When an animal rights activist met a factory farmer
On the latest episode of the Changed My Mind podcast, we speak to Leah Garces about finding unlikely allies.
When Leah Garces, a vegan and CEO at Mercy for Animals, sat down with Craig Watts, a factory farmer she had spent years campaigning against, she did not expect to find much common ground. But she and Watts became unexpected allies in the fight to improve animal welfare. She tells us how that happened.
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Leah [00:00:00] About six years ago, I encountered a person who would normally be my arch enemy, and this was a chicken factory farmer. And through a mutual journalist friend, I was invited by this farmer to visit him and see what was going on inside of his chicken farms. And so I went and it was through conversations with him that I realised that he wasn't the enemy. It was the system that was an enemy to all of us. And that actually, it turned out he hated factory farming as much as I did.
Ali [00:00:36] Welcome to Changed My Mind, the podcast where we ask leaders what they've changed their mind on and why. I'm Ali Goldsworthy, CEO of the Depolarisation Project based in California. You've just heard from our guest today, Leah Garces, who's chief executive of Mercy for Animals, about how she came to be friends with someone she thought was her arch enemy. We're recording this episode from our homes that are scattered across North America and Europe. But before we get to listening to the episode itself, I'd like to invite you to sign up for our email newsletter at depolarizationproject.com. We promote the show with Open Democracy to their eight million regular monthly visitors. You can find the back catalogue to our shows and more information on this episode at opendemocracy.net/depolarizationproject. As always, I'm joined by my two fabulous co-hosts, Director of Campaigns and Communications at London First, Laura Osborne.
Laura [00:01:36] Hello.
Ali [00:01:38] Hi, Laura. And our behavioural insight expert, Alex Chesterfield, who wasn't able to join us to the interview with Leah, but is here now and for the debrief after. Hiya Alex.
Alex [00:01:48] Hello.
Ali [00:01:49] Alex, what is worth our listeners knowing about before we go into the interview?
Alex [00:01:53] Well, Leah talks about changing people's attitudes and mind at scale over time, and that is really, really hard to do. Think about the big societal shifts that we've seen in our lifetimes. And there really aren't many of them. Gay marriage, smoking in public places. None of them happened overnight. Well, she makes it sound really easy. But in my experience, and I think history tells us the same, it really isn't.
Ali [00:02:16] Yeah. And Laura, what about you?
Laura [00:02:18] I found her reflections on getting to know the people behind the business or brand really interesting. It seems obvious, but it's something I often found working with corporates on social change is that building the relationships and then challenging each other's perceptions is so important and obviously respect is key to that.
Ali [00:02:33] Yeah, I totally agree with both of those, and with those things in mind, let's hear our conversation with Leah. Will reconvene afterwards to digest some of what she had to say and share our recommended reading for those interested in delving further into topics Leah raises.
Ali [00:02:54] Well, welcome to the show, Leah.
Leah [00:02:56] Thank you. I'm excited to be here.
Ali [00:02:58] Well, we're really excited to have you. And I wanted to kick off by talking about how you've made a career out of helping people change their minds. And your book Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies really focuses on that. What did you find were the key elements in helping to successfully change people's minds?
Leah [00:03:18] Well, it's not easy. But the first thing is that you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. And I think the key takeaway there is that if we continue to only speak to people who agree with us, we won't make change. We won't change people's minds. So the first step is being comfortable with being uncomfortable, being willing to speak to people who don't agree with you. The second is that we have to recognise that the people that we're speaking to, that maybe we see as enemies or as adversaries quite often have a lot more in common with us than we care to realise. And they often will have similar interests, similar values. And finding those similar interests and values can really lead to a very productive conversation and understanding. And the third part is looking for win wins. So once you've entered that discomfort zone, as I like to call it, once you've sat down with someone and recognise, hey, they're not so different than me, then finding the places where you have common ground and building from there, finding the win wins, the things that benefit both of you, both of your values, where you both can start from, where you're similar rather than you're different. And quite often when you come into arguments, you just go straight to where you're different. Sometimes that only constitutes a minority of your values. And it turns out that the majority are in agreement. And so it's looking for those win wins. So those three things.
Ali [00:04:47] And I think it's almost quite literally like you've written the book on this.
Leah [00:04:53] I actually wrote a book on this.
