Vegan meals as the default airplane meal: who will make it happen? —

A share of this really great concept of changing the default, written by Tobia Leenaert (The Vegan Strategist).

In my previous post, I wrote about changing the default option as an interesting strategy to create behavior (and attitude) change. I suggested this was an interesting tactic especially where institutional change is concerned. It can be used by governments, businesses, organizations… It creates behavior and (indirectly) attitude change, and it doesn’t take away “freedom…

via Vegan meals as the default airplane meal: who will make it happen? —

Life Lessons Learned Playing Golf

golf ball

My beautiful and amazing friend (and fellow doctoral student) Suzy has been trying for a year to get me to go golfing with her. My grandparents on my father’s side were big golfers and they were, I think, disappointed that none of us took much interest in the game. I always figured I’d be as bad at it as I am at every other activity that requires any physical coordination. But Suzy kept telling me how much fun it is, and how beautiful the course she plays on is and it’s not about being good at it, it’s about getting out there and enjoying life. Suzy is one smart woman. (By the way, she makes terrific videos; check out  Suzy Fisher’s YouTube channel.

We finally went yesterday. And she was right. It was so much fun! And you know why? I’ll tell you.

I call these the life lessons I learned on the golf course.

  • Just relax; chill out and have a good time.

No stress! So what if you have to take a few swings. I learned what a Mulligan is, and I approve. And slow down. In a musical reference from my younger years, the Doobie Brothers (pre-Michael McDonald version, obviously), sang “And I ain’t got no worries cause I ain’t in no hurry at all” (Black Water, 1974).


Feeling nostalgic? Here you go. You’re welcome.

Doobie Brothers “Black Water”

  • Friends don’t judge.
Friend:one who listens, doesn’t judge, and somehow makes everything alright.

It was as much fun as it was because Suzy and I were cheering each other on and neither of us felt self-conscious. Whiff? Whatever! Try it again.


  • Learn to laugh at yourself. It’s much less stressful that way.
(Bob was at home playing with the new kitten; thus the red lasrer reference.)


The turkeys were definitely not worried!


  • Girlfriends don’t mansplain stuff to you or tell you the rules of the game over and over. We let each other be comfortable and do things our own way. Just ask Lucy and Ethel. Not everything is a competition.

ILL golf

Ricky and Fred weren’t going to make it easy for Lucy and Ethel.

Lucy and Ethel Learn to Golf

Here are Ralph Cramden and Ed Norton from The Honeymooners with their approach to golf.

Ralph learns to golf

  • Keep moving forward; don’t give up. You’ll only make progress if you keep trying.
Carl Spackler
Carl Spackler (Bill Murray, Caddyshack, 1980) never gave up trying to get that gopher.
  • Fresh air cures a lot of ills.
How can you feel bad out here?
  • Try something new, you might not suck at it.
Maybe my form isn’t perfect, but I wasn’t really so bad for my first round of golf ever.
  • In the words of the immortal Carl Spackler, “So I got that going for me, which is nice.” In other words, accept yourself for who you are.



By the way, I’m not telling you where we went golfing because I don’t want everyone rushing there. It’s a secret and magical place that Suzy and I are keeping for ourselves. Sorry! There’s another lesson.

  • Make your own magic; don’t rely on someone else to do it for you.


My new favorite sound: Golf Ball Falling Into a Golf Hole

Now get out there and have fun!

“Let’s go out there and do a f*** ton of good!”

“Let’s go out there and do a f*** ton of good!” was the closing sentence of Will MacAskill at the Effective Altruism Global 2016 conference held at UC Berkeley August 5th through 7th this year. Professor MacAskill is the youngest tenured professor of philosophy in the world (yes, in the world, at age 29) and is the co-founder of Giving What We Can, author of Doing Good Better, and a major voice in the Effective Altruism movement. As one might hope at a conference of altruists, the book was free!

Will MacAskill

I only heard about the conference and the movement itself the day before the conference, when I met Tobias Leenaert, The Vegan Strategist, when I went to a talk he gave at the newly opened Berkeley Animal Rights Center.

