Bowling without Blindfolds: How We Can Knock Down the Most Animal Suffering

By Ben Davidow and Nick Cooney 

February 27, 2013

Dinner PlatesImagine you’re standing in a dining room before a massive table set with 100 plates. Spread on the plates are all the chickens, cows, and pigs an average American consumes in one year. Americans eat a lot of meat, so the plates are piled high with animal flesh.

If you tally up the plates, you’ll find that 44 plates contain chickens, 30 contain cows, and 26 contain pigs. Given this table, it makes sense that our movement places roughly equal focus and resources on cows, chickens, and pigs. Right?

Wrong. This table represents the weight of the meat Americans eat, but it doesn’t reflect the number of animals they eat.

In place of the table, picture all the actual, live animals that were farmed and slaughtered to produce that meat. Looking at this collection of animals, you notice something strange: there’s a large mass of chickens and only the occasional cow or pig dotting the landscape. Where are all the pigs? Where are all the cows?

Because chickens are so much smaller than cows and pigs, many more of them must be slaughtered to produce the same amount of meat. To get the same amount of meat that can be obtained from a single cow (or four pigs), more than 200 chickens must be killed. That’s why, despite the fact that people eat almost as much pork and beef as they do chicken, they eat many, many more chickens than they do cows or pigs.

Kiev of Farm Sanctuary

For farm animal activists, what truly matters is not the amount of meat that is consumed but the number of animals that are harmed and the amount of suffering caused. Our movement’s outreach efforts, however, are based largely on the illusory dinner table: we tend to direct our resources according to how often animals are consumed, not how many are consumed.

And it’s not only that a larger number of chickens are killed. Chickens also endure more days of suffering than any other farm animal, other than some farm-raised fish. We get this amount by multiplying the number of animals that are eaten by how long each one lives and suffers on a factory farm. Chickens also suffer particularly cruel treatment on factory farms.

When we carry out vegetarian outreach without considering the relative suffering caused by different animal foods, we are bowling with blindfolds: we can’t know where to aim, and our success will be limited. It’s time to remove the blindfolds and knock down as much animal cruelty as we can.

Clementine of Farm Sanctuary

If we see farm animals as individuals, and we want as many individuals as possible to be protected from cruelty, then we should focus first on getting the public to give up eating chickens. Having that focus will enable us to save more lives and spare more suffering.

Consider, for example, that getting someone simply to cut their chicken consumption in half spares 14 animals per year a lifetime of misery. If someone were to give up eating chickens entirely they would spare about 28 animals per year from a lifetime of misery.

At the very least, our outreach efforts should place greater focus on chickens. We should tell people that the first and most important thing they can do to help farm animals is to cut out or cut back on eating chickens.

 

Ben Davidow is the author of the forthcoming e-book Thinking Outside the Cage: Leading Farm Animal Advocates on How to Have a Meaningful Impact, in which a modified version of this essay will appear.

Nick Cooney is the Compassionate Communities Campaign manager at Farm Sanctuary.

 

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dinner plate photo by Dave Le (CC: AB-NY-ND); hen photos by Farm Sanctuary

Veg advocacy: a numbers game

By Nick Cooney

May 15, 2012

Of the many animals I’ve met at Farm Sanctuary, my all-time favorite is Bella Maria. Bella was one of over 100 piglets rescued from a cruelty case in upstate New York. She and the others had been left to fend for themselves in the snow- and ice-covered fields of a small farm; some were found literally frozen to the ground.

The winter the piglets arrived I was a Farm Sanctuary intern. My favorite part of the day quickly became going into Bella’s pen and giving her belly rubs. Because she was recovering from surgery, she had to be kept in a pen by herself. Bella loved having company so much that she would oink and snort with happiness. Sadly, Bella died not long after being rescued. She was gone but she has not been forgotten, at least not by me.

Most of us have one or two animals we consider truly special. These individuals may even be the reason we became animal advocates. If one animal is so valuable, intelligent, and deserving of protection, then clearly all others are as well.

If we see individual animals as valuable, shouldn’t we do the things that will help the greatest number of them? When we feel emotionally connected to animals and their suffering, it’s hard to take a step back and look at them as numbers. It’s hard to look at helping them the way an investor might look at earning dollars and cents, asking: how can I spare the greatest number possible? Yet this approach will ultimately save the greatest number of individual animals – individuals just as unique and capable of friendship as Bella Maria, or those whom you hold closest to your heart.

This is why veg advocacy is so important. It allows regular people like you and me to spare the lives of hundreds if not thousands of animals each year. This large impact would not be possible if we focused our time and money on animals in shelters, horse-drawn carriages, circus cruelty, or most other animal protection issues. Veg advocacy’s “by the numbers” approach has some interesting implications. Consider the following.

The blog Counting Animals recently calculated the number of animals spared per year for each person who goes vegetarian. The result? Each new vegetarian spares 30 farm animals, 28 of which are chickens, from a lifetime of suffering. Each new vegetarian also spares several fish raised on fish farms and over 200 wild fish per year. Together, chickens and fish represent over 99% of the animals being raised or killed for food.

To help the greatest number of animals, then, we must focus on getting the public to reduce or eliminate their chicken and fish consumption. (While fish are killed in much higher numbers, most live a natural life up until slaughter; chickens endure far greater suffering throughout their lives.)

In an interview with CNN, Farm Sanctuary President Gene Baur noted that the number one thing Americans can do to help farm animals is eat less chicken (and fewer eggs). Persuading one person to cut their chicken consumption in half spares 14 unique, intelligent individuals from a lifetime of misery. A person who stops eating any chicken or fish eliminates nearly all of the animal suffering and killing he or she would otherwise have caused.

Therefore, a primary goal of our veg advocacy efforts should be helping others reduce or eliminate their consumption of chicken and fish.

One humane educator began ending his talks by encouraging students to go vegetarian or, if they didn’t think they could do that, at least cutting out or cutting back on chicken consumption. He explained to them that by simply not eating chicken (or eating less), they could personally spare dozens of animals a year from a life of misery. As a result, more students began deciding to either go vegetarian or cut back on chicken.

The outcome was more individuals spared – individuals just as special as Bella Maria, and the animals you hold closest to your heart. We can honor our love for them by focusing our advocacy efforts on sparing the lives of as many other individuals as possible.

 

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