Ali [00:04:56] I mean, it's interesting. A lot of people don't say that. And it's where all the academic research points, but I think it might be worth is just digging in. And if you could talk for a bit about how you did that in relation to the food industry and the chicken industry and what to people who traditionally maybe people would not have expected you to work with to bring about change. Could you tell us a bit about how that happened?
Leah [00:05:18] Yeah, well, my first experience with this, so for those of you don't know, I'm a vegan animal rights activist and have been so for 20 years. And about six years ago, I encountered a person who would normally be my arch enemy. And this was a chicken factory farmer. And through a mutual journalist friend, I was invited by this farmer to visit him and see what was going on inside of his chicken farms. Now, I didn't know why he wanted me there. I wasn't sure. And this is where the being comfortable with getting uncomfortable comes in. But I went anyway because I was so curious. And this was also at a time in the United States. And it still is a time when getting footage from inside of a chicken factory farm is nearly impossible. So the opportunity to go to one. And I had also asked this farmer, can I film inside your farm? And he said, yes, was unprecedented. So I went and it was through conversations with him that I realised that he wasn't the enemy. It was the system that was an enemy to all of us. And then actually, it turned out he hated factory farming as much as I did. All of this came as a total shock to me, listening to this man in Fairmont, North Carolina, and hearing how he felt like an indentured servant, that he felt as trapped as the chickens in the system. He didn't see a way out. He was so indebted. He had hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt he couldn't get out of. And this was a big wakeup call for me. After working with him, we worked together. We exposed the industry. We did a film together that ended up in The New York Times and had over a million views in twenty four hours. It just went viral by every definition. But after working with him, I thought who else is out there that if I put myself into these uncomfortable situations, who else could I be making partnerships with? And this led me to talk to Purdue, which is the sixth largest chicken company in the country and was the very industry we were exposing, the very company we were exposing this farmer and I, Craig Watts. And it was again, through uncomfortably sitting down with these people that I had literally done a viral video on. Jim Perdue himself was the villain in our video, sitting down with this man and listening and saying, OK, where's our common ground and building from there. And a couple years later, they came out with the first animal welfare policy, addressing some of the things that we had asked, you know, that we had exposed, like putting windows into houses and thinking through what birds need and want. And that's really framed a lot of the way that I want to work now is there's a lot of people and they're doing great work in terms of raising public awareness and taking a stand. But the work I want to do is reaching across the aisle and sitting down with those in control because I'm not in control of a single chicken. These companies are. The farmers are. So if I really want to make progress, if I want to make it as fast and efficiently as possible, the best way to do that would be to convince those in control of the lives of these animals to be on board with the change.
Ali [00:08:22] You talked about finding areas of common ground and that being really important. So what was the areas of common ground that you found with that chicken farmer.
Leah [00:08:30] First, it was the personal, right? We both had three kids and my oldest was the same age as his two youngest who are twins. And I realised he had strong family values. He believed in paying for his kids' college and preparing a life for them the same way that I was doing. And so we started off like this as a human being who has very similar objectives in life, which is to raise kids, to have them do well, to teach them basic values in life. The second was that we were bothered by the fact that the American public were being lied to, essentially hoodwinked by what the industry was saying. From his perspective, the industry was saying 'farmers are treated great'. And from my perspective, it was 'animals are being treated great'. And it turns out neither one are. And so what bound us together was this anger that the public were being hoodwinked. And I think we figured out that that was a really powerful thing for a factory farmer and an animal rights activist to come together on that point.
Laura [00:09:42] Do you think there is still elements of that approach you can use on a wider scale or to change a vast number of people's minds, even if you can't individually interact with them?
Leah [00:09:57] Yes, absolutely. And when we're going through an exercise right now where I'm trying to make that case. And the case for that is so I don't know if you've noted, but Cory Booker has come out with a bill to end factory farming, most of factory farming and Elizabeth Warren has backed it. There is a companion bill in the House with six Democratic representatives behind it. Now, you might say, OK, this is great and I think it's great. The time has come. But what I think is really important is that this isn't seen as a Democratic platform issue, that it's a bipartisan issue. So without having, you know, maybe speaking to an individual leader in the Republican Party, what I think we can do is take the conservative values, the Republican values, and say, how does this also appeal to the conservative side? How can I think about where is the common ground here? And I think about it from the perspective of conservatives really care about personal financial responsibility, about government not intervening in the economy. Factory farming is the opposite of that. It relies on handouts from the government to survive — subsidies, bailouts, buyouts. That's where you can come in and say, what is the value of the other side that I'm trying to convince to get on board? And how do I make the argument that the thing that I want is also the thing they want according to these values? And that's precisely what we're trying to do now with this bill and the conservative value side.
