Most of us rarely think about the plight of the animals we eat. Their lives and deaths are hidden from us, and we spare them little more than the occasional guilty thought. But every so often, something happens which brings these animals into the public eye.
Over the years, various animals have escaped on their way to slaughterhouses. They run through cities, swim across lakes and even make their way to sanctuaries. And when this happens, the public response is extraordinary. We see these animals as heroic, and we all root for them. No one wants the animal to be recaptured and slaughtered. We want them to live out the rest of their lives free of fear and suffering.
But what about the vast majority of animals who aren’t so lucky? Who is fighting to save them? Very few people.
Though we all cheer on on the animals who escape, many of us continue to support the exploitation of their companions. How many of us desperately want these animals to escape, and yet continue to pay for the products of their suffering? For every animal who survives, thousands upon thousands die.
It’s the same in movies like Chicken Run and Okja. We all root for the animals, and would be horrified if the film culminated in their slaughter. Yet we continue to buy animal products, paying for the suffering of real animals as we sympathise with those on the screen.
So what exactly is going on here? Why do we care about the animals who escape and turn a blind eye to the rest?
It all comes down to connection. When an animal escapes, we suddenly see him or her as an individual who wants to live, rather than a product. But too often, we don’t extend that sympathy any further.
This has implications for effective activism. If we want people to relate to these animals, then we must ensure they are seen as individuals with personalities. It has long been recognised by charities and other organisations that telling the story of one individual is more effective than just describing the plight of the group as a whole. All creatures are individuals, and all want to live. This is what we must try to convey.