let's talk farm animals

The Power of Words

Guest Blog by: Sarah Hubbart, Communications Director, Animal Agriculture Alliance

Last week, I came across interesting new research on effective communication strategy that was conducted on behalf of the Humane Research Council (HRC), VegFund, and the Farm Animal Rights Movement, three organizations that work to promote a vegan diet.

The HRC evaluated the readability of outreach materials that are commonly handed out by activists at public events or on college campuses. It found that most activist materials are written at the 11th grade reading level or higher. Since the average U.S. adult’s literacy is three to four levels lower than that, the researchers concluded that more than half of the movement’s target audience might not be able to understand their materials.

Not good, if you happen to be a vegan activist. The HRC recommended that vegan organizations re-evaluate their educational campaigns to be more easily understood by the average American.

Regardless of your point of view on veganism, this is a good reminder of a simple truth: words matter.  The way that you choose to talk about your industry, or cause, can help or hinder you.

And it’s a reminder that many of these activist organizations seek to impact society in incremental (but fundamental) ways, beginning with the way that we talk about animal use.

In 2004, the HRC conducted a study on public perceptions of terms like “welfare”, “protection”, and “advocate”. It found that many adults in the U.S. felt alienated by the term “animal rights” and “animal activist”.  For that reason, many activist groups shied away from using those terms to identify themselves in favor of more palatable labels such as “animal protection”.

The role of language in social movements has been under-studied but certainly has had a measurable impact. In fact, well-known pollster Frank Luntz made a similar point at the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s annual meeting last year.

“I think it’s essential that they [farmers and ranchers] use the most effective words and phrases that connect to the America people in where they live and how they live. That you talk about not just affordability but convenience, safer, healthier, cleaner,” Luntz said about his presentation.” When you show that you’re doing it so much better now than before and you’re going to do it even better in the future than you did it now, that’s success.”

Think about it – “family farm” versus “factory farm”. “Producer” versus “farmer”.  The way that we talk about agriculture matters.

To read more of Sarah’s blogs visit  meatingplace.com


Posted by FFC on February 20th, 2012 :: Filed under Activism,Education and public awareness,Research,Speaking out,Vegan
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