Laura [00:11:23] And how effective is that being?
Leah [00:11:25] Well, it's two days in, so I don't know. We're gonna give it a go. I think it should appeal. There were two articles in the National Review in the last month, and that's a very conservative outlet calling for the end of factory farming. And one of them said, if you're conservative, you should agree with ending factory farming, even if you don't agree with Booker, who is known as a very liberal Democrat. And so I think it can appeal and we can make those arguments that these issues are bipartisan. But that's the kind of concept we have to come to the table with, which is trying to really think about where is the common ground, not speaking to those who just agree with you and figuring out the win wins for both sides.
Ali [00:12:07] Will Cory Booker, be willing to give up a bit of the limelight and the credit if it becomes bipartisan, do you think? Because that's one of the hardest things is for politicians to do in these circumstances.
Leah [00:12:17] Well, I can't really speak for Cory Booker — his track record is yes. And, you know, I think he's been supportive over time for making progress and whatever that looks like. And there is a history of that with him. So I think that if a politician is willing to recognise progress and you have to do that as an individual, so myself as a campaigner as well as an activist, I have to say, you know, if it's not me saying it, it's OK. I can come up with all the words and all the arguments and then I have to let it go and let it be somebody else's message and somebody else's campaign as long as we're making progress and are successful. That's great. That's what matters. And that's what matters to the animals. And that's what's the matter to the farmers and the workers and everyone else who is affected by the system.
Laura [00:12:59] I wanted to ask you actually though, Leah, have you seen people adopt that approach and go for a bipartisan approach to changing minds and it not work? Can you think of an example where that's backfired somehow from a sort of campaigning point of view?
Leah [00:13:17] I mean, I think that in the animal activist world that I work in, we see it quite often where there is a purist mentality and that there's a fear that if you don't really lay out your values clearly, that somehow you're enabling the other side or agreeing with the other side or the very injustice that you're fighting against. So I often see a divide with within social justice movements where you have a purist and the compromisers, the pragmatists, depending on how you label it, who are divided. And I think that's such a shame. My message there is empathy does not mean endorsements. You can be empathetic and understanding and tried to comprehend the other side without endorsing the other side. And I've certainly suffered plenty of criticism for sitting down at the table with Purdue or a factory farmer. But the results speak for themselves. Progress is being made. And some would argue, well, that's not the progress I wanted. I wanted a vegan world. And that doesn't happen overnight is my answer. And there's still 80 billion animals that are trapped in factory farming every year. And we have a duty to respond to their suffering. And that's what we do through these compromises and pragmatic conversations.
Laura [00:14:31] And how do you put that to the purists to try and get them to change their minds? Have you had any success with that group of people in getting them to think of it more as you said, a compromise, not an endorsement?
Leah [00:14:46] The analogy I often use for that particular question I get quite often is imagine you are a prisoner in a horrible prison on death row. Would you want someone advocating just for the end of your death sentence, or would you also want them advocating for improving prison conditions while advocating for the end of your death sentence? You would want both. And that's what we're doing for animals. We're reducing their suffering by reducing the horrific conditions they're in and improving those step by step while moving towards a plant based world. And that can be applied to, I think, any social justice issue. Social justice progress is not done in an on off switch. It's always done incrementally. I don't know a single one where it's been done in a snap of a finger. It's always done incrementally. We have to recognise both. You have to recognise the progress you made while being impatient for the ultimate change you're seeking.
Ali [00:15:42] Yeah, I certainly share that view as well. That change is much more incremental than the storytelling often makes it seem. I want to just push you slightly because you're being extremely diplomatic and not naming an actual example of why you've seen what people have tried to change minds and it's backfired. I just wanted to to push you. Is it is that one that really comes to mind? Because you said do you see it quite often? Is there an example?
