Perhaps the best thing about being either a vegan or a chegan is that, over the course of your lifetime, you’re guaranteed to keep a large number of animals out of a slaughterhouse.
But the trouble with using personal food choices as a means to create a vegan world is there are only so many animals one person can possibly eat. Around 4000 in a lifetime is at the high end of credible estimates, and that only applies to people who eat a lot of chicken and fish (which, as small animals, demand vastly more slaughter to provide a given amount of meat.)
While not eating 4000 animals matters immensely to the animals in question, one person’s food choices can’t begin to move the needle where global animal agriculture is concerned. That’s because the worldwide meat industry runs through animals not by the thousand or even the million, but by the billion. Worldwide about 70 billion chickens, pigs, and cows go to slaughter each year—about 9 billion in the United States alone. The overwhelming majority of these animals are raised in horrific factory farm confinement systems. It’s fair to say that 70 billion minus the 4000 animals you won’t personally eat is still 70 billion.
Massively effective animal advocates are therefore the animals’ only hope, yet only a tiny percentage of vegans make a serious commitment to doing animal protection work. With that in mind, the single most important quality an animal advocate can have is ambition—there are so few animal advocates that every person who gets involved needs to think in the biggest possible terms.
How Many Animals Can One Activist Protect?
Ambition is just a lot of wishful thinking until you start setting goals. So it’s worthwhile to ask: how many animals can a part-time activist aspire to save in a lifetime? Well, believe it or not, it’s absolutely within reason for one person to be able to save at least one million animals through regular part-time work.
One of the best ways to begin protecting large numbers of animals is to leverage your social media presence. The one word of caution here is that with some platforms it’s easy to come off as monomaniacal if you do nothing but relentlessly post about animal issues.
Effective social media advocacy always begins by understanding the culture of whatever platform you’re using. On Facebook the expectation is that most posts will be lighthearted stuff related to fun moments with friends and family. If the majority of your Facebook posts concern battery cage and gestation crate atrocities, you’ll find yourself getting blocked or muted by precisely the people you most need to reach.
So keep things on Facebook light, respect the (admittedly shallow) cultural expectations, and make the majority of your posts relate to non-animal issues. Then maybe once a week or once a month pop off a vegan-oriented post, once again keeping in mind that a killer photo of a vegan burrito will likely receive more likes and attention than this week’s horrific undercover slaughterhouse video.
By using social media with this sort of focus and restraint you’ll be putting your social capital to work, exposing dozens or even hundreds of receptive people to animal-friendly messages.
If you live in a college town, it’s absolutely possible to become an animal millionaire solely by participating in the Adopt-a-College program. Slow and steady work over a period of years is all it takes to become an animal millionaire through Vegan Outreach and social media. Of course there are countless other ways to make a difference.
The nice thing about the Adopt-a-College program is that you don’t need any special skills or training in order to make a great difference. Other forms of activism require a lot of time spent on personal development, and the ability to map your own course.
Ideally you want to find something you’re especially good at that can further the cause of animal protection. Alternately, nothing helps animals more than giant piles of money donated to groups with a track record of doing amazing things. One of the most powerful forms of activism is choosing a lucrative career and donating a substantial portion of your earnings to highly effective organizations.
Regardless of whether your work for animals involves contributing time or money, it’s imperative to read a few well-chosen books on animal advocacy. Through this sort of reading you’ll gain insights into the activist opportunities that deliver the greatest results for animals.
Our Animal Rights Activism Guide is probably the best starting point for newcomers wanting to become acquainted with the key principles of effective animal advocacy. Ben Davidow’s short eBook Uncaged is a perfect title for beginners, and it contains thirty brief essays from the animal protection movements’ most prominent activists.
Nick Cooney’s books are geared to activists who already have substantial experience under their belts and who are seeking a rigorous analysis of the scholarly literature devoted to social change. Cooney’s first book on activism, Change of Heart, may be the best of his books to start with.
One of the keys to saving as many animals as possible is to identify under-served niches. At this point all the easy low-hanging general interest vegan fruit has been picked—there are hundreds of vegan cookbooks, hundreds of vegan blogs, and countless national nonprofits devoted to animal protection. It would therefore be very tough to make a substantial impact in these areas, since there’s overwhelming competition for a limited audience.
By contrast there’s an almost limitless array of important activist opportunities available on the local level. And ironically the less vegan-friendly your hometown is the greater your potential to have an impact. Starting a vegan food truck in Portland Oregon won’t measurably impact the city, given that seemingly every other restaurant in Portland offers a mostly vegan menu. But bring a vegan food truck to Mobile Alabama or Lincoln Nebraska and these cities’ vegan scenes would transform overnight.
Opportunities for local vegan activism abound, whether we’re talking about setting up small business, asking existing restaurants for more vegan menu items, or urging city governments and local schools to embrace Meatless Mondays.
If you don’t know where to begin, start by reading a few animal advocacy books and dabbling in something—anything—on the fringes of the movement. Do what it takes to meet more activists. Attending one of the big regional vegan festivals or an animal rights conference (like Taking Action for Animals or the National Animal Rights Conference) is a great way to dramatically expand the number of fellow activists in your life.
Above all, be patient with yourself. Just as a little daily practice will gradually turn you into a decent guitarist or tennis player, your effectiveness as an animal advocate is likewise bound to increase over time. Given enough time and commitment you’re certain to identify an opportunity to make a gigantic difference for animals. Keep trying to work on the largest scale possible and you’ll soon discover that saving a million animals is well within your grasp, and a reasonable lifetime goal.
For further reading: please see our vegan activism guide and our introduction to animal rights & welfare.