According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 8.6 billion chickens were killed for food last year. That translates to nearly 24 million chickens slaughtered per day, or a whopping 275 chickens killed per second. It also equals a whole bunch of massive numbers that are hard for most people wrap their head around.
As explained by Nick Cooney in his recent book, Change of Heart, it’s been shown that there’s an inverse relationship between the number of victims in a tragic situation and an individual’s concern for them. In other words, the concept that a single death is a tragedy and a million deaths is merely a statistic rings true when it comes to how we process information.
Two possible explanations are a) that people are simply insensitive to numbers, as they’re harder to relate to on a personal level and b) that the larger the problem is seen as being, the easier an individual can diffuse her/his own responsibility in causing or perpetuating it.
No matter how horrible it may be that one million chickens are killed every single hour in this country, studies show that the average person fails to respond to such statistics — they feel distanced and helpless. While it’s important for us to convey the magnitude of the situation, numbers alone may not be the most effective way to appeal to others for compassion.
When we encourage people to think about exactly what they’re eating, we should also encourage them to think about WHO they’re eating. Each animal slaughtered for food is a smart and social individual, much like the cats and dogs in our homes — and each animal who is lucky enough to be rescued and sent to a sanctuary is an ambassador with a story that people can connect to.