Leah [00:16:11] Well, I can't think honestly of a very specific example or organisation. But what I do see is like social media attacks on people who... So ow, on my social media page, if you went on my Facebook, I was very gung ho saying yes, this is great that Warren and Booker are coming together, this is the end. This spells the beginning of the end factory farming. And several people wrote, you know, criticisms of it and said 2040 is not good enough. It should be 2025. And it's not ending all factory farming. It should be a vegan world. That's the kind of response that I think doesn't recognise the true world we live in and the kind of pragmatic steps we have to take to get there. And, you know, there was a debate that then went on on Twitter or Facebook about that. And that's an example of where I think that could be if we can't get behind something like Booker and Warren have proposed, it will fail. Like if the animal groups decided to go against it and said, no, it's not good enough. It has to be in five years rather than, you know, by 40 or it has to be all farming and all animal agriculture is over. And that's I had several comments that were like, you know, cage free is no better. Animal agriculture needs to end altogether, not just factory farming. And I think that's where if we went down that road, that could be very destructive. I would say, thankfully, in the last five to 10 years, it's shifting. The animal rights movement as a whole is focused on progress, is focused on practicality, pragmatism, and that balance between reducing the suffering of the animals trapped in the system while moving towards a plant based world.
Ali [00:17:47] Thank you. And I have to say I completely share your view about the scepticism of when people engage that way and how they drive polarisation and make it harder for people to work with them when they do that. We've talked a lot about how others have changed their mind, but I wanted to flip this around and ask you about a time you changed your mind on something and what was it and why?
Leah [00:18:08] Well, I think the farmer I just spoke to about his name is Craig Watts. I have to say, before I met him, I had not an iota of sympathy for these farmers. I thought of them as callous and calculated and just not caring at all about the animals whatsoever. And really, he represented for me everything I had been fighting against up until that moment that I met him. And it was a big shock to my core to find myself sitting in his living room, poring over papers, hearing his story and being moved by his personal suffering, his personal circumstance. And it just rocked my world. It shifted how I thought about the problem in a very deep way. That shifted how I then tried to solve the problem. Solving the problem was not just about coming down with an iron fist against factory farming and factory farmers. It reframed it for me as a system of oppression. And that is the system oppression that oppresses many, including the farmers, that they don't have freedom of choice. They're living in poor rural areas with little choice for income. And if I had been born, Craig Watts, would I have chosen any different? I'm not sure I would have I might have gone into the same path as him because I just wanted to stay on the land. I wanted to feed my kids. I wanted them to go to college. And that's what he did. And there wasn't any other choice. And so everyone around was doing the same thing. And so this really was a time and has permanently changed how I think about this farmer that permanently changes how I write, I speak and I discuss the problem. I don't say the farmers are the problem. I say the system is the problem. The system needs to change. It is a system of oppression we created as a society that we jointly have to solve.
Ali [00:20:05] Has that pulled across into other areas of your life where you feel passionately where you are now more likely to look at the system and less likely to blame individuals?
Leah [00:20:15] Oh, definitely. I mean, I come from a family of you know, as you could hear from my speaking, I'm a progressive liberal. My brother and dad and parents voted for Trump. And it's made me a little more cautious and curious about their perspective, try to understand it, not come in with just looking for a fight and try to understand the perspective. And that goes into all kinds of other areas. Politically, it's very hard and sensitive. And I know there will be listeners who will go, OK, that's crazy. Like how you can't be sympathetic with that. There's no way. But, you know, I think if we can't have conversations, then how are we ever going to change things? We can't even sit down and have a conversation. And I know a lot of people are suffering from that right now with very polarised situations, very polarised family members, families over political issues, a range of things. And I can be very, very hard. But it's really I have definitely deescalated family arguments using this approach. And, yeah.
Ali [00:21:21] I mean, it's fantastic to hear that that's what happened. And, gosh, a lot of people could learn from it. I'm curious if your dad and your brother, have they actually altered your view on anything and given you an extra perspective, which has made you think, oh, actually, maybe I was wrong on that?
Leah [00:21:36] Well, they've definitely made me be careful about, like, the more shocking media stories and check my facts more and dig a little deeper and make sure that, you know, I'm not being reactive. And that's definitely means that some of the stories that are circulating, which I would love to tweet about and like, that's not quite what was said or that's not quite what the intention of that statement was or that, you know. And so I think it's made me just feel just pause a little bit before I jump on the progressive bandwagon, which I love to do. But frankly, who doesn't quite.
Ali [00:22:21] It's a nice dopamine hit, isn't it, but it's not actually very productive.
