’ve been obsessing about, obviously, at Sentient Media. And for us, our mission is to change the conversation around animal agriculture. And as you quite rightly say, there are many different routes to do that. So it’s not just having a website or a blog, or whatever. It’s doing all these other interventions that are PR-based, because that’s where our expertise lies — but there are so many different ways that we can kind of infiltrate and see freelance journalists and other writers, and we were just speaking before we started recording about high-impact individuals and high-impact journalists who can get content out there at a much higher frequency like Kenny Torrella at Vox, and people like that. So I think you’re absolutely right that it is hard to measure the impact, but what we do know is that when you shift conversations for a social movement, change happens. When you shift conversations in the media, for a social movement, change happens — for, LGBTQ+ rights, for women’s rights, for all of these other social causes. And then counter to that, the meat industry — the amount of money that meat and dairy puts into PR, and puts into marketing and covert PR operations and all of these, they have millions, they have loads of different tactics that they use to infiltrate, and shift this perception that actually what you’re eating is a happy cow — more like the regenerative-ag-style cow versus the reality of a cow who’s actually living their life on a factory farm.
Brian: Yeah, yeah, I think you’re right. It is always important to recognize, when you’re thinking about spreading your message, there’s someone else out there trying to spread the exact opposite message. So we’re not working in a vacuum. We’re essentially competing for mind share. And certainly, some percentage of our activism should be centered around media communication, and so on.
Ana: And so, as a successful freelance journalist, would you say — because I see a certain portion of your articles — what percentage, would you say, of your articles feature farmed animals?
Brian: That’s a fun question. I would say 95 percent of what I’m writing about relates to factory farming in some way. It may be that it’s not about animals specifically, but it’s about some new product that’s on the market, some plant-based product or cell-cultured meat product. The vast majority of what I’m writing about is about food, specifically related to animals. I would bet — I haven’t done the analysis — but I bet most, if not at least half of my articles mentioned the word factory farming, for example. I have, occasionally though, pushed the boundaries there. So I’ve written articles about zoos. I’ve written articles about wild animal suffering, and I’ve written articles about a concept called “longtermism,” which we might touch upon later. So one of the things I’m really enjoying is being kind of curious about something that’s not really covered much, and it’s kind of fringe and is even part of discussions in some very niche corner of our movement that’s very technical, and trying to ask people the questions — and you know, this is someone who thinks about communications — trying to ask people the right questions, trying to then find metaphors and trying to find something that’s relatable to the everyday person. And then writing about it. And I really enjoy that. And I think that keeps me just intellectually stimulated. And I think it’s important for someone to start talking about these ideas, even if it’s early, or it’s not normally discussed in popular media, and I’m very happy to be in the fairly privileged position to be able to have a fair bit of confidence that when I’m writing an article, I’ll be able to get it published somewhere, which is a really nice position to be in.
Ana: Yeah, that was gonna be my next question. How difficult is it to place these articles?
Brian: It’s hard. Yeah, it’s hard to place it in certain outlets — certain outlets are trickier than others. I have relationships with editors who know my pieces, but sometimes it’s too fringe for them, or it’s already been covered. And so I’m lucky to have a Forbes column and my column on Entrepreneur, and I have a little bit more flexibility there with respect to what I write. Sometimes I’m impatient — like, I probably should wait for there to be some timely moment in which to publish something, where we have some initial hook where I think an editor would be more interested — but I just want to get it out there so I’ll publish it. So there’s all these trade-offs involved in decisions that I have to make. But I think in aggregate, just putting pieces together and publishing them wherever I can is a decent way to go.
Ana: Has it been a strategic choice of yours to not take a role as a staff writer, say, but to actually produce this content for many more outlets versus one?
