At Farm Sanctuary, we’re able to spend time with chickens, pigs, turkeys, and cows who had been bred for meat, eggs, or milk. Every day, our interactions with them show us, again and again, that each of these animals is an individual, with intelligence and a unique personality. They form relationships with one another, and many of us have developed friendships with our residents.
Farm animals are no different from the dogs or cats with whom many of us live. Each and every one of them yearns to love and live free, if only given the chance. Our advocacy for them takes many forms, but at the very core, our message is simple: turkeys, goats, pigs, chickens, cows, sheep, and ducks are friends, not food.
Thirty years ago, almost no one in the country thought about – let alone cared about – farm animals or how meat arrived on their plate. Now, we regularly see exposé on the brutality of factory farms, and at least half the country is open to the idea of changing their diet.
But at this time, it is a huge step from the norm – eating animals without a second thought – to fully embracing and acting on the view of “friends, not food.” And despite our movement’s many successes over the past three decades at promoting farm animals’ interests, we haven’t been very successful at increasing the number of people who don’t eat animals (in part because >80% of people who stop eating animals revert back). And even if we were to double the number of people who fully live according to “friends, not food,” the change would be hardly noticeable.
This is all the more surprising, given that Gallup consistently finds that more than 95% of Americans oppose cruelty to animals, and over half are specifically concerned about the treatment of farm animals. Fully a third think animals deserve the same rights as people!
Thus most people oppose cruelty to farm animals, but currently find it too difficult to completely change their diet and maintain that change. Combine these facts with our bottom-line concern for the suffering of every farm animal, and we can leverage people’s concern to abolish the worst abuses on factory farms (e.g., gestation crates, battery cages, veal crates, slaughter without stunning, and genetically-manipulated rapid growth).
Of course, this doesn’t mean we should end (or even lessen) our efforts to have more people recognize that farm animals are friends, not food. But working to abolish the worst barbarism farm animals suffer is actually complementary to efforts to help people live a fully compassionate life. For one, getting people to think about cruelty to farm animals and take an action (e.g., sign a petition, contact their representative) is a relatively easy step away from the status quo. Getting people to take the first step makes the next step easier and more likely. Research shows that asking for a small step is more likely to create change, and have that change be sustained.
Second, abolishing the worst aspects of factory farming makes meat, eggs, and dairy more expensive. Anything we can do to bend the supply/demand curve in this direction will lead to fewer animals suffering on factory farms.
Finally, if we truly care about every chicken, pig, cow, and turkey, we have to do our best for them, right now, with the world as it actually is. No matter what we do, there will be animals on factory farms tomorrow. And next year. And the next year. We are morally obligated to support any step that could reduce their suffering.
This is not to say we shouldn’t spend our limited personal or organizational time and resources promoting universal compassion. But abolishing the worst abuses in no way endorses or excuses raising and killing animals in a “less cruel” fashion.
Rather, we support the abolition of the worst forms of torture because we care about every single farm animal. Of course we won’t stop until everyone internalizes and acts upon the simple fact that these individuals are friends, not food. But instead of only talking about how we want the world to be in the future, we will look at how the world is for farm animals right now, and do our absolute best for them.