Early in the fall semester, I searched for clubs to join at the annual Student Involvement Fair and signed up for as many as I could alongside other eager students. When I passed the table for Boston College Animal Advocates (BCAA), a club supporting animal welfare, an upperclassman handed me a pamphlet that sought to persuade readers to believe in the club’s cause. As a vegetarian and an animal-lover, I perused through the flyer and felt all the rage that I was meant to feel. Photos of malnourished chickens jammed into battery cages, pigs alone in crates unable to move, and calves separated from their mothers for veal production succeeded in appealing to my emotions. This flyer not only encouraged me to join BCAA in their efforts to raise awareness of animal welfare issues but also pushed me to make more conscientious food choices in the dining halls, even to consider veganism. But how many of us actually even bother to look through pamphlets on real, pressing issues with factory farming? How many of us bother to educate ourselves on how food reaches our plates, but choose, instead, to remain in blissful ignorance?
I’m guilty of this, too. Like others, I’m quick to disregard the many pamphlets that have been handed out to me about religious groups and charity events because I believe that my time is simply too valuable to be spent reading a flyer that doesn’t immediately interest me. The unwillingness of people to change their beliefs or sacrifice minutes of their time explains why leafleting, coupled with the stigma surrounding vegan activism, seems an ineffective “call to action” strategy for groups like PETA and Vegan Outreach, who should expect to sway the opinions of only two individuals out of every hundred that are handed the information. With the opportunity costs of time, transportation, and money spent on printouts, the advancement of social change through leaflets appears an inefficient tactic that leads to piles of papers in trash bins and wasted efforts of club members. But when the benefits are measured in the number of animals’ lives saved by an occasional conversion to vegetarianism along with conversations sparked on campus by a group’s actions, the costs are worth it.
Still, education remains a the central tenet of the BCAA, and pamphlets prove effective in drawing attention to problems with unjust farming practices that are still widely unknown by many meat-eaters. Outreach groups like BCAA and Vegan Outreach make this information readily accessible to students so that the abuses of industrial meat production may be confronted and eventually lessened through collective action. Even if just one BC student decides to cut down on meat consumption throughout the week after reading a pamphlet, that choice makes a difference in reducing the university’s indirect contribution to factory farms. Taking the initiative with simple methods of persuasion, like leafleting, can bring about the necessary conversation on campus that spreads awareness of the suffering and hidden cost externalities exacerbated by the current factory farming model.
Too often I listen to my peers ridiculing animal rights groups for their pushiness, or criticizing them for evoking guilt from those who glance at their pamphlets. Animal advocacy groups like BCAA recognize, however, that without eye-catching, impassioned statements and graphic images, society may never understand the true costs of cheap meat. If students feel guilt while looking at flyers, they exhibit the intended response and may feel defensive, since heightened awareness leads to disillusionment or targets long-held beliefs. It’s understandable why we are slow to accept the cruel consequences of industrialization—those who empathize with suffering animals may be forced to come to terms with a harsh reality, while those who remain closed-off to lifestyle changes may feel annoyed by the repeated attempts groups make to try to change behaviors.
My point here isn’t that everyone should become a vegetarian, but rather that students should take a few minutes to educate themselves on factory farming as well as other issues outlined in the pamphlets that we receive and discard so frequently without a second thought. It is admittedly painful to learn about the inhumane conditions that livestock are subjected to, and equally painful to try to question the values we have held throughout our lives. Still, turning a blind eye to the plight of animals—or to any of the controversial issues surrounding society today—does not provide a solution. When we become more open-minded toward educating ourselves and willing to reflect on our own behaviors, we may finally make an informed decision in regards to aligning our food consumption patterns to our principles.
As students, we are responsible for educating ourselves as much as possible over the next four years and eventually adopting changes, even in just our eating habits, that echo our concerns for the world’s problems. Diet shifts do not address all animal welfare abuses, but every decision has an impact, including the decision to read through a flyer and to start a conversation about the topic thereafter. Without knowledge of animal welfare issues, we may never begin to devise a solution and, as a result, will continue to ignore the problems that are not visible to us on a daily basis. Thus, I advise all students to read pamphlets in the future and to remain receptive to the increased knowledge that may then guide our personal decisions as well as our ethical standards. Only then may we wield our decision-making power to shape production practices consciously rather than carelessly.
Featured Graphic by Anna Tierney / Graphics Editor