Brian: That’s a fun question. I wouldn’t say strategic. I think it’s an emotional decision. I really like working for myself. I like having freedom and flexibility. I also find my job stressful at times, and I find it overwhelming. So occasionally, if I’m really overwhelmed or sad or if I feel like I need a vacation, I think to myself, “I don’t know, maybe I should just try to find a full-time job at a news outlet.” I don’t know what it’s like, because I’ve never done that before. But I imagine I’d have to write maybe an article or two a week? That would be what I would do, I would feel proud of that. It would be simpler in relation to what I’m currently focusing on. So I think that would be great. And I think that would probably be really high-impact in terms of — again, Kenny Torrella at Vox is a really good example of that. You know, having a platform that has a lot of followers, knowing you can get the piece published there, having some freedom to write. That does seem like a good strategy. But the truth is that it’s just one of many things that I do at Reducetarian Foundation. So it’s a meaningful portion of my work, but it’s only one. And so I need the flexibility of time to be able to focus on other initiatives and projects that we have currently going on and will have going on in the future.
Ana: Yeah, I see that argument for both sides. And at Sentient Media we definitely work with a lot of writers to try and get placement — one of our strategies is to try and get articles, and this voice, and this message out in loads of different publications in loads of different geographies with loads of different voices. So when I was thinking about you and your career and what you’ve been doing, I was like — I wonder if it was intentional, that actually you reach much more different audiences — the people who are reading Forbes are different from the people who are reading Vox. So, yeah, I think it’s a good place that you’re in. We touched on this briefly earlier. And I know this is a topic that you will come across a lot, but I wanted to briefly touch on terms. So, you know — veganism, vegetarianism, plant-based, whole-food plant-based, flexitarian, reducetarianism, reducetarian. What do you think, honestly, about these labels, based on your experience, if your end goal is to encourage people, as we’ve said, to a more animal-free lifestyle? What’s your thought on these terms? And what should we be saying?
Brian: I’m laughing because I always get in trouble whenever this question comes up, but we’re talking about semantics. And on the one hand, this question is very important, because language matters, identity matters. That is true. And that’s how I’m going to answer the question. But it is also the case that when we’re asking some of these questions, we’re getting into very semantics-type arguments, arguments that I think would be well-situated for a philosophy classroom rather than our actual goals. So I’m sure we’ll touch upon both of those. But some of this is just for sport and fun. And others I think, is actually more practical. Look, I think the vast majority of people don’t want to be vegan. And I wish I wasn’t the person saying that, and I wish it wasn’t true, but it is. So I think the word vegan, and vegetarian, is useful because it conveys a very clear goal. It has a moral weight to it. And I think that’s valuable. And so I think some percentage of people should probably be out there advocating for veganism and vegetarianism. When I first entered this space, I would use words like flexitarian. And those who were more committed than me, let’s say vegans, would argue that I was flexible in my moral standards, depending on whether it was convenient or not, and they weren’t really wrong. It’s just that I think that emphasizes that I was failing rather than succeeding, which kind of irked me. Flexitarian, technically, is a person who primarily eats plant-based foods, but occasionally includes animal products in their diet. And now we’re in the land of for fun, because we often misuse that term — the vast majority of people are not flexitarians. There are people who eat way too many animal products, and maybe occasionally include plant-based foods in their diet, and I think that’s really the target audience for many of these alternative meat products. I like reducetarian, obviously, as a term, but I like it more as a concept. Reducetarian describes someone who is attempting to cut back, trying to cut back on the amount of animal products that they consume. That’s a beautiful thing. Someone going from eating 200 pounds of meat to 180 pounds of meat deserves an award — deserves balloons, confetti, all the celebrations that can possibly take place. That’s really good. I like that once people start cutting back on animal products, they find that it doesn’t actually require as much of a sacrifice as they thought — they like the taste of the food, they feel better, they might be inspired to cut back further. I like the consistency element. I like the aspirational goal of reducetarian, which I don’t see or like in words like vegan and flexitarian, where they feel much more static. To me, particularly vegan, from my perspective, is an impossible standard to reach according to its own definition. But the thing is, everyone is going to call themselves what they feel comfortable with. Some people are going to reject labels altogether. At the end of the day, I think that we need a diversity of messages out there. I think as long as we’re emphasizing that factory farming sucks, that animals were raised in cruel and unsustainable ways, that we can help alleviate that by cutting back on the amount of meat, eggs and dairy that we consume, whether that’s going vegan or simply making small changes to our diet, I think that’s a winning, honest, relatable message. And that’s what I’ve been basically saying in one form or another for many years now.