Tobias Leenaert
Tobias Leenaert, The Vegan Strategist

One online application submitted and there I was, at the Effective Global 2016 conference with about 1,000 other altruists.


do it

me 1
Your intrepid reporter, day 1.

After making my way through registration, and grabbing a coffee (altruists need coffee too!), I went to my first session, How to Change Your Mind, presented by Miya Perry, Head of Training for the Oakland start-up Paradigm Academy. We learned about changing our behaviors by digging deep into our System 1 and System 2 beliefs (I found this description helpful).

Next up: Cooperative Conversations, led by Tsvi Benson-Tilsen, formerly of the UC Berkeley Math Department and now at the University of Chicago. Conversation is more complicated than you think. We all operate from different world models of knowns, “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”, and our models may or may not overlap.

Et voilà, it was time to check out dinner! Being altruistic can work up an appetite. The food was delicious and predominantly vegan, with a couple of vegetarian alternatives for those who must have cheese (I understand, I really do). Vegan as the default was such a great way to go! Thank you, Centre for Effective Altruism, for that decision as well as the compostable bamboo plates and forks.

And of course, you know I wouldn’t leave out the all important dessert!

Saturday started with the keynote talk, The Past, Present, and Future of Effective Altruism,  by Will MacAskill and Giving What We Can co-founder Toby Ord. (Note: a side benefit was getting to hear all of the wonderful accents and languages from this international community. Will is Scottish and Toby is Australian, though both are now at Oxford in England.)

Toby Ord

Toby presented about the past, going through the history of ideas, while Will spoke about the present expansions in the EA literature, EA groups, and outreach.

keynote 5
Will MacAskill on his first meeting with Toby Ord.
keynote 6.jpg
Toby Ord takes us through the history of ideas.

Tired yet? It’s early still! Let’s grab a coffee and keep moving.

day 1 coffee

Away we go, to The Future of EA for Animals, presented by Jacy Reese from Animal Charity Evaluators. It was a quite lively discussion about the most effective ways to help animals

Time for lunch. The lunch buffet was set up on the plaza in front of Zellerbach Hall. In addition to good food, lots of small groups formed to continue the conversations that the various sessions (of which I went to only a handful) so far had triggered.

While a nap might have been a good thing about now, I soldiered on to Are Scientists Responsible Enough?, a talk given from the UK via the magic of Skype by astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees for the Centre for the Study of Existential Risks. As Lord Rees says (paraphrasing), because of the huge implications of the possible actions by a few people, we need more conerned and socially engaged scientists. As he said, “the global village has its village idiot with a global range”. In the US, his book is sold under the title Our Final Hour.

Back to my favorite topic–animals–with Irene Pepperberg from Harvard, talking on Avian Cognition and Consciousness: The Gray Parrot and Its Implications for Animal Welfare. We share this world with many other creatures and we are all interconnected. Empathy is called for, and we are only just finding out how much we don’t know about non-human animal intelligence.

Next, I went to a workshop on how to prioritize and compare different interventions for helping non-human animals, run by Lewis Bollard from Open Philanthropy Project.

Still holding up okay? Me too!

me 4
Your intrepid reporter, day 2. Still smiling.

If we want to make the world a better place, of course, humans are a big part of the picture.  The next session I chose was The End of Poverty, a lofty goal.

Utilitarian philsopher Peter Singer, author of many influential books (Animal Liberation, Darwinian Left, and, relevent to this presentation, The Life You Can Save: How to Play Your Part in Ending World Poverty) was able to participate in a question and answer session with the audience through Skype.

His ending message: don’t think in terms of sacrifice but of fulfillment in your efforts to make the world a better place. As the saying goes, the life you save may be your own.

This was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Rajesh Mirchandani from the Center for Global Development.

Poverty panel 1.jpg
The panelists for The End of Poverty discussion.
Poverty panel 6
From left, Svetha Janumpalli, Timothy Telleen-Lawton, Jeff Brown, Anne Healy, and Rajesh Mirchandani.

When evaluating possible interventions, some of the things to consider: scale, evidence/data, incentives, accountability, and transparency.

