So many people believe that the treatment of animals in factory farms is unethical but demanding those products and supporting the factory farms and eating the animals is ethical. I don’t understand how supporting something you believe is unethical can be ethical. So I ask: How is this ethical? One common answer I got was this:
“Because if I stopped eating meat, which would take significant effort because I love my meat, I’m not convinced it would make a difference. Slaughterhouses would still exist and animals would still be treated in those ways. There are billions of meat-eaters in the world supporting the factory farming industry, and I don’t believe one person giving up meat will make any difference in the grand scheme of things.”
This belief in the powerlessness of individual actions is terribly daunting. It is this very frame of mind that will stunt change and progress in our society by excusing people from acting according to their ethical beliefs. I couldn’t find a good way to explain how one person’s actions can make a surprisingly significant impact (especially by becoming a vegetarian or vegan, considering the average American consumes 99 animals a year, and the meat industry loses money on producing excess meat so they aim to produce the minimum amount to meet the demand). But I found it. I just came across a story that demonstrates the impact small actions can have…impact that is too often overlooked. The story goes like this:
One day a man was taking a sunrise walk along a beach. In the distance he caught sight of a young woman who seemed to be dancing along the waves. As he got closer he saw that the young woman was actually not dancing, but picking up starfish from the sand and tossing them gently back into the ocean.
“What are you doing?” the man asked.
“The sun is coming up and the tide is going out; if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.”
“But young woman, there are miles and miles of beach with starfish all along it–you can’t possibly make a difference.”
The young woman bent down, picked up another starfish, and placed it lovingly back into the ocean, past the breaking waves.
“It made a difference for that one,” she replied.
This story describes perfectly an incredible phenomenon: as single individuals it is very hard to make a big impact on the “greater scheme of things,” but it is unbelievably easy to have an enormous impact on the life of other individuals. Now, this impact can be good or it can be bad, it can be purposeful or passive or even subconscious, it can mean almost nothing to you but the world to someone else.
(Story compliments of Animals in our Hearts )