Laura [00:22:24] And it's pushed you to interrogates it a bit more from the sound of it, both talking to the chicken farmer and also to your family to listen and to interrogate the position a little bit more. Would you say that's what's changed?
Leah [00:22:39] Yeah, I think it's it's trying to really check and understand why. Where's the support for this and why does it make sense? And how would I actually sit down and argue against it and make sense to the other side?
Ali [00:22:53] Do you ever think about how they might sit down and argue against you?
Leah [00:22:57] Oh, yeah, that's definitely I mean, as a natural debater, I'm always thinking about what the other side will say before they say it. And then coming up with the argument or the thing that will convince them. You know, I think that's important. That's actually what you should be doing. And that's about evaluating the other side's values and mindset. And that's what I was saying earlier, about thinking about conservative values and how do we appeal to that mentality?
Laura [00:23:24] And if Alex was here, Ali, she would probably talk about that study now, which I will if I horrifically misquote you can interrupt me about if you have to be able to explain the detail of a policy and how it will actually function and take effect, you moderate your views on it.
Leah [00:23:41] Right.
Laura [00:23:41] And I wonder if that's part of it.
Leah [00:23:44] Definitely.
Ali [00:23:45] Yeah. So the illusion of explanatory depth, which is you ask people to explain, ask the how they arrive at a position and why they feel it like the causal chain that got that and suddenly they can pick up links in their own causal chain. But if you try and do that for somebody, it's much, much less effective. In fact, Alex wrote about how that can be effective in depolarising people, but also depolarising yourself.
Leah [00:24:10] It ranges. And I and I again, think it's important to just recognise progress rather than punish lack of purism. So my parents really only eat fish now, as do my in-laws, and that's both through my in-laws, is really from a moral standpoint related to just being exposed through me on the abuse of animals and factory farming, my parents are because my dad had a heart attack two years ago now almost, and I went with him to the cardiologist and the cardiologist's first words about what he needs to change is that he needs to be plant based. And he laughed at the time and said something like, oh, my daughter's been saying that for years. And the cardiologist was like, well, why didn't you do it? If you've done it, there might this might have been different. And I didn't laugh. I don't think I was funny at all because, of course, you know, this is a major factor in people's health and it continues to be as cholesterol and clogged arteries because of the amount of animal products we eat. And since then, he's off all of his medications except one. And it's because of the diet change. And they do eat a little bit of fish and and a little bit of dairy. And I wish they didn't, but they do. And I accept that and continue to poke them in the right direction. And my siblings are the same. They kind of tend to only by the pasture raised eggs and my brother is on again, off again vegetarian. And they're both, you know, they're all moving in the right direction. What I would definitely have noticed and they think the availability of the plant based products has made it into recognisable formats like burgers and nuggets and things like that. And, you know, sausage links has made it all the easier because they just recognise the products and then just switch amount and they taste the same and maybe they're a little more expensive, but they're like, OK, this will get my sister off my back and it's healthier for me and I won't have a heart attack. You know.
Laura [00:26:20] Win win.
Ali [00:26:22] I have two quick questions and then I know Laura has one as well. The first of which is slightly frivolous. But is ask for a little bit of American European translation, what's the difference between a sausage and a sausage link?
Leah [00:26:32] Oh, OK. So like a sausage link is like a breakfast thing, right? That's like the little ones that you would just have for breakfast, like the tiny one. But see, in England, I know you don't have that. You just have sausages and that's it.
Laura [00:26:45] A bit like a chipolata.
Ali [00:26:47] Like a cocktail sausage.
Leah [00:26:49] Yeah, that's a stretch, it's longer, it's like more like a mini. It's like if you shrunk it with a shrunk shrinking, like a shrinking machine, it would shrink to about a third the size. That's the best I can say.
Ali [00:27:06] I have to say that I'm very mindful about where I buy my food now and don't eat much meat, but I do feel slightly diddled out of a bit of sausage when I get a link sausage. Yes.
Leah [00:27:18] It's like a shrinking machine.
Ali [00:27:20] Yeah. I'm kind of like, is this it? And go from there. I suppose that thing is like there is. And it's interesting to me that you talk about animal rights rather than animal welfare, which is often quite a big distinction, certainly in the UK between people's approaches in those two different worlds. I suppose this is the amount of, you know, that clearly has been a growth in veganism and things like that. And I did when I was doing the research beforehand, saw that you had got some trials done with meat-free meats, and it was at your local Taco Bell or KFC?
