One giant leap for chickens: A hunch about getting people to care

One Step for Animals is an organization I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I first saw them post in the Effective Animal Activism Facebook Group. One Step draws our attention to an incredibly important issue — the fact that the overwhelming number of animals harmed by farming are chickens — but responds to this in a way that doesn’t make sense to me. They respond by making an argument to the public via leaflet to stop consuming chickens based on “the numbers” (ignore for the moment that pigs are the first animals discussed in their leaflet) and the controversial but currently en vogue “small ask” or foot-in-the-door strategy that says it’s better to ask for a small change than a big one. (The view says that people are more responsive to small requests (don’t eat chicken) than big ones (go vegan), so you have a better overall effect by asking for a lesser change.) My position is that a more sensible response to the enormity of chicken use is to simply try to make chickens more relatable so people will value them more highly and be more likely to stop consuming them.

“The numbers” are significant to those who already have deep moral concern for animals, but I can’t imagine what the argument is for why a numbers-based-argument will have sway over those who don’t. Moreover, on the hierarchy of most people’s moral concern, chickens don’t rank very high. Faunalytics highlights research finding that even young children express a preference for mammals over birds. Most people are far from caring about chickens and exposure to the number of harmed chickens isn’t likely to bridge that. More bluntly, people simply don’t care about chickens!

Getting people to make the leap toward caring about chickens

Given the above, my suggestion is we work on helping people relate more to chickens. This is straight up speculation, but I suspect that by seeing a range of emotions, complex behaviors, and personalities in chickens, people will value them more highly, and they’ll be quicker to give up eating them. People give up eating cows and pigs more often than they do birds. My hunch is that this is not merely due to negative health messaging around red meat but is also due to people finding mammals more relatable. [I wish I could substantiate any of the above. :-/]

Examples of media potentially helpful to chickens

Online video

One incredibly good instance of making chickens more relatable appeared in the past week.

Showing chicken playfulness and personality compared with the Internet’s favorite animal is a great way to make them relatable. This was highly shared on Facebook.

Facebook pages

Besides videos showing chickens engaging in a variety of behaviors, Facebook pages like Phrohi’s (rest in peace) and Penelope the Chicken’s strike me as a good way to demonstrate the individuality of chickens. These pages chronicle the lives of these chickens and frequently include cheeky commentary from the chickens’ perspectives. With any luck, chickens like these will become as popular as Esther the Wonderpig.

Documentaries (?)

Something longer form could also be good. Alas, I haven’t yet found a good documentary on chickens that doesn’t largely portray them as commodities. If you know of one, please let me know about it!

Concluding thoughts

I hope the (near) future brings us more media to help people connect to chickens, and that we’ll be able to evaluate its effectiveness at getting people to stop eating them. While I don’t have the ability to produce any media, I’ll make an effort to post exemplars.

I’m less keen on media where an activist / rescuer appears with a chicken, since their actions and statements seem to me to overshadow anything the chicken does.

I do think the leaflet is going to be a tough medium for making chickens relatable (static images, potentially harder to strike right tone), but I hope One Step adjusts their strategy and shows me the failure of my imagination.

Update (11/19/2015)

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