Ana: Yeah. Do you think that it dilutes the message if we say — so if you look at like the animal advocacy movement — do you think that it dilutes the message for groups to be campaigning for people to go vegan, groups to be campaigning for people to go vegetarian, and then groups to be campaigning for people to reduce? Do you think that what you said at the end there is what we should be focusing on — reducing factory farming or switching away from factory farming? Do you think that we would have more power as a movement, if we, well, just focused on that message?
Brian: What’s tricky is — I guess I just find the fixation on getting people to go vegan odd. I mean, I’m much more concerned about my friends being against factory farming, I’d like them to donate money to effective animal protection charities, I want them to start companies that may be plant-based, or cell-cultured meat companies. So I mean, that alone is more impactful from my perspective than anything they’re doing with their diet. And then in terms of their diet, I just don’t care if they have a cookie that has egg or dairy in it. I don’t know how to be sensitive about communicating that but in my heart, I just find it to be this really strange kind of obsession with purity. And again, I love vegans, a lot of my friends are vegans, I want the world to be vegan, I have all that. My heart is with this movement. But I just don’t really understand the fixation with trying to get people to be 100 percent vegan versus 90 percent vegan. I just don’t care. And I think caring is strange, and not productive. And that’s just my honest truth. So yeah, does it dilute the goal around getting people to go 100 percent vegan? It does. And I think there are pros and cons to all of these different words. But for me, when I think of my goal as it relates to, let’s say, vegan — I want people to want to create a world that does not involve the systemic torture of animals. And I think having people who may not be vegan, but are kind of vegan in their heart, that seems like maybe a compromise that we can all get behind. So, yeah, that’s my feelings on that.
Ana: I like that. That’s a great, great, great take. Okay, I want to get on to the reason — you know, obviously, I want to talk to you anyway — but one of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you was because of your piece in Forbes, entitled, “Optimistic Longtermism Is Terrible for Animals.” So could you just unpack that? Firstly, for those who don’t know, what’s your understanding of the term “longtermism”?
Brian: Yeah, I’m really not a 100 percent expert on this. But my understanding of the term “longtermism,” which is sort of part of the effective altruism movement: The effective altruism movement is about using our limited resources to do the most good possible, which is something that resonates with me, and I identify as an effective altruist. Longtermism is this really kind of simple idea that we should care about future beings. There are many future beings that are going to exist tomorrow, and in the centuries and even millennia to come. And perhaps more of our attention should be placed on caring about those future individuals. Many of us focus on the now. We’re focused on the animals that are being hurt the people that are being hurt. That makes intuitive sense to me. Of course, it also makes intuitive sense to me that maybe some percentage of our efforts should be focused on future individuals. The reason I wrote that piece, though, is because there’s really a divide, in a sense, in the longtermism community, between whether we should be focused on trying to ensure that future individual beings come to exist — essentially that we should worry about existential risk threats that may end human civilization, for example — or whether we should be focused on trying to ensure that those individuals that may come to exist in the future have net positive or happy lives with as little suffering as possible. And the reason I wrote that article is this new book that came out by Will MacAskill, who’s one of the leaders in the effective altruism movement, a professor at Oxford, and his book, though it has many great points in it — and I really do like the book, and I recommend people read it — I did walk away with a kind of rosy feeling being injected into the book that things are ultimately going to work out. And I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. I think there’s a serious, non-negligible chance that the future is going to be horrific, that we’re going to see suffering in ways that we’ve never imagined before, in places that we’ve never imagined before, not just on this planet, but in many others in the future. And I think anyone that’s thinking about the distant future, in this context of longtermism, should be acknowledging that we probably need to spend a significant amount of investment on ensuring that if the future exists, that individuals are better off for existing than not, and, of