Catch your breath, and now we move on the day 3, which I started with a round of 3 20-minute talks. These were in the Senate Chambers for the Associated Students and Graduate assembly at UC Berkeley, on the 5th floor of Eshleman Hall. Very spiffy, and great views.

First up, Tobias Leenaert on Helping Animals with Technology or Morality? It takes a lot of motivation to get people to change their habits for ethical reasons. Maybe the vegan movement should focus on getting people to eat meat alternatives as they become more readily available (just try them, they’re [mostly] delicious!), and then their attitudes toward animals will shift as a result. In other words, instead of trying to change people’s beliefs to change their behavior, change their behavior and the attitude shift will follow. I will say that I am creeped out by lab meat, aka, clean meat, cultured meat, and tissue-engineered meat. But I am not a meat lover and my attitude is already with the animals!

Tobias 12
When surveyed, most professors of philosophy agree with the statement that it is not ethical to eat animals, but in reality, their behavior doesn’t match up.

Tobias was followed by Adriano Mannino of Effective Altruism Foundation on Affecting the Far Future with the Animal Cause. The foundation is an anti-speciesist think tank and project incubator headquartered in Germany. His point, if I understood correctly, is that people who value the lives of animals and want to prevent animal suffering are of a mind-set that also predisposes them to take on other causes and value all things living, human, non-human animals, plants, the planet, and that we can build toward a better future for all utilizing those values.

Finally, the round of speakers ended with nanotechnologist and futurist Christine Peterson, co-founder of Foresight Institute on Upstream Altruism: Applying EA Principles to Early-Stage Action.

My favorite bit was the idea of “hit and run” altruism, which could be equated to random acts of kindness. Nanotechnology means nothing to me, kindness does.

We aren’t done with lab-grown meat yet! Back to Zellerbach Hall for a panel discussion, Rethinking Meat and the End of Factory Farming, moderated by Claire Zabel with Open Philanthropy.

rethinking meat panel 2
From left: Tobias Leenaert, Claire Zabel, Lewis Bollard, Isha Datar, Bruce Friedrich, and Allison Smith.

For more information on the panelists:

Tobias Leenaert

Lewis Bollard

Isha Datar

Bruce Friedrich

Allison Smith

I met Allison Smith again at the workshop on interventions, led by Allsion and Jacy from Animal Charity Evaluators.

I promise this is the last on lab-grown meat; panelists Uma Valeti of Memphis Meats, Oliver Zahn of Impossible Foods, Tim Geistlinger from Muufri, and Isha Datar from New Harvest answered audience questions about technology, nutrition, and the notion of cellular agriculture. I’m still sticking with plant-based, thanks.

meat qa4
Seated, from left: Uma Valeti, Oliver Zahn, Tim Geistlinger, and Isha Datar.

We’re almost done! Yes, I’m getting tired too.

me 8
Your intrepid reporter, day 3.

I couldn’t leave without going to the talk by Cass Sunstein, who I know as the editor of texts I’ve used in animal protection classes in my humane education program. He has other claims to fame: Harvard Law professor, legal scholar,  Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012, and author of many books, including The World According to Star Wars (surprised by that one?!).

Star Wars.jpg

Professor Sunstein’s talk was titled From Behavioral Economics to Public Policy. Don’t let the title scare you. Many Star Wars references were sprinkled throughout (I won’t pretend to have understood most of them).

sunstein 1
Cass Sunstein

It was a very interesting talk on social meaning and concepts like using nudges to get people to do good things. For example, at the Amsterdam International Airport, flies painted in the urinals nudge men to aim at a spot where pee doesn’t overflow onto the floors. These have resulted in 44% less “spillage” in the men’s bathrooms at the airport. Don’t ask me how it was measured. Or who had to measure it.

Men are weird.

And now to the closing remarks!

closing 2
Will MacAskill on the future of the Effective Altruism movement

A gathering on stage of the staff of the Centre for Effective Altruism who made the conference happen, the awesome volunteers, and a big thank you to them and to all of us for attending and spreading the ideals of effective altruism.

closing 9

And proving that we are also optimists, all of us went outside to gather for a group photo, I haven’t seen the final result, but here we are trying to squeeze together in front of Sproul Hall.

