In reply to: I am only one person; I cannot make a difference
This is the approved revision of this page, as well as being the most recent.
- 1 Context
- 2 Talking Points
- 2.1 You are already making a difference.
- 2.2 The laws of supply and demand virtually ensure you will save lives and spare suffering by going vegan.
- 2.3 It's also a matter of principle.
- 2.4 The difference you make will be multiplied by your influence on others.
- 2.5 The difference you make goes beyond reducing the suffering of animals.
- 2.6 If everyone believed that one person cannot make a difference, there could be no progress.
- 3 See Also
- 4 Footnotes
- 5 Meta
With the commodification of animals being so pervasive, it's easy to see why you might believe that you can't make a difference. Here we show that you are already making a difference, for better or worse, and that you can make a difference for the better.
Consider this: if you have adopted this objection to veganism and animal rights, it would seem that you have implicitly and subtly acknowledged that there is a difference to be made.
You are already making a difference.
Buying products made from animals makes a difference but not a positive one. It contributes to suffering because it involves paying others to breed, abuse, and slaughter animals. It also helps ensure the suffering will continue by reinforcing the belief that it's OK to do so.
Everyone makes a difference. The question is not, “Can you make a difference?”; the question is, “What kind of difference will you make?”
The laws of supply and demand virtually ensure you will save lives and spare suffering by going vegan.
It’s true that the animals already in the production pipeline are doomed. It’s also true that being vegan prevents the suffering of many innocent lives in the future who would otherwise be born or hatched into a system of brutality and then slaughtered after being allowed to live only a fraction of their natural life span.
This is because of the laws of supply and demand. When we buy products made from animals, we are driving demand for more of those products—we are shifting the demand curve to the right. We are, in effect, telling the market to breed and slaughter more animals.
But as we stop buying products made from animals for food and other uses, fewer animals will be bred, abused, and slaughtered. That change in preference will shift the demand curve to the left. In turn, demand will increase for other products not involving the exploitation of animals, telling the market, in effect, to produce more of those products instead.
Some might say that in a large market, the action of one individual could not possibly impact demand because it is such a small percentage of total demand. This may be true, but the fact that millions are not buying products made from animals does reduce demand—and, consequently, supply. Any one of the millions not buying such products logically and necessarily accounts for a portion of that reduction in demand.
How many lives will you save by going vegan? Using data from the USDA and the Census Bureau, Counting Animals calculates you save, on average, over 325 animals per year by leaving animals off your plate—25 land animals and over 300 sea animals. This is congruent with an analysis by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that determined each person in the United States eats 26 land animals per year. Other estimates are higher. Of course, exactly how many animals you personally save will depend on your patterns of consumption before you became vegan.
Imagine that every year, you rescued 25 dogs, cats, or wild animals. You would be lavished with praise as a champion for the animals, and you would justifiably feel better about yourself for it. Yet the animals we exploit and slaughter for food and other uses are no less deserving of their lives than wild animals or the pets we adore and protect. They are the same in all the ways that matter morally.
Extra: An objection to this line of reasoning…
One could argue that you are not saving any lives, because you should not have been complicit in the slaughters in the first place. If you would have otherwise contributed to the slaughter of an animal and then decide not to, you shouldn’t be credited with saving a life. Point taken.
It's also a matter of principle.
Even if you were the only person refusing to participate in a particular form of suffering for humans or nonhumans and that lack of participation resulted in no discernible benefits for the victims, you should still not participate as a matter of principle.
The difference you make will be multiplied by your influence on others.
You will likely have more influence on others than you realize. When you go vegan, it begins a ripple effect. Over time, some of your friends, family, and acquaintances, having observed you, will go vegan or at least begin the process of reducing their demand for animal products. That will influence others to do the same, which will, in turn, influence more to do the same.
The difference you make goes beyond reducing the suffering of animals.
The science is clear that going vegan will reduce your risk of chronic disease, diminish your footprint on the planet, and promote a more efficient food system better capable of feeding the world's starving, hungry, and impoverished.
If everyone believed that one person cannot make a difference, there could be no progress.
Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi believed that they, along with their fellow activists, could not make a difference. Margaret Mead is credited with saying, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Extra: An inspiring starfish story…
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often, and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still, and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach, and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled, and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
Adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907–1977)
- “Vegan Statistics: Why The Global Rise in Plant-Based Eating Isn’t A Fad.” Food Revolution Network (blog), January 18, 2018 https://foodrevolution.org/blog/vegan-statistics-global/
- Harish. “How Many Animals Does a Vegetarian Save?” Accessed December 29, 2018. http://www.CountingAnimals.com/how-many-animals-does-a-vegetarian-save/
- “How Much Meat We Eat.” NRDC. Accessed December 29, 2018. https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/how-much-meat-we-eat
- Our introduction to veganism provides citations for these assertions
- “Never Doubt That a Small Group of Thoughtful, Committed Citizens Can Change the World; Indeed, It’s the Only Thing That Ever Has – Quote Investigator.” Accessed December 29, 2018. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/11/12/change-world
This article was originally authored by Greg Fuller and copyedited by Isaac Nickerson. The contents may have been edited since that time by others.