Leah [00:28:04] Yes.
Ali [00:28:06] Yes. They had done it and it had become very popular. And I wondered what you was in and in the UK, these Greggs, which is a vegan sausage rolls. I don't know how familiar you are with that story which sold out in the shops and the popularity of these vegan products with non vegans. And I wondered if sort of more people, if you will, people having the kind of attitude that you have and your sort of work had given permission for meat eaters to be more curious about veganism and to try this food. Or is there some other dynamic at play here?
Leah [00:28:38] No, that is exactly the dynamic. So there was a Fonalitics study, which I could send you afterwards, which showed very clearly that if you ask two groups of people, one be vegan or nothing. And the other eat less meat. And which one resulted in less animals being eaten? It was very clearly eat less meat resulted in less animals being eaten. And it's the concept that this is a concept Mercy for Animals takes in. The one that I take personally is that it is much easier. You should invite everyone to dip their toe in the water and be inviting and open. As people who are trying to change the world for animals, we should allow everyone to just get on the road no matter where they're at. Just get on the path. You don't have to be that person that is all or nothing. And so the idea is it's not an ingredient list that, you know, you're pure. You're not. It's everyone is welcome. And I think that is how we make change. And it's very easy in comparison to other social justice issues, because, you know, when you when you think of the other other things that are so hard to fight and change against, this is something where you can change incrementally, very clearly with each bite you take. It's very, very easy in that sense.
Laura [00:29:50] It's an interesting point because I think you're right. I think people can feel quite intimidated when it's an all or nothing choice, but perhaps by giving people the room to start gradually or to at least take a positive step and know they're contributing something towards the greater good. Have you found people are much more open to you when you talk to them about it, taking that softer approach to the issues.
Leah [00:30:19] I mean, anecdotally, yes, my family say precisely that's the reason that they're moving in that direction. And my mother in law is always telling me exactly that. She said, you've never been pushy. You've never been judgy, and it's really wonderful. And it's helped us move in the right direction. And they're you know, they're almost entirely vegan. They eat all the products we eat. The only thing they do is occasional fish. But I think that that is the approach. And it also makes you feel better if you're always walking into every conversation upset and angry about everything people are not doing. It's destructive to your soul. It's destructive to your outlook and your optimism. If instead you walk in every conversation looking at everything you are doing, it's the glass half full glass empty concept and focus on what they are doing. Very clear in human psychology that rewards and positive reinforcement is what works and negative works less and less. That's very clear and that's what we're trying to do with this.
Laura [00:31:15] Thank you. And then last but maybe not least from me. We're always interested when we ask people on the podcast and who they'd like to hear about a time they changed their mind on something. Who would that be for you? Who would you like to talk to about changing their mind?
Leah [00:31:31] I'd like to speak to some of the political candidates right now. I'd love to hear Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton or someone like that. Where were instances where you agree or people who've been very successful negotiators? Where do they change their mind? I think Joe Biden has some really interesting stories because he's worked with both sides of the aisle. That's probably where I would look. In these really polarised times in politics, where are people finding that they change their mind and that helped make progress overall?
Ali [00:32:04] Joe Biden's a great call, actually. And there's certainly some stuff around how he behaved towards Anita Hill that he has more recently said that he would not make the same decisions now that he did at the time. And I think that's something really admirable in a politician when they can do that. But we're not great at rewarding them for doing so.
Leah [00:32:23] Right.
Ali [00:32:24] Leah, this has been absolutely fascinating. Thank you. We'll be digging into a bit more about what you said about activists and the role they play in polarisation in the discussion afterwards and telling people where they can get hold of a copy of your book. There'll be a few links that we talked about in the podcast as well. But for now, that's it from us. Thank you.
[00:32:43] Thank you. It was great to talk to both of you.
Ali [00:32:51] Before Alex, Laura and I digest the interview, we wanted to bring you a brief word from our partners, Open Democracy.
[00:32:59] Hello, I'm Mary Fitzgerald, editor in chief of Open Democracy. We exist to bring you the latest reporting and analysis on social and political issues around the world. We're here to educate citizens, challenge power and encourage democratic debate, just as this podcast does. To find out more about us or to make a contribution to our work, visit opendemocracy.net.
Ali [00:33:22] So, Laura, what was the key takeaway for you from that conversation other than a deeper understanding of sausages?
