Academics, advocates and activists collaborate at the Animal Advocacy Conference 2023

This Animal Advocacy conference promotes scientific research and education on how people perceive, treat, and interact with non-human animals, including the consumption of plant-based vs. animal-derived products, animal advocacy, and veganism. Pierce Veitch, Psychology graduate tells us about his experience attending.

‘The PHAIR Society’s Animal Advocacy conference uniquely bridges the gap between academic researchers and activists/professionals in the field of vegan and animal rights advocacy. The three day conference, organised by Maria Ioannidou and Kristof Dhont and other members of the PHAIR Society, creates a stimulating environment where academics and activists/advocates exchange relevant knowledge, engage in lively debates, share their ideas, and can start collaborations.

I was excited to attend this bringing together of individuals from all walks of life unified against the cruelty and rights violations perpetrated by the animal-industrial complex.

The talks began with a symposium that covered how children view non-human animals, how this differs from adults and the origins of speciesism in adolescence. This was my first exposure to the role that developmental psychology can play in understanding human-animal relationships.

Psychology graduate Pierce Veitch spent three days learning and networking at the Animal Advocacy Conference.

I decided to attend symposium two: communication strategies to reduce animal product consumption as this aligned most with my interests as an advocate. Topics ranged from relationship dynamics in couples with just one vegan to Devon Docherty’s talk on the “cheese paradox”. The cheese paradox began to explore vegetarianism and how they manage the cognitive dissonance of consuming dairy products. This was followed by as symposium of leading sociologists in the field, organised by Corey Wrenn which really highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of the conference and the research area as a whole.

Mapping Moral Standing: Brenda de Groot

The symposium: ‘New perspectives on veganism’ was both engaging and controversial. The organisation faunalytics outlined the social barriers to plant-based lifestyles to open the session. However two talks stole the show ‘Would you rather be born a beef or dairy calf’ and ‘Should dogs and cats go vegan’. The former, thought provoking and the second extremely informative. Who knew that dogs and cats can thrive on a vegan diet (significantly more so than typical meat based pet food)?

This first day finished with a keynote from Steve Loughnan who took us through 13 years of research on omnivore’s paradoxical relationships with animals.

Keynote Speaker Steve Loughnan

The second day of the conference began with a virtual session on meat reduction. Talks covered some of the barriers for spreading veganism to different sub-types of men. The second symposium of the day explored the moral factors in perceiving and identifying with non-human animals.’

Later, influencer and advocate Ryuji Chua gave the talk ‘Swimming in sentience: A deep dive into the inner lives of fish’. The presentation was fantastic and passionate highlighting the sentience of this often forgotten group. Fish are one of the largest groups exploited and murdered for food, so it makes sense to advocate for them for the sake of each individual.

Influencer and advocate Ryuji Chua

The afternoon had symposiums on ‘the vegan diet and mental health’ and ‘working in the animal sector’. I personally enjoyed the exploration of vystopia as it begins to shed light on the distress caused by understanding how morally bankrupt the animal agriculture industry is. Moreover the psychological impacts of seeing friends and family consume animal products is an area on which a great deal of research could be done. This section of the afternoon really impressed upon me that whether you are working in the animal care sector or in advocacy, the rates of burnout are high.

This day ended with a keynote symposium by the Senior Vice President of Operations and Director of Data & Analysis Mercy for Animals, Mamta Jain Valderrama (pictured below) and Michael Johnston, highlighting the value of collaborations between animal advocates and academics.  

Senior Vice President of Operations and Director of Data & Analysis Mercy for Animals, Mamta Jain Valderrama

The last day of the conference began with a symposium covering resistance to the vegan movement, with insightful talks on anti-vegan communities. These reactionary movements are interesting because despite veganism being good for non-human animals, the planet and your health; people are still very change resistant.

After this I attended a symposium on new perspectives on speciesism, Chaired by Kristof Dhont. Following Lunch, there was a phenomenal keynote by the founder of the Middle East vegan society, Seb Alex, on where we went wrong with our relationships with non-human animals. The speech had keen emphasis that veganism is a social movement that is the consequence of being logically consistent about rights. 

Pierce with Keynote Speaker, Animal rights activist, lecturer and photojournalist Seb Alex

‘The animal advocacy conference is a one of a kind event where academia and advocacy is merged with both ends learning about the work of the other.’ Seb Alex said of the three days ‘It is incredibly insightful and a must-attend event for anyone interested in animal advocacy, psychology and how humans think about other animals and their treatment. It is without a doubt one of the most amazing conferences I have attended.’

‘It’s been a tremendously inspiring few days at the Animal Advocacy Conference here in Canterbury.’ Dr Kristof Dhont summarised ‘Reflecting on what we have achieved collectively, I feel immensely grateful and honoured as the chair of the conference. It is the enthusiasm, knowledge, expertise, and passion of the many conference attendees that have made the event, the very first of its kind, an incredible success! Thank you to everyone who participated or contributed in one way or another.’

The Animal Advocacy Conference is the official general meeting of the PHAIR Society and will be held once every two years.

Left to right: Matti Wilks and Elise Hankins presenting their research


You can find out more about Dr Kristof Dhont’s work here:

On Meatheads and Soy boys by Kristof Dhont, in The Psychologist.

Why We Love and Exploit Animals, Bridging Insights from Academia and Advocacy, (edited by Dr Kristof Dhont).