course, that many, if not most of these individuals will not be humans. And the anthropocentric framing of longtermism in some corners of that movement is deeply disturbing to me. And so, again, whenever I’m coming across some new concept, if I feel kind of nervous or angry, that’s the perfect moment to write an op-ed, it’s the perfect moment to write about something. And what’s so crazy about this — and it’s something you might appreciate — is, whenever I have this feeling, I’m anxious because I love the effective altruism community and I love the people in it. And I’m confused. When I read this, I’m confused — like, am alone, you know — what’s happening? How could there be people that are saying that we should do everything we possibly can to ensure that a future exists? Why is it so human-centric? You know, I don’t want to lose funding, I don’t want to ruin my relationships. And I text people privately, “hey, is this a good idea?” And they’re like, “Oh, my goodness, you know, I’ve been thinking the same thing. But are you sure you want to publish this piece?” And it turns out, I click publish, and there’s just this incredible outpouring of support. And this is one of the things I love about writing, is it can empower people to point to something to validate feelings that they might have. And that’s really what happens with this piece. And I hope that more people will learn about longtermism, and if they care about nonhumans, or humans, quite frankly, and both ideally, that they recognize that it’s important that we speak out in constructive ways and ensure that we’re thinking about this clearly so we can do the best that we possibly can.
Ana: Yeah, that’s really well said. A couple of things there: One of the good things as well about the effective altruist movement is that they are open to critique, they’re very open to hearing what they can do better and any oversight they might have made. To me, it just seems strange to separate out our current planet, which is dominated population-wise by farmed animals, mainly chickens, right, are the most numerous farmed animal. Well, we can’t really count the fish, or now I guess, the insects. But anyway, if we’re thinking about the number of at least 80 billion farmed animals on the planet, it just seems to me a strange move to think about a future that is not linked exactly to how we are operating or running systems on the planet today, like how can we achieve seven or however many generations from now, without making changes to the pressure we’re applying on our species, on our planet, and on our planet today?
Brian: I 100 percent agree. And to be honest, I think most longtermists, or certainly a high percentage of them, do care about nonhumans. So what’s going on here is a strategic decision. They don’t want to make longtermism seem weirder than it already is by throwing in animal issues. And so they want to just focus on that idea — they want to focus on saving people, because that is a more digestible message for the vast majority of people. But I do think there is a real underlying belief that a lot of folks in the longtermism community have, which is that things are ultimately going to work out. For example, part of the reasons they’ll sometimes cite is around developments in plant-based, cell-cultured meat. And here’s where things get complicated. As someone who’s written a lot about those topics, there’s a rebound, or there’s an effect here, where now there’s some people who are not that familiar with the movement and they think, “Oh, cell-culture meat is going to be here in five years, it’s going to be everywhere, it’s a guarantee.” And that’s just not the case. And so as I get older, I feel, I learned, that you sometimes have to look at things more holistically, you have to look at how your messages are going to be perceived, not just in the context of your very limited goal — which in this case might be to help farmed animals — but in the broader context of discussions. There’s wild animals, there could be digital animals. And this is now one of these really strange fringe topics. But I am sold on longtermism, I do think that thinking about the far future matters, which is why I’m really scared about a world in which we don’t prioritize them. So yeah, it’s really complicated and honestly, Ana, it kind of bummed me out. Thinking about longtermism put me kind of in a funk for a couple of weeks. Because I can barely function sometimes thinking about the amount of animals that are suffering now. But thinking about the amount of animals that will suffer in the future, just multiplied my feeling of being overwhelmed. So it’s this weird thing that sometimes it’s helpful to think about these ideas. And sometimes it’s helpful just to get back to work, you know, really focus on what you can actually do in the now because again, some of this feels philosophical and sporty to me. And other parts of it seem really real. But it being real, with you I wanted to share that.
