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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