I’d like to end this with one last thought. The weekend before this, I attended the World Vegan Summit 2016 in the same location. I thought I would have a lot to write about, but I had an uncomfortable feeling the whole time (compounded by food poisoning; gotta wash those fruits and veggies and use clean hands, food service people!). It was an amazing opportunity to hear Professor Gary Francione, a divisive but forceful leader in the animal rights movement, and I learned alot. But there was a vibe of “our way is the only way” that doesn’t sit well with me. I am much more interested in open-minded thought and discussions.

Peace. And may the force be with you.


The one that didn’t get away

KITTENS! Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about fostering animals in need.

foster quote

I’ve written about the various cats and kittens we’ve fostered, starting with the post:

The Kitten Chronicles

(Thank you Robert Ward for your patience with the ever-changing array of guest felines.) But now I am here to say I am offically a Foster Failure. I actually don’t like that term; it makes it sound like I lost the cat or something bad happened. What it means is that I finally met my match and can’t part with one and he is now staying here as part of the family. That’s a good thing!

foster fail image

Marble yoga
Marble, the one who stole our hearts.

My first attempt at fostering was more than 18 years ago. That one was a fail too, and I didn’t try it again until last year, as part of my volunteering with the East Bay SPCA.

Ben and Sara
Ben (orange) and Sara (brown), 1996. Sara is still with us; RIP Ben.

Our first guest was little Abracadabra, who needed to gain a few ounces before she could be spayed and enter adoptions. What a little delight she was!

Abracadabra shoulder

It only took her a week to get up to weight. I was dreading taking her back to the shelter, but I knew she’d find a good home quickly. In the week she was here, she was a great helper.

Abracadabra laundry
The laundry basket is empty now, you’re welcome.

Unfortunately, black cats and kittens take longer to get adopted, so she waited a couple of weeks but the right match came along, and she went off to her new life.

We were ready to jump in and take the next step: a mother cat with a litter of kittens. So Mouse and her babies Ratticus, Sugar Glider, Ferret, and Chinchilla came to occupy the guest room, now known as the foster room. NOTE: I am not responsible for any of the cat and kitten names; don’t blame me if they seem ridiculous to you.

You can follow their adventures:

The Kitten Chronicles

Kitten Chronicles, age 13 days

Kitten Chronicles, part 3

Kitten Chronicles, 4 weeks old!

Kitten Chronicles–7 weeks old!

Mouse’s Kittens–Ready for Their Debut, or, They Leave the Foster Nest

From the amount of blogging I did about them, you can tell that Mouse and babies had a big impact on me.

We decided to go with another “singleton” for the next one, and along came Honeysuckle. She had a broken front leg and a shattered ball joint in one hip. She needed a place to recover from the broken leg, and then have surgery on the hip.

Honeysuckle cast
Such a beauty. Of course we welcomed her to the foster suite.

More than likely hit by a car, this Maine Coon mix sweetheart was a real trooper and made good progress recovering from her injuries.


Honeysuckle blue chair
This sweet beauty was adopted within a week of going back to the shelter.

When I took Honeysuckle back to the shelter, I was asked if I could take another “broken” kitty. Of course! Meet Kianna.

Kianna cone

Kianna had a broken tail and a fractured pelvis, also likely hit by a car. Two words–purr machine! She looks intense but what a love!

Kianna intense.jpg

Once her pelvis had time to heal, she was taken in to have the tail amputated, and then came back for more recuperation time. She was welcome to stay as long as she needed!

Kianna no tail

For reasons I can’t begin to understand, she waited at the shelter for a long time for an adopter. We thought long and hard about whether to adopt her ourselves, but the East Bay SPCA wisely transferred her from the Oakland adoption center to the one in Dublin and she was very quickly went home from there.

Kianna waiting
Waiting at the shelter for someone to realize what a jewel they’d found with her.