Ana: Yeah, it is a complicated topic, and it does kind of produce mixed feelings, especially if you’re somebody who just sees that intrinsic link — that how can we even talk about the future of our species, when we’re destroying our habitat, quite effectively, through things like this factory-farming-based food system. So yeah, I feel you, you know? And I’m here for you, Brian. Another thought I had on this idea — I don’t want to be too bummed out — but on this idea, thinking so long-term can allow this idea of futility, so that our actions, in a kind of twisted way, our actions now — I don’t know if I’m explaining this right — but almost the reverse of what I guess the intention of longtermism would be, which would be to create a space in a future where humans can flourish, but in a way, thinking so long-term can make you feel like, well, it doesn’t really matter if I’m eating my beef burger, or if I’m littering or, if I’m running a business that profits off the exploitation of natural resources, it doesn’t really matter. Because what do you do, you know what I mean? Does that kind of resonate on any level?
Brian: It totally resonates with me. It completely resonates with me. I mean, it’s all about comparing scale, right? If you’re focused on, I mean, look, we ask these questions: Does it really matter if I eat the plant-based burger? Does it really matter, right, this egg? I mean, yeah, it matters a little, it matters. It might not matter as much as an action I can take now that would prevent trillions upon trillions upon trillions upon trillions of beings from suffering, which is why I was so stressed out and overwhelmed over those past two weeks, because it takes something that feels meaningful. I can try to get people right now to cut back on animal products, and it completely undermines it, completely makes it seem insignificant. And I think there is an honest power and truth to longtermism. In much the same way, I care about dogs and cats, but because there are fewer of them. I’m mostly focused in my life right now on farmed animals. But there are more wild animals probably that are suffering than factory-farmed animals. So there’s no answer. There’s no answer to this. I just think the feeling you’re reporting is accurate. And I think that’s why engaging in concepts like longtermism can be: one difficult, and two can be counterproductive because the truth is, I don’t exactly know how to help farmed animals or wild animals or really anyone that’s going to be born thousands upon thousands of years from now, other than trying to improve the present day. So this is complicated. And there are people that are trying to figure out how they can improve the far-distant future other than just focusing on the present. But yeah, there’s plenty of critiques to be made about longtermism. And I do not want it to create what happened for me, which is for those two weeks, I was really feeling bummed out and irrelevant. And so, you know, that’s just the lesson. And, yeah, having good systems in place, we can kind of get back to the moment, hang out with friends, be with people you love, give your dogs and cats some love, and maybe get back to work on some of the stuff we can actually have more direct impact on today.
Ana: Yeah, well said. I guess my last comment on this is: You did highlight in that piece that you mentioned at the beginning that morally speaking, things are trending downwards, meat consumption is at an all-time high. Other countries are adopting the American-style factory farming methods. What do you think? Obviously, it’s not longtermism, because it’s not widely known enough, but what do you think is the biggest pusher forward of this moral decline? Why? Why are we trending down?
Brian: I think one big reason is we’re seeing many low-income countries go through what’s called a demographic transition, where they begin to industrialize, they begin to have more economic activity and support. And as a result, they’re able to afford animal products, which are more expensive than plant-based foods. And that’s really an inevitability of countries as they go through that process. So I think that’s a big fear that I have, because we’re going to see other countries continue to go through that transition. I think that’s probably the biggest reason why globally, animal product consumption continues to go up. And I think it’s just really business as usual, I think people just historically have loved eating meat, they will continue to try to eat meat. I hope that cell-cultured meat continues to develop, and it can be either sold at a premium or price competitive. I’m less optimistic about plant-based meat, though I think it could potentially, I don’t know, reach 5 percent or something like that of the market. But yeah, I think those are some of the reasons why we continue to see people eat a lot of meat in high-income countries. And I expect globally we will continue to see more people eat meat. And so it’s a really challenging moment to be in this space, right? It’s really hard to balance the realism, honest intellectualism around what is going on, with what I genuinely feel in my heart, which is we can’t give up. We shouldn’t give up, we can’t give up. We have to keep trying. We have to keep experimenting, we have to be humble along the way. But it’s going to require a broad swath of individuals across the world using their different talents and skills and interests, using different motivations, whether that be animals or environment, or health, or food justice and so on, to advance this mission. And I think we should celebrate wins, I think it’s great when there’s a company that commits to phasing chickens out of cages, I think it’s great when a company develops plant-based meat, I think it’s wonderful if we see an uptick in the number of vegans and vegetarians in some region. But it’s important for us to be intellectually honest about where we’re at. And hopefully, that will play a role in increasing our odds of trying to reverse the trend.
