Within the animal protection movement — and many other social justice movements — there is a current obsession with numbers: helping the most animals, reaching the most people… But does any of this mean a campaign is actual effective?

Quite simply: no. Some within the movement have openly rejected animal sanctuaries as useful in helping animals as not being cost effective. Why? Because so much money is needed to just help one animal.

This type of thinking is exactly what is wrong with our current understanding of “impact” or rather direct and immediate effect. There is one example that so clearly demonstrates the problem with this thinking: Esther the wonder pig. And yet by helping this one pig Steve and Derek have helped countless others. Helping one animal can have a huge impact. How many people have become vegetarian or vegan because of one of Esther’s posts or by seeing her as her own individual, with a personality and her own wants and needs?

I beileve that this is part of why, in my research, I found that animal protection may be the most effective vegan motivator. Interactions or the story of one animal can have a huge impact and one that is unlikely to be found by the metrics most commonly being used in our movement.

Similarly, our understanding of the “effect” of leaflets and other types of information-based initiatives is equally flawed. As research has shown again and again, lifestyle / dietary transition is unlikely to occur because of a single piece of information or a single experience. Transitions are generally gradual and often are based on multiple experiences, with it probably being quite difficult to identify causes and effects.

Impact is not simply A causes B. All we have to do is look at the progression of various social movements to understand that change is complex and that different actions can have direct and indirect impacts. If we want vegan norms to become the social norm, we can’t back away from giving out information and we can’t ignore the need to disseminate that information widely.

We also can’t forget that in order to change the world, we need to understand what kind of world we want. Animal sanctuaries, in particular, can be a glimpse into a world where animals are not seen as tools for humans, but as beings with specific needs and desires.

It is quite likely that a variety of approaches are essential to changing individual behaviour and social norms. However, if we focus only on the number of non-human animals being helped, we forget who it is that is causing their suffering — humans.

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