There was a wintertime slow-down in the need for fosters, but like clockwork, it was kitten season again! Our first foster of 2016 was another short-term singleton, Babou. Talk about a lively kitten!

Babou window
Chasing a bug.

Again we had a vacancy. Thus, Mars and the candy bar kittens–Dove, Milky Way, Twix, Snickers, and Reeses–took over the foster quarters. You can read more about them here:

The Kitten Chronicles, Redux

Mars and newbies

Mars had a much different approach than Mouse; where Mouse was ready to have the kittens independent after 4-5 weeks, Mouse was extremely devoted to her babies and kept close watch over them the whole 2 months they were here.

Mars cuddling

Five kittens seems like a whole lot more than four! As they got older, the foster room seemed to get smaller and chaos ensued as the kittens became mobile. But entertaining, that’s for sure!

Mars babies beanbag

Mars babies with Alex
My friend Alex visits the Candy Bar kittens.

The house seemed so quiet when they were gone, and as expected, everyone found homes quickly. Have good lives, little ones! While they were here, we briefly had little Raisinette, rescued from the mean streets of Berkeley by Alex. We tried adding him in with the bigger candy bar kids to see if momma Mars would take him. She reluctantly let him for a bit, but a better mother/baby group was found for him.

We called him Raisinette to stick with the candy theme.

Going outside the “system” for the first time, two amazing people, Eliana and Mark, involved me in a rescue of two little beauties at the Office Depot in Berkeley. It was not easy to catch these girls! Mark was like a kitten rescue ninja! They only stayed with us a few days; a home was found for them with friends of Eliana and Mark.

Gray girls
We called them Grayson (right) and Ember (left).

And next, the three French Sisters: Joelle, Amelie, and Elodie, featured in:

A Tale of Three Sisters

French girl trio

Très précieuse! I hate to admit to favorites, but Amelie (top center) was the one I thought would lead me to foster failure.

French girls and Bob
Bob was charmed by the girls as well.

The girls all made their age/weight goal for adoptions, and I sadly took them in to the shelter to go on to their new lives.  Bonne chance!

Well, in a major fluke of timing, that same morning my awesome friend Molly had come across a kitten in need of a place to crash. Long story that I won’t go into. I said, sure, I can take him, thinking I’d put him in the foster room for a day or two and then see if they had a spot for him at the shelter. That was more than a week ago and many vet bills later. The poor little guy, Marble, ended up needing some serious vet care. Again, thank you Robert Ward!

For the record, I was not the first one of us to suggest we keep Marble. It was in fact Bob.

with Bob
Day one: he’s got Bob figured out.
Marble and nerd girl
I’m an easy mark; I’d never say no to adding him to the family!

He was having trouble keeping food down, and of course it was the weekend, so off to the 24-hour clinic, Pets Referral Center, in Berkeley. The nicest people in the world work there!

at the vet
The veterinarian’s office is not fun!
Making friends everywhere he goes.

We were afraid he would need surgery for a possible obstruction, but with medication and monitoring he is on the mend. He does not like medication time! But he’s eating and playing and cuddling and making himself indispensible.

med time
Not medication time again?!

I was afraid he was cold in the foster room (it is a bathroom and has no direct light), so he is now ensconced in what was my office until he is fully recovered and can start being introduced to the other residents. In the meantime, he is my right hand assistant and keeper of the laptop.

My editor. Blame him for the typos and mistakes!
He also likes books and sun puddles.

It looks he’s here to stay! Whether another foster comes to use the foster room, aka guest bathroom, is yet to be seen. I hope so!

You, dear reader, can also have some of this adorableness in your life. And if dogs are more your thing, the East Bay SPCA has those too! There are lots of animal rescue groups for other small animals, including birds. (And no worries about vet bills when you foster for an organization; they take care of all that.)

Many who foster make it for years without a so-called “fail”. You would be doing an amazing service for a shelter or rescue group, and helping to save a life.

foster kitten

foster quote 2

And should you have a foster fail, don’t worry. There are lots of us! We even have a Facebook page.

foster fail facebook

Please consider being a foster for your local shelter; you’ll be glad you did.