Laura [00:33:30] Ah, sausages. But beyond sausages, it was interesting to hear Leah talk about her family and how changing a little bit at a time had been much easier for them than making the leap to veganism all in one go. You know, I think we often put off or daunted by making a complete change of position all at once. But, you know, Leah said that perhaps moving in stages really can help us here. And also, you know, taking that out to a wider campaign position, asking people to make that small change first, not a big one is easier to get a head around. I attempted to ask Leah about the illusion of explanatory depth, although I couldn't remember it was called that. So you should be proud of me, Alex. But I think we might hear a bit more about what that actually means now.
Alex [00:34:08] So, yes, the illusion of explanatory depth. If you ask one hundred people on the street if they understood how a toilet works most, as I'm sure we all would, would say yeah course, I know how it works. But actually, then if you ask them to produce a detailed step-by-Step explanation of exactly how the toilet works, you probably get silence or what I did when someone asked me, actually I don't have a clue how a toilet actually works step by step. So this is the really powerful but I guess inaccurate feeling of knowing is what Rozenblit and Keil, I think it was in 2002, termed the illusion of explanatory depth. So basically it's where people feel and they understand often complex phenomena with much greater precision, coherence and depth than we actually really do. So essentially, we're subject to an illusion, which is why it's called the illusion of explanatory depth. And it's really interesting in a political context where some researchers have applied it to political attitudes. So when you test people on exactly how much they know about a specific policy when what you see in the data is that when people discover that they don't actually know as much as they thought they did, their political attitudes become less extreme. Essentially, they're moderated. It is really, really interesting.
Laura [00:35:33] Well, at least I brought it up in the right context. That's good to know.
Alex [00:35:38] Ali, what struck you about the interview?
Ali [00:35:41] Well, I guess well, what really struck me is how careful Leah was to talk about encouraging people to eat less meat rather than outright telling them they're wrong, which it can be quite a tempting thing to do sometimes. And she was really conscious that that could backfire and people would take it as a wider view on their judgement. So we did a bit of digging since and looked at some of the studies that that she mentioned, but in particular found one from Stanford that was talking about dynamic norms and how they can be really powerful in getting people to change their mind and change their behaviour. So this case study shows that if you show people information that 30 percent of people had started to eat less meat over time rather than the people should just stop eating meat. It meant that 34 percent of people ordered a meatless lunch, whereas when you went and you just told them that they shouldn't eat meat, only half that number, 17 percent, ordered a meatless lunch afterwards. And so it really does demonstrate how groups and others around us can have a huge influence on our behaviour. But also showing trends and not being an absolutist can be really helpful in bringing people around to your point of view. I suppose one thing that was I was struck that Leah was so good at persuading other people to take on her view. I did wonder about a time when she had really changed her own position, because someone had done it to her in reverse. And I sort of wish we'd been able to delve into that a little bit more, might drop her a line for a bit of follow up. Alex, did I make a reasonable explanation of dynamic norms then?
Alex [00:37:22] No. Absolutely. I mean, dynamic norms can be very powerful. Basically what they are is information about how other people's behaviour is changing over time. We're very susceptible to what other people doing around us, particularly when we are feeling uncertain about what to do. And as Ali said, dynamic norms suggest what is changing. It gives us I guess a feel good feeling that we are ahead of the crowd by adapting what we're doing to copy others.
Ali [00:37:49] That's great. That's everything that we're going to be covering today. But if Leah's inspired, you think for time that you changed your mind and why at the end of this series, we'll be doing a special listeners edition of the show. Email us and tell us about what you've changed your mind on on [email protected] The best response will get a copy of Leah's book Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry, which is out now. You can buy it from wherever you normally get your books. But do you think about supporting an independent and local bookstore. Thanks so much for listening. If you like what you heard, don't forget that you can get a full back catalogue of our interviews with leaders by searching Changed My Mind in your podcast app. We'll be back next week with a new episode, moving to London to talk to the author of one of the Financial Times Books of the Year about race relations, polarisation and how he's found many people are simply not able to change their mind. Make sure you're subscribed in your app or to our newsletter at depolarizationproject.com so you're the first to know when it comes out. Thank you to Open Democracy for their support of the show. To Caroline Crampton for editing and producing. And to Kevin McCloud, whose dreams become real is our theme music.
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