Ana: Yeah, that’s really good advice. And it’s good to get a bit of optimism and some solutions in there, as we close out this conversation. I mean, I truly do believe in the power of the media to be able to shift the conversation, and to create more of a dialogue around animal agriculture, and as you say, bringing factory farming to the forefront. And I think that that can help drive change on an individual, and then at a policy level, so I think that’s one of our main missions at sentient media — to double down on that work. You’ve listed out some solutions there in terms of global advocates and keeping going, but what solutions or what avenues is Reducetarian Foundation working on right now, to build a world where we can morally trend upwards?
Brian: We really have two buckets of areas that we work in. The first in relation to this is communications. We want as many people to know as possible that factory farming is deeply problematic, they can make a big difference by cutting back on the amount of animal products that they consume. And so we will continue to generate social media content and work with journalists to get reducetarian kind of messaging in the media, continue to write articles, we will continue to come out with documentaries and publish books, some of these larger-scale media campaigns. And that’s something that I personally really love and will continue to do. We’re increasingly focused on capacity building, I really think there’s so much white space for people to work in this movement. We, as I mentioned, many times don’t know exactly what’s going to move the needle. So we need a diversity of messages and diversity of strategies. Some of that work relates to our annual conference that we have — the Reducetarian Summit — where we have hundreds of advocates, environmentalists, health advocates, animal-focused individuals, CEOs of corporations, presidents of nonprofits, plenty of media — I love all the media that is present at our event — and really trying to ask the question, “What can we do to advance this goal, creating a space for new people?” When I started this work, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, no idea where to go, I wasn’t vegan or vegetarian. I didn’t necessarily specifically care about animals. So you know, I really wanted there to be a space where — okay, here, you can come here, you don’t need to have all the answers. You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian. You’re just interested in this movement. And so we really put a lot of effort into creating a very warm, inclusive kind of environment. We have a new fellowship programme that I’m very excited about. We’re going to be working with undergraduate students and providing them with a year of mentorship and training, which culminates in an internship experience with one of our partner organizations in the movement. And the idea there is kind of an experiment. We’re all curious to see if we invest in young people who have some interest in the space, can we deepen that interest? Can we provide them with skills and training to contribute to this movement, potentially in a really large way, maybe even some of them will go on to create their own enterprises geared toward solving this problem. Those are the two biggest buckets. We also do a little bit of research. Sometimes we’ll work with academics to ask foundational questions — for example, what kind of messaging is most effective toward encouraging people to cut back on animal products — and creating research studies that are well-designed and reputable and get published in academic journals to help figure that out. And so those are our activities. And I’m sure we’ll continue to innovate and grow, but that’s what we’re focused on right now.
Ana: That’s really great to hear. And Sentient Media is one of your partners, so we’re hoping that perhaps somebody can join us once they’ve gone through the training, watch this space. Okay, where should we send people? Where can people find you, follow you? Where’s the best place to support you and your work and Reducetarian?
Brian: Yeah, you can check out — we’re Reducetarian Foundation, reducetarian.org. If you like tweeting, you can follow me @BrianKatemen on Twitter. If you’re curious to see our documentary, which I highly recommend, it’s just meatmehalfway.org. And it’s basically available anywhere you can rent a film and a couple of places for free as well. And I really appreciate the opportunity to chat with you. And thanks for all the great work that you’re doing.
Ana: Thank you so much, Brian. It’s been really interesting to chat with you. Yeah, thanks for your time. And yeah, we’ll connect again soon.
Ana is the Executive Director at Sentient Media. Her background is in content production and startup consultancy.