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

Best advice for animal activists – part one

July 30, 2012

Farm Sanctuary’s Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives Bruce Friedrich was recently asked to share his “top three pieces of advice for aspiring and fellow activists to become more effective.” His response will appear in the forthcoming book Strategic Compassion by Ben Davidow.

Matt Ball and I wrote a book about how advocates can be maximally effective for animals, The Animal Activist’s Handbook. Peter Singer says about the book: “Rarely have so few pages contained so much intelligence and good advice. Get it, read it, and act on it. Now.” Taken from our book, my top three recommendations are:

1. Remember the multiplier

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you’re saving dozens of land animals and even more sea animals every single year. That’s something to be proud of, and it’s a deeply powerful statement in support of compassion and mercy and against cruelty and misery. Amazingly, if you convince one more person to adopt a vegetarian diet, in that moment you’ve doubled your lifetime effect as a vegetarian. So we should all be doing what we can to influence others to adopt a vegetarian diet, including little things like wearing vegetarian T-shirts and putting “Happy Vegetarian” bumper stickers on our cars and laptops, and bigger things like getting active through Vegan Outreach’s Adopt a College campaign or Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign.

2. Pretend you’re Socrates

Socrates asked questions of those with whom he was engaged to help others see that their current moral paradigms supported his position. We should also do precisely that. No one wants to support cruelty to animals, and yet anyone who is eating meat is supporting egregious abuse. So our best way of engaging with people is to help them question how, when eating meat, their values and actions are not in alignment. All other arguments are a diversion from this central and winning argument—which should be framed as a discussion, not a diatribe.

3. Don’t get discouraged

As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It’s remarkable to think that for most of human history, humans have considered it acceptable for some humans to hold others as slaves, and for women to be—for all intents and purposes—the property of their husbands. Think for a moment about how quickly that understanding has completely changed in the developed world—in just a few generations. There’s so much animal suffering that it’s easy to get discouraged, but we shouldn’t: We have science, logic, and morality on our side; it’s only a matter of time before we win.

 

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Best advice for animal activists – part two

July 30, 2012

Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign Manager Nick Cooney was recently asked to share his “top three pieces of advice for aspiring and fellow activists to help them become more effective” in 400 words. The following is his advice, which will appear in the forthcoming book Strategic Compassion by Ben Davidow.

1. Think like a businessperson

It is wonderful to care about animals.  And, if we do care, we certainly want to be maximally effective with our advocacy efforts.  That means we should focus on the activities that help as many animals as possible.  So, we need to think like businesspeople. Companies have a financial bottom line, and every decision they make is based on whether it’s good or bad for that bottom line. We need to be just as calculating in our work. We need to look at the different advocacy programs out there and decide which of them will allow us to help the greatest number of animals possible and reduce the greatest amount of suffering possible.

2. Ask, “How many animals did I help?”

An easy way to see how effective we’ve been is to ask ourselves (perhaps each month), “How many animals did I help this month?” You might not know an exact number, but you can get a decent sense. If you’ve passed out a couple hundred leaflets to college students you’ve probably gotten one person to go veg and spared 30 animals a year a life of misery. If you’ve shown a video on animal cruelty to 100 people, probably one has gone veg and you’ve also spared 30 animals. These are complete ballpark estimates, but it’s clear that the end result of either of these activities (or similar veg advocacy work) is dramatically higher than many other forms of animal activism. The next important question to ask yourself is, “How can I help a greater number of animals next month?”

3. Be more like your audience

People are more likely to listen to you, and be persuaded by you to care about farm animals, if you look, talk, act, and interact like them. No matter how you may be in your regular life, the more you can look and act like your audience when doing veg advocacy the more effective you will be and the more animals you will spare. Consider it like wearing a uniform to work: uncomfortable, but important to success. And it is doubly important for us because lives are on the line.

 

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